Not so long ago I went to watch what might loosely be described as a magic show. Over the course of the evening, our host examined the concept of free will. If you consider every influence in your life, and the lives of your ancestors, which led to your conception, birth and development into the person you are today, it becomes apparent that free will is little more than an illusion. You have been shaped by the world around you and the people you have met. Without those people, your life would have taken a very different route and inspiration can come from the most unlikely of sources.
In January of last year I attended a party, hosted by a friend of a friend. While there, I bumped into a girl who I'd never met before. We chatted for a bit and were getting along well, until I mentioned that I was the President of a local magic society. A half-smile appeared on her face which I recognised instantly, having seen it on numerous occasions while performing illusions for strangers on the street.
You see there is a big problem with how magic is often perceived in society. As clichéd as it sounds, some people love it and some people hate it, but not for the reasons you might expect. That smile which I had seen so often, reflects a common misunderstanding: magic is a childish pastime.
Now granted there are many who thoroughly appreciate having a magician approach and perform for them. However far too large a percentage are under the impression they dislike magic, simply because their exposure to the genre has been so limited. You may wonder why such a misconception prevails when we have a wide variety of top-class acts on the television, and it is true that, in recent years, this has caused magic's popularity to skyrocket. Yet those who hold a fallacious opinion of the craft are unlikely to tune in if they do not inadvertently encounter anything to redefine their viewpoint. Music, for example, is intertwined with society to such a high degree, that you are unlikely to go a day without hearing any. Magic, on the other hand, has not been assimilated into the everyday lives of the general public, so the chances of stumbling across something new are comparatively slim. This means if a bad magician becomes well known in a certain area, it may be unclear that they are not representative of the entire industry. Their performance and that of say Simon Drake, are worlds apart.
The conversation which I had with the girl at the party inspired me to try and prove her wrong. To demonstrate the unique impact which magic can have on people. Yet, as I learnt several months later, that was merely the catalyst. The semblance of free will and a choice based on a single event is stripped bare when you consider all the factors which lead to that point. My own personality, which stems from my genes and my upbringing, coupled with seeing members of the public pass up the opportunity to see something amazing, resulted in the birth of a whole new magic act. Marking a personal transition from close-up black-tie events, to higher-impact theatre shows, the culmination of my efforts received a phenomenal reception from many who were previously unaware of how magic really can cater for nearly everyone.
Incidentally, the girl I met came to the closing performance of my two-month run. Although I was unaware of her until after the show had finished, she found me as I was leaving and came to say how much she had enjoyed it. My work had become much more than just trying to prove her wrong, but despite this, I had just so happened to achieve what I set out to do.
Looking back, it seemed easy at first to identify the flashpoint. However on introspection, the sense of clarity begins to wane. Change but one tiny part of my life and not only may I never have ended up at that party, but I may not have encountered the influences which shaped me into the kind of person who would begin a year long journey for no other reason than to show a single person what they were missing out on. The illusions in my show were among the best I've ever performed. However they pale in comparison to free will, the greatest illusion of all.
Alasdair is an award-winning magician based in Bristol. Having performed magic for the better part of two decades, he has held memberships with a number of magical organisations and served in the past as President and Vice-President of the University of Sussex Magic Society.
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