I was chatting to a juggler friend the other day about juggling and magic, and the similarities and differences thereof. And that reminded me of a piece I wrote for one of the Prestidigital editorials; issue 5, I think it was. Here’s an edited excerpt…

I used to be a regular attender at the British Juggling Conventions. I always had a great time at the BJC, and enjoy seeing the skill and dedication displayed by these guys. (Except Poi – essentially, placing a ball in a sock and whirling it around your head — which I believe is derived from an ancient Japanese word for too crap at juggling to catch things.)

But there are two types of jugglers. Pro’s and hobbyists, you might say, but it’s not as simple as that. And the difference certainly isn’t based on skill. There’s a term used in juggling circles: sports juggling. Mmmm, part of me wants to say, juggling is, or should be, entertainment. It comes from a long and hallowed tradition of circus and variety/vaudeville. Sport is about running around in circles, kicking balls, or some combination thereof. Mind you, a bit of club passing or some nifty diabolo work wouldn’t half liven up the Olympics.

OK, I’m probably being too harsh. If someone wants to chuck things around as a form of exercise that’s fine. The problem is when they do it on stage and expect it to be mistaken for entertainment. Great, you can juggle seven balls while hardly ever dropping one. That’s clever and I will admire the skill. For several seconds. But you haven’t got an act, even with a sequinned waistcoat and a blue spotlight. There has to be more… let’s hear it for fewer balls and more theatre?

Here’s a video of Chris Bliss juggling three balls to a Beatles song.

So have we got a new genre developing… ‘sports magic’? I hope not as this would be even lower down the entertainment scale than sports juggling, as often there isn’t even the skill to admire.

If you wish to indulge your desire to do tricks, without any thought of structure, narrative and all the other stuff that should go with them, that’s OK (through gritted teeth). But please don’t inflict them on anyone other than members of your immediate family, who hopefully will love you enough to indulge you for a little while, while hinting that you may profitably spend a little time discovering where your true talents lie.

And if that’s outside magic, well, you can always shrug and console yourself with the thought that you may have saved yourself — and others — some proportion of the discomforts and embarassments that beset us on life’s journey. And also, you’ll have a much better chance of attracting the apposite sex.

Within magic, too, we need to find a genre that suits us. For example, I abandoned my children’s magic act some years ago after discovering that many members of my young audience had not reached the level of intellectual maturity to fully appreciate the wonders I lay before them. My cabaret and close-up performances, however, continued for several years at carefully spaced intervals. (“This man has to be seen to be believed!” — Greaseborough Gazette)

Magic is first and foremost a form of theatre, whether your stage is the street, a table top, or the kind that comes with a proscenium arch and red velvet curtains. And the magic is in the theatre (the craft, not the building), and in you, never in the trick. Or maybe ultimately it happens in the hearts and minds of the spectators…

Maybe you disagree? Everyone has a right to be wrong. And perhaps I’ve exaggerated a little in the interests of readability and/or what I’ve been known to pass off as humour. Let me know what you think.