Derren Brown’s recent show ‘Miracle’ in London was absolutely amazing. By the time I experienced it, he had been there for a few months, performing sell-out shows every night to around 1,400 people. The whole show was incredible. Derren is a remarkable performer and the audience loved him and the show.
One of the highlights of the show is his performance of Russian Roulette. I am not at liberty to explain his routine (or how he did it) but it involves a nail and some bags. The audience was transfixed by it, which was helped by what preceded the routine!
Magicians discuss this effect a lot. The methods are one thing but the performance is what really divides magicians. Some say it is a terrible trick. There is no effect; it’s a stupid thing to do; it has no actual magic involvement in it etc. Others think it is a great effect; one that really draws in an audience and one that the performer can hang many different presentations on.
I perform Russian Roulette in most of my stage performances and I love it. I also think it is a routine that appeals to audiences. You can see a snippet near the start of this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2MHQQejnj5k
Why should the only emotion people feel from a magic show, aside from the obvious amazement, be fun and laughter? Even comedies have moments of seriousness, pathos, danger etc.
Have you ever seen a horror film? A ‘weepie’? Why would you want to pay money to be scared or to feel sad?
There is no reason a magic show should not appeal to an audience’s range of emotions. Yes, they want watch the stage magician do amazing things and to have a good time but that’s not just about fun and laughter. A stage show can be so much more than a one-dimensional performance… even if you are a comedy magician.
Of course it’s all down to the most important aspect of magic: how much someone care. This is the most important word in magic because unless people care about you, the effect, the premise or the presentation it really doesn’t matter what you are doing or how amazing it is. Any Americans reading this care about how exciting the last England cricket match was? No? But it was really exciting!
Also, why is it that some magicians don’t like this effect? Is it because it just a 1 in 4, 5 or 6 chance? There’s many magic effects with less odds than that. Of course, a good presentation will make the odds irrelevant. Max Maven, the prominent mentalist, once told me, “Life and death is only 50/50”.
Is it because it is perceived as highly dangerous? So what? Many of the greatest magicians ever have performed dangerous effects? Harry Houdini, David Copperfield, Lance Burton, Penn & Teller, Hans Moretti, Paul Daniels, Dynamo and David Blaine have all performed dangerous effects. Any time someone is hoisted into the air, gone underwater or used a weapon they are in danger. Does this make all of them, and more, stupid? Of course not. They know the value of good theatre and how to engage an audience’s emotions.
What Derren Brown showed is that something as fearful as a Russian Roulette can be theatrically brilliant. It is not about the props or the method but how it makes the audience feels. He knows the secret to tapping into people’s psyche and knows exactly what they want.
I’ll finish with my two favourite quotes, one from a magician and one not, that sum this up perfectly:
Dan Harlan said, “Most magicians say that the effect is everything and the method is nothing. The expeirence is everything.”
Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”