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How has magic changed in the last 25 years?

Paul Daniels Magic SetMost magicians my age have a similar story of how they got in to magic – they either saw a magician at a kid’s party or received a Paul Daniels Magic Set or book. Not all, but a very high percentage. Nowadays, I guess a lot of people are getting in to magic with a Dynamo Magic Set. I suspect that will be the average story of how the professionals got in to magic in another 25 years.

It got me thinking about what else has changed in magic over the last 25 years. A lot has changed and so much is scarily similar.

As well as Paul Daniels who seemed to be on telly every week when I was child, the only magic on TV was really the hour long specials (often shown on a Saturday morning at Easter time) from people like David Copperfield and Doug Henning. Wayne Dobson came along for a bit on ITV as well as few tv spots on shows like Opportunity Knocks, New Faces and Talking Telephone Numbers. On the whole, magic on TV has changed a lot. For starters, there’s a lot more of it. With hundreds of channels brings hundreds of new TV magic shows. Obviously most are terrible, but then, most TV in general is terrible. The style has changed too. It used to work out that magicians would have to have a large studio audience present for the people at home to believe what they are seeing is real. Endless disclaimers about ‘No Camera Tricks’ and trying not to cut away at the ‘point of no return’. This changed to the street style, performing for only a few at a time. A lot cheaper to film, but with it has come the main problem of the public at home not quite believing in what they are seeing. And rightly so.

Here is the brilliant Doug Henning – no camera tricks.

Live magic shows are actually very similar on the whole. The general style of magicians haven’t changed that much. Girl goes in box, magician puts blades in box, box gets shown empty, girl is alive. Or magician borrows money, money ‘accidentally’ gets destroyed, money is found in Lemon. The main change in the last few years is that of ensemble magic shows. It used to be 1 man shows largely. Recently with shows like Illusionists and Impossible it’s being proven that magic can be the star of the show rather than the smaller parts of it.

There are a few magicians that come along that do change the whole path of magic. David Blaine made magic cool again after his show Street Magic was shown back in 1997. Others had done street magic before, but he really captured the imagination of the public and created hundreds of wannabe Blaines. I have to admit, my love of close up magic was reignited and reinvigorated after I saw that first special.

Derren BrownDerren Brown, who is one of the greatest magicians of our generation, changed the world of mind reading forever. His Mind Control series spawned a thousand cloned mind readers who also decided they had his presentational skills of eluding to involving NLP, body language and psychology to achieve the mind reading tricks. A lot of them copied his nod and other personality quirks which is always amusing to watch.

The biggest thing to affect all things magic, by far, is the internet. From the way it is viewed to the way it is learnt in the first place. When I was getting in to it, I had to save up, buy a magic trick from Supreme Magic Company having chosen it from a catalogue description of what the trick might look like, often missing out vital information. Having had high expectations of ‘magic in a box’, what would actually arrive is a ball, some string and some Blu Tack and I’d actually have to learn how to make the magic look good with practise and presentation. That still happens on YouTube to be fair – they simply cut of the dodgy part of the trick in the trailer to make the trick look as good as possible.

Nowadays magicians teach other magicians new techniques and tricks via downloads. It’s all a lot easier and quicker. But again, with that comes problems. It used to be quite hard to release a book so it would usually be done by a good magician and most of the information would be fairly good (not all, but a lot). As it’s so easy to reveal a trick on YouTube badly, younger magicians are learning from people who can’t perform the trick well in the first place. It’s the blind leading the blind.

Older magicians tend to resent the new, younger generation. Often quotes like “yes – but can they entertain?” or “but they can’t do it live” is trotted out as a gut reaction to young (anyone under the age of 35) doing magic on Instagram/YouTube etc. I think a lot of it is really great. Instagram is basically a new venue to perform magic in. No longer do nightclubs book acts to perform a 20 minute cabaret show in the round, so magicians in 2016 are now performing on the internet. Obviously that has advantages and disadvantages. The disadvantage is that it’s hard to make a connection with people (live magic is always going to be more exciting and engaging). One great advantage is that you can film the trick 20 times before you get it right and also control the angle of where the camera is. The trick might not be able to be done in the real world, but I have to say that this new generation are certainly a lot more creative than the old guard who think they are entertaining with their coloured pom poms and 30 year old bit of discoloured rope.

Overall, I think magic has pretty much stayed the same over the last 25 years, like have most entertainments. Comedians still tell jokes, singers still sing songs – it’s just the style that gradually changes. I think that’s a good thing.