And this is the crunch: one of the harshest things about magic, as a form of entertainment/art, is precisely how bound it is to preconceived definitions and notions of itself. In other words, what a magic show has to look like, how much magic must be in it (and what kind) in order to qualify as magic, etc.
I will get to this via a small detour into comedy.
Re-watching some of UK comedian Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle, particularly episodes 4 and 5 (series 4), what I find utterly compelling is a sense of Lee doing comedy by pretty much undoing the form itself: going to amazing extremes, falling totally short of any 'story' or narrative, and descending into odd experiments with language. Of course certain conventions remain in place: there is still a performer on stage, speaking, and an audience attending, laughing, reacting. So it's tempting to say: “it’s still comedy, all the time”, etc.
However, Lee plays with the form in genuinely unparalleled and risky ways, and the laughter derives precisely from how much he is clearly messing with our understanding of comedy itself. The ‘humour’ (or most of it anyway) lies in just how far he goes with tripping up comedy itself. In this respect, he borrows from much of the avant-garde, performance art, and experimental art traditions.
I wonder whether magic can similarly do such a turn on itself (though I'm aware this is entirely what motivates my interest in it: to take it apart, and it still be magic in that taking apart).
Perhaps this is an interesting time for theatre-magic: there are chinks of light here and there, attempts at rethinking what live magic might be and look like, both accepting and contesting conventional norms. But as I prepare for Edinburgh Fringe 2018, I also know there will a dialogue to be had around what 'passes' for magic (the current show features even less than the previous one, which was already criticised for 'not having enough'!).
A magic show in which the magic element lies precisely in the fact that no magic happens? The magic has disappeared...
Something to mull