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Our desire to think "magic"...

So I taught a class at the beginning of this week - great students, great class, great fun. A quick 3 hour race through puppetry and working as an ensemble. Not long enough to "train", but long enough to throw some ideas around, create an atmosphere and do some improvising together. We did a breathing exercise I love where you change the leader of the group breathing together. Then we did "fish" - making a school of fish, and changing the leadership organically and quickly with each change of direction. Then we brought some objects to life and shared them with the group. And then we did some three person puppetry. Like I say, a quick race through.

And something struck me, something that always strikes me: our weird desire for things to be "magic", when actually there are techniques, tricks, methods for doing things. Simple rules that you learn to use to make everyone work in sync. To make a group work as an ensemble. Things you can practise. There is nothing magic about them. Maybe they look magic, but they aren't done with magic, they're done with practise.

The first exercise was to breathe together as a group and move our hands in a pattern as we did so. The goal of the exercise is to breathe together and then change who was leading the group breathing without breaking the flow of the pattern.

So I started by leading a round of breathing and afterwards I asked what did they notice? Someone said they "felt more relaxed now", and someone else said they "felt more grounded", and someone said they felt more "ready", and someone said they felt "in tune with the room". All great answers, and all very much like what people always answer. And all sort of "magic". Because how can you "tune into the room", or make yourself "more relaxed", or "more ready". They aren't things we have control over.

So then we went on to pass the leadership of the breathing from person to person and I began by asking how do you think we can do that? And once again they suggested various forms of magic: one person said perhaps it was about "confidence", another that it was about feeling the "group energy", another that maybe it was about using our "peripheral vision". All descriptions of things that happened during the exercise, things that we sort of felt, but not really things that you can do. How do you make yourself "feel confident"? How do you improve your peripheral vision? How do you create "group energy"?

In order to learn something you need things that you can do, rather than feelings, which you can only have. You need to look for tricks, techniques, "cheats" if you like. But our desire, our temptation, when learning new things, is to look for "magic". Because when you watch someone doing it it looks like magic.

What you need to notice was what you did. You need to notice that when you breathe in you grow bigger, inflated, a bit tighter. Your spine becomes stiffer, your head lifts up a bit, your feet come off the ground a bit, you are a bit wobbly. And when you breathe out you slump, you get a bit shorter, your spine relaxes, your feet sink into the floor, your head drops a bit, your knees soften, you feel steadier. And when you pause after breathing in you are tense, suspended on breath, and when you breathe out you feel relaxed, unresponsive.



And to move the leadership about the group you take the leadership by coming in before everyone else so that they can follow you. And to keep leading the group you breathe more loudly so everyone can hear you. And to give the leadership away you wait for someone to come in before you. It's not magic, just practise.

And when you know what to do, you can have confidence in doing it. You can practise it and become more confident. You can practise leading, and giving up the leadership, and following. And become more confident in doing it.

"Magic" is what the audience sees. Magic is that the group looks like it is working "as one", "tuned into the room", leading with "confidence", "relaxed", "together". Magic is the feeling you get when you do it well. The way you do it is with simple tricks, rules, principles that you practise and get good at. The group always knows who the leader is, the leader changes quickly and easily without breaking the rhythm, the group always knows exactly what is going on, while the audience is beguiled and impressed,


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charli myatt
charli myatt
Dec 01, 2023



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