Despite the perennial reports of its demise at the hands of both old and new media Performance Magic is more popular and inventive than ever before. It is a performance art with a vibrant culture of live performances, popular TV shows, and emerging forms that use the street and the Internet to create unique performances, to stage challenging effects and to engage new audiences and practitioners. The popularity of contemporary performance magic now rivals the magic assemblage of the nineteenth century’s ‘golden age’ of magic and certainly overshadows it both invention and in its astonishing scope. The most commercially successful performers are working with a wide range of styles, from the elegant, historically framed, psychological illusions of Derren Brown to the street magic and allegorical stunts of David Blaine. From the card magic of Darwin Ortiz, derived from the sleights of early 20th century cardsharps, to the Xtreme card manipulation of the Buck Twins that references both Xtreme sports and street dance culture. From the philosophical storytelling Bizarre Magick of Max Maven to the shock-horror stunts of Criss Angel.
But it would be a narrow approach that only considered the work of the most commercially successful practitioners. Performance magic has a rich subculture with every city and sizable town in the West having an active magic club as well as a large number of unaffiliated amateur and semi-professional practitioners. This subculture provides much of the technical innovation in performance magic and also represents a critically engaged audience for theory.
Most Performance Magic research has been in the form of historical studies primarily focused on the nineteenth century’s ‘golden age’ of magic and subsequently Performance Magic has been shamefully neglected by the academy. This is partly due to the misconception that Performance Magic ended as a cultural entertainment with the birth of cinema. In reality, Performance Magic found ways to inhabit and energise both film and TV, just as it is now inhabiting and innovating new media.
Excitingly, there are signs of that the academic neglect is ending with a passionate interest in Performance Magic as a subject for academic enquiry emerging from performance studies, cultural theory and philosophy. This interest is reflected in newly published work including Modern Enchantments: The Cultural Power of Secular Magic (Simon During, 2004), Vanishing Women: Magic, Film and Feminism (Karen Beckman, 2003), Wonder Shows: Performing Science, Magic and Religion in America (Fred Nadis, 2005), Performing Dark Arts: A Cultural History of Conjuring (Michael Mangan, 2007) and Performing Magic on the Western Stage (Coppa et al., 2008).
Clearly, the time is ripe for a serious modern study of modern magic.
The Magic Research Group will be the pre-eminent forum for the state of the art of Performance Magic scholarship today.
Such study is largely multi-disciplinary in its approach. The Magic Research Group will be an important part of this continuum focusing on a multidisciplinary and contemporary approach to the field.
The Magic Research Group will encourage reflection on areas of performance magic not already covered in publication or areas already heavily researched. Making exciting creative links within this emerging discipline, such links could include the cognitive sciences, architectural design, and emerging technologies.
Aiming to be a vibrant survey of the field of performance magic, The Magic Research Group will encourage this multidisciplinary approach, and issues would draw on areas including; performance training, psychology, scripting, scenographic invention/application, magic and technology, ethics, narrative/story-telling, theme parks, etc.