It must have been about thirty years ago – I was old enough for a strong memory to have formed, but not over eight years old, as the Paul Daniel’s Magic Show went off the air in 1994.
Paul Daniels then pulled out a small guillotine, just big enough for a finger. He showed the blade of the guillotine, he had the audience member put their finger through the hole in the guillotine while holding the small model of Excalibur, and then brought the blade down on their finger. The blade magically passed clean through the finger, and somehow the person’s finger survived unscathed!
I think about that trick often. My parents tell me I had a ‘Paul Daniel’s Magic Set’ when I was young, but I don’t remember it (by the way, anyone with an overwhelming desire to send me a gift, there are lots of second hand Paul Daniels magic sets on eBay…). I don’t remember the magic set I had, or the tricks I apparently learned, but I remember Paul Daniels performing that trick, and years later I understand why.
Performance. Magic is not about a trick, it is about how you perform the trick. The story Paul Daniels built around that relatively simple trick (yes, I have a version of the trick these days, but I rarely perform it) captured my imagination so strongly that I remember both the performance and the feelings it created to this day.
Fast forward to February 2019. I was now a professional entertainer, and a large part of that entertainment was the performance of magic. I now had five ‘idols’ in my profession – Penn Jillette, Teller, Derren Brown, Mr Alexander… and Paul Daniels. I got to go out and perform magic for people, and I was a committed ‘live’ performer.
I worried about videos of my act getting online, I wanted everyone to experience it ‘live’ and only live. I watched magic on television, and, with a few exceptions (Penn and Teller’s Fool Us and Derren Brown’s tapings of his live shows spring to mind), there were fast cuts, camera tricks, editing tricks, and they left me feeling cold. This modern form of television magic was popular, but not for me, not to my taste.
Then the pandemic struck, and I started to perform shows on ‘Facebook Live’, and it remained important to me that any magic I performed was performed ‘live’ on the show, but I started trying to find a lot of new tricks so that I could perform new tricks every fortnight and not burn through all my live material.
Over time I realised I didn’t actually need to perform the magic live for the camera. By using fixed camera angles and no cuts I could record the magic and people could still see that it wasn’t being done with camera tricks and clever editing. I could pre-record the shows without destroying the magic. I also came to realise that I really enjoyed working on the new magic, and that if the performance is right, that people wouldn’t mind if they saw the trick in real life after seeing it on video.
Then I listened to an interview with Paul Daniels on a podcast called ‘The Magician’s Podcast’. Of course he’d figured all of this out well over thirty years ago, long before I first saw him perform on television, before I was even born!
He talked about the importance of prioritising the performance over the trick, about the joy he had creating new effects to fill 150 episodes of his series, and he talked about the importance of knowing the point in a magic trick after which you can’t change camera angles, where you have to stay with a fixed shot to prove there are no camera tricks.
Then, in March 2021, I got an email from the Waterworks Museum, Hereford. For the second year running they wouldn’t be able to host the ‘Hereford Steampunk Weekend’ due to Covid restrictions. Last year they had run a ‘virtual festival’ and I had filmed a short clip for them, but this year they had a new idea. Could I create and film some magic show videos specially for them?
Of course I could.
We were constrained by space – we were still in lockdown and so filming would have to be done in the confines of the Mercave Studio, our studio and rehearsal space within our workshop in the back garden.
We were constrained by budget – live shows and a return (hopefully) to performing regularly won’t be until at least June, so we couldn’t spend a fortune on new set pieces or tricks.
Despite all of these constraints, however, I realised something important. I really enjoy creating magic shows in a format which works on camera. I like looking through old magic books, searching online magic stores and auction sites, finding new magic (and very old magic) and creating my own performance around it. I like looking into how I can theme tricks, to make them varied, in this case to fit in with the Waterworks Museum.
After years of shunning the idea of my performances being on video, because I hadn’t enjoyed most recent TV magic shows, I have found that by looking to my childhood for inspiration, by looking at the Paul Daniels Magic Show and a style of television magic which some may consider ‘dated’, I had found a great deal of joy.
By the time this blog comes out, you will be able to watch my virtual shows, ‘Greg Chapman’s Magic at the Waterworks Museum’ parts one, two and three on YouTube by clicking on the images below:
This feels like a new beginning, a new step in my magical career. Of course I will still be performing live – in fact I will be performing a live follow up to the virtual shows at the Waterworks Museum Hereford on Saturday 7th August this year (for details and tickets visit www.ticketsource.co.uk/gregcha
Before the pandemic, as regular readers of this blog know, Felicity and I had already begun a move to producing more video content with our travel documentaries, which started out on YouTube, but have now started to appear on streaming services like Prime Video, Tubi and Plex. Of course, therefore, I want to combine these two elements of our work, and so I have decided that one of our filming projects for 2021 will be an eight part magic show series to be released through streaming sites and on DVD, which, although it will be done in my own unique style, will take stylistic inspiration not from modern magic specials, but from the magic performed in theatres around the end of the Nineteenth Century, and the Paul Daniels Magic Show. I am already pouring over some very old magic books to discover hidden gems of tricks which I can use as the basis for new pieces of theatrical and entertaining magic.
For £3 you can get our ‘Join The Team’ reward, which gets you access to our behind the scenes email newsletters, and will also get you access to behind the scene clips and videos as we create our projects.
For £50 you can get an ‘Executive Producer’ credit on one of the episodes of the magic show series, plus a special video thank you and access to our ‘behind the scenes’ emails and videos!
You can find out more about my magic performances at www.gregchapman.net
Thank you all for reading!