Gone are the days of magicians crying ‘abra cadabra’ whilst pulling a white rabbit out of a top hat. Magic has evolved into something much edgier and more current; Street Magic. Street magic certainly calls for a magician with a certain ‘ju ne sais quoi’, someone with bravado and flair – out on the street you are transparent and entirely at the mercy of your audience. The history of magic is notoriously secretive and finding true facts and figures are no easy feat, I have tried hard to gain enough information to give you the history of the street magician.
Street magic is the contemporary art of close up magic delivered to the unsuspected public, literally ‘on the street’ as they go about their day. Although many of us will credit David Blaine for bringing street magic into households across the globe in 1997, the truth is that we have been entertained by the experts in illusion and sleight of hand for centuries street magic actually has a far deeper past and although it can be traced back to the Ancient Romans and Greeks, a lot of it is ingrained in English history.
Weird and wonderful spells from medieval times were dismissed as macabre and even demonic and were widely condemned, predominantly by the church, apart from practices that would be classed as alchemy or philosophy in today’s world. Despite this, it was in this era that street magic began; the growing culture of trade meant that customers could be left short changed by sleight of hand, and street performers showcased tricks with cups and balls.
From the year 1750, a number of pioneering street performers came into the world; Chevalier Guiseppe Pinetti, Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin, and Harry Houdini all become heroes in the world of magic, performing tricks and illusions that could seemingly defy logic and the limits of human capability, particularly Houdini, whose death is still honoured every year by the Society of American Magicians.
Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin was responsible for bringing magic in from the street and on to the stages in Paris, he left audiences so stunned that the authorities forced him to reveal the secrets behind his tricks before he was prosecuted for witch craft. From this moment, the magic ‘show’ was born and the majority of magicians took their performances off of the street to wow paying audiences.
As we move into the 1900’s the mystery and secrecy around magic heightens and the Magic Society’s begin to form. The British magic Society (now the Magic Circle) has not only expelled famous magicians for exposure, but also its founding member.
Magic began to move back towards its roots in 1977 when New York magician Jeff Sheriden took to central park to perform – he was the first magician in NY to perform street magic in 100 years and made a living purely from performing street magic. Sheridan has been an inspiration to those such as Criss Angel and David Blaine, who have gone on to inspire themselves an even younger generation.
In the cynical year of 2015, street magic is so popular because it leaves behind the theatrical lighting and clever stage props and almost forces you to believe that magic does exist, Oli B continues to wow crowds both in and off the street with his close up magic and is gaining quite the following, leaving them wondering “How does he do it??”