We have learned so much from Allan Ackerman over the years. His 11 disk set on Erdnase is one of our favorite go-to DVD collections. We love card sleights, we’re from Chicago, we worshiped Ed Marlo and so Mr. Ackerman is a natural fit for us.
Mr. Ackerman was at the Magic Castle last week, performing in the wonderfully appointed Close-Up Gallery. The guy is good. He makes hard stuff look invisible. At the end of the week, he provided the Magician Member only lecture and we stumbled away from the event exhausted. We were tired but it was a good kind of tired. He had some amazing routines and patiently taught each to the nearly sold-out group of very appreciative students.
We mention Mr. Ackerman not only to praise his skills and encyclopedic knowledge of our favorite branch of magic but also to ponder on page what makes bad audience members behave the way they do.
Last week, we watched as Mr. Ackerman dealt with an audience member who was determined to make the show her own. She was an attractive and seemingly normal individual who had demonstrated fine manners before and after the show. But during the show, she turned from a pleasant member of society to someone who caused us concern.
Mr. Ackerman was about to perform what appeared to be a multiple card revelation. He had various spectators select a card from the deck as he riffled through the pack. All was going smoothly until he encountered the subject of our anthropological study.
Armed with apparently a little knowledge of how card tricks work, she sought to disrupt the proceedings by demanding that Mr. Ackerman re-do the selection process several times to make sure that she selected precisely the card she thought she wanted.
The show essentially came to a halt as the spectator insisted Mr. Ackerman conform to her requirements. Finally, in a genial manner, he spread the deck on the table and asked her to take a card according to her whim. The trick was a success despite her efforts to undermine but the rhythm was lost and the rest of the audience suffered as a result.
Why are some people like that? Why would someone want to disrupt a performance. We are not judging but sincerely asking.
The disrupting individual must receive some benefit by acting that way. Assuming that the person is rational, he or she would not do something that would bring discomfort or bad feelings. Or perhaps he or she does feel discomfort but the psychic benefit is greater than the discomfort.
But even assuming acting out is rational – the balance of discomfort versus pleasure favors acting to disrupt an event at least 15 other people seem to be enjoying – why would the spectator act in such an unconventional manner? Does the unruly spectator not feel constrained by the societal norms we all acknowledge?
We have had our share of hecklers over the years. We know some performers relish the interaction – we don’t. Not because we aren’t equipped to respond appropriately and pull the routine back from the diversion but because it makes us sad. We worry about the spectator and their self-understanding. When someone acts in a publicly destructive way – either against themselves or others – it causes us real concern.
We think about what could have caused this dramatic deviation from the societal norm. Was there something in their life that so affected their psyche that they have no choice but to act this way? Are they physically or mentally unable to conform to our sense of normal? If it is organic, we feel pity and helpless for them. Their life must have so many similar moments. That cannot be enjoyable or edifying.
There are odd people in this world – we should know, we certainly qualify as odd in our own way. Salvador Dali famously wrote, “The only difference between a mad man and me is that I am not mad.” We have no idea what that means but it sounds deep and we know he was admirable in his odd-ness. Our concern is not that people are odd, eccentric or different. We like that. We enjoy that. And, even if we did not enjoy it, who cares. Who are we to judge?
Our concern is for those who are intentionally disruptive or attempt to wrest the spotlight from what the audience considers enjoyable. We just do not understand their motivations, the cost-benefit system they must have – because we all have one – and how they see the world.
We try not to judge and certainly do not know the inner-workings of our fellow travelers on life’s journey but sometimes they worry us and make us sad.
But, Mr. Ackerman makes us happy so it all works out. Check out his website here: http://www.allanackerman.com/