Recapturing the Essence of Magic

I am delighted to have been appointed as Visiting Professor of Performance Magic at the University of Huddersfield.

The post was launched on 13 October with a performance workshop with drama students in the Milton Theatre on the main campus of the University. The evening featured my show with Paul Voodini, The Edge of the Unknown to a sold out crowd who were taken on quite a mysterious journey influenced by none other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

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The workshop is entitled The Magician, the Mentalist and the Mystic, and explores different performance styles that are popular today in what Prospect Magazine has called ‘The New Magic’ (see my blog post The New Magic is the Old Magic). The participants experienced three very different short performances at three different ‘tables’:

  • The magic table involved classic close-up illusions using cards, coins, cups and balls, and a series of locked boxes;
  • The mentalist table used nothing more than a few envelopes, some dice, and a drawing pad to create hard hitting mind reading with numbers, names and choices that were seemingly divined out of thin air;
  • The mystic table was replete with books, crystals, boxes and a discussion of all things metaphysical as a route to quite a different set of experiences.

After each performance, participants were able to discuss their impressions and the impact of what they saw and experienced. In keeping with the Magician’s Oath* methods were not discussed, but the time was used to reflect on the framing of each performance experience and the different contract that was established with the audience.

The rich qualitative data gathered during this event will be combined with other results of research that I have been conducting on magical performance over the years and will appear as a scholarly article in the near future.

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The workshop participants then attended the evening performance, which begins with the question:

‘Is it deduction, deception, or something more?

The question is never answered, but the audience is asked to ruminate on it as they experience over 90 minutes of uncanny demonstrations involving mind reading, coincidences, alienism, psychology, visualisation, past life regression, and spiritualism among other enduring mysteries.

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The Professorship is also associated with the new Magic Research Group and the Journal of Performance Magic also based at the University of Huddersfield. There is a dearth of scholarly study of performance magic as an art form and a key aspect of popular culture. The public figure of the magician has evolved from the Rennaissance ‘magus’ and ‘cunning folk’ to sophisticted stage magician and now the ‘new’ magician embodied in such fugures as David Blaine and Derren Brown. The group and the journal are dedicated to the scholarly study of this popular art form in all its many guises and permutations.

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In additon to the roles and responsabilties associated with this new post, I am also pleased to be working with Marina Warner and Elizabeth Kuti at the University of Essex on a board to supervise fellow Magic Circle Member Will Houstoun (consultant on Martin Scorcese’s Hugo) on his PhD thesis that explores the social history and impact of one of the most famous magic books: Professor Hoffmann’s Modern Magic.

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*“As a magician I promise never to reveal the secret of any illusion to a non-magician, unless that one swears to uphold the Magician’s Oath in turn. I promise never to perform any illusion for any non-magician without first practicing the effect until I can perform it well enough to maintain the illusion of magic.”

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