She's an artist and a magician - but she doesn't know it!
Many of my great teachers in NYC stressed this same idea, although they worded it in different ways – “Don’t show the engine”. When I was on a dance scholarship with the Nat Horne Theater in NYC he would drill this idea into us – “unless it is part of the emotional dialogue of the dance, you shouldn’t let the audience see the preparation for a leap or a pirouette”. When I studied Mime with Thom Leabhart and Daniel Stein they both stressed hiding the engine of the movement, so that an action like a simple relevé (elevating your body by slowly raising up on one or both of the balls of your feet) could become a magical thing. In other words - Don’t make them watch your foot, make them see you levitate. Hiding the engine is a BIG part of the magical arts, as you might imagine. Controlling where the audience is looking is an essential skill for magicians. It can be extrapolated out to apply to comedy, music, and every performance art. The HOW is not the focus, it’s the WHAT that’s important.
So I was pleasantly surprised when I found that this idea could also apply to a simple lunch visit with my Aunt Dora. My father’s brother, Ernie, and his wife, Dora, live in Whitestone, NY. Gretchen and I were visiting them a few years ago and we imagined Dora, whose is in her 80’s, would probably bring out some snacks and maybe some cake and coffee. Boy were we wrong! After a tour of their home and garden we went down to the basement, where they ate and hung out during the warmer months. The long, empty dining table gave no hint of what was to come. It was SHOW TIME! First a very large antipasto plate and some nice Italian bread appeared, with some aperitifs. This would have been quite enough for Gretchen and me, but it was only the overture. Every ten minutes she would disappear momentarily and return with another course of perfectly prepared food – homemade pasta, salad, an enormous vegetable plate, wine, a cheese and fruit plate, and finally a homemade cake and espresso with Sambuca. She never seemed stressed. It was all seemingly effortless. We never witnessed her cooking or assembling these culinary delights for she had hidden the preparation. The planning and prep for this meal must have taken days. But all we saw was food that magically appeared at just the right time and at just the right temperature.
As every magician knows, secret preparation is useless if your audience has any idea what you did, or that you even did it at all. Dora had performed this act so many hundreds of times that she was totally calm, collected and in the moment with us as we sat, talked and reminisced. She is a master of her craft, and Gretchen and I were honored to have been the recipients of her special kind of magic.