Thoughts on products, performance, and doublethink in the magic community.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Crossing the Cultural Divide

For seven of my eighteen years, I have had a serious interest in magic. I have a specific personality when I perform, which has been shaped and defined by hundreds of interactions with spectators.

Since I am an American, this personality appeals to a uniquely American culture, sense or humor, and attitude. I am, as all entertainers are, a product of my environment.

My performance style, which has worked so well in the USA, is strange and unfamiliar in Israel. My jokes, effects, misdirection, and even body language reflect an unmistakably foreign culture. Translating the patter of my tricks is not enough. I have to actually translate the tricks themselves.

But what am I up against? What is the Israeli attitude towards magic, if such a thing even exists? Well, to know the people, you must first understand the country.

Israel is not an easy place to live. Many people are quite poor, and supporting yourself/a family is a difficult endeavor. The country is by no means a backwards place, but the comfortable American lifestyle is inaccessible to most Israelis.

Life is only made harder by the vile, murderous animals known as Palestinian terrorists. The murderers target every Israeli man, woman and child. Every second of every day. Security is taken unbelievably seriously. Even so, hundreds of innocent people have been killed while riding buses, clubbing, or eating out. Activities that are mundane in America can be deadly over here.

Because of the security situation, all Israelis have mandatory military service as soon as they finish high school. When most Americans turn 18, they go off to a leisurely lifestyle full of heavy drinking. When Israelis turn 18, they are given an M-16 and the heavy responsibility of protecting their homeland.

Men serve three years and women two. After being discharged, they have reserve duty for a month every year, until they're in their fifties. Israel is truly a nation of citizen soldiers.

The hebrew world for a native Israeli is 'sabra,' or cactus. Cactuses are sharp and spiny on the outside, but inside, there is cool and delicious water. Similarly, Israelis are gruff and abrasive on the outside, but incredibly warm and friendly once you get to know them.

Breaking through won't be easy. But if magic can remove Israelis, if only temporarily, from their difficult and embattled existence, they will be the most enthusiastic audience that I could ask for.

But what are my obstacles?

As an American, I am clearly marked as an outsider by Israeli spectators. This is totally unfamiliar to me. In America, I could approach someone I hardly knew and use a deck of cards to show how much we had in common. Not so 6000 miles away, where I am out of my element.

Perhaps I can embrace my outsider status by wearing an usual item of clothing or acting like a fool. This could counteract any hostility I'd encounter, making differences a source of strength for the performance, rather than a weakness.

Also, many Israelis will be ill-disposed to me as soon as they realize that I'm American. This is not an issue of diplomacy or politics. America and Israel are on good terms. It's just that, in the area I perform, most Americans whom Israelis encounter are drunk and obnoxious. (I go to Ben Yehuda Street, which is the bar/club area of Jerusalem.)

Ironically, many of the Israelis at Ben Yehuda are also totally smashed. I'm told that alcohol makes magic look better, but it also makes people violent and unpredictable. Avoiding undesirable situations will require serious audience management skills. I do not have a ton of experience in these situations, so there will be a lot of learning in the trenches.

However, I don't think I'll be able to avoid the "arseem." These Israeli punks are easily identifiable by their ridiculously tight clothes, meticulously trimmed facial hair, and the cigarette between their lips. And no, they're not gay. Arseem are rude and violent, the worst audience a magician could have. Unfortunately, on any given night, they make up about half of the population of Ben Yehuda street. They're easy to spot and avoid approaching, but many will be drawn in to the crowd while I'm performing - and I will draw a crowd.

I really am performing - not just speaking - in another language. It's forcing me to think about my magic in a way that I've never done before. Why do I do it? How do I want people to react? What are my goals? They're difficult questions, but I look forward to the experiences that will help me answer them.


Blogger MagicEnigma said...

Such is the folly of carving out a state by 1) mixing politics and religion 2)claiming land from an opposing religion.

At least the founding fatheres of the U.S. had the good sense to separate government and religion....or did they?

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