For evolution to work, there must be change. For evolution to have meaning, there must be context. We can never see how successfully evolution has worked without looking back upon where it came from.
Only then, can we realize how far we may yet have to go…or how far we can go…or how far we must go.
These ideas came to a head, when at this writing, less than 24 hours ago, I was informed that a fellow magician, a good friend, had died. Eugene Burger was a legend in the magic community. With his bald pate, deep profondo voice, dark eyes that looked out through scholarly spectacles, and a long flowing white beard, he embodied the essence of not just a magician, but a wizard. And his magic was true wizardry, that in a career spanning over five decades, had entertained countless millions, whether on worldwide tours, numerous TV appearances, or magic conventions in Las Vegas and elsewhere. He was a supreme performer.
As such, one of his greatest attributes was his ability to imbue his magic with meaning. As one of the most learned individuals on this planet (a degree from Yale Divinity School, no less), he used his knowledge of theology, history, art and more to provide a context to his magic. He wasn’t just interested in the how of magic, he was a scholar of the why of magic. A philosopher that used magic not just to entertain, but to perhaps look deeper at the human condition.
Human conditions that would allow him to have a keen sense of what worked in magic. I should know: I had the honor of not only getting to know him, but also have him critique one of my acts, many years ago. His critique was an honest, judicious and fair one, and the best part was, you truly could feel his sincerity in wanting to see you succeed as a performer. No, not just a performer, but an artist.
That is why I find it supremely ironic the method by which I was informed of his passing: a text.
What at one time might have required an actual phone call, or perhaps being notified in person, had now been reduced to an artificial means of communication. Seeing the text on my phone sent by a mutual magician friend seemed to somehow undercut the feeling of true loss one feels overwhelmed by when being connected on a personal level with someone that shuffles off this mortal coil.
It did however have the effect of having me recall all of the times I had spent with Eugene. I didn’t see him as often as others, but whenever we saw each other, he always greeted me with a warm smile and big hug. He had a sense of fun about him, and always seemed to want the best for others. Eugene never failed to point out how important it is to bring the art of magic to others. Don’t allow the stereotype of the “birthday party” magician to perpetuate itself, not when there was so much more to offer that the world of magic can open a door to.
In other words, he was all about evolving as a performer, to find a meaning as an artist that can continually touch the hearts, minds and souls of an audience. And there was no question that having him in my life for much too short a period of time helped me to learn that and thus grow as a magician.
I’m happy to say that learning that lesson has also prompted me to evolve in other ways. Lately, through my association with Sirens Studios, and the ladies of Joweh R.A.W., I have been developing other skills that I had only briefly touched upon in the past.
For starters, I have been the MC for a number of Sirens events, and more to come in the future. Here was my opportunity to not only entertain, but to foster other entertainers as well. In helping to promote upcoming Sirens events, I have gone back to illustration, something I had always enjoyed doing since picking up my first pencil and crayon. With this, I have drawn images for flyers, some of which have been used so far. I have also stepped up my volunteerism, whether it was to attend a conference on grants, or set up/break down chairs and tables for Sirens events, or taking part in think tanks to garner ideas on fundraising for the Sirens non-profit. I have truly begun to evolve in different aspects of artistic endeavors, through my association with Sirens, culminating in my becoming part of several committees on the Sirens Board of Directors.
Now, as Eugene might have asked, “Why? What’s the purpose in this?”
Well, to me, Sirens and the dancers of Joweh R.A.W. represent an excellent example of what Eugene felt an artist should be, what an artist NEEDS to be.
There is no question that the ladies entertain, and entertain well with their dancing. But, their dancing represents traditions that go back centuries to various cultures around the globe. They make a point of learning, understanding, appreciating such ideas and concepts, so that when they dance, they not only entertain but EDUCATE their audiences. It’s the same reason why they bring in other dancers, musicians and performers to their productions, classes and workshops. Such knowledge gained can then be passed on to the world at large.
As an example, I remember seeing Radha Romero perform a traditional Egyptian belly dance at a recent Sirens show. It didn’t hit me until later that everything I and the audience had watched was living history. Every turn of her wrist, every movement of her arms, everything she did had a history that dated back centuries if not millennia. There are deeper understandings of history, custom and innovation that need to be maintained; otherwise, they will simply be lost to the sands of time.
In other words, at Sirens, they never stop learning about the past, in order so that they can continually mature as performers.
And thanks in large part to Eugene, that is what I am striving for too.
The world needs art, it needs mystery, it needs a sense of being alive in this incredible existence. The ladies of Sirens provide that and more. And by continuing to do so, they will create a legacy that will endure in the minds and hearts of others, so that on that one day when each of us leaves for the next world, there will still remain a sense of purpose, a sense of ambition, a sense of wonder, a sense of vitality…a sense of furtherance…
A sense of evolution.
Let’s hope when such a day arrives, it will never be spiritually diminished by a mere text.