Monthly Archives: September 2013

Some Thoughts About Magic Lectures

I’ve now been to a number of magic lectures, today’s being with Shawn Farquhar, and it has me thinking about what people intend to get out the lectures they go to.

Now, admittedly, I haven’t been to as many as a lot of the people involved in the magic scene have been to, and I don’t know what percentage of magicians, hobbyists, pros, or semi-pros, intend to get out of the lectures. I know for some people, if the lecturer isn’t selling a bunch of stuff, then they feel let down. There are an awful lot of magicians out there that are looking for that new trick being demonstrated that they can feel is a reputation maker. Some people are just collectors with hoards of stuff they’ve bought and the lecture is more or less a demonstration. I get that, but because I need to focus on learning and becoming proficient with the fundamentals. Maybe someday, I’ll buy more stuff at the lectures, but to me, I appreciate more than a demo show. In fact, one lecture I saw a number of months ago, I know I felt like it was lame because it seemed like mainly a sales pitch for a lot of gimmicks and was thoroughly unimpressed while some of the others, who walked out with loads of stuff, thought it was the best lecture they had ever seen. To this date, though, there are four lectures I’ve seen that stuck with me, and I’ll discuss why.

The first one on my list was with Ice McDonald (http://www.ice.mcdonald.net). In his lecture, he seemed to know his audience was mainly hobbyists or people wanting to break out and start really performing. He had stuff to sell, but mainly, for me, it was like a tent-revival encouraging magicians to perfect their craft and get out there and perform. Man, did that message sink in for me. Yeah, he sold some stuff, but what impressed me a bit later was watching Silly Jilly (http://www.sillyjilly.com) take something Ice had taught and sold and adapt it to her kids show. She combined elements from other tricks and came up with something that stuck with the kids. Ice’s routine wasn’t for kids. Not that it was inappropriate or anything, it just would have been lost on them, but Jill’s spin on it was what makes the trick work for her. Jill’s already a serious working performer, so I don’t know how much inspiration she got from the lecture other than the routine, but I know I came out wanting to perform even more than before.

Boris Wild (http://www.boriswild.com) is the next lecturer I want to discuss. To me, Boris is a true artist in magic and one of the nicest people I’ve met in this field. (All things considered, though, of the people I’ve had the privilege to meet in magic, most of them have been really kind, but Boris stands out.) In the notes for one of his past lectures, in the forward he states,

“…I am sure your closets at home are packed with props, books and DVDs you probably

have not had the time to study yet. So you already have a lot to play with. This is why I

would rather focus here on something other than tricks. I would rather focus on things

that professional magicians often keep to themselves and very rarely reveal to the magic community.”

That lecture was called “Creativity & Impact,” and even though that was not the lecture I saw, there was an awful lot of that attitude with what he taught. He sold only one gimmick, but what he showed us was how versatile that particular gimmick could be. What he encouraged was to take it and play with it. Jam with it and find new ways of making it work for you. It wasn’t a matter of letting the gimmick be the trick but rather and instrument for magic to be played on. Now, Boris’ talent and skill is insanely good and has one him awards and a hell of a lot of respect in the magic community, but it was the encouragement of taking this tool and playing with it to constantly come up with something new that was inspiring to me. Boris is one of my inspirations to going back and hammering out the fundamentals so I might be able to see the possibilities with educated eyes.

 Shawn Farquhar’s lecture today (http://magichampion.com) was similar in some ways to Boris’. Shawn went through a lot of tricks and routines, but even more to the point, he strongly promoted the attitude of working and being creative with the gimmicks, utility moves, and concepts. The man has explored all the angles and is always delving into more. He didn’t discuss or show anything without going through additional concepts and applications. As you can see, I like the idea that Alton Brown promoted in his show, “Good Eats,” of avoiding uni-taskers as much as possible. Shawn is constantly inventing and building on tricks, whether he is the originator or it started out as someone else’s. It’s the joy of taking something known and turning it on its ear so that you’re constantly creating. It’s the joy of creation in addition to performing.

Finally, we get to Levent. (http://www.leventmagic.com) Levent, in addition to being an amazing magician and performer, is one of the best researchers into the history of effects. For me, I was completely sucked in to his lecture when he started an in-depth discussion of the Linking Rings, which have become my personal favorite piece of magic to perform, whether I’m performing for myself or for other people. When he gets into a piece of magic, it’s full immersion. He just recently released a 7 ½ hour four DVD set just on the rings, and it’s on my wishlist. What he has inspired in me is the desire to research what has been done with a particular routine to find out what has been done so that I can make something new from the pieces.

I’m still a student tracing drawings until I learn enough to draw freehand, but I can see the beauty and art that will be available to me once I’ve put in the time, whether it’s in performance or skill.

Man, I love this gig.

The amazing Shawn Farquhar and me following his lecture for St. Louis I.B.M. Ring 1

The amazing Shawn Farquhar and me following his lecture for St. Louis I.B.M. Ring 1

A Quick Review of Shawn Farquhar’s performance for the 2013 I.B.M. Ring 1 President’s Banquet

Now, for anybody reading this blog, if you are unfamiliar with Shawn Farquhar, he has more international magic awards, not to mention multiple awards from Canada, than most in this business. I could recap them, but seriously, just read the Wikipedia article on him at  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shawn_Farquhar or look at his site at http://magichampion.com.  I don’t need to repeat the credits and discuss what’s already been written.

I could tell you how stellar his act is and do a play by play of what he did, but when a magician is in his class, you know it’s going to be a hell of a show, unless things are really off, which was not the case by far. He is bloody well phenomenal. 

So what am I going to review, then? Well, it goes back to what this blog is in regards to: How his performance affects me and where I’m going.

Do I hope to someday win some awards? Hell, yes. I enjoy competing, and doing magic makes that no different. Really, though, it’s his personality on and off stage.

I’ve been reading a book by a busking magician, “To Lure with Spectacle” by Jimmy Talksalot. He references something said by Jim Cellini about when you perform, you have to play with the audience. In addition to the amazing skill that Shawn shows in his show, he is always playing with the audience. He was cheerful and inviting before the show and continued that same personality throughout the show and afterwards as people came up to talk.

Yeah, there was quite a bit of comedy to his act, but I never got the sense that any of the smiling and joking around were purely an act for our benefit.  Yeah, he is a consummate performer, but when he performed his final routine for the night, “Shape of My Heart,” which was highly technical and is one of the pieces he has won awards for, as I watched the close-up on the projection screen, I also glanced up from time to time to catch the look on his face. It was the look of a man who, even though he is doing some seriously technical work, he’s still a kid at play.

Now, he’s still just another guy, and he’s doing what is his career, so he’s got all the hardship and ugly bits of life that go with that. For all I know, when he goes home, he could go back to absolute toil and turmoil. I don’t know because we all have lives behind closed doors, for better or for worse.

As a magician and performer, though, for all there is of that real life, you see an adult kid at play with a room full of new friends.

When I go out and perform, that’s where I want to be. If I’m busking for a few people or for a large crowd, I want to be able to make that moment happen. I’m already feeling it quite a bit when I perform, but I still have enough nervous energy running that it’s not always as evident on either side of the “stage.”

It might sound sentimental or cliché, but when you play like that and that joy is infectious, for all the sleight of hand and skill, that joy is where the magic is.

Yeah, I want a little of what he’s got, and I will get there.

My Backstory, Part 2, and Finally Getting Around to Why I’m Writing This Blog

Last November (in the event that this blog lasts long enough, I mean in 2012), my wife and I ventured into Gibbol’s. Being from Ft. Wayne, IN, she had never been there, though she had taken me to Stoner’s Funstore, which we later found Gibbol’s is modeled off of, as the owners of the two stores are related. Suddenly, I found myself immersed in magic again. The seal was broken. I walked out with a new Hot Rod set and another bit of close-up magic closely related, and she was entranced with a prop item for doing an Ambitious Card routine. Okay, why they recommended that to her as something to start off with, I have no idea, seeing how there’s an awful lot of fundamental work that needs to be learned before doing it, but that’s a whole different story. She was happy with her item, so that was all that mattered.

On my way out, I grabbed a card for the local Society of American Magicians (S.A.M.) chapter, Assembly 8, and went to their website as soon as I got home. This led me to a link to the local International Brother of Magicians (I.B.M.) chapter, Ring 1, website and I found out about a lecture Ring 1 was hosting given by Dan Fleschman, a local magician who has been working the restaurant scene in Colorado. We misunderstood who was all invited to the lecture and ended up crashing. While we were there, the first person to approach me was Harry Monti. Harry (and I’ll probably rave a bit more about this man, later. Hell, it’s not just likely, but more like inevitable) was warm in welcoming me in, and had I known more about him at the time, I would have probably been way too much of a fanboy and gotten flustered. But, as it was, we just talked together like two fans of magic. Combine that with the few other new people I met, I felt welcomed in and was looking forward to my first meeting with Assembly 8, which was, due to the way the calendar fell, the next night. Now, if anything, Dan’s lecture was pretty inspiring to me.

Now, for those who aren’t part of the magic scene, when guest lecturers come in, typically the lecturers are not just magicians who do a series of tricks, but they’re working performers. Most of the time, they’re selling tricks and lecture notes, but they also give advice from their perspective about working both from a technical and performance perspective. Most of the advice you’ll find in books or on video, but seeing it life with the chance to do some Q & A brings it all to the forefront and you see it in a very practical way. Dan’s lecture was no different, and seeing this all in practice just pulled me in deeper. I already had the magic bug, but now I was getting hooked deeper.

So, now the next night, I headed to my first Assembly 8 meeting. The tone here was a lot different. After the business meeting portion of things, we got into magic. At that point, basically there was a theme for the evening and anybody who wanted to perform that night could. I probably saw as many tricks backfire as worked that night and found a new appreciation with this group. Even if you went up and the trick failed, the group was with you. They might laugh, but they have all been there, so they are laughing with you. I got a good sense that this is a nurturing group. The majority of the members (and this applies to both clubs, which share a large amount of the same members) are hobbyists. There’s a smaller group of semi-pros who still keep day jobs and a handful of pros that do this stuff as their sole income. Once again, I saw Harry, but this time, the warmest welcome was from the assembly’s Vice President, Dan Todd. Like me, he works in databases and we hit it off. Seriously, Dan’s one of the nicest guys you’ll meet and any organization that has him as a representative has a serious asset.

What I found at that meeting, and later when I went to a regular Ring 1 meeting, was a group of people who had, in general, been doing this a long time and loved to help build new people up. In a future blog post, I’ll discuss what I see as the differences between what the two local clubs offer their members, but for now, I’ll just say I’m now a proud member of both clubs and their respective national organizations, and the past ten months dealing with these people has been a great source of joy for me.

What I can finally get to, though, is what I’ll probably discuss the most in this blog (or at least for a while in the beginning).

When I toyed around with magic as a kid, I learned a few tricks and worked the hell out of them. In the case of the Hot Rod, I had the moves down pat, but then, it really is an introductory trick into this stuff. Now I’m older and pretty much starting out again, I see so much available out there. Add in the availability of tricks, books, videos, etc., that the Internet makes available, and it becomes too easy to get caught up in buying the new shiny or learning a new move just enough before getting distracted by the next in a never-ending line-up.

In just the ten months I’ve been doing this, now, I’ve started trying my hand at busking magic and also competed in my first competition. (I didn’t place, but the experience was worth it!) What I found in this time, though, was that there’s so much out there available, but the stuff that I see working best, either for me or for the performances I watch, works because of a lot of fundamentals that aren’t necessarily pushed by the vendors, even though, when you watch the lectures or read articles by the pros, are absolutely necessary for the best work. Uh, that is why they’re called fundamentals, after all.

I’ve started back in with a magic course that was offered as a correspondence course in 1928, The Tarbell Course in Magic. I’m starting back with the course doing it as it was originally intended. As it was a correspondence course, you had seven to ten days between the arrival of each new lesson. Now, in 1941, the course was restructured as a set of books that is a serious library of magic, and I’ve got those, also. The beauty of the original course, though, is that the lessons and the amount of time given for each lesson make a pretty solid base for all sorts of magic as you develop the methods and sleight of hand and performance skills.

As I’m writing this, I’m into lesson four, and intend to proceed through the 61 originally intended weeks developing my skill. I’m probably going to discuss a good amount of what I find along the way, but for those who aren’t part of the magic community, I’m going to try to do this without giving anything away. A couple of reasons for this. First, I’m not going to give any of the secrets away because as a magician, that’s just bad form. Secondly, I find that sometimes if I know how something is done, some of the mystique is lost, and I don’t want to take that away from anybody else. I still like to be amazed, and I like it when the people around me still have that “Wow” moment.

So, now I’ve got the initial preliminaries to this blog out of the way, I’m ready to start focusing on the next topics. Sorry that I didn’t take the short way around to get here, but if you’ve ever talked with me, you’ll know that’s typical of me.

My Backstory – Part 1

Well, this is the first post, and welcome to it.  I’ll admit, I’m beginning this blog before this site’s theme is complete, and parts of it I like so far, and parts need either to be reworked or scrapped and replaced with something else.

Kinda like my act right now.

Now, initially, I expect that most of the people who might read this blog are people I know or have met along my way through life. Probably the most traffic will be from announcing the blog posts on Facebook or Google+, so we’re talking mostly friends. In the case of those who I’ve friended after meeting them either at magic club meetings or the one magic convention I’ve been to, the 2013 Midwest Magic Jubilee, maybe this will keep me from being compelled to tell my life’s story and we can just talk about the beautiful now.

For this blog, I’ll talk mainly about the magic world, what I observe in it, and my own place in it. I’m going to attempt to discuss without giving anything away to those who don’t perform. First, because that’s kinda what we try not to do, although there’s plenty on YouTube that can give most secrets away. Secondly, because even as my wife learned, sometimes it’s better not to know so you can just enjoy the routine. Even when you can admire the skill of some sleight of hand, knowing sometimes can remove you away from some of the “Wow” moments that you get when you just don’t know how it’s done.

As I’m writing this, the photo (admittedly, a bit manipulated in GIMP) in the banner is of Burg (Castle) Frankenstein. It’s a bit symbolic for what I’m doing in magic and learning to perform. I’m assembling bits and pieces from those that came before me to try to make my own creature. Like learning to draw, you start out by tracing other peoples’ work before you start drawing freehand.

I’ve loved magic ever since I saw Doug Henning on TV as a kid. The first magic trick I ever owned would have either been one of the Adam’s magic tricks sold on a rack at a Kay-Bee Toys (man, the hours of fun I had with “Smoke From Your Fingertips”) or the Goofy Card Magic set my Aunt Marti bought me, where I learned my first card trick.

Growing up in Centralia, IL didn’t leave me with many options to learn more magic, and it some of the trips later on, I picked up a couple of magic books and prior to getting the “magic bug” as my mid-life crisis, the only time I performed anything that could be, even by the shakiest of definitions, was on a rainy day to my very patient grandparents. Man, what love and patience they had. I think I may have done a torn and restored cigarette paper trick and “Thieves and Sheep,” but what else I submitted them to is lost to my memory.

My first trip to an actual magic shop was in high school when my friend, Kad Day, took me with him to Gibbol’s in St. Louis. I ended up with a couple of sponge ball tricks and my first Hot Rod. The store magician, Bob Cole, was great in getting me excited in the little bit of sleight of hand that he showed me, but distance to St. Louis kept me from getting too caught up (not to mention all the hormones that ruled my life, then). Being involved with theater, there were plenty of other things to provide that rush that comes with performing on stage, so theater also took the foreground.

And so, despite the number of times I told myself I should make a trip to Gibbol’s and revisit that rush of learning some new (to me) magic, I didn’t go back for many years.

I’ll end this little overview here and continue in the next post. I should get a bit more to the point of where my intent is to go with this blog then. Yeah, I know that you should put the thesis statement in the beginning, and I have done that to a certain extent, but maybe it’ll be a bit clearer then.