The Magic of Totality
There is a unique phenomenon that happens every so often that only a magician can experience. It usually happens after a show, when a spectator comes up to the magician and excitedly describes in detail a magic trick they saw many years ago. And when it happens, the performer is often looking into the eyes of a seventy, eighty or even ninety year-old person for whom the moment was so powerful that they carried that memory with them for the rest of their life. That is the power of magic.
Last week on August 22nd I travelled to Guernsey State Park in the state of Wyoming to join my son and his family watch the Great American Solar Eclipse in “Totality.” It was not something I had ever planned to do. Astronomy is not a hobby of mine and seeing a total eclipse of the sun was not on my bucket list. But about three years ago, my son Bill, who lives in Denver, told us that he made reservations at a campground in Wyoming that was in the path of “TOTALITY”… whatever that was? My wife Kathryn and I try to stay open to new experiences—it sounded like a fun trip, plus it had the added bonus of getting to spend time with our granddaughter… so we put the “Eclipse Trip” as we called it on the schedule. We are really glad we did.
Since viewing the total eclipse, I mentioned on Facebook how amazing it was, what a good time we had, and that it exceeded our expectations and more than a few people have asked me when I am going to share some photos or videos of our Eclipse Trip.
I’ve given it a lot of thought… and my answer to that question is… NEVER.
It’s not that I’m being rude. It’s not that I didn’t take hundreds of photos and videos of the eclipse. And it’s not that I don’t want to share with you what it was like… but instead it is because I can’t. It is impossible.
I’m sure many of you reading this blog post witnessed a partial eclipse of the sun last week somewhere across the United States and found it to be… “Interesting?” In Hawaii you saw the eclipse at 27% and in Knoxville, Tennessee you saw it at an amazing 99.9%. And perhaps you have wondered, how much of a difference could that last one-tenth of one percent make? What was all this fuss about seeing the solar eclipse at 100%… at Totality?
To fully understand the answer to that question you simply had to be there.
No photos… no videos… no artfully written words would begin to do it justice. You had to experience the moment for yourself to fully appreciate what is called Totality. For two minutes and twenty seconds, under a (thankfully) cloudless sky, the moon totally covered the sun and I got to watch a real live magic show… a wonder show of nature… a moment I will remember for the rest of my life. Thanks Bill.
And seeing first hand the awe that those few minutes of “Totality” inspired in everyone around me got me thinking. There are some similarities between the art of magic and the total solar eclipse I just witnessed last week…. perhaps as performers we can learn something from them.
Magicians are constantly searching for a way to share our magic with others. We take publicity photos of our audiences reacting with expressions of surprise. We shoot videos of the moment the magic happens to convey the impact the illusion has on an audience. And we post thousands of videos on YouTube in an attempt to share with the viewer the surprising finish of our newest magic trick. Just like all the photos and videos of the eclipse that I took, and even those you will see from experienced professionals… they all fall woefully short of relaying the full impact of the moment.
Experiencing the Magic of Totality
Magic, particularly close-up magic, is designed to be experienced on a first person level… like a total eclipse. No photo can convey what the spectator feels the moment they open their clenched fist and discover a silver dollar has magically appeared in palm of their hand. No description will capture the emotional and physical changes of the spectator the moment they find their signed card inside the sealed envelope. And no video, no matter how well produced, can reveal the chemical changes that occur in the spectator’s brain the moment the magic challenges one or more of their senses and turns their sense of reality upside down. All of those things have to be experienced in person to be fully appreciated one hundred percent. That is why magic is best seen LIVE… not on a YouTube video or a DVD.
While I was watching the eclipse in totality, I found myself repeating the phrase: “Oh my God” over and over and I remember thinking… “How would I describe this moment for someone who is not here?” I could tell you how quickly the light changed from day to night. I could describe in detail the physical changes I felt as the temperature dropped in a matter of seconds and then just as fast went back up. I could tell you how the entire horizon took on the pink glow of a sunset or how the flowers started to close, or how animals called out in confusion and get Esa letters in Vegas. I could explain how magical it was to look up and see the moon totally covering the sun with both appearing to occupy the same piece of real estate in the sky simultaneously. Or how the corona of the sun was peeking from behind the black silhouette of the moon or the beauty of elusive diamond ring that flashes for one brief second at the beginning and end of totality. I could try and tell you about all that… but I would only be capable of sharing with you… part of the actual experience.
Sure… if we do our job well as a magician, the spectator may retell the story of how the bill with their signature appeared inside the lemon, or how we knew the exact word they were thinking of, or how the coin in their hand changed from silver to copper… but as we all know, to experience the full impact of magic… you simply have to be there. You have to see it in totality… because Magic is a participatory experience.
That Magic Moment
And therein lies the beauty of magic when performed live… it gives us the opportunity to create for our audiences… a magical moment… the feeling of something beyond our own understanding, an experience with all of the wonder and the mystery I felt one week ago standing in that field in Wyoming looking up at the sky. It is a gift to be able to create that for another person. Don’t abuse it…. treat it with the respect and dignity it deserves, and you just might give your next audience a magical moment… one they might remember for the rest of their life.
Want to experience real magic? The next total solar eclipse is in 2024. I highly recommend it. Perhaps I’ll see you there!