Tj Shoesmith Interviewed by Matt Simmons

Magic Magazine

Matt approached me having seen me lecture for Canterbury Magicians club at the University. He was writing up some course work and needed to interview a magician for a project he was doing. He asked some excellent questions which lead to a lot of thinking on my part. The interview has been covers the different areas of magic and my attitude in particular to close up magic and performing as a cabaret magician.

Talk about your passion for magic and more importantly performing magic

” I’m not sure I do have a passion for magic. I find magic very limiting. As an actor I was able to play parts which required an emotional range. Magic can be quite superficial, particularly in the corporate world.

The magic itself confines you. Although I have spent time, particularly in competitions, trying to create presentations with emotional depth, the commercial work has to be kept simple. It is meant to be light hearted and middle of the road. I love watching commercial magic performed well. When a performer sells it to you it is very exhilarating. I hope I do that too but I was trained as an actor and enjoyed the diversity of the work.

However I do have a passion for performing and consequently I do have a passion for performing magic. It is not the magic which excites me it is the interaction with an audience. Obviously I get more satisfaction out of an audience of a thousand than an audience of ten but they both allow the opportunity to interact.

When a cabaret performance is going well, or you are working as a wedding magician and you know everyone is talking about you it does feel very good. I have put in the work I really hope it shows.

I’m not the sort of magician who wants to see the new move or spend a lot of time with other magicians endlessly demonstrating tricks. I have no problem with this behaviour and see it as entirely worthwhile; it’s just not for me.

So I would say I have a “love hate” relationship with magic. It has done me very well and I have been able to travel a lot but ultimately there is a frustrated actor inside me, which doesn’t get out as often as I would like.”

Have you been performing as a magician all your life?

” No! I grew up in Cambridge where my father went to University. While he was there he joined the Pentacle Club, which was and still is the local magic club. So as a child I remember him performing tricks occasionally. I think my father was more interested in the thought behind the trick rather than the trick itself.

When I was old enough I joined the Pentacle club and went to meetings regularly for a couple of years. However I went to public school to take my A Levels and at this point dropped out of magic altogether. I did take an interest in it and although I don’t think I ever watched a close up magician work I did see the popular television magicians of the time.

It was twenty years before I picked up a pack of cards again. In that time I had done my degree, worked as a professional actor and as a Paramedic in London. I spent a lot of time with a cards or coins in my hands, so after a while the sleight of hand became second nature.

But I was a performer! Even when I was a paramedic I occasionally acted and did a couple of bits of television as well. So I never really stopped performing. Becoming a magician was never really part of the plan it just seemed to happen.

When I decided to leave the Ambulance service I saw magic as a way back into performing. I started to attend local meetings at the Watford club and then joined the Magic Circle. After a couple of years I found that people started paying me to perform. Within another couple of years I was able to stop working as a paramedic. Then years later here I am.

Cabaret magic is the hardest area to work in and the hardest to get good at. There is more work for close up magicians and children’s entertainers. In both areas you can repeat your performance many times in quick succession. With this repetition the quality of the work should improve quickly.

This is not so for the cabaret performer. As there is less work the performer may go weeks even months between performances and so all momentum will be lost. You really can’t get better without stage time.

So the question is how to get it. I started doing cabaret back in 2003. It was poor, as one would expect. I only did it occasionally and had no real plan for the future.

I started performing at the Magic Castle in 2004. At first I worked the close up room (20 seats) and then moved into the parlour (60 seats). You are only engaged for a week at a time but in those seven days you are scheduled for twenty performances. Sometimes you only have a few minutes between shows and consequently you see a lot of improvement in those few days.

I had the show recorded on the last day of one of the weeks I was working it 2007. It turned out to be pretty good. I then worked some corporate events and cruises off the back of it. However it wasn’t enough.

In 2010 I decided to set myself a target of doing one hundred cabarets a year. This is a lot. I included lectures and talks as well as cabaret and comedy clubs. I told myself that one hundred times a year I would walk out in front of a group of people on my own and perform. So close up magic didn’t count.

I took charity gigs, comedy clubs, started touring Devious Minds our theatre show. I lectured, spoke at Probus and U3a meetings, I did everything I could to keep the momentum up. Here is the list of my public performances.

It’s all about stage time. You have to get it somehow. ”

Are you influenced by traditional magicians such as Houdini and Ali Bongo

” I wouldn’t say that either of your examples were traditional. I accept that they might be seen that way now but that is more through imitation than anything else. Anyone who has influenced the performance of magic in the last one hundred years has had a unique selling point.

It is so hard in magic to be different. Again we come back to the tricks being confining. A comedian can talk about anything but a magician has to make something appear, disappear…etc. So the task of being unique becomes more difficult.

There are those who do it through costume or character and they are to be admired. However I always think of this as cheating a little. Great magicians and comedians do it by being themselves. If you are yourself you are by definition unique.

But I wish this was enough the character has to be engaging so the performer hides parts of their personality and accentuates other parts to create the onstage persona.

Is it really them? Well that is more of a philosophical question. I think an audience knows when they are watching the real thing, it’s just instinct.

When it comes to my influences they tend to be very close to home. People I have worked with in the past or grew up with professionally. I could list people but then I would miss someone out and I wouldn’t want to do that.

It is of course true that we stand on the shoulders of giants. Brilliant men and women have devoted time to creating some wonderful illusions and baffling magic over the centuries. We are very lucky that they did.

Most, if not all, modern magic is at least based on the principles of the past. When one sees a new close up trick or stage illusion it may seem fresh and new. However with a little bit of research it can usually be linked heavily to something in the past. ”

When you are working as a cabaret magician are you the same onstage as off?

” I really have no idea! The more I work on stage the more it works. Somehow you iron out the wrinkles. You can feel it happening, things just start to fall into place. Everything becomes manageable.

This is in part becoming familiar with the tricks but that is only a small part. Performers become comfortable with themselves on stage over time. This is very different from an actor who rehearses a particular character, before performing and then moving onto the next.

The magician or comedian is finding themselves which is a lot harder. Firstly no one really knows who they are. We believe people see us in one way but actually they see us in another. We want to be people we are not. We don’t think we can be the person we actually are. It is all very confusion.

Stage time takes you from the person you think you are to the person you really are. It is long, painful and impossible to analyze. It can only be done in front of others and only with a certain amount of failure. That, I think, is why so few succeed.

One of the hardest things to come to terms with is that you never reach the end of the road. It is also true to say that you don’t know how far you have travelled. The reason is you don’t really know who you are, so how can you judge your progress. ”

Considering this does it help you create a rapport with the audience?

” I think this is the key. You can really only judge the success of your work through the way in which an audience accepts it. It doesn’t mean you have to pander to their needs, professional integrity is important but if nobody likes you, logic tells you, you won’t get far. ”

How does it feel being The Magic Circle Close Up Magician of the Year

” To be honest it didn’t feel good, I was disappointed with my performance. I didn’t really feel I had the room. It turned out they were a tough crowd and maybe I did better than most but still it’s not a performance that I really want to be remembered for.

I think I have done better in other years, without being placed, and although that is always disappointing, I would rather perform well without a place than win with a poor one.

Overall I think I deserved it, if only on past performance. I don’t enter to win, I enter to perform. I have been happier in the past when I have not been placed, but believed I performed well, than on this occasion when I won.

It has helped grow the business a little. I did some good radio and TV and have got some high profile work from the publicity. It is genuinely an honour and I am very pleased to have it under my belt.

Competitions are impossible to predict, I have witnessed some really strange results over the years. Magic competitions shouldn’t be taken too seriously. My advice is, enter them for the right reasons and you won’t get hurt.

The right reasons are, stage time, publicity and fun. ”

Do you have any advice for aspiring magicians and comedians?

” Yes, get stage time! It really is as simple as that. No amount of theory will improve you as much as getting up and doing it.

Those that progress most are the ones that work hard both on and off stage. So record your shows, watch them back, and then change the things that don’t work. Even if you change something that doesn’t work for something else that fails it is still progress. Madness is doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome. If it doesn’t work at least you know something else doesn’t work and that is progress.

I would also say have a sense of humour. I see performers get cross because something goes wrong or a lighting or sound cue is missed. It’s only a game of fun, if you have fun the audience have fun and that is all you can hope for.

Don’t give up just because it’s hard. You want it to be hard. If it was easy everyone would be able to do it. So enjoy the fact that it is hard and work to improve.

Don’t ask me how good I am I have no idea. All I know is I’m better than I was so hopefully I will be even better in the future. You can’t wish for anything more. “

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