Category

Curiosity

How practising magic helped my physical wellbeing

By | Belief, Curiosity, What's new?, Wonder

We spoke to the multi-talented Psychological Illusionist, Jared Manley, about magic and what it means to him.

Jared has performed his magic all around the world, leaving audiences astounded with his unique combination of mind reading skills, gambling techniques and special effects. He has also worked on special effects (SFX) for films such as Harry Potter and Game of Thrones, so we were super excited to hear him talk about the extraordinary relationship between SFX and magic.

When Jared talks about magic, his face lights up. Magic has had a huge impact on his life and on his health. He believes magic is a powerful way to bring people together as well as a way to work on your own personal development. After his lecture, we caught up with Jared to ask him some questions and find out why he calls himself psychological illusionist.

“Saying Psychological Illusionist makes people wonder what I actually do and it starts a conversation”

Why do you call yourself a psychological illusionist?

I wanted a posher way to say mind trickster, mind magician or just magician! I probably got it from Derren Brown — he calls himself a psychological illusionist. Psychology is how the mind works and an illusion is about creating an effect that makes people wonder how it’s possible. If I just called myself a magician, your reaction would be: you must do card and coin tricks. Whereas calling myself a psychological illusionist makes people wonder what I actually do and it starts a conversation. You can then elaborate and you have an excuse to demonstrate things.

How did you learn magic?

My teachers and influences have changed dramatically over the years. Initially, the person who taught me was the animatronics technician, Chris Clark. He showed me a quick coin trick and introduced me to books by Brother John Hamman.

After that I wanted to take my magic a bit further so I went to Davenports magic shop (the biggest influencer in magic at that time was Marc Spellman and he worked at Davenports). The first thing Marc said when I told him I wanted to learn magic was: show me a Double Lift… Not long after that I started going to Marc’s parent’s house where he taught me magic. At that time he was performing on TV and he was a big influence on me.

My current influence is Roger Curzon, one of the greatest card technicians and bizarre magic people! He concentrates on presentation and storytelling, and teaches magicians from the age of 10 upwards. He’s a mentor to a lot of magicians — he’s informed the way I perform, react to people and interact with other magicians.

How has magic impacted your life?

Magic has impacted my life in a major way. I’ve had eczema since I was a baby — I was always scratching as a kid and needed to be distracted. Magic did that. I started doing special effects when I was 23, initially working in environments that weren’t healthy for me, with fibreglass and making moulds. But I had to do it because I was a trainee. This had a huge negative impact on my life and my health because my eczema flared up. I became very irritated (literally!) whenever I was sitting around doing nothing, except when somebody showed me a magic trick, so I started to learn how to manipulate cards and do sleight of hand. My passion for magic grew, plus it took my mind off scratching! I suppose that’s why I progressed quickly with performance because, every moment I had spare, I was playing with cards, disappearing coins or fiddling with gimmicks. Using my hands to practice took away the irritation and the pain of that skin disorder.

It also had a positive impact on my confidence. Seeing people’s reaction while watching the magic and the presentation, them being interested in the story you are telling — this gave me a big confidence boost. I could now approach anybody and show them a trick. I was encouraged enough to keep doing what I was doing and improving my communication with people at the same time.

What fascinates you about magic?

It’s the people, more specifically the reactions from people when I’m performing.

When you start learning magic, it’s all about mastering the trick, but the thrill quickly changed from the techniques to the reaction from the audience.

I’d been doing magic for about three months when I was on a train home from London one night, after working in SFX. I was in my seat, practicing magic, doing some tricks and, within a couple of minutes, people started to be curious about what I was doing. So I said: come and I’ll show you a trick.

By the end of the journey I had the whole carriage watching me perform. It was great to see their reactions and when I left the train I noticed that the people I’d performed to, who were from all walks of life, were talking to each other. You had bankers talking to students, discussing the tricks and just having fun chatting about what they’d just seen. That’s when I realised how powerful magic is.

I know it’s a cliché, but it brought those people together; they forgot who they were and where they came from, they just started talking to each other. That’s what I found fascinating and why I started studying psychology to find ways to trigger that same reaction through my performances.

What do special effects and magic have in common?

They are the same thing; they are both a visual effect, but for different mediums. SFX is for TV, film or theatre while magic is personal, close-up or on stage. In essence, magic is special effects. George Méliès was a magician who used magic to achieve special effects on camera. The techniques we use in SFX — engineering, mechanics, chemical changes and even sleight of hand — are used in both SFX and magic.

How do you make the impossible, possible?

It was difficult in the beginning because I didn’t know how. When you start out, you’re limited in your knowledge and background, I only had what I learned from university and the things I picked up working at different companies.

I’ve now been doing SFX for 17 years and, as you progress, you learn from different people and pick up different techniques. But with every job there’s something you have to research, either on the internet looking at what’s been done before or finding new techniques and ways to manipulate things. It’s all about being aware of what’s around and being interested in what’s possible. 

You too can make the impossible possible and make things disappear! Discover our workshops or contact Harriet: harriet@abracademy.com. Tah-Dah! 🌟

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The magic of imaginary friends

By | Belief, Curiosity, Food for thought, What's new?
Dedicated to the memory of Simon Aronson and his imaginary friends.

SOMA is the Science of Magic Association. In their own words, the organisation promotes rigorous research directed toward understanding the nature, function and underlying mechanisms of magic.

In July 2019, SOMA held a conference in Chicago, USA, followed by a seminar in London. Both were a coming together of like-minded people – academics, researchers, magicians and keynote speakers – to further SOMA’s mission and inspire connections, and conversations.

Our resident Wizard of Science, Steve Bagienski went to both with many hats on – magician, psychologist, interested party and guest speaker at the summer seminar. Steve’s presentation was about how magic can enhance wellbeing: The magical means of building close connections and community during the college transition: a novel arts-based positive intervention.

We asked Steve to share his main takeaway from the 2019 SOMA events – what did he find most inspiring? Of the many presentations and talks he attended, it was Simon Aronson’s talk on imagination that left Steve thinking the most.

I’ve always known that Simon Aronson was very influential in card magic. I’ve seen his work on magic websites for years. When I saw him at the Science of Magic Association conference, I experienced both wonder and inspiration. The mind reading show, “It’s the thought that counts”, contained many adorable moments of connection between him and his wife. It left me wondering – how she could literally see from Simon’s perspective when she was blindfolded?…
 
But the most meaningful part of the conference was his keynote on imagination. First he transported us to a world where a fire-breathing dragon chased me to the edge of a cliff. He made the point that no-one screamed or ran away – we knew we were experiencing this adventure in a safe and trusted environment. This is what watching magic allows us to do – experience impossible, mysterious moments, in a safe environment.
He continued by explaining how kids with imaginary friends are normal. There’s nothing psychologically wrong with having imaginary friends. Kids know their friend is imaginary (just like we knew the dragon was imaginary). Simon himself had an imaginary friend. His name was Mergel Funsky and he showed us many pictures of Mergel! Simon and he had many adventures together. Of course, Mergel knows he’s imaginary and now, you know it too. He likes pickles and sometimes helps with the magic.
 
Humour aside, I left inspired by how imaginary friends can be very useful. For example, if you’re missing a close one, why not create an imaginary version to feel less lonely and self-soothe? Or if you need someone to bounce ideas off, why not ask your imaginary friend? As long as you know this person is imaginary, it can be therapeutic and fun. It’s a strategy to see yourself and problems from a different, liberating, viewpoint.
I was sad to hear of Simon’s recent passing, but the impact he had on me and my own imagination will live on.

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Curious Companies

By | Curiosity, education, Magical Moments, Priya, Uncategorized, What's new?, Wonder

Since Abracademy has been running corporate workshops, we’ve noticed certain commonalities among our clients. Our Mind Master / Head of Learning, Priya Ghai, looks into her crystal ball and shares what she sees…

First and foremost, curious companies dare to dream. They dream of a more powerful and magical way to undertake professional development. One where people feel valued and their thoughts, experiences, and emotions are welcome.

Tell us more about the dreamers

The dreamers are the people willing to take a new approach to learning, to take what might seem like a risk. But actually they know it’s an investment – in engagement, laughter and connection over box-ticking. The dreamers can imagine learning programmes that allow people to know how to do their job better and also to feel that they can do it better. They know that the right mindset is the way forward for any life-long learning. A mindset that allows people to take control of their development rather than feeling it’s in someone else’s hands.

The dreamers are creating companies focused on learning and exploration to enable a positive culture. Cultures where people can experience joy, be vulnerable and believe in what they do.

They are also looking for something fresh in their approach to learning. Our clients want the special magic that creates lasting memories for participants as well as movement within the company.

What’s driving companies to take a new approach to learning?

We know that learning and development needs to change. The world of work is changing so fast that we can’t expect things learned a year ago to still be relevant today. This quick, volatile and ever-evolving world means that what, and how, we learn needs to evolve too.

Learning has to be holistic. It must work for the whole person – emotions, perceptions, ideas and needs – not just for our brains. It’s about realising that we are much more than machines fulfilling a role and producing work. When nurtured in the right way, humans have fantastic capacity for creativity and collaboration.

Creating life-long learners is key. People should be able to learn in workshops and beyond. For this reason, Abracademy workshops develop people’s capacity to wonder and reflect. We want people to think about the workshop experience, apply what they’ve learned at work and keep developing. Participants will learn the perfect balance of humility and confidence, whilst continuing to explore their growth. 

This brings us back to the concept of the right mindset for learning – our workshops are spaces to develop the mental models needed to become life-long learners.

Thirdly, our clients are curious – to harness the power of group dynamics and for a deeper understanding of creative processes. It’s increasingly understood that employees are the lifeblood of any company and our programmes instil new energy. We unlock employee potential – vital to the health and progress of any organisation.

What makes a company curious?

They’re companies that are able to work in an agile way. They pilot programmes, learn from them then develop what they need. We love working with companies like this, it ensures that what we do is fit for purpose now, not for last year’s purpose.

These companies understand that their people need more than a revolving door of hard skills. They must believe in themselves and in each other, and they want to feel that the company believes in them too. Getting to the root of what people need enables us to develop programmes that stick and create memorable (and of course, magical!) moments. 

How does Abracademy make learning magical?

Our learning philosophy is based on developing two core mindsets that unlock the magic of a company through its people. The mindsets are Belief and Wonder – inspired by magic of course!

Mindsets are muscles that need to be developed. Our Magical Moment workshops flex these muscles. We look at each mindset from a different angle and develop the skills, and behaviours, that bring it to life.

Our learning philosophy is also holistic, centred on peoples’ many and diverse needs. We use experiences as a method of unpacking and reflecting on learning. And, most importantly, we use magic to stimulate the brain by adding surprise, joy and vulnerability into the learning space. Magic is the perfect way to be in direct contact with the feeling of not knowing something. Leave your ego at the door and open up to explore the unknown in service of growth. 

Thanks to Priya Ghai for chatting learning and magic💡

Below is a short interview with Jay Pepera – Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Omnicom Media Group – talking about her Abracademy experiences. Thank you for unleashing your magic with us Jay!

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Meet the magician: Sonia Benito

By | Belief, Curiosity, Magicians, What's new?, Wonder

In her own words, there’s more to Sonia Benito than meets the eye. Her work is about movement and magic. Not a combination of skills you come across too often…

We met Sonia through the magic world of course. Specifically via Instagram, where she’s a little bit of a magical star! And since then we’ve worked with her on a couple of projects – with the Wellcome Collection and Royal Museums Greenwich. Both projects involved young people, where Sonia was not only a fantastic guest speaker / magician, but also a superb role model – able to make hard-to-please teenage jaws drop and inspire (we hope) confident future magicians. Ta-dah!

We had a chat with Sonia because we’re always curious to know what brought people to magic and what drives them forward. Here’s the conversation…

Tell us about you and magic…
When I was 13 years old, I saw magic in a little market and I bought a few tricks. I performed them to my family and friends. One of my old teachers at school was a magician and when he found out that I liked magic, he started showing me his tricks. He was doing magic with doves and I love animals. After 2 or 3 years he passed away and another teacher from the school told me that he left a note. It said that he would like me to have all his magic materials. And so I had one of his doves! Then I bought another one and started to perform in villages in Spain. 🕊🕊

What impact has magic had on you?
It makes me feel unique. I can be myself. It might sound cheesy, but it’s the fact that magic makes people smile and can take them to a world where everything is possible. It makes me super creative to make it my own.

What do you find wonderful in the world?
Art in general. The way we express ourselves. I find life wonderful. The fact of being here and now.

What do you believe in?
I believe in energy and nature. I believe there is no religion apart from the respect we must have for each other to keep the balance.

Abracademy firmly believes the world needs more magic, do you?
The world needs more people who believe in magic! And it needs more art and people who respect, and enjoy it. To let go of your worries for a few seconds and enjoy what is happening in the moment. That it’s okay to feel vulnerable and not know everything (the secret to magic).

Any words of wisdom for future magicians?
Always be yourself. If you enjoy magic, others will enjoy it with you. Remember that the real magic is you – who you are, not what you are. You can do magic with anything! As magic is everywhere 😉

 

There’s a further interview with Sonia in the first issue of our new magical magazine, The World Needs More Magic. If you’d like to receive a special gift copy of that, sign up for our monthly newsletter!

Sonia Benito
Magic and movement

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Words on Wonder

By | Abracademy Labs, Belief, Curiosity, Food for thought, What's new?, Wonder

Scientist, mathematician and magician, Matt Pritchard, is interested in what makes people go WOW! ?

You probably know by now that at Abracademy, we want to bring more magic to the world. It’s our raison d’etre! And you probably also know that all our workshops are all founded on two mindsets inspired by magic – Belief and Wonder. So, when we came across Matt Pritchard’s Words on Wonder blog, we were hooked…

In his blog, Matt chats with other magicians, creatives and scientists about their work, particularly how they cultivate, and share wonder. One fundamental question he asks, that helps the reader understand what motivates each of his guests, is: Why are you interested in researching the science of magic? Here’s some of the answers to that question, starting with our own Wizard of Happiness and wellbeing researcher, Steve Bagienski: 

I can’t think of a more personally befitting and meaningful thing to do than explore magic and wellbeing. There are so many directions my research could go, but I am focused on the social and emotional experiences of watching, and learning, magic. I really do believe that our relationships with others are what matters most in life, it’s how we become part of something bigger than ourselves. I would love more scientists to explore the many nuances, but for me, my PhD project is a good place to start. (Follow Steve on Twitter)

On a different note, Ph.D student and associate lecturer in the Psychology of Magic at London’s Goldsmiths University, Alice Pailhes, studies how unconscious influences shape our choices and the illusion of free will with the help of a magician’s technique known as ‘forcing’:

Since I started studying psychology I became really interested in social psychology – how our environment affects our choices and behaviours. As we are constantly making decisions (as trivial and small as what to eat for lunch, but also important ones such as what career or partner to choose), I started to be really fascinated by understanding why we do the things we do, and how we’re influenced by a number of factors. I find the illusion of free will, as well as how we think we chose something when we didn’t, really captivating. As I’ve always loved magic and do a little myself, I quickly made a link with some tricks I knew: forcing techniques. Forcing is a way to make spectators pick or think about a specific card or object without them being aware that they were influenced. Magicians have been using forcing techniques and processes for hundred of years that psychology only understood a few decades ago! I think we have a lot to learn from magicians’ knowledge. (Follow Alice on Twitter)

Last, but certainly not least, Lise Lesaffre Lise is exploring magic, not so much in practice, but rather from a cognitive experimental perspective:

I use magic to investigate belief formation. More particularly, I use a sort of mentalism routine that makes the audience think they are in front of a genuine psychic. I take measurements before and after about their beliefs, and associated cognitive bias. We found that when the performance is convincing, the audience get really emotional and most people believe what they saw was a genuine psychic demonstration – more than 60% reported the performer was a genuine psychic! (Visit Lise’s webpage to find out more about her research).

We’ve often said that magicians are masters of human behaviour. You can see from these responses that science and magic make very natural companions, helping us understand the human brain and how it works.

Read the full interviews here. And big thanks to Matt, Steve, Alice and Lise for sharing their thoughts with us.

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