Doug Henning (1947-2000) was my first introduction to seeing magic done on television. In some ways, looking back, he was almost the magic community’s answer to Mr. Rogers with his presentation, and maybe that was part of his appeal to me as a kid. Even though I love performing magic for kids, I’m not a kids’ show magician. Watching Doug, though, I can’t help but be transported a little to being a kid again watching his miracles.
Lance Burton (www.lanceburton.com) has retired from performing on the Vegas stage, but he’s still very active in the magic community. Lance is also one of the three Americans to have a FISM Grand Prix win to his name. From the stories I’ve heard, he’s as nice a guy as you’ll find in entertainment. This is from 1990 at the Magic Castle.
This weekend is the first weekend of the Purina Farms Haunted Hayloft (www.purinafarms.com/media/330080/HauntedFlierver4.pdf). Tomorrow night, Friday, 17OCT2013, I will be doing a 25 minute show with Terry Richison. As of this point, the current line-up for times and performers is:
18. Terry Richison, Jason Stack
19. Terry Richison, Steve Zuelke
20. Larry Minth, Tom Westerheide
25. Larry Corona, Andy Leonard
26. Don Burgon, Larry Skorepa
27. Dan Davis, Jeff Lefton
Friday and Saturday
5:30, 6:30, 7:30, 8:30
3:30, 4:30, 5:30, 6:30
Where Yu Ho Jin took the FISM Grand Prix in Stage in 2012, French magician Yann Frisch took the Grand Prix for Close-Up. There’s other videos of him performing his signature routine, “Baltass,” in better quality, but those don’t have him with the beard. With this look, as the routine progresses, you just watch his soul being crushed little by little. Absolute brilliance!
In the St. Louis area, we have two magic clubs, which are local chapters of national and international organizations: The Society of American Magicians Assembly 8 and The International Brotherhood of Magicians Ring 1. When I first got into the magic scene almost a year ago, I asked what the difference in the clubs was and, politics aside, was it necessary to have two clubs. In that time, I’ve found having the two clubs does create more opportunity and experience that just one club I don’t think would.
Now, before I go on, let me disclose that I don’t know how the other clubs in the other cities interact with each other. I can only comment on my experience within St. Louis.
When I got started on this personal journey, I had no idea I would want to perform for more than either friends or (and the reason I joined up in the first place) maybe getting a chance to perform for kids at a children’s hospital. In fact, the main reason I had any real interest in finding out about the clubs was about performing for local charities and such.
The first non-lecture club meeting I attended was with Assembly 8. The way the meeting went that night was, after a business meeting, the Vice President at the time went around asking for names of everybody who would like to perform that night. Of course I said no, but I was excited to sit and see what the others did. What I saw encouraged me. I saw a number of members perform, and almost as many tricks failed as worked.
Either way the trick went, the atmosphere was warm and jovial. People laughed and had a good time. Nobody laughed at the performer. It was always laughing with them. The eye of mockery or disdain never showed itself. It was all done among friends.
When I finally performed my first trick for the club a few meetings down the road, it was bad. Certain principles I hadn’t really cottoned on to, yet, and it was clumsy as all hell, complete with club members on the ground helping me find a rhinestone that had fallen out of one of my gimmicks. After that clumsy act, though, some of the members came up afterwards and started telling me stories and anecdotes about their starts. With the warmth and camaraderie, I felt encouraged to meet up with the other magicians at the first of many of the informal Round Table meetings and just listen to the stories that abounded along with whatever magic anybody needed to do. Because of some of the moves I had tried to incorporate into my routine, I got to know Harry Monti, who is pretty much the Godfather of St. Louis magic. When he started working with me on one particular move, the whole table watched like it was a master class.
OK, I’ve digressed a bit, but it’s that warmth in acceptance that drew me further into this whole mess, but what I’m really trying to get at in my roundabout way is that Assembly 8 provides a nurturing atmosphere because, as most of the crowd you perform in front of at meetings knows the secrets behind what you’re doing. If you fail, you don’t have to fear that you’re giving any secrets away. Especially when starting out, because you’re only going to give away the basics that most members know. They’ll also give you a hand in getting better at what you’re doing.
Ring 1 is a bit different. Even though there is a Magic 101 class before each meeting, it feels like the bar is higher when it comes to performing. On the other hand, though, this is a group that provides more opportunity to perform for the public.
A few months after I first started coming to the meetings, they circulated a sign-up list for performers to perform for the Shriners’ Children’s Hospital each month. I signed up once for later in the year in hopes of having a 20 minute routine by then. After that list started circulating, they asked for volunteers to work at a Juvenile Diabetes event, either as a performer or to teach basic magic tricks at a table that would be set up. OK, now I had an opportunity to do something that was basically easy, but still get to do something for the community and learn a bit about working closely with the public as a magic performer. I got to teach some rubber band magic and a simple card trick and never had a moment during that time that I had to worry too much. If I stumbled, there were other experienced guys around me to catch me. I got a chance to listen to patter, try my own, and watch what was working and what wasn’t. For doing something so simple, I learned a lot.
As one of my double majors in school had been in technical theater, when the first show came up, I signed up to work in the stage crew, not realizing I would be the backstage crew. Once again, a good experience as I learned more about how the magicians were interacting with the crowd. You know, you can watch plenty of videos on doing a trick or read the same, but it’s only live that you begin to see it all put into practice. I started to build friendships with the guys I was working with, even if it was just as stage hand.
Admittedly, personal initiative has played a part in opening doors, but Ring 1 has provided throughout the year plenty of opportunity to push myself as a magical performer in front of lay people. Throughout the year, they also offer more lectures by touring working pros so you get additional advice from a wider variety of types of sources.
When it came to the local convention, the Midwest Magic Jubilee, it was two Ring 1 members that pushed me to get out there and play to my strengths. Mike Niehaus and Terry Richison opened my eyes to the possibilities presented. Because of Terry pushing me to compete in one of the competitions, even when I knew there was no likelihood of winning, he explained that I would get valuable feedback from judges who were top magicians. That was very valuable advice. I keep the scoring sheets handy to this day and review the notes the judges made. Personal feedback from the likes of Levent and Boris Wild is just not something I could have gotten pretty much any other way at this stage of my development. Mike helped me see how much I would get out of working the convention just in what I would learn from working backstage. Damned if he wasn’t right. I ended up in conversations I probably wouldn’t have had any time soon had not pretty much every one of the guest magicians known be by sight, if not name, from doing everything from running one magician all over the North side of St. Louis looking for a late-night Wal-Mart for supplies to working backstage to helping to run the close-up competition.
There are plenty of people who are only members of one club or another for reasons of logistics or internal politics (sigh), but there are also plenty like me who are active members of both.
Between the nurturing atmosphere of Assembly 8 and the many opportunities Ring 1 has provided me, being a member of two different clubs has been a great help in my development as a performing magician.
I raise my glass of water as a meager toast to the friends and mentors I’ve found on this road, no matter where we’ve met. Thank you for the experience and fellowship.
Jason Latimer (www.jasonlatimer.com) is one of only three U.S. magicians to win the FISM “Grand Prix World Champion of Magic.” This is his performance of his award-winning “Clear Cups and Balls” on “The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson” which really does take one of the standards and stands it on its ear. Most of the times, with the Cups and Balls, you’re judging the singer more than the song. Here, though, it’s a whole new tune.
Yesterday, I linked to one of the most beautiful displays of card manipulation here. Check it out if you missed it before watching this next piece by Cegchi & Sora, which is a parody piece of Yu Ho Jin’s act. I’m not one to post how a trick is done, but their display of the secrets behind Yu Ho Jin’s manipulation is priceless.
Yu Ho Jin (http://www.the-hojin.com) was the 2012 FISM Grand Prix winner in stage magic. This routine is another example of how magic can be such a beautiful art form. Sometimes, when I watch card manipulation routines, I find myself getting pretty bored. I see a lot of skill, and I can certainly appreciate that, but very little artistry. This is certainly an exception.
For a while, I’m going to try to write about each new performance I have, if not just to examine the things that went right and went wrong and hopefully plan for better outcomes. For anybody reading this blog, please always feel free to comment with additional thoughts or criticisms. I’m definitely open.
Starting out, yesterday at the Art and Air festival in Webster Groves, MO, was already interesting. I arrived there, and with the email correspondence I had had before performing, I knew that I was open to perform anywhere I wanted. Signing up, I knew I was going to be busking and only working for tips, but that was okay. That’s part of the challenge.
I walked around at the beginning trying to find a good place to set up. The fair itself was pretty much set up mainly in a horseshoe shape along three streets, with the main portion on a blocked off section of one street. After being directed in a few different directions from some of the volunteers, I finally found what I thought might be a good spot and set up.
Tricks set, I called out to my first audience and started the routine, and as soon as I had gotten through the first trick, the crowd had begun to gather a bit and was an okay size by the time I got to the last trick in the act. I prompted that at the end of that trick, that was going to be the end of my show and I was going to ask for tips. The sour faces started. At that moment, I started losing the crowd. I performed the last trick and before I could throw out the final pitch line, the audience had cleared and I heard some utter “Let’s go.” OK, a bit frustrating, but no need to worry. I had all afternoon.
Second time though, it was pretty much the same. Smiles until the mention of tipping, and then sweet went to sour.
I decided not to tip for a while, then, and work on my routine before throwing out the tip lines again. A little while down the road, I called out to a couple of girls, and their immediate response was, “Will we have to pay?” No, girls, I just hope you enjoy the show. Sigh.
From that point on, I decided that I wasn’t going to ask for tips again for the rest of the day and just work on the act. It became a bit of a slog after a while, doing the routine over and over, but I did get to improve some things in my performance and came up with some new lines during the repetitions.
Considering the fact that I wasn’t making any money, at 3:45 I left. Asking around a bit on my way out, plus, listening to the crowd, it became clear that pretty much the only ones really making money were the face painters, food vendors and whoever was selling little glitter-covered skeletons. There was one artist trying to sell who had sustained an eye injury and was just hoping to sell one piece so they could go to urgent care. It became clear I wasn’t the only one having an unprofitable day.
Now, all the stuff I’ve read and watched on busking magic pretty much points to giving the tip lines when I did in my routine: Before you start the last trick, midway into the last trick, and immediately after the trick you then ask for the tips by hatting the crowd. As I write this, I’m still going back and forth on whether this is still the best way to proceed with these types of crowds. Hey, I’m still pretty new at this, and I might not be giving the pitch lines well and may need to keep working on it. Then again, this method has already worked for me.
I begin to wonder how much of it was the type of crowd I was working with. The scenario was a pretty middle class area with mainly people carrying plastic instead of cash. Maybe enough cash that they had specifically earmarked. (In one case, I know one guy who sacrificed his kettle corn cash for his daughter’s face painting.)
Talking to one friend later that evening, he told me that as soon as people start asking him for a tip, he immediately gets upset and they automatically get nothing.
I might have to reconsider the tip jar, which other people have asked about but most busking magician writers tell you to steer away from. It may be a case where I start out with the plan of hatting the crowd at the end of the act and keep the tip jar stashed in the car, just in case.
I mean, hell, I live in St. Louis. Pizza here is so far removed from pizza anywhere else, so maybe there is a good reason to use a different strategy.
As it was, though, I did have a good time for the most part. After a while, it was tiring and I did get burnt out. One thing did give me a little extra push that kept me going on for a bit longer, though.
A couple of girls came over, and after being the skeptical teenage girls “We’re too cool for this,” left after the first trick. An hour later, though, I saw them watching from the back of the group for the entire act. Yeah, they may have been too cool, but they still came back for more.
I must be doing something right.
Eugene Burger (http://www.magicbeard.com) is one of the contemporary Great American Magicians. He’s got the awards and recognition in the magic community and in performance and interviews is a great storyteller. The beard might be one of the first things that catches your eye when you see him, but with his performance and skill, it won’t be what you remember him for. This is one of his most noted mentalism routines. Enjoy.