Tonight I will be in Sydney giving a lecture to a bunch of magicians. If you’re into that kind of thing, tickets are available online here.
The magic lecture circuit is an interesting beast, and a very strange thing to people outside of the magic industry. For most people, the word “lecture” normally conjures images of dry academic presentations; something you’d rather skip or sleep through.
However, in the magic industry a “lecture” has become the default term for a presentation in which one magician shares a bunch of their tricks, techniques, presentations, and theories with an audience of other magicians.
Particularly when you’re new to magic, lectures can be one of the most fertile sources of information. Not only is it much easier to learn from someone in person as opposed to a book or video, but lectures by different performers expose you to all kinds of different styles and approaches to magic.
Depending on the city, lectures are usually organised by a local magic club and/or magic shop, and happen whenever a noteworthy performer is in town and available. Exactly what constitutes “noteworthy” can vary wildly – you’ll see lectures by everyone from genuine industry megastars through to really quite dreadful performers who just managed to convince the magic club that they had something worth sharing.
Apart from the desire to share and teach, one of the main motivations for lecturing is a financial one. People usually pay around $20-$25 to attend a lecture, and are usually in the mood to buy things afterwards.
Nearly every lecture you go to will have “lecture notes” on sale afterwards, usually for another $20 or so, which contain detailed descriptions of the tricks, techniques, etc. taught in the lecture. People will often buy them in order to avoid having to take notes themselves, or even just to have a souvenir of the event.
It’s a bit like band merchandise, plus the vague promise of actually learning something.
More enterprising performers will also have tricks, DVDs, secret devices, or all kinds of other things on sale. I’ve watched plenty of lecturers syphon amazing amounts of money from the crowd, just by having the right kind of things on sale, and knowing how to subtly pitch them.
This can be a seductively easy way to make money. So much so that some magicians end up focusing more on the lecture circuit than performing for the general public. They often then start to lose touch with what it takes to entertain normal people, focus purely on inventing stuff that other magicians will buy, and the whole thing spirals downward into an awkward magical circle jerk.
I’m hoping I can avoid that. After all, the most interesting presentations are usually given by people who do amazing things and then talk about them, as opposed to people who just talk about doing amazing things.