Spectators by René Levand

By Joshua Jay - Wednesday, April 22, 2020

This blog is all about the theory of magic, as told by some of the leading thinkers. In the following short essay, the late René Lavand masterfully demonstrates how thinking like a magician is really about thinking like our audiences.

I have always liked to analyze the different reactions among audiences in an attempt to understand how to gear myself to each particular situation. I have been doing this for many years and, I must confess, although I can clearly differentiate reactions, I cannot find definitive answers to the question. There exists a range of audiences with different reactions, interminable gray areas that make up the psychology of the people that pay (or don’t pay) to see us. Some audiences are irritated at not being able to rationalize the subtle deceit while others enjoy allowing themselves to be fooled.

Trying to find answers and simplify my task, I have eliminated the audiences who fall into the middle “gray” area and instead concentrate on the spectators at one extreme: the ones that cannot (or don’t want to) let go of rationality. Among these rational ones, I have observed two main types: those who are irritated and complain about not being able to “let go of their rationalizing,” and those who come to my show without any other motive than to solve the puzzle.

I try to imagine myself in the spectator’s position. To what sort of audience do I belong? Sitting in a chair in front of a colleague, what do I try to do? I only want to enjoy the illusion. I am unarmed and have eliminated everything which might obscure my pleasure as a spectator. There are audiences that express challenge to the magician, as if ready to discover the secret, refusing defiantly to be fooled, to see the artist as an opponent that is challenging them: “If you figure out the trick, you win. If you don’t, I win. I ask them, “Do you want to kill your own illusion? Big mistake. Have you come to enjoy the tenderness of the marionette or to discover the strings that give it life?”

If books are written about how to enjoy music, I want to mention something about how to enjoy illusion: get rid of any preconceptions and sit back in your chair. Enjoy total relaxation which will permit the performer to communicate amiably. This posture allows you to hear his words more clearly, enabling you to savor the pauses. Your eyes will permit the enjoyment of the effect. Try to enjoy as a child, knowing what you know as an adult.

The most sophisticated audiences that I have been fortunate to perform for are not doubters, but those with special expectations who seem to say: “We don’t want to know how you do it, thank you! We want to be children again.” The powerful effect of excellent illusions artistically performed by an artist can last for years.

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