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Restaurant Magic The Restaurant Worker's Handbook A Practical Guide To To Restaurant Magic by Jim Pace & Jerry MacGregor

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii January, 1996)


Here's a book from two experienced professionals from Portland, Oregon, that dares to present the reader with the authors' own real work on the profession of restaurant magic. Rather than recycling the same old speculations, often from writers lacking both the experience or the imagination to genuinely advise anyone, Mssrs. Pace and MacGregor have opened the dikes and virtually drained every last drop of knowledge and experience, all for the benefit of their readership. Once word gets around, that readership is bound to become a sizable one.

Mr. Pace has been a full-time restaurant performer since 1982; Mr. MacGregor is a part-time magician and full-time writer/performer, whose writing skills have certainly contributed to the easygoing readability of this volume. (Although I do wish they had gone all the way and gotten their pronouns sorted out.) After noting the proliferation of videotapes and other material produced by theoreticians and worse who lack current, real-world experience in the restaurant magic business, the authors systematically present their own very real-world practices and approaches geared toward developing restaurant magic as a profitable and professional endeavor. The 28 succinct chapters are divided into four sections: Paradigms and Prospects—How to think about Restaurant Magic, & how to find work; Preparation and Planning— Principles for creating Restaurant Magic; Performance and Practicality—What to do and how to do it; and Propositions and Preferences—How to make a living at Restaurant Magic. Apparently if alliteration isn't your strong suit, you should probably promptly pack it in.

"You can always spot a magician who hasn't thought through his philosophy of magic. He presents a series of unrelated tricks with explanatory phrases, usually substituting risque patter for well thought-out stories. As an audience member, you're not sure you like this person."The Restaurant Worker's Handbook (Jim Pace & Jerry MacGregor)

Alliteration aside, this is a useful little book. The second chapter, The Magic Paradigm, should be required reading for any magician, from the most casual amateur to the illusionist with a truckload of props—even if neither one will ever be likely to perform in a restaurant. The book is written with remarkable efficiency; while unquestionably there is an important place for academic theorizing in the literature of conjuring, these authors appear to have read their share (including Sam Sharpe's Neo-Magic [page 558], a favorite theory text of this reviewer; then again, they also recommend Fitzkee's Trick Brain, a very less-than-favorite), but have deliberately excised the form from their own contribution. Many chapters begin with an overview that helps to make the book even more accessible and engaging. The range of advice is exceedingly broad yet always practical, from routining effects to landing the gig. There's even some magic included, in the course of which the authors discuss the issues of routining openers, middles and closers when developing performances, a rarely considered subject that I have long addressed in my lectures as a result of my belief in its importance.

There is little doubt that if you're at all interested in performing restaurant magic, you will want to obtain this book, and if you're interested in performing almost any type of close-up magic professionally you're bound to get some value out of it. I do have some complaints, however. It seems odd to me that while the authors seem to want to encourage creativity and originality, they make a number of statements that seem to buy into extremely conventional "wisdom," such as it is, and run contrary to such legitimate ideals. To instruct your readers to "Find a good ring and rope routine and put it in your act" and then go so far as to name a specific routine, may well be practical advice, but it won't help your reader become much of an original artist. Ditto the insistence that Sidewalk Shuffle is "The only packet trick that I consider a must." This author doesn't consider it merely a must merely for himself—that would be fine—but for every reader of his book. Ridiculous, and in fact, detrimental not only to the reader, but to the entire art of magic. I would advise you to beware and be suspicious of any such blanket advice. In fact, the best advice the writers could have offered would have been to say: "Everybody does that damn Sidewalk Shuffle, so I suggest you don't even think about buying one, and force yourself to find something less hackneyed."

What's worse, the authors seem intent on deliberately abusing the words "borrow" and "steal." As I have pointed out before in these pages, magicians, with their appalling record and habits, are in no position to bandy about such inflammatory language. I have no sense of humor about such misuse of language, much less the abuse of ethics, and neither should you. I find it appalling that writers professing to guide students less wise than themselves would flaunt such a cavalier approach to such serious subjects. I would like to think that the authors understand these subjects, but for some perverse reason choose to present the subject lightly. Yet the egregious repetition of these choices makes it difficult for me to remain sanguine about the authors' own ethical standards. The words "borrow" and "steal" simply cannot be used interchangeably. To borrow expressly means to use with permission, and to steal means quite the opposite. I don't know what we are supposed to make of the following: "Some people are great at coming up with original lines. Most others seem to be great at stealing lines. Sure, I've 'borrowed' good lines from magicians (a favorite: Close's 'Try to remember your card, otherwise we'll both be embarassed...especially you.'), but I make sure my act isn't made up of somebody else's material." Say what? I can't tell from this description if this line of Michael Close's is published or not, but the authors should have eliminated any such confusion. If the line is not published then this author has stolen it, and added insult to injury by repeating it here; if it is published, then the author is muddling the issue by failing to clarify that such material is in fact published, either in lecture, written or video form, and hence used with permission. Note that mere performance is not publication for use!

Similarly, the author refers to a videotape on balloon work by Docc Hilford, from which "you should be able to steal a ton of good ideas..." If this is a performance-only tape, then you shouldn't be stealing anything from it; if it's an instructional tape, then you would not be stealing anything, and none of us should use the word so misleadingly, as it encourages confusion of the most dangerous and evil sort. A writer should know better, and a magician who claims to be guiding others should know best of all; sadly, neither is often the case.

These are not minor quibbles, but rather strong objections to these authors' unwillingness, or worse, to deal with the subject of ethics, a subject that is not "merely" artistic or even purely moral but has professional implications as well. Restaurant workers, in fact magicians of every stripe, often form alliances with others with whom to share work, pass along booking conflicts, serve as fill-ins, and so on. Invariably, those who are ethical share such benefits with others who are similarly trustworthy; the thieves keep company with others of similar ilk. I'm not certain if these authors are thieves-but if you use one stolen line in your act then that's what you are, a thief. You can't be a little bit pregnant, and you can't be a little bit of a lowlife. Perhaps the authors are just fuzzy on concept and sloppy with language. But the fact that I am unclear about their position is damning, and unfortunate in light of the positive and productive nature of much of their book. If you want to understand ethics, read Jim Swain's comments on the subject, mentioned above. And if you want to understand what the words "borrow" and "steal" mean, I suggest you ignore this book and try a dictionary. I encourage the authors to do the same.