Once again, it’s time to go back to the guys who perfected their routines by working on the streets, and award-winning Chris Capehart (www.capehartsmagic.com) is a prime example of that group (I can only marginally consider myself part of that group, but it’s a goal). One of the things I love about Chris is the fact that one of his signature routines is his Three Ring Routine. His skill and handling is perfect and leaves its mark as one of the ring routines that must be seen.
I had posted this on Facebook before I started this blog, but oddly enough, Boris Wild’s (www.boriswild.com) “The Butterfly Act,” was my first Daily Dose post (jasonstackmagician.com/?p=37). “The Butterfly Act” is a small vignette that depicts loss, albeit in a beautiful way, but “The Kiss Act,” which Boris won a FISM award for in Close-Up magic, depicts love in its earliest stages. Currently, one of my mentors in life is struggling in an ICU, and I’ve been to sit with him and his wife, another of my mentors and a second mother to me. The two of them have been models to me of a beautiful relationship and marriage, and after 30 years of being married, even though their love has always been deep, it has always seemed to be constantly renewing, which brought this to mind for tonight’s post. The act is to George Michael’s cover of Stevie Wonder’s “They Won’t Go When I Go” and is about new love. Doc and Lex, my deepest love and thanks to you for all you’ve shown and brought into my life.
Admittedly, both of these shows were two different types of shows, but in both cases, I learned quite a bit about my act from each show.
Starting with the Children’s Hospital show, I prepped beforehand to keep my act to 12-15 minutes with additional stuff on deck in case I needed to fill a time gap. I kind of learned this from prior experiences, but considering I was performing with Terry Richison, who I highly respect and gotten great advice from. This time around, my act was scaled back to the Linking Rings, my sponge ball routine, and my Reggie the Rabbit routine.
I’ve been reworking my Linking Rings during the winter months, and I have to admit that watching Dick Stoner’s routine, I had some ideas on more that I wanted to do. It helps that Dick’s routine is not a silent act, which is a break from most versions I see. For the little bit that I had added, it looked like I had a positive response. As opposed to before, because I’m in close enough quarters with my audience, having them handle the rings is not a problem. The only thing that I might want to work on is getting the people more to the front. Don’t know why I did it, but I worked with what I think were a mother and daughter who were at the extreme stage left of the crowd. It’s definitely something I need to work a bit on. In my typical half-circle show, it’s not a problem, but when I’m dealing with an audience where half the group is in wheelchairs or traction frame, it’s something to consider. As I’m working on taking my act to retirement homes, that’s a serious consideration.
My sponge ball routine got the reactions that I love to get, but I need to work on it a bit more, just for my own personal benefit. I want to expand it a bit more but in a way that will translate well whether I’m on stage or busking. I’m back into a bit of research mode, I think, but more will be added when I’m ready.
And now we get to Reggie the Rabbit. Everything technically went well, but I’m going to listen to some of the notes I got from Terry on it. First, I need to remember to display the empty production box more visibly so it’s clearer that the box is empty. Next, in handling Reggie, I need to work on my handling him so I don’t unconsciously handle him the neck (oops) and look like I’m strangling the poor puppet rabbit. I didn’t realize I was doing that, and those unconscious moments are the ones that it’s always good to get feedback on.
Finally, in the other trips I’ve made to the hospital, we’ve never put much of a focus on teaching magic. When David Copperfield put out the guidelines for doing Project Magic, that was to be a focus considering part of this is learning magic as therapy. I think the Impossible Knot that Terry taught was a bit over their heads, but then again, it pushed them in learning the manipulation, so that was probably part of the point. When I go out to the hospital again in April, this is certainly something I’ll keep in mind.
Now, to yesterday’s performances at the JDRF Family Fun Day.
I ended up basically doing what would be a busking grind act, the only difference was, if I didn’t have a crowd, I would reset my show and try to get a group before starting again. I think with busking, there is so much involved with patter and rhythm that it took me about 45 minutes before I felt like I was in the flow of things. It was also at that point that the crowd became a steady flow of people coming in and out from my little area where I had my table and case set up.
Normally, either with a rope or some other sort of boundary marker, I would try to delineate what was my “stage area,” but the kids were pretty up close and personal. When I handed a sponge ball to one child to examine, you can believe that the kid next to them would grab it and check it, too, so I had some crowd management to deal with there. For the stuff I threw in my case and pockets, about the only thing I didn’t do was my Vanishing Silk routine. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been working on my Linking Rings, and I finally got validation for the changes I’ve made. I actually had kids ask me to do them again. That felt like a major score for me. I tend to lead off my routine with the Rings, but it’s kinda always been more for me than for them, and with kids, they’ve been interested, but usually not seemed impressed until the final chain. I finally found a routine that seems to work well for me.
If there was a routine that I did that I am rethinking, it’s probably the Chinese Sticks. I’m still not satisfied with them, and while today in the shower, I did have one of those “ah-ha” moments on one of the things that I think I need to change. I’m still thinking about dropping them in favor of the Ali Bongo Pom-Pom Stick, and for my style of performance, I still think that might be a better way to go.
On a lark, I tossed my Rocky Raccoon into my case after I found out the night before how nicely he fit into a Crown Royal bag. This killed on such a level, I couldn’t believe it. Yeah, I used some of David Williamson’s material, but not really the impersonation parts. I found once I brought out Rocky, I kind of was able to do some improvisational jazz with him. This was some serious fun for me. I don’t care if maybe only some of the parents caught the reference, but my favorite Rocky impression is going to be “…and from ‘Big Trouble in Little China,’ David Lo-Pan.” It makes me giggle, so I’m keeping it. I ended up doing my card routine that I worked out for Reggie the Rabbit, and it worked out to the delighted squeals of the kids, so I think if I’m going to include a rabbit production I’ll use Reggie, otherwise, Rocky is on deck for the routine. I’m pretty sure Rocky’s coming out with me for busking.
If there is a take-away lesson from yesterday, though, it’s back into crowd management. I was at the inner corner of a T-intersection directly on the way to where the dinner was going to be served, so at one point, there was a serious crowd-press. At one point, I pretty was working inches away from the crowd. The kids were pretty grabby, and if I went into my case, they could see inside. I could keep them from grabbing, but they were going to look. The big issue with this was, as soon as some of them saw the Rings, they wanted to see the routine. Kinda hard at this point. I need less than five seconds to reset the Rings, but that was a hard five seconds to get. Considering my location and the crowd that was moving through, it was difficult to get space, but somehow I still got it. Definitely a lesson in both crowd management and location.
I did end up with one little girl, Anastasia, crying because she said I never chose her to help me with a trick. For the life of me, I thought I had. I know I was interplaying with her quite a bit. Man, that stung a bit, but I’ve seen the hurt looks from kids who were upset from not getting picked to help before with some of the other people I’ve performed with, so I do know that when I work with kids, that’s going to be a possible hazard, but this is the first time it’s happened to me. It may be unavoidable, but my goal is to make the act fun enough that that is a minimal issue and in general, everybody has a good time.
All things considered, that was an exhausting experience, but great overall and it has my juices flowing for what’s to come this year.
David Williamson (davidwilliamson.com) is another one of the comedy magicians who has left his mark on the magic community. I won’t say that he wrote the book on the handling of Rocky Raccoon, but pretty darn close. Most magicians, if they go into a Rocky Raccoon (or other spring animal, for that matter) use at least some of David’s gags. I reposted this on Facebook before I started this blog, but yesterday’s event that I worked at definitely brought this back to mind, especially since I decided to bring out Rocky myself. It was worth every minute for me, and I hope you dig David’s performance.
Karl Hein (www.karlhein.com) will be lecturing at St. Louis SAM Assembly 8 tomorrow night, Thursday, 23JAN2014. As a performer, he uses the stage name of Karl Koppertop (www.karlkoppertop.com) and works generally in close-up and parlor settings. I had an phone interview with him, which I’m still writing up, so I don’t think I’ll have it done before his lecture, but I can honestly say I’m looking forward to seeing his presentation. Pretty cool guy. Unfortunately, as far as performance videos are concerned, all I was able to come up with was video footage shot with a phone at a kids party (other than promo videos for some of his tricks and collections), but with his handling of his “rabbit,” you can see some of his influences. It should be a great lecture.
Richard Ross (1946 – 2001) was an amazing talent and two-time FISM award winner. In the magic community, his Linking Ring routine (also in this video) is considered one of the most beautiful presentations of the rings. This video also includes Richard’s other signature effect, The Multiplying Watches, and is a study in the artistry that he applied to his magic.
First off, before I go any further, I’m going to say that when I do book reviews on my site, I’m not necessarily going to review new books, but rather, books I’ve read and that I find a bit of value in. I don’t know if I’ll bother reviewing books like Bobo’s “Modern Coin Magic” or “Royal Road to Card Magic,” though. Even though I have them and use them regularly as reference material, they discuss techniques and tricks, but all things considered, I look at them as reference guides. Just like I probably wouldn’t review a dictionary or set of encyclopedias (a form of book now pretty much on its way to extinction). The books that I intend to review are more along the lines of performance and histories. You know, the types of books you’re more likely to sit down and read cover to cover.
Even a brief glance at the videos I link to on this site will show a bit of fandom for Whit “Pop” Haydn, but this is where fandom can work for me. I probably wouldn’t have known about this autobiography, which is nicely written in a conversational style. Other than the opening chapter, it feels much like sitting down with Whit for a few beers.
The opening chapter is a brief history of street performing magicians and what separates this form of performance from performing in other venues. Now, please understand, this isn’t the same as someone like David Blaine or one of his imitators stopping a random person on the street and saying “Do you want to see a trick?” before doing some packet card miracle and letting them move on. This is more of finding your spot, your pitch, in busking parlance, and drawing people in to watch a small show, hatting them at the end. It’s the equivalent of giving someone a candy bar and asking them to pay you for it if they thought it was any good. After that, you reset and do the act again trying to pull in a new crowd. If you’re good, you can make a living from it (not a personal claim I can make).
After that chapter, it’s Storytime with Whit, and this is the heart and soul of the story. Whit starts us pretty much from where he lost his job, assigned to him because of his conscientious objector status towards the Vietnam War, due to failing his draft physical due to poor eyesight and starts performing in in streets of New York at a time when it was pretty much unheard of.
Here, Whit takes us through working the streets, in some cases avoiding law enforcement, working the streets in Europe and back to the States, and shares stories that he experienced along the way. From the streets, he starts working also as a bar magician and this seamlessly flows into stories about both how he developed some tricks and how the tricks developed by interacting with the crowds. My personal favorite in this section is the story of how he developed the “Routine for the Blind,” which is worth the price of the book by itself.
The final section is “The Lessons of the Street,” and here Whit discusses some of what a street performed needs to know in order to be successful out there. Now, admittedly, you will find an awful lot of the same advice from the writings of people like Jim Cellini, Eric Evans, Gazzo, or even in Jimmy Talksalot’s book and blog. The feel you get from this section, though, is on how even though Whit doesn’t perform on the streets anymore, a lot of what he learned out there is applied in his style and approach today. I’ve not seen any footage anywhere of Whit doing a silent act, and even though if he did one, I’m sure it would be done to a brilliant end, but the man and performer is outstanding when he is interacting with the crowd, which in general seems to be the best part of any of his routines. It’s what makes him a great performer in addition to a great magician.
If you’re looking for a Jim Steinmeyer-like study of Whit’s personal history, you’re not going to find it here. As I said earlier, it’s like sitting and having a few pints while Whit tells you about his early days. I just hope as I develop down my path, I can collect stories as good.
The book, “Stories of a Street Performer” by Whit “Pop” Haydn, can be purchased in print and ebook at http://www.mikazukipublishinghouse.com/stories_of_a_street_performer.html or at http://www.amazon.com/dp/1937981339/ref=cm_sw_r_fa_dp_29b1sb1KMZDYRNM3.
As I think about what routines to have in my act, although I love doing “Ropes Through The Neck,” I’m still thinking about doing something else instead. I’ve got Pop’s booklet on this routine, and it’s a consideration, even though so much of this routine is just the Pop Haydn personality shining through. Even if I didn’t use anything else from the routine, though, I am so using the Pixie Dust lines.
Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin (1805-1871) is considered the father of modern magic, and his writings inspired many of the magicians who paved the way for our contemporaries. Ehrich Weiss renamed himself Harry Houdini in honor of the man and Robert-Houdin’s shadow is still felt today. In this video, Paul Daniels does a beautiful routine based on Robert-Houdin’s “Marvelous Orange Tree.” I would say that he recreates it, but Paul does honor to the trick while presenting it, but applying his own light style.
Shawn Farquhar (www.magichampion.com) re-posted this yesterday, and it is a fun piece of magic. This was filmed some years ago for Toronto’s “Breakfast Television,” and I saw this recording on his DVD lecture notes “Bread and Butter.” I said it before when mentioning Shawn, but it is the sense of play combined with such beautiful slight of hand that makes him such a great performer to watch. That comment alone feels weird to write, especially when the beauty in sleight of hand is in what you don’t see. I guess the only other area I think of like it is diving, where the smaller the splash (the less you see), the better the performance.