This blog post was inspired by a TED talk I put together for LUND Magic Weekend October 2019 alongside Fay Presto from the U.K and Alana from Germany. I decided to use my time to discuss creativity and the tools I use when devising magic routines.
I hope you enjoy my TED talk in written form below.
What is wonder? When we create magic we hope it will be wonderful. But how do we get to wonder? How do we take an effect that everyone knows, has studied, read and seen umpteen variations off and make it unique? How do we make magic our own?
A question I strive to answer every time I step out on stage and one I believe I have had an advantage in because of my theatrical training.
Having a degree in Drama as a foundation before becoming a magician meant that I have always approached magic differently. When I watch magic I don’t wish to imitate it. Instead I wish to cultivate what I like about that routine and make it my own.
My goal in performance is to leave audiences with a sense of true wonder. I believe I achieve this by creating unique theatrical compositions. I aim to integrate speech, movement, magic effects and direction with the desire to form a lasting connection with my audiences. One they will remember long after my performance has come to its end.
For this reason I am always searching for wonder in life to inject a magical feeling into my art.
First steps to wonder… be wonderful!
I have been performing theatrical children’s magic and illusions now for thirteen years. I’ve toured shows, created characters, written books and even dared to break the tradition and worm my way into closeup performances too. This transition – in a way – feels like I’m growing-up into magic. I like to think of my career in stages.
My children’s entertainer stage was my childhood in magic. My current closeup stage for me feels like I’m a hormonal teenager struggling to find myself. I ask myself regularly who exactly is Nikola Arkane?
What’s great about being in the ‘teenage’ phase is I do not have to rush this period like I wanted to when I was a real teenager. This is my time to explore, discover and feel my way into what I might become. And because I’m in the teenage stage its totally fine for me to be dramatic and stamp my feet every once in a while!
Knowing where exactly you are at in your journey is a good thing and also where you see yourself in the future.
There are three principals in creating wonder
I have always strived to make unique magic by exploring methods. Researching tricks and their history. Exploring a range of methods and playing with them in practice. Finally I ask for help and brainstorm with other magicians and friends I trust.
The last two principal ways of creating wonder are linked. They are performance and storytelling. To me, the story is everything in magic! It’s the why that brings sense to what you are doing. Even though magic in reality is completely nonsensical. It is up to us as performers to make sense of our actions, our characters and the performance. The story will then drive the performance and narrative. It will also be far more believable.
Sometimes if we find a narrative it naturally tells us what to do next and leads the choreography. Also it can create ways to conceal all the sneaky moves. Story is a great tool that can help our audiences connect and follow along as magic (let’s face it) can sometimes be quite complex.
Simple is the key to good magic!
The A, B, C’s of Wonder
If you (like me) seek to create unique magic you must be prepared for three things. I call this the A, B, C’s of Wonder. The only way to explain this is through these visual aids.
Looking back on my competition entry video above it feels like a lifetime away. Yet it’s only a year ago. There is so much I would change as I have developed as a magician and person.
Let’s dissect the coin routine in the beginning so that I can explain the Arkane Creation process.
The glue that holds everything together!
This coin composition was inspired from studying Jeremy Pei’s ultimate Copper, Silver, Brass DVD. When choosing magic it is a good starting point to pick material that inspires you (coin magic just sings to me). Then you will put the effort required into learning and mastering it.
Sometimes though, when I’m learning magic even something I’ve been inspired by I get bored. And it is in that boredom that I throw the given trick into the air and begin playing with the effect from scratch.
I rip up the pieces and find new ways to glue the bits together and in doing this I end up creating a piece that is no longer dull but original. It may not be good original but it tends to eventually become new and fun to perform.
Then the plot thickens…
Some tools can be vital in breaking the mould and experimenting with plot structure is one of them.
I discovered this tool whilst attending Tom Stones conjuring courses. As a tutor Tom utilises plots frequently in workshops. It becomes less of a struggle creating magic when you have a story plot to focus on – like Revenge – or a structural plot that might effect your character.
There are so many structures to choose from and you can even make up your own. Here are some structural plots below.
- An ouroboros structure: a circular symbol depicting a snake, or less commonly a dragon, swallowing its tail, as an emblem of wholeness or infinity. ABA
- A palindromic Structure: a word, phrase, or sequence that reads the same backwards as forwards. ABCBA
- A Limerick: A humorous five line poem with this structure AABBA.
Plots are only limited by your imagination as you will now see from the structure my coin routine took. ABA – ABB – ABC.
If you wish you can follow along with the video above. I also discuss plot structure in more details in my lecture notes The Chaos Within.
Using this complicated structure I was able to create a routine without having to think what happens next in the routine. Allocating a principal to a letter for example A is always a production or vanish, B is always a transposition, the plot tells you what you must do next.
You must then begin thinking why you are doing something. Is there a reason why these coins are appearing or disappearing? What do you feel when they do? How do you react? Did you know you could do this miracle or was it surprising to you? Answering questions like this helps you connect with what you are doing and brings an honesty to your performance. If we go back to the video at the top my why there is that I missed the train and lost my ticket so I need money to buy another one. I’ve never done it before so this is magic for me and I’m excited. I am surprised when they appear and disappear and in the end I am no longer curious about magic but confidently I release the magic back into the world.
Answering the simple question why with a subplot, even if its just in your head alone will elevate your performances and ultimately help you to connect to what you are doing.
Unlock your creativity with music
Music is the key that brings the plot and subplot together. It creates atmosphere and stimulates emotion. The music you choose is extremely important and if it fits the story and feelings you wish to portray even better. Music should compliment what you are doing, never take away. I spend hours daily listening to music trying to find unusual and memorable songs to compliment my performances.
Side note – sometimes using a piece of music an audience already knows creates and immediate connection with them. And if they like the song you are using I have found this helps them to like you and your act, unless what you are doing is crap!
So plot, sub plot and music help me to play when creating new work. They inspire me to think outside of the effect and prompt me to push myself out of my own comfort zone.
I thought at this point it might be nice to show you what happens in performance when these three things come together. Mystique an ensemble in Stockholm Sweden whose aim is to create a brand new magic show each month utilise these creative techniques in all the work they produce. Mystique I think are truly pushing the boundaries when it come to magic as an art form!
Finally always have your notebook on standby!
Finding ways to be creative is wonderful but if you have an idea and don’t write it down immediately there is a chance it will be gone forever. This is why I keep a notebook beside my bed at night. Always write things down – even ideas you think aren’ t great. You never know what might spark a legendary creation.
Here is a great example of something I created from an idea I had. I drew how I thought it might work and a friend of mine took my idea and made it for real.
One final piece of advice…
Little and often. Aim to do one thing every day. Even if that thing is reading a paragraph of a book, or practicing a move, or writing an idea down. Just encouraging yourself to do a tiny thing each day, by the end of each week you will find the amount of things you have achieved is substantial.
I’m still working on this one myself but we must try not to beat ourselves up if we have a lazy day. We all need a day off every now and again. Just get back on it the next day.
I hope you all get something useful from learning some ways I inspire creativity in myself.
Thanks for taking the time to read this weeks TED talk blog post!
A little extra…
I was interviewed last week by Andrew Dean and Joel Dickinson for their Real Workers Podcast Magic Jam. It was so much fun to connect with more magicians and it is things like this that is keeping magic alive for me at this time. If you want to watch it click this link.