Magic and Short Stories

Combining a short story with magic is a challenge. You always have to take care that the magic does not get overshadowed by the story’s impact, and vice versa. When I was studying mime, we were encouraged to invent short stories and to put them on stage. The point was to think of plots and develop characters.

I have a great respect for people who can write short stories, and I have great respect for people who dare to combine short stories with magic. I think short stories are something magicians could use more often. The narrative element is always attractive (well, depends on the story, of course), and fascinates people. For thousands of years, the narrative was the preferred means to transport information. It’s natural.

I tried hard at these times, to combine mime with magic, and I did not succeed. Maybe it was because I was too unexperienced and lacked the necessary theatrical background. Maybe my thinking at that time centred mainly around solutions for the magical problems and the mime technique. So I missed the most important theatrical aspects in my attempts.

Today, I see things differently, and I developed a better view. My knowledge and experience have expanded. I don’t do any mime, but I am still fascinated by combining them. It is a difficult undertaking because you have to keep a balance. Take a look at this example.

Tom Stone and his dedicated group of magicians/actors did very well here, and we can learn a lot. Although there are a few of things I would change (OK, I will shut up, I have thrown in my unnecessary two pence now), this is a good example of how difficult it is to balance magic with a short story.

[Advertising plug: the group is called “Mystique”, and they operate their mysterious business from Stockholm. Be sure to pay them a visit:]

Look at the clip again, and this time, pay close attention to how your mind is working when experiencing performances like this. Observe your mind, when it is observing the play, and note your thoughts (yes, humans can do this weird self-observation after only short practice).

Your mind wanders around in the story — and you will notice that think about what’s in the letter, then are “shocked” to see the gallows loop, think about what is going to happen now, see him exit, and are, again, shocked by the clown in the end. This piece, in particular, is very strong, because it has an appalling plot.

There is a lot of stuff going on, which interests you, because it is a story that makes perfect sense.

Then comes the magic. In the story, the letter is restored, and the loop re-appears. Can you see, and feel, what I mean when I talk about balance? Do you notice the sudden stop, the distraction, that enters in when your mind thinks about the magic? If not, watch the clip again, this time focus on the change in your mind that happens when the magic is done.

This is a perfect example of how difficult it can be to combine magic and theatre. The plot, in this case (my opinion) is so strong that it wouldn’t really need any magic. The test is: if you were to omit the magic, would the mini-play still stand on its own? I think this piece could. But, putting the magic in is the pinch of salt that makes it a delight. And they did one thing right: the magic happens. There is no magician who makes it happen. IT happens, which makes this so strong (and also helps to keep it in balance). The magic is serving the short story, and not the other way round (which is too often seen).

Why then did they put magic in this? Tom told me the group challenges themselves to create new acts each month, and the conditions they set are tough, no recycling of material allowed (I think only Swedes can be that tough, see Dolph Lundgren). And they hit upon this plot idea, and just put it into reality. So — why not? It’s good, and it is much better than doing nothing. At least, they created something I can criticise. :-)

I see a big future for this concept. Combining magic with a short story. In their case, they broadened the plot from “the lonely magician being drawn into something” to a much heftier topic. Also, for me, it fulfils the requirements of minimalism. I prefer Spartan settings, where the plot, and the characters are in focus. Therefore, if I had to “direct” this piece, I would even get rid of the coloured costume and confine them to simple, neutral black costumes, to enhance the impact of the play. The faces (the guy with the beard attracts all attention), the characters, and the plot are so strong. Less is more. The small notion of that little red nose is the final punch in your face. No hat, no special costume needed. Just that small red sponge ball. Albert Goshman would have loved that. And nobody anymore says that magic with sponge balls can’t be sophisticated!

I love this little piece, because I love short stories (and magic). It is a demanding challenge.

They took it up, and now it is on its way to becoming performance art.

Performance art that is so refreshing.

More of this, please!