09 May 2013

[Guest post] Scott McClelland lecture

The following is a guest post from an author who wishes to be known as The Magic Demon.
Sunday, March 24th, 2013

A (belated) guest review by The Magic Demon

Walking into the Browser's Den of Magic in Toronto on that Sunday afternoon you knew - right away - that you were in for an extraordinary (and possibly once in a lifetime) experience.

Scott McClelland had set up a huge backdrop (in front of which he would lecture) that incorporated the old fashioned style of large posters and canvas backdrops that would have been in use in late 19th and early 20th century circus side shows. Added to this were a number of oddly sinister looking ancient props strategically located throughout the staging area. The faded colours, the slightly macabre artwork, and the unsettling choice of subjects all projected an aura of the unusual, of the unexpected, of the distinctly otherworldly.

Which was entirely appropriate given Scott McClelland was there to talk about his thirty plus years performing in the realm of "Bizarre magic".

In appearance some might say that Scott resembles the late great Peter Reveen in his prime, with the magnificent speaking voice of an Orson Welles.

Scott came to the world of Bizarre magic through a family bloodline - his late grandfather had founded and toured with such an act from the 1920s through to the end of the 1960s. However, Scott still had to earn the right to perform his act like anyone else - the old fashioned way - by perseverance and careful honing of his considerable theatrical talents. His lecture shared a large part of that compelling journey, his family history and also his unique insights into creating the Bizarre magic acts that he tours with today.

What exactly is Bizarre magic?

Everyone knows it when they see it but trying to define it in words can prove somewhat of an elusive task. Scott began by diligently offering his thoughts on defining his beloved artform.
  • Bizarre magic is not about puzzles;
  • Bizarre magic creates new, mysterious, alternative worlds;
  • Bizarre magic is visual, and uses seemingly archaic props and materials;
  • Bizarre magic is magic with a strong and well thought out story.

And stories usually have beginnings, middles and ends. So too must Bizarre magic, according to Scott:
  • The beginning - A cultural meaning or "meme" that resonates with an audience that they can relate to, such as a haunting/haunted theme or story;
  • The middle - "The meat" in which you reinforce the chosen cultural premise with further true history (that you have researched and cunningly interwoven into your fictionalized presentation);
  • The ending - Your big pay off, the effect or illusion itself (which must never use props that look like conventional "conjurer's tricks").

So in this brave new (old?) world of Bizarre magic you bend the truth somewhat in the interests of effective storytelling in order to create your new world. And you broaden and deepen its themes and textures with the clever interweaving of actual historical events whenever possible.

Bizarre magic techniques
  • The importance of learning about relevant history is therefore an important tool to the Bizarre magician. If you are to succeed in this demanding field you must be able to talk the talk as well as walk the walk. During your show as well as off stage during interviews or promotional events you need to be able to comment intelligently on your craft and its illustrious history in order to prove that you are not just "pushing boxes about". As an example, Scott talked knowledgeably about the Spiritualist movement which flourished in the 1920s. These facts he could then spin into and link onto aspects of his own act. Audiences could look them up afterwards online on legitimate sites and confirm what he had discussed.
  • Scott briefly outlined methods of aging props and standard magician's devices so that they are more in keeping with the visual themes in Bizarre magic.
  • He also discussed the value of implanting your alternative realities online so that after a show when audience members might want to research your theatrical narrative they could find evidence of its veracity. Lesson: A Bizarre magic show needn't stop simply because the audience has left the theatre.
Following a brief break, Scott proceeded to demonstrate and discuss a number of his favourite effects which illustrated many of his general themes. Several effects Scott had for sale in specially created kits - which seemed to disappear with great rapidity after the show!
Bizarre magic vs. mental magic
Scott was also most responsive to questions from the very attentive crowd. What is the difference between Bizarre magic and mental magic asked one member of the packed out room.
  • Bizarre magic invokes an alternate world with a much more textured, complete backstory that emotionally connects with its audience. Mental magic does not have to do any of this (although perhaps it should).
  • Bizarre magic is by definition more theatrical than most mental magic. It usually involves performing in the guise of a fictional character (as does Scott in his Bizarre and paranormal acts).
  • Of course, like some professional mentalism, much of Bizarre magic is vastly psychological in nature. You want people to believe that what is going on is real, and you want them to experience a genuine "magical moment" that takes them out of their everyday life.

Theatrical training

Scott shared many useful thoughts on a number of important related theatrical issues. He has had considerable training and experience in such matters. For example, on character-building:
  • Find your character. Who is he/she? Is he/she serious or comic?
  • Consider taking acting lessons.
  • Watch your favourite actors more closely on film; how they talk, how they move, how they interact with props.
  • Every move on stage should have a reason; only move when you need to move; every move should be scripted and well rehearsed ahead of time in order to appear completely natural. Scott quoted the legendary Micky Hades as suggesting that you should be able to do your act completely nude! If you can do your act in the nude without looking artificial or goofy, posited Micky, you can do it more easily fully dressed. (I'm sure this is true but somehow I'm not so sure I will avail myself of this advice...)
  • Find an interesting way of talking then script it. And don't waste your breath on unnecessary patter. Edit your script ruthlessly.
  • Believe your character's backstory so that your audience will believe it too. Know the historical facts from which your character is derived as if they were your own true birth facts.
  • Never be afraid to emote, to act, to be emotionally engaging on stage.
  • Find phrases or sentences that will stick with your audience long after they've gone home.
  • Rehearse. Rehearse. Rehearse.
  • Keep it clean, X rated material has no place in magic.
  • Always remember that you are attempting to create memorable magic moments on stage for the audience to take home with them. And by doing so, says Scott, you are helping to bring style and class back to the Art of magic.

Live performance vs. the internet

Many of us fear the death of live magic performance with the advent of the internet age. Scott asserts that we must fight back and take back the rightful place of live performance in the hearts and minds of the general public:
  • You must give an audience a greater experience live than they could ever get virtually online;
  • You must make an audience want to come back to see other live shows that are wholly unlike anything they can get online; and
  • You must remind audiences that we are all entertainers all the time, using any opportunity you can.

Clearly we need some heroic role models in this critical and worthy pursuit. I nominate Scott! But where else do we find such individuals today? It seems a rather daunting task. Scott argues that:
  • We can (and should) all be role models;
  • We can all help audiences regain/rediscover the wonder of/in magic;
  • We can all help make magic something that audiences want to be entertained by;
  • We must all work harder to make magic better; there are too many lazy magicians out there today;
and finally
  • By looking back into the past (vaudeville, etc.) we may well find the way to create an exciting new future in magic.


I have just very briefly scratched the highlights (for me) of Scott's incredible lecture. Part history, part theory, part theatre, and part magic, it was an experience full of memorable magical moments for all of us who attended. Any inaccuracies can be attributed to my futile attempt to write my notes faster and faster to keep up with Scott's powerful insights - and their subsequent growing illegibility.

For many of us this lecture was an introductory course in the Art of Bizarre magic. I hope Scott will follow it up with a more advanced lecture some time in the future.

Try to see Scott live any chance you can. If you are a magic club, book him for a lecture. You will not regret it. Meanwhile, his websites will delight and entertain you:

There are some photos of the event at the Browser's Den of Magic site. Go to their main website and check out Jeff's blog. You'll need to scroll back to late March 2013:

Many thanks to Scott McClelland for sharing the invaluable lessons of a lifetime and for showing us what it takes to be so well regarded (as he is) in his area of specialty.

Thanks as well to his charismatic assistant, Jessica Silver, for her invaluable contributions to the afternoon's festivities. You can follow her relevant posts on The Magic Cafe.

Finally, a big shout out and thank you to Jeff Pinsky, owner of the Browser's Den of Magic, for hosting yet another worthwhile special event that left all its participants feeling inspired and extremely well-entertained.


Thank you The Magic Demon for guest posting at Canada's Magic!

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