Austin College was treated to a display of peculiar artistry with this year’s first set of presentations in the “Theory and Art of Magic” series with guest Eugene Burger.
Burger, a world-famous magician and philosopher of magic, performed at two standing-room-only shows on February 16, alongside Lawrence Hass, Austin College professor of humanities and a highly accomplished magician.
On February 17, Burger was a guest speaker in Hass’ philosophy class and returned to the stage for an “Inside the Magician’s Studio” question-and-answer session.
The performances, which featured exhibitions of card magic, storytelling, mindreading, and feats of memory, also touched on something deeper than sleight-of-hand.
Sophomore Kyle Gerron, a student in Hass’ “Philosophy of Experience” class, attended Inside the Magician’s Studio. “It gave a different insight,” Gerron said. “It went deeper than magic usually does.”
That insight came from explanations of the “why’” of magic. For example, Burger asked the audience, “Why do people allow themselves to be deceived?” and discussed how performance magic is important because it provides a gentle reminder that things are not always as they seem. Indeed, he said, “Magic points us to life issues, and very deep ones at that.”
One of Burger’s signature pieces of magic—a piece he said “has taken him around the world”–involves a long, single piece of thread that is burned into pieces while he explains the creation and destruction cycle in Hindu beliefs. At the end, the piece of thread is magically restored. Burger says this powerful piece is “about the broken. And who is broken? I am broken, you are broken, we’re all broken, as long as we live ego-driven lives. But this magic reminds us that the broken can be healed, restored, put back together again. That’s a message of hope.”
Later, Professor Hass asked Burger why he thought people love magic.
“It’s fun and transports you to another dimension,” Burger said. “You can watch a show with two minds: one in which you analyze and try to figure out the trick; and also as a child might watch, just for the wondrous effects you might see.”
“Magic invites us to take our analytic minds on vacation for five minutes,” he said. “There is a whole dimension of life that isn’t analytic at all, and we need to balance that for wholeness.”
Professional magician Bryan Lankford was thrilled to attend the presentations. “It’s not every day you get a performer like Eugene Burger around Sherman.”
Lankford brought several books written by Burger, some of which are now out of print, for Burger to sign.
“What he showed me is that there is room for every type of thought in this performance,” Lankford said. “If you want to be a clown, you can be a clown. But if you want people to walk away with a touch of the sublime, you can do that, too.”
Burger, a short man dressed all in black, with a long, white Santa Claus-beard, became a full-time magician when he was 35. He had been the director of welfare services in Chicago and suddenly quit. He started performing in restaurants, and later began writing books and creating instructional videos. Now, he has performed in 17 countries and on several television shows.
He evolved into one of the leaders of magic theory and performance, influencing a generation of magicians to stop being “wise guys” and perhaps instead to reclaim the ancient tradition of doing magic as “wise men.”
For just one example of this fresh perspective, Burger has long taught magicians to deepen their own understanding about what they are doing when they perform, telling them, “Tricks are about the props; magic is about life.”
Additional Magical Comments from Eugene Burger:
“When they have career day at schools, they have doctors and lawyers and bankers, but they never have anyone from show business. Why not? Show business is a fabulous career! Being a magician is the best job of all. Every week is different.”
“The most challenging thing [about becoming a professional entertainer] is losing the security of a regular paycheck. Making the decision to become a full-time magician felt a little like stepping off a cliff. But that was because my mind had been dulled with a regular paycheck.”
“A good magic show takes an audience on a ride like a roller coaster. I learned more about doing a show from watching Dolly Parton than I did from any magician.”
“The neat thing about close-up magic is I can see you. I can know your name, and knowing a person’s name is power. If I’m doing a secret move—sometimes we have to do those—and I ask you a question and say your name, you’re going to look up. And I can touch you. I can make human contact with you. I’m allowed to move into that space.”
“The most important thing that the magician does is reminds all of us that we are magicians too. We are all of us magicians. You can go through life as the victim … or you can be a magician in your own life, transforming it in wonderful and powerful ways.”
About the Theory and Art of Magic Program
Lawrence Hass is the producer of the Austin College Theory and Art of Magic program, an ongoing series of educational events dedicated to promoting and celebrating the magical arts. The spring 2010 Theory and Art of Magic series continues on March 23 and March 24 with An Intimate Evening of Magic with Andrew Goldenhersh (on the first night), followed by a conversation with this innovative artist (on the second night). Information on the show and conversation will be released closer to the event date.
The Theory and Art of Magic Series at Austin College is sponsored by the Department of Communication Studies, Kelly and Rick Hiser of Sherman, and the Austin College Mary Wright Visiting Artist Program.
About Lawrence Hass
Hass is a professor of humanities at Austin College where he teaches courses in philosophy and in the history, theory, and performance of magic. While unusual for a professor, this last teaching focus is rooted in the fact that Hass also is an internationally recognized magician, teacher of magicians, and inspirational speaker about the meaning and importance of the magical arts.
Hass has performed his thought-inspiring style of magic from coast to coast, at such prestigious venues as the world-famous Magic Castle in Hollywood, Magic Chicago, Jeff McBride’s Wonderground, and the Wynn Casino in Las Vegas. He recently returned from a weeklong return engagement at the Magic Castle, where he premiered a new show created especially for the event.
Beyond these performing achievements, Hass also is recognized as a leading teacher of magicians. He is the author of the bestselling book for magicians, Transformations: Creating Magic Out of Tricks, and through his celebrated “Transformations Workshops” he teaches magicians how to create magical, affecting experiences for their audiences. Over the years, Hass has won several awards for his teaching and also for his essays and writings, through which he seeks to inspire excellent magic performance.
Hass also serves as a faculty member of Jeff McBride’s Magic and Mystery School in Las Vegas, where among other things, he creates the program for the school’s annual Magic and Meaning Conference.
Hass’s work as a performer, teacher, and scholar of magic has been featured in media all around the world, including The New York Times, USA Today, The Chronicle of Higher Education, the Associated Press, CandaWest News Service, South Korean television, and the Discovery Channel.
Larry, married to Austin College president Marjorie Hass, joined the Austin College community in July 2009.
About Austin College
Austin College is a leading national independent liberal arts college located north of Dallas in Sherman, Texas. Founded in 1849, making it the oldest institution of higher education in Texas operating under original charter and name, the college is related by covenant to the Presbyterian Church (USA). Recognized nationally for academic excellence in the areas of international education, pre-professional training, and leadership studies, Austin College is one of 40 schools profiled in Loren Pope’s influential book Colleges that Change Lives.