Speed in Presentation

Chapter 11 - Speed in Presentation

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In magic, speed in presentation is a most important point, artistically speaking. There are some performers who, with half a dozen simple tricks, can fill up a two-hour entertainment. Others there are who can rattle off a score of big effects in as many minutes. Each class of performer, no doubt, thinks his own method of presentation the best that can be devised. So it may be-for him. But the question is, which method, if either, is best for the art of magic? Allowing for adaptation to personal characteristics, there must be a certain standard in this respect toward the attainment of which a magical artist's aim should be directed. We want to ascertain the logical basis upon which some such standard may be founded. Hence, in the first place, we must think out the various points bearing upon this subject, and afterward, make up our minds as to the conclusion one may deduce from the facts of the case.

Each particular mode of presentation, in point of showmanship, has certain advantages. The rapid method undoubtedly has the advantage of giving the spectators plenty for their money. That is to say, plenty of magic; which presumably is the thing they chiefly expect from a magician. The slow method, on the other hand, gives the performer ample opportunity for getting at home with his spectators and making them thoroughly interested in his work. Herein, again, we are bound to admit the existence of great advantages. In completely interesting and carrying conviction to the minds of his audience, a magician unquestionably fulfils the expectations of the public.

From an artistic standpoint, however, each of these methods has its disadvantage. When we consider the final impression produced-and that is the main consideration, so far as art is concerned-we realize that in neither case can there exist the completeness and satisfaction of interest which true art demands. The rapid method imposes so much strain upon the attention of an audience, that complete appreciation of the effect presented can never be gained. The slow method, conversely, does not sufficiently occupy the minds of the spectators in the direction toward which their anticipation has been led. Thus, it is easy to see, both methods are lacking in certain artistic essentials. Each comprises too little of the advantage in which the other excels.

Looking at the matter fairly and squarely, one cannot help feeling that any presentation which leaves an impression of either indistinctness or over-elaboration has a very serious defect, from whatever point of view it may be regarded. Even setting aside the question of art, high or low, the fact that a performance lacks one or other of the qualities which the public expects a public entertainment to possess is, in itself, sufficient to condemn the method of presentation adopted. From a magical entertainer, the public expects two things--magic and entertainment. The man who gives the public plenty of magic, but serves it up in such hot haste that his audience has no time to digest it, merely surfeits the spectators with that particular requirement, without satisfying their other expectations. He occupies their attention more than enough, but he does not entertain them as they rightly expect to be entertained. They have too much of one good thing and not enough of another. The magic they wish to enjoy, instead of being served up properly, is thrown at them--take it or leave it--just as the waitresses at cheap restaurants dump down the food before their customers. Some people, no doubt, can put up with such treatment. They get used to it, as eels do to being skinned. But surely the person who cannot enjoy a meal better served must have an exceptional constitution. To most people, good service and time for enjoyment are things to be desired. Satisfaction, and not indigestion, is what normal beings appreciate.

On the other hand, the performer who spins out his magical business, by unduly watering it down with patter or other forms of entertainment, displays a fault of another order, but similar in degree. Retaining the simile of the restaurant, one may say the service is far too elaborate and the rations are far too scanty. Or, in the renowned words of a certain governor of North Carolina, we may say, "It's a long time between drinks." The spectators may be greatly entertained by the performance, but when it is all over they feel dissatisfied because they have not obtained what they paid their money to see. In such conditions, the final effect is as incomplete and imperfect as when people have been allowed too little time for appreciation.

There seems little doubt, then, as to the kind of standard to be adopted in this respect. The rapid method may suit some performers well, especially those who either lack repose or dispense with patter. The slow method may recommend itself to those whose strong point is either "a gift of gab" or a special ability in "holding an audience." The question of "personality" or, in other words, individual characteristics both natural and acquired, must be allowed considerable weight in such questions. The man who, although a skilled magician, has no special ability as an entertainer--who has not that easy grip of his spectators' attention which disarms criticism of his procedure at the moment--is bound to rely for his ultimate success upon a more or less rapid method of presentation. The man whose skill is that of an entertainer in the ordinary sense, rather than that of a specialist in magic, has to rely upon his general ability more than upon his magical effects. In his case the comparatively slow method of presentation is essential to success. But "there is reason in the roasting of eggs," as the proverb has it. One man may find it best to go ahead, another to go slowly; but every man who professes to give the public good work should remember that, beyond certain limits, in haste and deliberation alike, good work can scarcely exist.

No reasonable doubt, we think, can be entertained as to the standard of rapidity in presentation which is most desirable in magical performance. The defects inseparable from the respective extremes simply indicate that the happy medium represents perfection. The audience must have time to understand, to consider, and to appreciate the successive items presented, or the final impression will be confused and imperfect. A magical performance must contain sufficient magic to fulfil the expectations of the audience, or dissatisfaction, more or less acute, is bound to be the after-effect produced. In either case, the ultimate result displays artistic shortcomings, which should be corrected. True art and good policy alike point to the middle course as being best, and to the wisdom of keeping that course so far as circumstances will permit. It is quite possible to give the public plenty of magic without reducing one's performance to the level of a mere "show," devoid of artistic merit. It is also quite possible to give the public real entertainment without stinting the supply of magic. There is no difficulty in the matter, one way or the other. By avoiding redundancy in either direction, the thing is done automatically.


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