Character: Purpose

Published on Thursday, July 03, 2008 in ,

CharacterI talk quite a bit about performing memory feats, lightning calculations and magic, but I don't get to talk much about what performing really means. The most essential thing to performing is a character. But why it is so essential?

The short, dry answer can be found in section 2A of my questions developed from Strong Magic. Developing a character puts the focus on you, as opposed to the tricks, creates certain expectations, and makes it easier for the audience to care about you as a performer.

A more vivid explanation, which is worth hunting down, is Jon Armstrong's essay, Superhero Theory, as published in the December 2004 issue of Genii Magazine. In that essay, Jon uses superheroes as a good example of how to develop a magic character, as they both have extraordinary powers and need to be memorable in the public eye. Jon's main points in this work are:

• Superheroes are defined by their powers, to the extent that they're often named after them (e.g., Spiderman, the Flash).
• Audiences are familiar with what a particular superhero is capable of, so the heroes have certain expectations (without being made predictable), and they're made more memorable.
• Superheroes are limited by their powers (e.g., Batman doesn't have X-ray vision, Spiderman can't talk to sea creatures), creating focus, as well as opportunities for challenge.
• Speaking of limitations, many superheroes also have a weakness. How they deal with this weakness can be as engaging as how they use their superpowers.

In every successful superhero comic book, graphic novel, and movie, you'll find that these basic principles are employed repeatedly throughout. Do your audiences ever develop expectations, and get such a clear idea of who you are? Perhaps it's worth asking yourself if your act is up the standard of your favorite superhero.

If you perform close-up magic, you might think that this extra work is only needed for stage performers. As Richard Tenace will tell you, a close-up kind of actor is needed even more than on stage! Close-up workers have smaller props to hide behind, so a more defined character is even more essential.

Contrasted with what can happen due to a lack of character, you'll find that the work required to develop a character will reward you many times over in the response you get from your audiences and your clients.

If you're sold on developing your performing character, the next question is how to go about it. That will be the topic of my next post.

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