In no particular order, below are three magicians I want at my party.  You won't find these entertainers in a list of Indianapolis magicians, but magician David Blaine is appearing June 21st at the Murat Theatre in Indianapolis.

 

Mentalist Derren Brown

 
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Without doubt the best living mentalist in the world, he began as an upscale restaurant magician before tinkering with hypnosis and mentalism. Though he’s now renowned as a mentalist, many aren’t aware that he’s an outstanding magician in his own right. In my opinion, he made mentalism both believable and, more importantly, entertaining.

In hindsight it’s easy to criticize the mentalists that paved the way before him as dull and uninspiring, with the exception of Dunninger and Kreskin. The former had showmanship and skill, the latter had showmanship with technical skill that even my keen eyes cannot perceive. Which is more laudable, showmanship with technical skill (Dunninger) or showmanship with barely a speck of skill (Kreskin)? 

Derren Brown clearly has both.

Dunninger, born 1892, had innovative ideas and techniques whose methods to this day are only speculated by the best thinkers in mentalism--and he was a fantastic showman who dominated the airwaves. Kreskin had transparent techniques (in my opinion) but had enough charisma to charm audiences with tricks as sophisticated such as your uncle might have shown you as a kid--the torn & restored thumb for instance (I'm exaggerating here).

It's safe to say that Derren Brown has more talent than most magicians, including myself. I still find myself trying to be a second-rate Derren Brown instead of a first-rate Jon Finch. On top of that, he has talent to spare outside live entertainment; he’s an accomplished artist, an author of some of the most sought-after books on magic and mentalism (Tricks of The Mind, Absolute Magic, and Pure Effect), and to top it off he's a charming human being.  

Derren's stage act is full of entertaining mentalism and edgy humor. You'll find yourself swearing that much of what he does must be fake, set-up, staged, or real. That is a very normal reaction, and it's also lazy and incorrect. If you watch just about anything Derren does a dozen times, sometimes with sound muted, you will figure it out--especially if you have a background in magic or mentalism.

If you scour the comments section of Youtube, you will find hundreds or even thousands of comments of confident laypeople speculating on (asserting) Derren's methods. Over the years I've wasted hours in that comments section, and not once have I encountered a correct assertion when it comes to Derren's method. Not once.

The people who know his method are the the sort that would post it publicly. If you have the keys to the kingdom, would you cast those pearl-handled keys before all the swine in that section? No offense to swine. When we have something truly valuable, we tend to keep it close to our chests. 

Derren Brown makes no claims of psychic ability and in fact shuns it at every opportunity (a futile exercise), even interrupting his stage shows to point it out. Like Harry Houdini, part of his life's work is debunking fraudulent psychics. Whenever I tell people, "It's all just tricks. It's not real," they often refuse to hear it. Even reasoning, "If it were real, why would I be..." or "Did you notice how I did such and such? Why would that be necessary?" None of it gets through. 

As is often the case with leaders, many mentalists have copied his style of presentation, sometimes nearly verbatim. Aside from the overt mimicry, they often tend to overdue the emphasis on his suggestive process, explicitly drawing attention to the so-called NLP. Derren, on the other hand, obliquely, if at all, references his suggestions (this is deliberate), so that when you think you caught him, he has won (because he really is ten steps ahead). Into his presentations Derren drops red herrings that have fooled even knowledgeable magicians and mentalists. At the risk of exposing too much here, once you’re sure you’ve caught him doing something, you are almost certainly way off.

If these copycat mentalists were magicians, they might say,
"The coin is in my hand. Now count to three. Okay now blow on the hand. Now wave your hand over my hand. Now I sprinkle magic powder over my hand. And when I say 'Presto Chango,' all I have to do is tap the hand with this magic wand, and the coin disappeared." That is overdoing the visible process. That is what I mean by process.
In the same way, the copycats overdo their "Derrenisms."

Derren Brown Rock Paper Scissors

Derren Reads Jonathan Ross's Mind (and steals his watch)

Derren And David Tennant

Mentalist Berren Brown And Simon Cowell (the setting is an art gallery full of Derren's paintings)

Derren Brown And Martin Kemp

In the following demonstrations Derren disarmingly uses a deck of cards:

Mentalist Derren Brown Performing Mental Magic

Mentalist & Magician Fries Martin Freeman

Magician against Matt Lucas

Derren Brown And Jonathan Ross

One of the reasons I like to use playing cards is that I get to introduce a mind-melting miracle as a, "card trick."
This usually has a relaxing effect on the spectator. They think they have a sense of card tricks.

Magician David Blaine

Indianapolis magicians for hire

In 1997, America turned sideways (into a duck) when magician David Blaine exploded into every living room. David Blaine was a pioneer; and pioneers end up with arrows in their backs. Many magicians dismissed him as a talent-less, charm-free street urchin. I would argue that Blaine’s talent was clear even in his first TV special, David Blaine Street Magic. If you closely observed his technique, you could see that his was proficient and well-honed. Some of the effects he performed were simple and could be achieved easily (when poorly executed), but in David Blaine’s hands, the effects were made beautiful because of his refined technique, his subtle psychological convincers, and his presentational finesse. Many magic tricks are like that.  The secret is so simple that you think you could do it. The real secret is doing it so well that it looks like real magic.

Blaine’s magic show was less about displaying his talent and more about elevating the art of magic. He was the first magician to emphasize the magic of the audience reaction. The camera does of course catch the magic itself, but note that the camera more often focuses on Blaine's audience, and not on Blaine. The viewers at home are watching the spectators on television. The audience is watching the audience.

Blaine has also been accused of a lack of showmanship. I believe this was a deliberate choice. On the one hand, it’s better to have no showmanship than to have off-putting, cringe-worthy, try-hard showmanship, like his successor, the Vanilla Ice of Magic Criss Angel (© Jon Finch 2017). On the other, with his magic, rather than saying, "Look at me, look at me," Blaine was saying, "Look at these adult humans becoming children."

The great disparity between the audience’s reaction and the entertainer’s matter-of-fact, unfeeling rebound enlarges the magic moment. To this day there are working professionals whose reactions overshadow the spectator's reaction. This should never be the case. There is a time to emphasize the impossibility of effect, but when the impossibility is as clear as a floating crystal ball, the magician need not force an amazed expression on his own face, like a baby discovering his own...hands for the first time.

Blaine’s magic was supportive in nature and elicited human reactions across all manner of spectators. Watching David Blaine is like listening to Erik Satie, the originator of ambient music. Ambient music was the precursor to background music (movie soundtracks are often in this genre). It’s intended to support the scene, rather than draw attention to the music. His spectators included homeless people, people who spoke different languages, A-list celebrities, and even US Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

Some of the tricks I feel most comfortable performing to this day are those Blaine performed on his first TV specials. They are direct, simple in plot, and effective. Blaine inspired me and a flurry of other magicians, including Derren Brown. If you ever think to yourself, “Well, that might be real,” remember that he has made a lifetime study of tricking you into believing that.

David Blaine is appearing at the Murat Theatre in Indianapolis 

 

 

Magician Lennart Green

 
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Lennart Green may not be as sexy as David Blaine, Derren Brown, or Criss Angel, but he has the chops to match all three. When I first saw Lennart Green present a TED Talk, I was reminded of the stories I’d heard Dai Vernon tell of Max Malini, legendary magician of the late 1800’s. Max Malini was unlike the measured, elegant style and polished demeanor that that could describe most (maybe all) magicians of the era.  It takes great skill to be as skillful as Lennart Green and present yourself as a confused old man.

Magician Lennart Green TED Talk

Magician Lennart Green's performance style seemed erratic, messy, and alive.
I liked it.
The mixing of the playing cards was disorderly and out of control. This apparent disorder made it even more compelling, vivid, and real. He, like Malini, has a unique sense of humor delivered through a thick accent. Upon leaving a Lennart Green event, you're left with the feeling that it might be magic.

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