The evolution of The Academic Magician as a concept, persona, and style of performance magic continues after many events, publications, conversations, and innovations. I have been so fortunate to have continued to expand a network of happy clients for my engagements over the years and have been so pleased to perform for hundreds of people at my public shows here in the UK and further afield.
As 2020 reaches its close after a once in a hundred year event descended on the whole world, I have been reflecting even more on the value of human connection, communication, and the role of joy in our lives that comes from the fundamentals of life. For this blog, my focus is on the enduring power of magic and why it remains an important part of my life as The Academic Magician.
Pre-COVID, it seemed so easy and second nature to travel the world, turn up at different venues, enjoy a healthy meal, and perform for an array of clients and audiences. I was able to perform impromptu close-up magic for a few people or stage large public shows in wonderful theatres. Social distancing was not a term in use, and the mere idea that I would not be able to be in a public venue, let alone call people on stage, and ask them to hold objects, choose cards, or stand and silently read books as I divined the words that flowed through their minds had simply not been on my radar.
One month before the March lockdown in the UK, I was pleased to publish The Magiculum II, a collection of essays on magic, mentalism, and mystery entertainment. The book brought together magicians from around the world who in some way combine their broader life pursuits with the art of magic.
The book has essays from colleagues working in drama studies, engineering, human-computer interaction, crime science, immersive research methodologies, literature, history, and in my own case, political science and human rights, where magic is a medium and a means of communicating larger ideas about the human condition. Each in their own way has navigated a path that re-captures magic and delivers wonder around the world.
I had just been inducted into the Society of American Magicians, a professional association established in 1905 by none other than Harry Houdini himself. This new network opened up new avenues to explore and new people to meet across the world who remain dedicated to performing their own acts of astonishment.
Along with performances in Norfolk , Virginia and Lake Tahoe, and lectures to magicians gathered for the East Coast Spirit Sessions in Myrtle Beach in the United States, 2020 was shaping up to be another amazing year for magic.
The UK formally went into lockdown on 23 March, where we all packed our things at the University, retreated to our homes, and learned how to work remotely for what was to become a prolonged period. Suddenly our days were filled with 'Hollywood Squares' and 'Brady Bunch' filled screens through Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet. Circumstances dictated that we use all the on-line and technological tools we had been meaning to use for years, while armies of frontline carers and essential workers carried out their duties with courage and professionalism.
Magicians the world over suddenly engaged in a rear guard action to work out how they could continue to perform, lecture, and publish in ways that remained fruitful. On-line events popped up over night, and new innovations emerged for magicians to deliver powerful performances directly to their audiences under on-line constraints. I will never cease to be amazed by the ingenuity and creativity on display, and was honoured to take part in a number of events around the world.
Long hours inside, of course, gave us all time to practice, read, and create new miracles, while also engage with each other and with our audiences in new and imaginative ways. Our on-line technologies also changed and improved, giving us new features, larger capacity, and better interfaces to make our virtual gatherings and performances better.
In may ways, the period of lockdown and these new opportunities brought people closer. WhatsApp groups, on-line communities, and one on one meetings had a new sense of urgency, but also crafted a new sense of connectivity and community. Friends from times past reappeared, families communicated more, and new communities and friendships were formed, all while the pandemic wreaked havoc across so many countries.
I have been reminded of Charles Dickens in the Tale of Two Cities, which opens with 'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.' For magic, this line rings true. The new innovations and newfound sense of connection were coupled with economic hardship and worse. In the early days of lockdown, I enjoyed the quiet, the return of birdsong, and nature re-asserting itself. The ecological dynamism of the world was on full display, as the rush of life for many disappeared, and long days of interactivity were joined by the pursuit of new ventures, not least of which, magic.
Surely, the start of 2021 can only usher in a better year; a year emerging from isolation, and a return to at least a little more public interaction, while also a deep appreciation for what really matters. We may never be free of COVID, and undoubtedly there be new viruses and pandemics that befall us, but the turn of the year brings new hope that we will have this virus more under control than in 2020.
Magicians the world over yearn to be back on stage, engaging with live audiences, and reviving their livelihoods. Personally, I have spent time crafting a new show I call Tales from the Magiculum, a collection of deep and meaningful narratives that illustrate the transcendent lessons from a life lived hard, delivered through the medium of magic.
The new year also brings an amazing opportunity to use magic as a means to capture and give expression to the moral capabilities of some of the world's most vulnerable people. With funding from the UK's Global Challenge Research Fund, I will be working with colleagues at the University of Nottingham, The Mackman Group, and from the Philippines on a project that uses 'cultural animation' and 'magical touchpoints' to delve into the lived experiences of women living in post-conflict societies. The project elicits these experiences through object-based learning exercises and shares them for others in similar circumstances through magic and other means.
2021, like other years, will have a magical current running through it, and I look forward to the challenges and opportunities that await, and I appreciate like never before, the human connections, networks, and communities that have formed during this most difficult of years. My dedication to magic and all that it entails will continue unabated.
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