When Matt was seven his mother took him to a local clown convention where they watched demonstrations and browsed stalls. Transfixed by the variety of props and other trickery Matt asked his mother if she would buy him the giant picture frame, which magically coloured the pictures it housed. The cost, beyond his mother’s reach, sent a tearful Matt wandering into the direction of a clown, Mr Trimble – who consoled the crying youngster with his trickery. The clown later secreted Matt’s address from his mother and a week later, a huge parcel full of props and trickery arrived at the Colman household. The contents of this box was to form the basis of Matt’s repertoire for years to come. He wrote to Mr Trimble to express thanks for his kindness; they have remained friends ever since.
In what way has your job developed your awareness of other cultures?
Magic, like psychical theatre, dance or music can transcend language and cultural barriers, being a visual art form, that being said; you have to respect and understand cultural differences to get the best possible reaction from your act. Unlike a static piece of art or film, within my performance I can’t revolutionise thinking, question culture or be political. I am merely a guest with an act, that means the performance is an escape, something for people to enjoy whilst working within another cultures social conventions. I’d love to be able to break down walls and have political commentary but magic as a performance isn’t the right medium.
Whilst working in Spain, I was subcontracted to a small international tourist bar, I was performing for Spanish, Greek, Russian, Dutch, Italian, French and German guests. I kept the language simple, the magic direct and highly visual, I learnt the basics of my scripts in different languages to be able to communicate anything that wouldn’t make sense by actions alone.
More important than being able to speak a few words in different languages, is to understand basic cultural etiquette. Some actions we might use day to day are offensive in other cultures, some wording can also be. You have to be aware that directing the magic to the female guests can be insulting in some cultures and to always involve the male guest. Breaking these codes will not only create barriers between you and the audience, but you won’t be invited back. Indian weddings and bar-mitzvahs for example require knowledge in the culture and etiquette for protocols and procedure to not only better understand what will and won’t work, but how to be the professional “outsider”. A little respect goes a long way.
A little closer to home, cultural differences between Irish and Scottish audiences may mean that some of the lines and jokes I use may not be relevant or funny to them. Even closer than that, between say a Manchester or London audience the approach will differ slightly, a warmer friendly approach works better in the North but a slicker high end corporate image and approach is favoured in the South. I use dry deadpan lines which are usually removed for a foreign audience. The North/South divide in England was made transparent by the comedians of the working men’s clubs in the 1960’s onwards, the new wave of stand-up comedy found the small cultural difference critical to how they went down in their opposite region, generally Northern comics were not well liked in Southern clubs and vice versa. For a more modern example, Peter Kay, a popular northern comic has made a career from observational comedy – relatable to a northern audience, Southern audiences can’t relate to it as well. Even just 200 miles can change a lot.
What personal attributes did you possess which enabled you to become a magician and which have you needed to develop?
The main thing you need to be is obsessive and curious. Always asking “why”? Always ask the questions, even to things that come second nature, question everything, and let it resonate. If it doesn’t resonate you need a better answer. I’ve always been curious, and I think it’s a great trait to have. You will annoy people, you may even alienate people, but be passionate about everything whether positive or negative, and not only ask the questions but develop opinions that hold weight. Be knowledgeable.
I’ve have always had a rather narrow passion for learning. I was always only interested in what I thought I could directly benefit what I did; mainly magic. I had to develop a passion for learning things that before didn’t interest me. As I get older, I find the most unrelated books, DVDs, lectures, magazines, videos, films, theatre and conversations directly influence my work, how I perceive things, and even radically change my beliefs.
Letting your mind become a dynamic sponge will serve you well. Learn to filter false facts, go to the source, and respect the giants on who’s shoulders you will one day stand on.
This is all a bit of tangent, and hopefully it comes full circle, to the fact that to be anything in this world, you have to be a people person. You don’t necessarily have to understand people, but being able to create good conversation about almost any subject has meant I’ve been in rooms with people I have considered geniuses in their fields, and held my own weight, in information, thoughts, ideas or anecdotes.
I find that I’m an extroverted performer but an introvert day-to-day. We call this show-business and without the business there is no show. I had to become more of a people person, a salesman and a marketing manager, learning insights about every aspect about business to be able to book work, network, socialise with clients and build business relationships. I had to learn to bring out the extrovert in the business side of things.
So be curious, love to learn, have great conversations and never be afraid to ask questions. Never settle for mediocrity, keep evolving. A day even thinking about one important thing is not a wasted day.
Can you recall a time when you were in ‘your zone’ ‘’in your flow’ ‘at your best’, however you want to put it?
There’s a danger of become stagnant and lacklustre with anything when it becomes second nature. You go into auto pilot and the hours drift by. It happens to me often, as hard as I try to fight it, it’s a natural reaction to repetition that has become muscle memory.
To keep in the zone, I’ll mix things up, add new tricks, say something different, and even take a risk.
It’s a hard question to answer, I can’t really answer the question properly because I try to be in the zone all the time. I have to be quick witted and on the ball, never missing a beat. Constantly focusing on making everything feel fresh and new keeps me in my flow. There’s not a single time I could pin-point and say I was at my absolute best. I think I’m pretty consistent, either I’m great, or I’m not so great; I remember the times I wasn’t as good more than the times I was perfect; on fire and on form. I’m super critical of what I do, always striving to make what I do a little better than the last time; it’s the same for criticism, I prefer negative to positive. You never get anywhere being told everything you do is perfect – there’s always room for improvement, even if you can only see it yourself.
How does your job reward you?
Performance adrenaline is incredible, I can be dying of man-flu, have a migraine or in pain and that performance adrenaline makes you super-human.
The job is not always fulfilling. It can be a difficult way to earn great money, some months are slow; others you don’t get a day’s break and money is flowing.
I think as I get older I’m trying to prove myself in a better, more focused way. When I was younger I was trying to prove I was good at what I do; now I don’t have to prove that, you should just be able to tell.
Currently I’m trying to prove that what I do is better than others (in as much as non-narcissistic way as possible) but as in to approach my work as an artist, rather than as a bloke who does a few card tricks (that’s 99.99% of magicians). I compose my routines to have highs and lows, to give blow after blow then to build to a sucker punch moment of wonder you didn’t see coming. I focus on movement and precision. I look at myself more of a composer / conductor and artist than a typical magician these days. It’s very easy for magicians to trivialise magic, to reduce greatness to a simple puzzle for the audience to work out. A good piece of art requires no explanation, it just is.
People say that magic is a speed of the hand, it’s not; it’s precision. If my hand is going too fast, I’m doing it wrong. As I write this, Conor McGregor after knocking out Jose Aldo during UFC 194 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena last night, in a record 13 seconds. Said “He’s powerful and fast but precision beats power and timing beats speed.”
A reminder that an understanding and implementation of the fundamentals in any discipline are the foundations of success and that an opposing force is not always the correct solution, but the correct tactical approach will usually beat all. I’m always looking for the right tactics.
So the buzz is to take it what I do into a more focused direction. To keep elevating what I do, and of course the buzz is those reactions of wonder, the buzz is feedback, the buzz is adrenaline, the buzz is respect, the buzz is a high that makes it all worthwhile. Without the buzz, it would just be a series of finger exercises in front of a mirror.
What would you do if you were not a magician?
I think I’d be in art, possibly a performance art, of installations. Maybe film, perhaps director or cinematographer, perhaps even in front of the camera. I love having the freedom of being able to present my words, my thoughts and my inner monologues out loud, so perhaps, I’d feel restricted with scripts written by other people being an actor. Had I not found magic I would have probably still been in the arts, a writer or maybe in advertising. I think I’d still have a creative mind, so probably some form of creative role.
Describe a moment where you feel you had a genuine experience of awe or wonder at something or someone?
As a magician, you always strive to amaze people, literally dumbfound them. The best times are when there is no possible explanation; those are the real moments of pure magic, without those it would just be a puzzle. For some people; not all, magic is all a puzzle and its inherent entertainment comes from working it out, rather than just enjoying it. They are generally my least favourite audiences – sometimes you just have to hang disbelief up at the door before you enter a magic performance; much like a film, TV show or theatre.
There’s been many times I’ve felt overwhelmed, touched. A recent moment was performing at a wedding. I approached two older guests armed with a deck of cards and smile and I was abruptly interrupted on my approach by a family member “don’t bother with these two” he said “they are deaf”. He didn’t say it to be mean, but because he didn’t think it would work and could possibly cause embarrassment for us all. I smiled, I told him they wouldn’t have to miss out and I sat down with them.
Family members started to join and I did 25 minutes of my most visual material, only talking when utterly necessary for them to lip read. They were in awe of me and I was in awe of them. It would have been easy for most to agree with the guy and walk away, but we all shared a special moment I won’t quickly forget, it made their day as much as it made mine. These moments humble me, I have my health and everything I need, anybody less fortunate, and can still have a smile on their face, it gives me hope anything is possible, and fills me with awe.
So I hope that sort of answers that question, all though, perhaps I’ve answered the first question twice! Generally, though, I’m in awe of people often at performances. I do shows for people with severe disabilities, people who have had terrible things happen to them (the magic being used to create magical, happy memories) community heroes who have made a real difference, interesting people whose life’s work make mine seem like child’s play, I’ve worked for companies who change lives, civil servants, military and the NHS who are a backbone to the country. I’m in awe of people like that all the time. Sure, the jobs not always like that, but there’s more than enough times you feel inspired, empowered and feel like you have brought something special to special people.
As to what amazes me outside of what I do, I’m a huge fan of visual artists, directors and surrealists. I like to get lost in other people’s worlds. Of course it’s really nice to be completely fooled by another magician, its rare these days, but when it happens it’s one of the most exciting feelings.
A. If you were to draw a picture of your world as it looked in five years’ time, what would we see?
B. On a scale of 1 to 10 how desirable is this picture?
5 years… I always believed time moved slowly before I hit 21, my teenage years seemed to last forever, now I can’t keep up with the days. I loose days all the time; consequentially forgetting to put my bins out on a bi-monthly basis! I don’t know where the past 5 years have gone. In the grand scheme of things five years from now, I probably haven’t done a huge amount, I’ve probably travelled more, probably been engaged with simultaneous creative outlets all at once more than most and probably procrastinated a lot more than most. It only feels like yesterday you asked for these answers and I think that was about 4 months ago. Maybe we age because we lose our sense of time. If life speeds up too much we get caught up.
So in 5 years, where do I see myself? Honestly, more than likely not much further than I am now. I’d like to say you’d see these things in my world:
I’m sitting in a beautiful in the garden of a beautiful new house I’ve bought, a new book I released has been well received by my peers. A new series of videos I’ve released on YouTube is climbing popularity, one or two have even gone a little viral.
I’ve completed this series of questions for a dear ex-teacher of mine, Mr Richard Brock. And I get a little better with deadlines, I’ve always been terrible.
Finally, after 9 years at this point of five years in the future (it’s been a long time coming), I have completed writing a new theatre magic show. It premiered and currently planning a small nationwide tour with it
I’m not as content as I was 5 years ago, my writers block cleared and I’m focusing on creativity much more. I’m happy, but I need to keep progressing.
C. On a scale of 1 to 10 how realistic is this picture?
10.I don’t think I’ve been unrealistic. Maybe I should have put I’ve just found my way onto the UK’s highest earners list, to light a fire!
D. Are there any potential blocks to creating this picture?
I suppose writers block, lack of creativity, lack of focus could delay things. That’s the problem with creativity, sometimes it’s a flowing tap, sometimes it’s a drought.
Potential factors or blocks would be that I fall out of love with what I do and choose a new path, it’s possible.
It’s possible “that fire” of creativity ignites and I get it all done and I’m way ahead.
I get obsessed with new things outside of magic easily, I’ll buy a tonne of equipment, try and master it for 6 months and then put it all away. I’m a master at that. I’m currently obsessed with iwagumi aquascapes. One of these days I might actually excel at one of these things and change profession. I love the fact Daniel Day Lewis can cobble shoes. One of my favourite documentaries is “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” – I’ve watched it over a dozen times. It’s the story of 85-year-old Jiro Ono, considered by many to be the world’s greatest sushi chef, it’s a lesson in mastery, never giving up, that hard work pays off and always striving to progress; even at 85. It’s that admirable I might end up becoming a sushi chef!
The things I outlined on my list aren’t pipedreams they are all things in motion that just need to be finished. I’m confident my resources and skills are ample and that I have the time, and the dedication.
Are there any moral issues associated with your job?
Sometimes morals affect my job, if I get enquiries from companies whose policies or practises I strongly disagree with then I won’t take the job. Other times I’ve performed my mindreading show which is purely live entertainment using psychological skills to appear as if I can read minds like I have superpowers. It is not a paranormal show, or mediumship experience (although to some it may look like it) but I’ve been asked difficult questions after, and even asked to speak to a loved one that has passed. I tell them the truth, morally that’s the right thing to do, I can’t stand the morals of mediums and psychics; they are nothing more than con-artists and if not con-artists, even more worrying, they are delusional.
Does the 9-5 job ever appeal? Why, why not?
It does, often. I have no routine, no pattern, complete freedom but at a cost. My work hours are people’s social hours, my weekends are generally travelling and performing, at busy periods I’ll miss birthdays, weddings, and other special events.
With this freedom and working nights means I sleep late and get up either late, or worn out early for say a morning show. It’s a trade off in this sort of industry. It’s not always worth it too, I’m not the best morning person so I think you’d see me sleeping at my desk until late morning if I had a 9-5. I’d have to have a boss with a good sense of humour to get away with it.
What advice would you give to anyone considering a career in something they are passionate about?
There’s an argument, that you should keep passions and careers separate. I can’t help but at this point in my life agree in general circumstances. If it’s an established career path, for example your passion is science and you want to create vaccines that save lives and medicines that fight cancer; that’s what you should do. I don’t care if you are a binman or a lawyer – have passion. Care about your work, take pride in it and excel; you’ll become the best. Being proud of doing a great job in any field is so important, I find passion endearing in any career.
Secondly, if your passion is a little further afield, alternative, ground breaking or not the norm – Well then, this is where it gets difficult. If like me you have this passion from a young age, you’ll probably (like me) disregard almost everything else as you think you know better, and then you’ll leave school with that career in mind you might be sorely disappointed. The real world doesn’t always work the way you plan or want it to work. Some issues you may face:
- You can’t get the work
- There’s little or no call for your passion / chosen career
- You won’t ever be at the level experts in your field are
- What you bring to the table is unneeded, irreverent or not simply not what people like or want
- You might struggle for a long time.
- You will fail, lots.
- You might struggle to forge your own path – imitation may suffocate you
- You’ll fall out of love with your passion and have nothing to fall back on (you might even end up with a job you hate and always be one of those people moaning “that could have been me”
- If it’s a creative job – sometimes you run out of creativity – sometimes indefinitely
If that doesn’t put you off; great! you’re in for an interesting and possibly amazing time, that could ultimately make you a mega-star.
If hard work scares you, don’t take the path least walked. If failure scares you, Primark are fairly easy going. If wanting to change the world is too daunting, McDonald’s are always hiring. The choice is yours, choose the easy path or the path of great memories and the most interesting one. Even if you choose a career far afield from your passion, keep that hobby and passion as ‘your thing’ that makes you special. If you think your passion will be with you forever, you will find a way to make it work.
You need to break down everything, understand your passions on a molecular level so that you invent, re-invent, create, inspire and change. Nobody gets rich doing what everyone else does, but you will get rich from doing it better than anyone else.
Keep that passion in your heart and keep it burning. Keep exploring and learning as much as you can about your passion and the world around you, don’t be afraid of the hard work and the many issues you will face. To paraphrase Marley -nothing worth it is ever easy, if was easy, it wasn’t worth it.
Even if you aren’t in a “creative field” (although every field needs creativity) always be creative. Question everything, including yourself, push what you know all the time, don’t ever be really settled with what you know until you can prove it. I hear people tell me all the time “I’m not creative”, “or I wish I was creative” – well guess what? You’re the only person that sees it. There’s millions of ways to be creative. Even If you can’t paint, draw, write, act or make things don’t worry that’s a fraction of what being creative is all about, you are still creative and you can always be more creative and don’t ever tell yourself you are not – someone must have told you; maybe you even told yourself but they or you are wrong. Remember there will always be people smarter than you, there will always be people better at what you do than you, Life can be competitive. Healthy competition can be a positive thing and in turn should inspire you to work harder to be more like, or better than the competition. Imitation is how we learn the basics – innovation is how we master them.
Be passionate and creative. Be confident and determined. Be focused and be you. Don’t think about what the world can do for you, but think what can you do for the world. Those are huge secrets for success.
To download Matt’s “Working Lives” profile as a hand out for use in the classroom click the link below.