Real World Magic by Jerry MacGregor
Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii June, 2000)
Jerry MacGregor is a full-time professional magician from the Pacific Northwest area who does everything from close-up magic at restaurants and corporate events to comedy club magic and platform mentalism pro-grams. He is also the author (along with Jim Pace) of The Restaurant Worker's Handbook (reviewed January 1997 Genii). Mr. MacGregor takes his title to heart in this substantial little book and offers a truckload of practical advice on what it means to be a professional close-up (primarily) magician in the "real world." This is a book of invaluable advice for the aspiring professional, the part-timer, or even for the amateur who finds himself constantly annoyed and uncomprehending when he hears professionals try to explain the differences between hobby magic and real-world performance.
Denny Haney, former full-time illusionist and now proprietor of the highly regarded Denny & Lee Magic Studio, knows one heck of a lot about what it means to do magic in the so-called real world—meaning, for all intents and purposes, paying audiences—and so when he said to me that the first 127 pages of this book was some of the best advice he had read about magic in a long time, I took notice. He was absolutely right, and I frankly have little to add to that succinct review. From material about how to entertain, finding meaning in your magic, the importance of language, selecting tricks, routining shows and more, the author speaks cogently and often bluntly, offering a plethora of advice that, while as is often the case can be found spread elsewhere throughout the literature, rarely has so much been said so directly in such a concise space. This is not a book of academic theory—this is a book of practical, at times elegant, and thoughtful advice.
The author has a tendency to cite examples by name of many magicians in order to illustrate his points, both pro and con, and here he sometimes loses his way. While his forth-rightness can be refreshing, he is often abruptly dismissive without demonstrating any particular insight or offering any substantial justification for his viewpoint—it is merely his opinion, but he often simultaneously states it as unimpeachable law and yet does little to defend or explain himself in the process. Hence my inclination is to suggest that you ignore most of these examples, because they might just confuse you, and in general his points are better made without them—they often come across less as illustrative than as gratuitous name calling or dropping, as the case may be. Interestingly, my suggestion here is not intended to call into question the value of much of the related advice—although the author, in his authoritative voice, can often be simply mistaken, as when he points out that Paul Gertner "ends his wonderful act" with the finger ring on hourglass effect described in his book, Steel and Silver, when in fact this is a specialty effect created for contests and used occasionally on television, but to the best of my knowledge hardly ever, if at all, in the, uh, real world.
Which is not to say that I agree wholeheartedly. One of my criticisms of the author's previous book was that while its analysis and recommendations were often good, the author made the mistake of making blanket recommendations concerning tricks, which merely contributes to the clone magician phenomenon, in which everyone does the same 10 tricks because they are "commercial." The author continues in this vein, veering dangerously close to embracing a world in which every walk-around artist does Sponge Bunnies, Floating Bill, Invisible Deck, Watch Steal, and the like. I continue to find this kind of misguided guidance coming from someone thoughtful enough to offer elsewhere that "... I have a life, not just an act, and my performance on stage reveals that life, it doesn't create it." Once again, I caution you that when you see these efficient little lists of tricks you ought to be doing—try to think about the goals these tricks achieve, but then pick something else.
In the second half of the book, the author rounds up a number of highly regarded colleagues, mostly in the Pacific Northwest, to contribute a number of tricks, organized into four sections of openers, middles, close-up mentalism, and closers. I found this segment to be uneven, to say the least. Admittedly, some of the material is superb—including a Steve Mayhew idea that will send certain pro's running to the flower shop, an opening wine glass vanish of the author's that was described in his previous book, and some good close-up mentalism by Bob Cassidy.
But the author is a better theory writer than he is a describer of tricks and the descriptions are often woefully short of illustrations. More significantly, although I think the author is inclined toward the idea of proper crediting, he is woefully incompetent in this area, with most credits either nonexistent or hopelessly naive, crediting to the most recent or commercial application, if any at all. Thus Johnny Ace Palmer is mentioned in a fairly simple version of the Bob Read Bottle Production, with no mention of Mr. Read, despite the fact that I am not aware that Mr. Palmer has added anything in his use of this (or any other trick for that matter) in his "act." A multiple coin production that starts as a Matrix fails to mention Paul Gertner's "That's Ridiculous." The Vernon shortchange gimmick goes un-credited. A floating bill routine, admittedly effective, draws a great deal of inspiration from Fred Kaps and especially Kevin James, but you will not find their names here; you will find the suggestion that the contributor is responsible for the idea of using a horizontal rather than vertical thread hook-up, a ludicrous notion that a brief consultation of John Kennedy's original Floating Bill, first marketed more than 20 years ago, will put quickly to rest. Then again, if the author took the time to read this magazine, he might also know how to spell the name of the man who invented Matrix.
All in all, an excellent 127 pages of practical theoretical advice, followed by a mixed bag of magic tricks, with some good ones definitely included in the bag.