Where (the hell) do you find inspiration?
People often assume I get my ideas from other magicians, but this is rarely the case. If I am writing new material for a stage show, then I normally start with an idea I have found in a book, or film, or anything that has a story. I love stories. It may be cliché to say, but I really do believe they are powerful. Stories can change perceptions, help people survive mentally challenging times, offer escapism, provide new perspectives, and demonstrate what it may be like to live another human’s life… …and they are also fun to tell.
Once I stumble upon a story I would like to tell, or a concept I would like to explore, I then work out how I’m going to tell it. This is where the magic comes in – I dream up the most impossible, amazing thing that I can imagine showing an audience onstage… …then I gradually play around with it, try and turn it into something viable, and begin scaling it back until it becomes something workable. I have written a second blog post that covers how I write a show from idea to completion in more depth, but for now, these are some of the places I find my initial inspiration:
For 2 years I put on a show at the Edinburgh Fringe where I told Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories through Gothic storytelling and magic.
I remember the exact time the idea popped into my head:
I had begrudgingly sat down to read The Masque of the Red Death by Poe…
…this was the beginning of my first year at university, at a time when I still read the texts before a lecture…
I read the story in one 30-minute sitting, completely absorbed by it. I remember having a slow realisation of the impending doom that was about to fall on the characters; it made me want to put the book down, but I couldn’t.
This was the feeling I wanted to instill in my audience: a slow building dread from which they could not turn away.
To be honest, I am still working on it – I performed 2 different dark storytelling shows and I haven’t yet succeeded. The second, however, came a lot closer than the first, and I’m excited to see how close I can get with the next show.
Magic is quite theatrical. It is often dramatized and glorified into something that feels a lot grander than the trick itself.
This does not always improve a performance – magicians are often seen in a stereotypical way that links to images of tailcoats, unnecessarily tight trousers, doves, tigers, and an unnecessary amount of fire.
(I genuinely once went to a magic show where they had to stop and restart the opening act as a small ball of fire flew off the stage, narrowly missing the front row.)
However, if done well, magic can be performed in a more subtle, theatrical way that enhances tricks, and allows the audience to become better engaged with the show.
By watching theatre, I get creative ideas for how things can be shown onstage. For example, through staging, movement, body-language, props, special effects – anything that can make a story feel more real.
You cannot copy jokes, not good ones anyway. Apart from the problem of stealing someone else’s material, it is very hard to take a joke that one person has said and make it funny when delivered by your own character.
However, if you want to be funny onstage, then it is a good idea to watch successful comedians.
You can learn from their use of timing, delivery, stage movement, body language, volume (when to be quiet and when to project), their use of facial expressions, and probably more.
After all, comedians are actors themselves, often playing a louder, more brash version of their own character.
I love watching cabaret shows.
You get to see acts you are unlikely to see on a corporate stage, simply because they perform something that is eccentric, or that does not fit into a particular genre.
This is awesome, as you often see bold acts that are willing and able to experiment courageously onstage.
Therefore, cabaret shows offer inspiration too. If I am going through a period of lacking motivation, then watching variety acts may spark a fresh new outlook in me, and remind me of how limitless performing can be.
5. Other magicians
Of course, I do get some inspiration from other magicians.
Many effects can be achieved through different means, so it is useful to see whether someone else is performing something you do, but in a simpler or more elegant way.
Although many magicians (including myself), perform similar tricks to each other, they can be presented in very different ways, and this can provide inspiration…
…and sometimes, someone comes up with something completely unique and exciting –
These effects, of course, should be their own to keep, but it can motivate you to work on your own remarkable creation.
6. TV shows
In a similar way to books, these tell stories. The main difference is that television shows contain actors, and they can play very inspiring characters…
If you work creatively, you will likely spend a lot of time daydreaming.
This can feel unproductive, but there is no way you can create your own ideas without it.
You may have been inspired by many books, shows, plays, podcasts, the news, overheard conversations – anything you read or hear – but without allowing your mind to mould these inspirations into an idea, the only other thing you can do is copy someone else’s…
…and if everyone did that, we would be left with very repetitive, dull culture.
So, if I were to answer the above question simply… I find it everywhere.
I find inspiration in everything I read, listen to, see, and overhear (I am an avid eavesdropper).
But if you are a creative who is struggling for inspiration, then the things listed above may not only inspire you, but also provide you with fresh motivation to try producing new material.
Good luck all seekers of inspiration; I can’t wait to see what you create.