Here's the Deal - with John Duffett AIMC

Posted on May 16th 2024

I’m delighted to introduce my first guest blogger, John Duffett. For those who don’t know him, back in 2023, he became the youngest ever person to win the Magic Circle’s prestigious Close-Up Magician of the Year competition. I’ve only known John for a few months, but the phrase “old head on a young pair of shoulders” springs to mind. This is a magician who knows his stuff and can back up his words with solid technical ability. Combine this with an inimitable voice and showmanship and you have a future star of magic.

What/who got you into magic?

I first came across Magic at the age of 7 when I saw Stephen Mulhern's new programme 'Tricky TV' appear on Television. I still don't know why it was but I was immediately obsessed with what I saw, not only watching Magic but the rare chance to learn it just appealed to me at that age. This being said, it was a passing childhood hobby that lasted for only a few years. However, when the Pandemic began in 2020, I found myself with an ample amount of free time, I looked at Magic and thought maybe I should give it another go! 4 Years later, it is now my full-time career.

What is it about close-up that appeals to you?

I love Magic because of what it can give to other people, it's a gift. When done well, Magic can provide sincere astonishment, and in that moment everything else in that person's life vanishes. They forget about their problems, the facade they put on when they met you, they forget about rationality itself. When people are feeling awe they become the most authentic version of themselves in that moment, they feel astonishment just as they did when they were born into this world, and I don't think there is a better feeling you can share with someone than that.

I feel Close-Up achieves astonishment far better than any other form of Magic. For Magic to be its most effective, the audience must be certain of everything that is happening. It requires keen attention and focus, and seeing it through a screen or at the back seat of a theatre only hinders this.

Have you ever had a bad gig? What did you learn?

I was once told by a booker I would be performing at a 'Leaving Party', when I got there it turned out to be a memorial service, where I had to spend the next few hours performing Magic to friends and family of the departed. I don't think I'll perform at an event like this again but it did teach me to be more aware of the circumstances of the audience when I perform and to adapt accordingly.

Unsurprisingly much of the crowd was sombre and upset, but as this was early on in my career I was unsure exactly how to change my approach. But now I am far more capable of adapting my approach for the audience I have. If I'm at a gig, I can't treat a group of young lads drinking and looking for a night out the same as a family celebrating their daughter's graduation. I'm still learning, but I feel I am far stronger at adapting to the energy the audience is giving me now, although it took a rather extreme lesson to learn it.

If you could only perform one effect, what would it be and why?

At the moment I'm developing an interest in Mentalism, so off the back of that I'd have to say a billet divination. There are few mind-reading effects as powerful and direct as this, and it has so many possible presentational angles. If I could master this performance, I wouldn't need anything else to astonish my audiences.

What’s the best piece of advice on magic you’ve ever received?

When I first started performing for people after the Pandemic ended, I quickly realised I was not very good at performing Magic. Hours of hard practice and reading Magic books in the Pandemic months only took me so far. Only when I joined the Magic Circle and ended up in the company of professionals was I told "There is no substitute for flight time", words I have taken to heart ever since.

You can rehearse as much as you like, but when you get an audience in front of you everything changes, you won't execute a sleight like you did 100 times in the mirror this morning, you can't anticipate some spilling a drink halfway through, or the participant making a witty remark. Only by performing as much as possible can you seriously improve, and I've only gotten to the point I am now because I've had dozens of mediocre performances. I'm not a finished product yet, I still require much more flight time to get to a point where I'm truly happy with what I can offer my audience.

What legacy do you hope to leave behind?

I've never actually thought about this, but I'd probably be more concerned with the legacy relating to my audience than other Magicians. I want my audiences to remember me as someone Magical, that gave them laughter, mystery, astonishment and powerful entertainment that they can look back on as a moment in their life like no other. It is a big statement, but I do believe Magic can be this powerful. Magic can be a trivial bit of fun if you treat it as such, but if you perform it with the reverence it deserves, the audience will see that too. I do not believe I am capable of this yet, but I will always strive for this, why settle for anything less?


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