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My Magical Life After One Lesson with Jamy

by Howard Rappaport

Jamy Ian Swiss kicked my ass. I'm proud to admit it, and I'm a better performer for it.

Recently, after a many-years-long hiatus, I had returned to magic. Soon afterward I had an impending gig, and I realized that there were many things which I needed to know to prepare myself for it, things which were not covered in any of the magic books in my library. It was time for me to take a lesson, and I needed a teacher. I got more than I bargained for.

I chose Jamy based on the little I'd read of his writings: a couple of reviews in Genii, essentially. It comes through in his writing that he can cut through a lot of crap in a very short time; that's exactly what I needed, that's exactly what he delivered. Make no mistake and be warned, however: Jamy will tear it all apart: your technique, bearing, posture; every aspect of your performance. While the timid might shrink from this type of criticism, it is an incredibly effective route toward excellence, and excellence is what Jamy emphasizes above all.

Jamy focused my attention on the routining & structure of my vague idea of a "set," in addition to the technical aspects of my performance. In my opening number, David Roth's "Lapel Coin," he pointed out idiosyncrasies in my posture that might strike an audience as being unnatural or uncomfortable looking. This had escaped my attention altogether, despite prior months of mirror practice. I didn't have a script worked up for it, either; I'd hoped that the beauty of the vanishes & reproductions combined with the kicker ending would be enough to carry it through silence. He pointed out that the rest of my act was not silent, so why should the opener be? He also emphasized the primacy of having a script, that in the art of magic there really is no "winging it." He made clear that any adlibbing would be icing on the cake of a strong script, but the script itself is of fundamental importance. This advice I've taken to heart in a big way.

The second part of my set was an original Chinatown Half routine. Jamy pointed out immediately that most multiple coin transpositions are inherently confusing, and that the routine would probably play too small for the venue I was to be working. He was dead on on both points, as I found by taking a casual opinion poll after my gig.

What I thought would be the centerpiece of my act, a combination Lippincott Box/Spirit Nut routine I'd worked up, turned out to be, under his scrutiny, an amorphous & somewhat confusing series of weak climaxes. He showed me, point by point and in great detail, where the weaknesses were in this routine. There were many, and upon reflection, they were somewhat obvious to a trained theatrical eye. I was heartbroken, as I was proud of this routine, but Jamy's observations were indisputable: it needed a radical re-working from the ground up. I didn't have the time to accomplish this by my gig, so it was cut it from the set.

Jamy is an outstanding teacher. Rather than forcing a particular methodology on a student, he encourages ruthless self-examination from both technical and performance standpoints. For Jamy, the age-old magic book platitude, "be yourself," is meaningless: Who are you? What do you want to be? How do you expect to get there? These questions were implicit in my lesson with Jamy, and they are questions which I now ask myself regularly.

My desire is to become a real Magician in the best sense of the word, to entertain by amazing. The difference between how I understood that last sentence before my one lesson with Jamy to how I understand it today is enormous: at least now I have an inkling as to the enormity of the task, and what it'll take to accomplish it.

Jamy Ian Swiss is as good a guide as one could hope for in the pursuit of excellence in the performing arts.

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