Interview: Alex FodenCollaborative Unit
Alex Foden is a PhD candidate in material science at the Imperial University, a professional magician and a good friend of mine. He performs stage magic as well as close up shows for private and corporate clients alike. In the last year, he has performed all over the UK, in Dubai and at one point on a cruise ship. He is also the closest thing I have to a collaborative partner on this project and my personal guide through the world of magicians.
We met up with Adam in early February and together we cornered Alex at a terrifyingly expensive pub in Kennington for what ended up being a nearly 2-hour long, excruciatingly detailed interview about himself and his place in the magic society. The edited version of the interview can be listened to bellow. I have removed the part in which Alex explains a routine as this was done confidentially for analysis and Alex did not wish to make this explanation available to public.
Alex is a member of the Leicester Magic Circle and has had experiences with multiple magic societies, including the Magic Circle in London. He talks about the community aspect as one of the reasons these societies exist. Apart from the validation and a level of prestige that comes with belonging to a magic society, magicians come to these clubs in order to socialise, practice together and learn from each other. In many ways the Magic Circle and others can be seen as representations of the magic community in general.
“I get on with a lot of magicians. The problem is a lot of magicians don’t get on with a lot of other magicians.”
Practitioners have a tendency to keep to themselves within their small subgroups that form within the community and are often on less than friendly terms with those from other groups. A significant point of contention is plagiarism. Magicians work hard on their routines and can be quite protective of them, which often causes fallings out when a practitioner uses another’s routine and fails to credit the creator appropriately. Diverging opinions on larger points of debate – for instance whether magic can be considered an art form or how harmful is exposure – can also lead to animosity.
An example of such animosity can be found in Craig Petty, an experienced magician who Alex sees as his mentor. Craig is a divisive figure within the community, widely respected by some for his contributions and downright despised by others for his outspoken nature, harsh criticism of other magicians’ work and a comparatively liberal approach to exposure. Craig has found himself in a feud with the Magic Circle itself and has for a while been acting more or less independently.
On the subject of exposure and the secret keeping aspects of magic, Alex has said that while the mantra of secrecy is still strong and is a central part of the oath magicians take when entering magic societies, the rules have been becoming less stringent recently. Alex believes that many magicians simply aren’t good enough to not reveal secrets even when performing while others choose to reveal them as a part of their performance. Alex himself often explains – or pretends to explain – simple tricks to the audience in order to add an unexplained layer of complexity later which negates the original explanation and makes the trick more entertaining to watch. This is a technique often employed by Penn and Teller, the latter of whom Alex considers to be the greatest magician alive.
That part about making tricks entertaining is absolutely crucial to Alex. For him, magic is a form of entertainment and should be treated as such. He considers himself an entertainer first and a magician second, arguing that he would rather be told that the audience saw through everything but had a great night than that they were completely fooled but bored out of their skulls. Alex says this while keeping in mind that the audience of non-magicians will not be able to appreciate technically impressive feats without seeing into how they are performed anyway. To him it is more important to keep the audience on their toes than it is to show off.
Alex describes his experience with entering the larger magic community as a mixed bag. Magicians tend to shun newcomers and a sense of elitism can be palpable both against other magicians and us muggles. That said, Alex reports on mostly positive experiences trying to enter the community. He attributes this partly to his age. Magicians appear to be a dying breed as most are over the age of 30 (and in many cases much older) and young practitioners are rare. Some magic clubs have already stopped functioning because its members have quite literally died out. Nevertheless, Alex points out that getting into magic can be quite daunting due to how closed off the community is – though once in, finding contacts and learning from other magicians becomes easy.