Monday, October 15, 2007

More Thoughts On Character

We are told that talent creates its own opportunities. But it sometimes seems that intense desire creates not only its own opportunities, but its own talents.
--Eric Hoffer--

In a previous post about character, I talked a little about how easy it is for the magician to miss the mark when establishing a performance persona and how it’s advisable that he play close to type lest he end up with an unbelievable creation. This time I’d like to comment on how liberating having a character can actually be.

Alexander Hermann, endowed with the natural attributes of a charming and entertaining showman, believed that great magicians were born, not made. Over the years I’ve known any number of performers who have concurred with this sentiment, and not surprisingly they have been people who were also naturally charismatic. I think what this view fails to take into account is the power of acting. If a magician is an actor playing the part of a magician, as Houdin observed, then wouldn’t one’s ability to inhabit a character be just as important as any natural characteristics he possesses that make him a good entertainer?

The fact of the matter is that many people attracted to performing are not naturally lively and outgoing. Johnny Carson, who started out with magic, was beloved by millions and became a comedy legend in his own lifetime; how many were aware that he was not as naturally engaging as he appeared onstage, that in reality he was quite reserved in social situations and ill at ease around strangers? What Carson had was not an innate ability to connect with viewers, but the ability to play the role of someone who could.

What I’m driving at here is that even if you’re not naturally gregarious, even if you’re not normally the life of the party, you can play the part of someone who is those things and succeed very well. This is done through the use of character. You’re in the business of selling you, but it’s an idealized version of yourself, a version more suitable for performing magic, if you’re naturally shy and retiring. And the ability to become a you who is lively where you’re withdrawn, fearless where you’re afraid, is very liberating indeed. Define your character well and there’s no reason to be nervous when you step onstage – it’s just a part you’re playing, a persona you’re projecting. It’s an opportunity to be the very best you you can possibly be.

If you’re not a born magician this is very good news. It means you don’t have to be held back by your limitations, that you can share your magic just as well as the natural performer. It’s really just a matter of how much you want it. Are you willing to go to the trouble of creating a character that works to your best advantage? If you truly love magic and want to share it, the answer is obvious. See you next time.


Joe Marshall said...

In the book “Made To Stick Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die” By Chip Heath and Dan Heath they refer to a similar notion they term “the curse of knowledge” it is when a business fails to state something significant about the company message or advertisement because they over look the fact that not everyone knows what they are supposed to be thinking when looking at a company or advertisement.

The example they give is tapping the beat of a song on a table while having the other person guess what song you are tapping. The end result is the tapper feels like it is obvious because he already has the information, and the listener feels like it is challenging because the information is missing.

I think the natural showman has this “knowledge” and feels that everyone else should have this knowledge at birth, or they simply can’t be a great entertainer that connects with an audience. He isn’t wrong necessarily because his reality is valid to him. They brush right over the fact that not everyone thinks like them.

Fortunately we can site hundreds of examples to the contrary. The good news is it can be learned. So maybe he’s born with it, but then maybe its Maybelline! (chheeeessssyyy!!!)

Great post as always.

b d erland said...

I think somebody was making a similar point with Joe Pesci and Al Pacino, and how despite first impressions they make uber-scary gangsters, something about having the opportunity to embody something totally contrary to expectations...