Monday, 11 July 2016

A Magic Dramaturgy: Joe Strickland @ Edfringe 2016

Written and directed by Joe Strickland

Joe Strickland has always felt stranger than most people. At the age of 15 he realised that almost all magic shows were just sequences of unrelated tricks and wanted to change that, going on to perform various routines incorporating magic into dramatic narratives. 

With help from twelve years of experience performing and inventing magic, a string of awards including being a finalist at the Magic Circle’s Young Magician of the Year Competition and an invitation to perform at the International Brotherhood of Magicians’ “Stars of Tomorrow” show, Strangers: A Magic Play is the culmination of years of work to blend magic into theatre, and into the 21st Century. 

He has done this with a group of actors from the Nottingham New Theatre, none of whom knew magic prior to being cast in the show, and all of whom come together to help us understand how magic affects all of us, and to show that magic itself has the potential to be a much more powerful performance tool than previously.

A mind reader who is told other people's thoughts by a voice in his head. A children's entertainer whose private life interferes with his act. A barista who dreams of making it big in the music industry. A homeless man struggling to survive.

In the same way that a musical blends theatre with music and lyrics, Strangers: A Magic Play blends theatre with magic and illusion. Four separate stories are interwoven with magic to create an audience experience which challenges what we think and how we think about magic and performance.

Magic Is Dead. Long Live Magic. 
What was the inspiration for this performance?
I've been a magician for the past 12 years and at about the age of 15 I realised that lots of magicians my age performed unrelated tricks one after another and hardly anyone seemed to try and link them together with some narrative or theme. 

Since then, for the past 7 years, I've been looking at ways to add dramatic narratives to magic routines. This performance specifically, the first professional iteration of this show, came about because I decided that my ideas were at a place where they were ready for public exhibition. 

Magic is also going through a renaissance of sorts at the moment on TV and online and if a high concept magic show is going to be enjoyed I believe that now is the time for it.

How did you go about gathering the team for it?
I really enjoy working with and giving opportunities to those that want more experience in the industry. Everyone involved with the project is or was a member of the Nottingham New Theatre, the only 100% student run theatre in the country, and I debuted a form of the show there last year. A mixture of the original and new cast and crew came together for this current production.

How did you become interested in making performance?

I watched magic as a kid, but where other people were amazed by it and wanted to know how it was done, I was determined to know. I've always had a keen problem solving mind and people making the seemingly impossible happen was too big a problem not to solve. 

I started with children's magic sets, watching the Masked Magician on TV, etc, and moved up to teaching myself and creating my own magic in my teenage years. At university, I also started directing and producing plays, putting magic on hold for a while. 

Now that I've graduated I've come back to magic but can fuse it with my experience in organising and directing theatre so I am in a unique position to create this sort of production. I am genuinely surprised that the specific blend of magic and theatre I've crafted doesn't seem to exist anywhere else. Realising this showed there was a gap in entertainment that my show and ideas could fill.

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
The original process was semi-devised. I had the shapes of the plot and lists of potential tricks that would work in context and with each actor we'd work through the scene applying layers of dialogue and meaning and blending the theatre and magic together. 

This is how I would normally make a routine for myself, but crafting the scenes in this way with other people was a new experience. However, it was not an unpleasant one and the people that really took to this specific creative process have made me want to continue making performances in this way.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
I hope that they appreciate the magic and theatre separately, but then the two art forms  come together to create this other level of entertainment. The amazement of the magic and the drama of the theatre have in the past been able to draw audiences deeper or faster into a scene than either medium alone. 

When people see a magic show they try and seek out the methods to the tricks or focus so that they can be as amazed as possible. By blending the two media we can get that audience focus transferring to the dramatic content of each scene, drawing the audiences into the drama much more efficiently than we could with the drama alone. I want people to leave the show feeling like they've seen something new and different and being entertained in a new way in the process.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
We needed the show to flow properly, with the magic feeling organic within the story of each scene. Magic only happens with objects the characters would have access to (so there are no unwieldy or gaudy props to draw people out of the stories) and for reasons that either shape the plot, get across a character's view point or help a theme be portrayed through imagery.

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
Blending theatre, an art form traditionally without audience interaction, and magic, one with plenty of interaction from the audience, results in interesting mixtures of regarding and disregarding those watching. 

We've tried to use different mixtures in each scene and the use of monologues and magic does draw the audience into a scene more by actively engaging them. With the show being experimental and in a potentially new genre I'm not sure it fits into any pre-existing dramatic tradition.

Listing Information:

Venue: Hackney Showroom

Date: 8th July 2016

Time: 21:15 (50 minutes)

Tickets: £8

Venue: theSpace @ Jurys

Dates: 5th-13th of August, 2016

Time: 14:35 (50 minutes)

Tickets: £10/6

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