Wednesday, September 05, 2012

If you want Cutting-Edge, you must be ready to bleed!

I just finished reading Frederich Nietzche's, Human, All Too Human and while I must say, that this book, published in the late nineteenth century is a difficult read within the prism of twenty-first century thought and ideas, there were several concepts that had me thinking and re-evaluating the misunderstood creative process as it applies to my work everyday.  First, the quote and its not direct, since I don't have the book in front of me, rather I am paraphrasing from what I can remember. Nietzsche says that  (paraphrasing now) -----artists have a vested interest in the believing of the flash of revealation, the so-called flash of inspiration shining down from Heaven. In reality, the imagination of the artist contuinually produces good, mediocre and bad things and it is the work of the artist, the true work of the artist that is trained not only in inventing but in the sifting, re-combining, transforming and rejecting of the "inspiration" that comes to us.----

So, in my life, I have various routines in various stages of development. Some are awaiting a final justification of the prop or have a deep mechanical problem that turns it from magic into a puzzle. Others, I am just not happy with--either from an aesthetic look or from a presentational approach. I have had some effects that have sat "on the shelf'" for years, as it were, because I could not solve some sort of problem to my satisfaction with it. People call me a perfectionist and perhaps I am overthinking some of these illusions, but to my mind, I just can't bring something to market until, at least in my own mind, it is the best it can possibly be.

Case in point, at present I have an illusion that I am working on with a brick, an actual paving brick that one would use to build a house, lay a patio. The effect is that a glass rod penetrates the brick. It sounds cool, amazing, impossible, etc., all of the emotions I strive for when creating and presenting magic or escapes.

Another very "well-respected" creative magician has suggested that the best way to accomplish this is to have the brick sitting on a table top. OK--at first it sounded like a good idea. But, there was something that always bothered me about this. Is this what magic would be? Hmmm. OK, so I aquiesced and spent an inordinate amount of money building a platform on which this brick would sit. All the while, as I am building and designing this, I am thinking that this is the wrong approach, that "if you could really do magic", you would not do it this way. It would be simpler, and within that simplicity, I believed I could conceal the modus operandi. 

Nevertheless, against my better judgement, I began to build someone else's vision. However, that inner voice that sings to you with inspiration, was still nagging at me, with two words, "Wrong way---Wrong Way! My all-time favorite quote from Einstein is that "God does not roll dice with the Universe." That may be true, but I do think He rolls dice with individuals, giving some ideas that are complete from start to finish to some and to others he gives ideas that are sometimes dead-ends, with the hope that we will recognize it, learn from it and instead, be led through circumstance to a solution or idea that was never on our radar or within our consciousness. 
So, I spend alot of time on this brick illusion, buy the raw materials for the prop, saw, plane, sand, and measure it. I make a few mistakes, scrap the materials, head back to Home Depot to re-buy them and start again. I work till two-o-clock in the morning, painting, lacquering, trying to make it just right. I'm still unsure about it, but I push those feeleings aside. Finally, I finish. Its built. I perform it in front of the mirror in front of a FLIP camera. I show it to layman, to magicians, even post a picture of it on Facebook. Finally, I decide to workshop it at an Open Mic Night down in the Bowery in New York City. I will tell you, for an artist, there is nothing like an Open Mic Night to workshop new material. It is the absolute best. You will find out very quickly how far your effect can and will stand on its own.  Things you thought were clever and unique, will fall flat on this audience, they may even boo you, call you out, shout things at you.  You must have very thick-skin because if the stars are not aligned properly, you will bleed. Boy, will you bleed.

Sometimes, you get lucky--what you thought was stupid, sophomoric, tasteless, obvious, "wouldn't fool Stevie Wonder" turns out to be well-liked, cutting edge, magical, mysterious, funny, a surprise and your audience loves you. So, its the proving ground of proving grounds. Nothing like it in the world . . .  that New York City.  I show up with the brick illusion, sign my name on the list at the door and go inside to grab a seat. I grab a drink at the bar and wait to perform. Another check of the list reveals I am number eight out of fifteen people. Seven stand-up comics precede me.

The audience seems a little tepid tonight. Maybe it's because it's a weeknight. Maybe Tuesdays nights are a little better for performers--or maybe this audience is all performers. That would certainly not be the first time. I sit through seven stand-up comic performances. Two women were really funny. The rest . . . OK. But again, this is the woodshed, and here, even seasoned performers may leave with their tail between their legs. I guess I'm ready. I've been through alot worse. As I sit, I push the doubts out of my mind, the thoughts of failure are getting harder and harder to neutralize. More drinks might help--but then I won't be able to perform . . . and besides the drinks here are double the cost on a regular night. I guess that's the price you pay for an audience.

Finally, my name is called. I had no idesa what time it was, guessing about 10:30 or 11pm. I walk to the stage, introduce myself and go right into the illusion. I run through the mechanics, the required motions of this new illusion. The audience, while not hostile, is not exactly dumbfounded either. I hear none of the usual feedback I get when doing a polished performance. Strangely, there is really no response. Go figure. Now, I have no idea what the fuck to do. I complete the illusion and leave the stage. However, its a comment after---that gives me my confirmation. A young guy, sitting on a barstool catches my gaze as I walk toward him. As I pass between him and a waitress, this guy, probably in his mid-twenties says to me in a British accent, "Cool trick, but why the table?"

With that comment, I felt a wave suddenly wash over me, as if I was standing waist deep in the ocean, unaware I was there and suddenly to wake me up, a wave cascaded over me. That was all I needed. In the final analysis, that was the problem and as it turns out, was exactly what I needed to hear. That inner voice kept saying it but I just was not listening. I continued out of the club. As I walked to Broadway-Lafayette, subway station to get the D Uptown, I took the tabletop and threw it into an trash bin at Houston and Sixth Avenue. It was a nice wooden tabletop that I handcrafted out of Maple, stained and put some beautiful moulding on. It might look good in your home, with a Sterling Silver coffee pot sitting on top--but it was out of place in this illusion, in this time and in this place.  Turns out, Nietzsche had it right afterall.

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