Sunday, November 06, 2005

A Plea For Originality!

An interesting review of a stage play in Toronto was published in the Toronto Sun this week. It was for a play titled “My mother’s Italian, My father’s Jewish & I’m in Therapy.” The plot of the play is, basically, a man is in his therapist’s waiting room and, well, I guess he goes over everything he should be saying to his therapist.
Some interesting quotes from the review.
“There is a point – and sadly, it comes very early on … when you find yourself wondering whether or not you’ve seen this whole 90 minute show before.”
The most telling quote is this:
“But, finally, what’s missing is freshness. How stale is it? There’s one joke involving a comatose drunk, a witty lass and a blue ribbon that I remember hearing almost 50 years ago at a church camp in the middle of Alberta.”
So what happened here is a guy put together a show of old jokes, wrapped them around a stale premise and now is on tour with it.
I cannot think of a better reason for originality than that. Think about it, if this guy can tour with old jokes then imagine how well you would be received with original material.

In 1999 I went to my one and only magic convention. The International Brotherhood of Magicians convention in Buffalo. I had a wonderful time during the three days I was there. (No thanks to the good people at the Adams Mark Hotel, who decided that all Canadians had to be out on Sunday night rather than Monday morning like we had originally booked, sending at least one friend of mine IN A WHEELCHAIR out to fend for himself. But I digress.)
One thing that bothered me was the competition, specifically the junior competiton. There were about five performers in that category that performed at the nighttime show, and four of them did dove acts. Not just dove acts, but the same dove act. The same props, the same table, the same moves at the same time, the only thing that was different was the music used.
I can only tell you how boring it was to watch the same act over and over again and pretend to enjoy it. Thank god one of the performers did something unique. (Well, unique for that night.)
Of course, when the winner was announced it was one of the dove workers.

Originality is not just a word or a concept; it is what we all should be striving for. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to invent new tricks and effects (although that is one way to be original and is surely good for the art of magic.) It does mean though that you should make your presentation as original as you can.
Let us take, for example, any ambitious card type routine. (The ambitious card is a trick where a chosen card keeps jumping to the top of the deck, mostly under different and more difficult circumstances.) Everyone has some form of ambitious card routine, and everyone has their own way of performing it, but really, how many of these presentations are as original as we think?
If you begin the trick by saying the chosen card is “…an ambitious card, which means it is always jumping to the top of the deck.” Then you are not being very creative. (And yes, I have heard this line of patter before from a very un-original magician.) Think about it for a moment, why is the card jumping to the top? Maybe it is a “trained card”, or maybe it is a “magnetic card” or possibly there is some outside force propelling it.
One of the most original performances of an ambitious card effect is done by Joshua Jay. In his trick “The Remote Control” from his book “Joshua Jay’s Magic Atlas” (page 139) Jay presents a trick where a card is chosen and lost in the deck. He then shows a television remote control and offers it to a spectator. When the spectator pushes the channel up button, the card rises to the top, when he presses the channel down button, the card goes to the bottom of the deck, and finally when the changer stops working you open the battery compartment and the chosen card is found folded up inside.
The effect was written when Jay was seventeen, so his patter was about becoming a man because he has his first T.V. remote. (I don’t know how he presents it now.)
Talk about originality at work. Taking a trick as old as dem dere hills and presenting it in such a unique way. With the added extra bonus of having that particular trick forever linked with the Joshua Jay name. This is what we must all strive for in our performance.

Next Post: More on originality. (Based on an essay published in 1936 by Reginald Gilderblat. I just changed the names.)


Blogger Billp said...

Hey, Canadian Comedy is all about being unoriginal. Stuart MacLean's been doing the same show with a slightly different title for decades, as has that Wingfield Farm guy. And Steve Smith is just ripping off his own older stuff everytime he comes out with something 'new'.


3:03 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

I'm pretty sure I've heard the plea for originality before...

4:21 PM  

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