Magic was once a staple of British TV and in the seventies and eighties no Saturday night light entertainment schedule was complete without the likes of the late Tommy Cooper, Paul Daniels, Matthew Corbett and other TV magicians. By the nineties as popular taste changed, and the musical hall culture that had driven had driven some much of entertainment in the previous decades waned, so did our taste for these magic shows.
Watching a performer going through his repertoire on a distant stage while we are stuck firmly at a safe distance away in the audience responding to cues from the floor manager was losing its charm. As far as magic acts went we wanted something more immediate, more compelling, more “real”, and with Street Magic we got it.
Street magic as the name implies literally took it performance onto the street. Magicians wondered the streets of New York, London or any other big city, accosting small groups of people with a selection of magic tricks and it is this close interaction that has given street magic its cachet.
It is not so much the magic that entrances us because we have probably seen similar tricks over the years, it is the reaction of the audience, amazed at what they are seeing at close quarters, the initial confusion as they try to work out what just happened and then the explosion of disbelief as it registers that something “magic” has just happened.
David Blaine may not have been the first street magician out there, but he is arguably the best known and on New Year’s Day he was back on Channel 4 with a new show “David Blaine: Real or Magic”. Not content with wow-ing mere mortals, he stepped up his game by taking his street magic to a celebrity audience including the likes of Harrison Ford, Will Smith, Kanye West, Kathy Perry and former US President George W. Bush, who got his watch stolen as well.
All well and good and probably a sop to the celebrity obsessed times we live in, but celebrities so use to creating controlled personas for public consumption simply do not give that raw visceral reaction that makes street magic what it is.
If this is the direction street magic takes it will lose the very thing that made it great, being from the street.