At least, good magic is. I’m a harsh critic of those who magic sans theatre… some people are more forgiving, but I just hate to see magic done for the sole purpose of doing magic. Seriously, why even bother? Magic is a branch of theatre. You are excluding the magic of theatre if you don’t make good use of the theatre of magic.
Magic should paint a picture and tell a story… as such, your magic must be motivated! Every single magical thing that you do must have a purpose, a reason. Otherwise, your magic becomes more or less “Look what cool things I can do with these tricky props!”
One of my favourite examples of such a magic act is that of Soma, who is world-renowned for his “Phone Act”. There’s a reason he keeps raking in the awards and prizes. I like to consider his act essentially a one-act play with magic incorporated. It begins with a businessman walking on stage reading a newspaper. Accidentally, he tears his newspaper and, seeming to have an idea, goes with it and tears the paper to shreds. He even drops a couple of pieces by accident. At this point, he does what any person with magical powers would do in this situation… rewinds time and restores the newspaper! Like, literally rewinds time… the music in the background begins to run in reverse, the pieces that fell fly back into his hands, and the paper is restored in a flash. This sets the stage for what’s to come… Soma’s cellphone begins to malfunction in the middle of a phone call, but luckily, there is a payphone right near by. So, Soma begins producing endless amounts of coins to pay for his phone call! I won’t describe the rest of the act, because I’m sure you get the point.
Think about this when designing your magic: Why does your audience care? Magic is NO different than a play… the audience must have reason to invest themselves emotionally in what you’re doing. They have to care. For them to care, you magic must tell a story... and within your story, you, the performer, must be fighting for something. Done properly, the audience will care and invest themselves into wanting to see if you win or lose.
An easy way to design magic in this fashion is to consider the following each time you are constructing a routine or act: “I’m a person. I have a problem. I also happen to have the ability to use magical powers. Considering this, how would I solve my problem?” The best magic comes from a root of problem solving… it’s the bare basics to designing magic that people will care about. Of couse, that’s only Step One… now that you have your problem that needs to be solved, you need to make your audience care about it. That doesn’t come naturally.
It’s not easy… but who ever said it was?