Looking for resources on developing a performance character

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Noel W., Feb 21, 2018.

  1. Hello everyone!

    I have been lurking for a while, gaining lots of insights from the various threads. I am actually the advisor for a college magic and mentalism club at Weber State University and I have been trying to think of ways to support the students in their development in the art. The club is only a year-old at the moment but aims to provide a space were folks at various levels of magic performance interest on campus can come together and grow. Whether it is a student wanting to explore the art for the first time, or someone performing who wants to take the next steps.

    I have seen you all give great resources for folks starting out (like the card college series, Wilson's course, etc.) I was wondering if any of you had ideas on resources on developing a performance character? Personally I have just reached the point where I think I am ready to explore this aspect of the art as well, but I do not feel knowledgeable enough to answer student's questions.

    At what point did you figure out your character? I assume any books are more likely going to be more theater focused, which is fine, but I don't even know what authors would be good to look into at first. Any thoughts and guidance would be appreciated.
    DominusDolorum likes this.
  2. First of all congrats on running what sounds like a successful club. Good for you for providing resources for fellow magicians to help expand the art. It is always a huge help to have somewhere to go when you are starting out or even just need someone to bounce ideas off of. As for your question, below are excepts from my 2017 lecture notes on this exact topic. Think if this as a little free gift to all of you guys for being so awesome and supportive ;) haha hope it helps. Lastly I would suggest checking out “strong magic” by Darwin Ortiz. He talks a lot about character development and how to actual get your audience invested in your act.

    **Workers lecture notes excerpt on building your character and discovering yourself**

    Lets start from the very beginning. Assume that we are working on a new effect or routine. Before we even start worrying about technique, we need to discover who we are first. What do I mean by “Discover Yourself.” Think about this; What makes some of your favorite magicians so memorable? What things do you admire about them? What do you notice about their styles? Each magician has their own unique personality that resonates within us. Are they charming, bizarre, elegant, ruff around the edges, bumbling, funny, serious, etc?

    A perfect example of a character who I admire is Rob Zabreky. If you have ever seen Zabreky’s character, he is the epitome of memorable. He is mysterious, creepy and dark yet somehow you are rolling on the floor laughing so hard. His extremely dry sense of humor mixed in with his creepy and mysterious character really make him memorable and stand out from other performances I have seen.

    Ok so you are probably wondering to yourself, “what are you getting at Michael?” The answer is this simple; Discover what it is about yourself that makes you.... you! What do you love? What are your passions? What are your fears? Think about the character you will be when you perform. That character will be an extension of who you are. For example I bring along several elements of who I am to my act. My character is very fun, likable and passionate. If you know noting about me but watch my act, you will know right away that I love my wife and daughter, have a passion for my childhood, and am a very easygoing and fun person to talk with. These things will stand out to your audience and they
    will be more than likely to remember how they felt during your act, rather than the tricks you performed.

    Keep these things in mind when you are working on your own magic. The worst thing you can do is try to copy or mimic someone you look up to. A major mistake a lot of us make in the beginning it to try to be the person we look up to. For example, I cannot be Rob Zabreky. The honest truth is I am not him at heart. I love his style and think his act is spot on, but if I performed my set like him, it would come off as forced or fake because it isn’t truly me. Focus on your passions and what makes you stand out as a performer!

    -Workers Lecture Notes 2017 by Michael O’Brien
    DominusDolorum likes this.
  3. Thank you @obrienmagic for sharing that excerpt. It helps a lot!
    obrienmagic likes this.
  4. I would be remiss if I didn't self promote - https://www.ellusionist.com/boffo-pdf-by-christopher-thisse.html

    Michael's got the essence of it there.

    My wife recently summed it up pretty well - there's essentially two types of character. Extensions and masks. A mask is a totally different personality to your normal one - a completely character one dons before performing. There aren't a ton of these in magic, but they do exist. Sylvester the Jester comes to mind, but it doesn't have to be that extreme. An extension is taking parts of your personality and amplifying them until they are all that's really seen. Rob Zabrecky is an example of that - in interviews and such, he's still an unusual guy - but on stage he takes that and becomes The Oddman.

    One thing I talk about in my little book is to talk to people you trust, and have them describe you. Derren Brown talks about this too, but I forget which book it's in. Talk to people and ask them honestly what they think of you, take notes, and then look over what they say. What are the common themes? Do you like them? If not, you can actively work to reduce those behaviors. If yes, you can amplify them to become character traits.

    Very few magicians are also good actors - acting is much harder than it seems. It's easier to play an extension than a mask. My character is an extension of my obsession with "Mysteries of the Unsolved" kinds of things. Ghost stories, local legends, that sort of thing. I know the things I know because I've picked them up along the way while exploring these mysterious subjects. The persona is the loner outcast who knows things. Kind of weird, kind of reckless, kind of intimidating at times - but if you set that aside and listen, you'll get to experience some of these incredible things.

    It's important to remember that character building is an ongoing process. It never really stops.
    obrienmagic and DominusDolorum like this.

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