Today’s topics are: Multilingual shows plus Robert Jägerhorn’s essay on it; On theory, featuring a Phil Goldstein essay; Remembering FISM, stories and photos.
These are The Magic Memories 82, gone online Sunday, July 24th, 2022, at 0:07h sharp.
My good friend Robert Jägerhorn from Helsinki, Finland, wrote in to ask my opinion about multilingual shows. I should precede this by saying that Robert is a successful professional magician who works internationally, and there is a good chance that you might have seen his act he does to music at a magic convention. Like most pros, though, who have a choreographed act, he realizes that most venues in the paying market require a spoken act, for various reasons.
Most private and corporate functions hesitate to pay a professional fee for an act lasting ca. 10 minutes, but will gladly book a performer who can communicate with an audience, more often than not with various degrees of humor, and for at least 30 minutes. All my life, since I’ve turned pro in 1988, I’ve made a comfortable living by offering a 40-minute parlor/stage performance, plus, if appropriate, magic at the guests’ tables before or after the formal show.
So, here are a few thoughts on the topic of performing for international audiences, and I hope that even those who perform in just one language might pick up an idea or two.
Close-up or Parlor/Stage
There is a big difference between using several languages in close-up and stage. Here in Europe private and corporate festivities usually have set tables at which a menu made up of several courses is served. This has the advantage that the guests tend to remain seated at the same table for most of the event, with the exception of going out for a smoke, and maybe dance, the latter almost only happens with private events (weddings, birthday parties etc.).
Since birds of a feather indeed flock together, those who speak the same language usually gather at one table: The French with the French, the Italians with the Italians, the Spanish with the Spanish, and the remaining guests usually come from all corners of the world and speak English among each other!
This, to me, is a gift from the Gods, of course: When I approach a table I immediately find out their nationality and can usually speak their language. That’s a big plus, since they did not expect a perform addressing them in their own language in a foreign country. Not only do the shows at these tables work like clockwork, they give me a lot of advance likeability that I can then use in the stage show: Even thought I might then not speak their language in every instance (see below), they willingly follow along, and I thus overcome the initial opposition that would naturally be there if they hadn’t got to know and like me before.
So, whenever I have a multilingual audience, or a room where some guests are sitting far away from the stage, or both (this happens and is one of the most difficult things), I make it a point to do some magic at the tables, and if there are too many, I’ll identify the “problem tables”, and do some magic just there between the courses and before the show. (Under “normal” conditions I prefer to go to the tables after the show, once they’ve had dessert and while they are having coffee etc.)
I can tell you that this has saved me from dying on stage on several occasions, and turned a potentially disastrous situation into a triumph, without loud music, smoke, laser or dancing girls… just with the tools of communication, and some good magic, I should add…
Most of the multilingual shows I do are for international corporations that have some kind of meeting here in Switzerland. In almost all such cases, people from all over the world gather, but at their meetings they use a common language, which fortunately is English. (Hope it won’t be Russian or Chinese in the future, as this would literally put me out of business… I simply don’t speak their language.)
I don’t say this is easy, but it certainly is the easiest of all possible multilingual situations you can get. In this case English will be my fil rouge language, the one that carries the important messages and also the gags, funny bits and lines, but to these I add very short lines that address the guests speaking other languages (that I also speak). Definitely, a small book could be written about this (again!), as the devil is in the details.
From all the techniques and strategies I use, here is just one, and it is so simple, anyone could use it. After I have been announced and I get on stage with the help of a musical flourish (if there is a music band) I greet the audience thusly:
First in the language of the hosting country, in this case Switzerland, in Swiss German or German: “Vielen Dank meine Damen und Herren, und herzlich willkommen zu einem zauberischen Intermezzo am heutigen Abend:” I follow with the language that has the most guests (assume France): “Je souhaite la bienvenue a toutes et tous les invités de language française, bienvenues à un interact de prestidigitation.” This is followed by a similar short sentence in Italian (“Benvenuti gli ospiti di lingua Italian, bevenuti ad un intermezzo di prestigiazione”), and Spanish (“Benvenidos todos nuestros invitados de idioma Castellano, bienvenidos a un intermedio de magia potagia” – “Magia Potagia” having been a popular TV show by Juan Tamariz), all done at a brisk pacing.
And then I always end with the key sentence that closes the info circle and brings me the sympathy I need to successfully communicate for the rest of the show: “And of course I would like to welcome everyone else, whose language I do not happen to speak, but who I’m confident will understand my English – welcome!”
I always get a big hand after this intro delivered with much panache and a smile.
After decades of professional experience in the most diverse situations, I can assure you that such a merely verbal intro often gets deeper into the heads and hearts of the audience than an opening with loud music, smoke, laser and a dozen half-naked ladies…
One more thing: I talk at lest twice to the person who books me, first, when they contact me and usually book me (sometimes they call back, so that would be a third time), second, about one week before the event. I run with them through the event event mentally, and make sure my show is scheduled in the right place (usually after the main course), and that they provide everything I need (see Chapter 1 of Stand-up Card Magic for details).
As part of that I ask for a list of the invited guests. This allows me to identify how many language groups there are, and how many people there are in each group.
Sometimes there will be 60 people, and only 2 speak French, as an example. In this case I don’t even bother, because I know almost for sure that these two people do understand German or English, however, they pretend not to, because they want to be recognized for their cultural diversity, which is understandable. I take care of that in case I can do their table by addressing them in their language, so during the show I have all their support. Or I take care of it in my initial greeting. Occasionally, and if I see that one of them is a good sport, I will repeat some pieces of information or gags especially for them in their language and addressing them directly – this becomes a running gag. Such a ploy may not sound sensational, but I can assure you that if well done it can bring the audience’s experience of the show to the next level.
Ah, so many more things to say…
There are other cases where the audience is really split into groups that do not share a common language, such as at marriages, when e.g., a Swiss-German marries an Italian, and the Italian family was brought in. Although I’m fluent in both languages, this is a dilemma, as I could experience after the first such event.
May I suggest two solutions.
Solution One: I double my fee so I won’t get booked, and if I do, it will be “pain and suffering money”.
BTW: Doubling the fee has been a successful ploy whenever I wanted to take a vacation or attend a magic meeting such as Escorial – this worked most of the time, and I could successfully eschew the booking without losing my face, on the contrary (but that’s something for another blog).
Solution Two: I select the most visual tricks from my repertoire that will be understood almost without text. If possible I accompany them with some music. Also, perform classics of magic, such as Cut & Restores Rope, Miser’s Dream, Linking Rings, Cups & Balls, Sponge Ball Routine, Card Stab etc.
BTW: This made me understand why classics have become classics, because the effect is straightforward and will usually be repeated several times, and their symbolism is recognizable in all cultures, by all ages, ethnicities, social status etc. Make a note of this, as it is an important thought.
Additionally, I try to convince the organizer that a 20-minutes show (instead of the 40 minutes I usually do) is best, and as a “compensation” for doing a shorter stage show, I offer to perform “little private shows” for his guests at the cocktail reception, or between the courses and before the show. See my thoughts above “Close-up or Parlor/Stage”…
BTW: I never ever use the term “table hopping” or “strolling magic”, I only do “private shows” – you can add a zero to your fee.
I don’t think that I’ve ever read anyone discuss this topic of multilingual shows, and now realize that this would not only justify a book, but also a lecture at an international magic convention – I’ll make a note…
The Jägerhorn Experience
To read Robert Jägerhorn’s short essay that brings in some additional considerations about how to perform multilingually CLICK HERE.
More Rumination – On Theory
In The Magic Memories 79 I started a subject area dealing with short theoretical essays I discovered in unlikely and hard to find places. The first was by Fred Kaps from his London lecture notes – if you missed it, you can access all blogs from the past 3 years (The Magic Calendar, The Magic Memories 2021 and The Magic Memories 2022) by CLICKING HERE.
Today’s short essay comes from a very early set of lecture notes by Max Maven, who then used the nom de plume of Phil Goldstein (his real name actually), and gives an insight why this gentleman and artist has become who he is today, namely one of the most important and influential thinkers and practitioners of our art, besides he has been a friend and mentor for decades, and behind his stage persona hides one of the most generous, helpful and, yes, sweetest people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing in the big world of magic (still a small world in the big, big world).
To read the essay CLICK HERE.
As you are reading this the FISM World Magic Convention is about to start in Quebec, Canada. I had been asked to deliver a special lecture on a historical subject, but somehow negotiations got stuck at an early phase. Frankly, I’m glad, considering all the current hassle with travel and cancelled flights, and the increasing incidence in Covid infection, I’m afraid this could easily be a Corona hot spot.
Then again, I greatly regret not being there, as the FISM conventions have always been my favorite ones: Nowhere do you get so close to the best in the world.
My first FISM was in 1979, in Brussels, Belgium, and like any “first” I will never forget it 🙂 There I met Ascanio, Tamariz, Vernon, Jennings, Bilis and many lesser known who have later become big names in our field.
This convention was also the incentive to start my first notebook, and the very first note that went into it was Juan Tamariz’s personal explanation of his fantastic and versatile Tamariz Perpendicular Control (TPC).
About twenty years later, on the occasion of one of my many visits to his summer residence in Andalusia, he gave me a whole lecture on the multiple applications he had found in the meantime, and that lecture lasted over an hour.
Juan is currently writing a book on the TPC and its many uses it can be put to – it can only be hoped that he will soon publish it for the benefit of all of us 🙂
As you can see, I already got off track, and I haven’t even started!
Yes, those FISM conventions I’ve attended since 1979 (Lausanne 1982, Madrid 1985, The Hague 1988, Lausanne 1991, Dresden 1997, Lisbon 2000, The Hague 2003, Stockholm 2006, 2015 Rimini) would justify a book (yet another one!). I just decided to dedicate a complete edition to more FISM memories, because there are so many, but will postpone this to cooler days. However, here are a few teaser photos & reminiscences.
The photo below with Harry Blackstone Jr. was taken in the super hot Palais de Beaulieu, Lausanne, Switzerland, where the FISM took place in 1991 (no air conditioning in the hottest July ever).
The organization had been taken over by Jean Garance and his team, after the sudden death of Prof. Alberto Sitta, who was supposed to organize the FISM 1991 in Bologna, Italy.
At this convention I won 2nd prize in Card Magic (for the second time after The Hague in 1988), which was a triumph, but I also should experience the biggest failure of my magical life, an event that is traumatizing me to this day (only if I think of it)… the day I get over it, I’ll tell you more about it 🙁
Other than that it was a great convention 🙂 with many superb memories (Vernon, Ascanio, Andrus, Lavand, Copperfield, and, and. and…)
FISM 1991 with Barbara and Harry Blackstone Jr.
The photo below is a story in itself, I’ll spare you for the moment, but it shows me after driving David Copperfield, Gary Ouellet (producer of the first Copperfield TV specials), and Don Wayne (illusion builder to Copperfield at that time), together with Barbara (my wife…), to the hotel we were staying – I was a booked as an artist, so had the privilege of staying with the “Greats” 🙂
With “casual” Copperfield FISM 1991
The next photo is of course a blast: It was taken in the bar of the hotel where the artists were staying for the FISM convention 2000, which took place in Lisbon, Portugal, one of the very best, regardless of what some have later reported in the magazines. I challenge you to recognize the greats and near-greats in it 🙂
I’ll stop here, or else this is never going to end…
And now, as always, I wish you an excellent week, drink a lot, eat lightly, and don’t do any physical work – it’s too hot (at least over here!). Come to think of it: This is generally good advice, isn’t it?
Talk again next week on The Magic Memories 83.
All the very best,