Currently, one of the biggest and most exclusive events in close-up magic is going on, and that is Fechter’s Finger Flicking Frolic. It’s an invitation-only event, and it draws magicians from around the world. Magicians only, spouses and companions are not allowed. Yeah, someday I’ll make it there, and when I do, I look forward to raising a pint with some of the friends I’ve met along this road, and Boris (www.boriswild.com) is chief among those I look forward to seeing there. This video was shot there in 2011 and in it, he does his “ACAAB (Any Card at Any Birthday)” routine.
Today’s post and yesterday’s entry are all about moments with family. Yesterday’s was about performing for that family that hopefully we all have –the people we love and choose as members of our personal tribe that time and miles might make it harder to see, but when together, it’s like the moments in between weren’t as long because we find ourselves in those people, same as we did when they became part of our family.
And tonight’s entry goes to direct blood relations. In this case, my niece, Whitney, in particular and how she helped me on Easter Sunday.
A little background, first. I’m sure I mentioned her and her friend’s reaction when I first did the sponge ball routine for them. They hounded me over and over to “do it again.” Well, we had enough fun that I bought her a magic set for Christmas. Annoyingly enough, I didn’t realize until I got a phone call from my sister, Jennifer, a week later asking for help. Yeah, I picked the one set that didn’t have an instructional DVD to it, so Jen was helping Whitney work through the tricks to compensate for Whitney’s reading level vs. the level of the instructions. (For the record, the next magic set I get for Whitney, and there will be another one, will have a DVD. Plus, I will buy two of them and work through as much as I can before Whitney gets her so I can teach her while we’re together.)
OK, Whitney’s strongest virtue is by no means patience, but if she’s getting into this enough that Jen’s being press-ganged to help her learn, I may have finally hit on my connection with her. I know that her lack of patience will add to her increased frustration when it comes to learning and practicing hours of manipulation, so they’ll need to be easy tricks that build fundamentals. Dammit, though, I’ve got her hooked.
And, I digress.
Whitney’s seen most of my show, though. In the time between Friday night at Lex’s and Sunday, I was able to make a replacement prop for the Reggie routine, so I was able to do it and it did get her surprise and approval. She assisted me with a card trick and then, for giggles, I did a vanishing silk routine.
The Vanishing Silk is pretty standard. In my routine, I use Alexander DeCova’s method, which is different than the most standard vanish. The problem is, I don’t like leaving the silk vanished without some sort of restoration. DeCova has a beautiful routine, but where I like his method, the routine doesn’t completely feel right for me. He’s a master and his routine shows it in the most basic of tricks, but I have to add some stoopid to the whole mix. I want the feeling of magic, but I also want the laughs and the smiles to come along with it.
Well, I had had some ideas, but never really got a good feel for where I wanted the trick to go. I love John Shryock’s plot, but it won’t work on the street. So I had a routine that felt just incomplete, but I performed what I had for Whitney. Bless her, I know I’m by no means the first person to pull a vanished silk out of someone’s ear, and that’s the finish she wanted to see. It was one of the things I considered, but she nailed it into the routine for me.
Yeah, it’s such a little thing, but that little bit of validation for my eight year old niece helped me solve the problem I’ve been trying to solve for so long. Ok, it’s a trick that most magicians know how to do, but it’s fun to do and gets a good reaction. And for any routine I do, no matter how goofy it is, I really do put quite a bit of thought into it. It’s all scripted out, so even when there’s extraneous stuff spewing out of my mouth because I was able to latch onto something going on and fling my limited wit in its direction, I’ve still got a script that I’m ad-libbing against. Hell, it’s what pretty much all the top magicians recommend, and I so know where their coming from even with my experience. So, even a little trick as small and basic as a silk vanish gets quite a bit of thought put into it.
Following a day of Whitney running me through every trick I had with or on me, a walk in my Dad’s woods, and she playing teacher while she gave me spelling tests, getting a five minute hug from her just topped the day before we had to leave.
Yep, I’ve got an eight year old magic adviser, and I’m quite okay with that.
A couple of months ago, a dear friend and personal mentor of mine, Dr. James A. Weigel (“Doc,” to us), passed away. For me, he and his wife, Lex, were the ones that helped push me to try new things and opened me up to life. I learned how to cook in their kitchen. I learned more about appreciating music in discussions with Doc. I learned what I do know about plants from Lex. She taught me to crochet and the basic fundamentals of tatting. Through watching their interactions and how they played together, I found the model for a relationship that has been the standard that I hold up to all relationships, whether my own or watching someone else’s. At one point, when I was in college, my mom was calling Lex to find out how I was doing, knowing that I had probably seen them when I wasn’t coming home to visit my family. So yeah, when Doc passed, I agree with my friend Angie that the world became a little less bright.
We didn’t have a funeral for Doc, although this past weekend we had a celebration of Doc’s life on his birthday weekend. His birthday is also my wife’s and his step-daughter, Jesse (who will always be my First Wife due to our roles in the first play we did together in high school), had hers on the following day. So, even though two with us were celebrating their birthdays, we were there the night before Doc’s celebration to help Lex keep it all together. Our group was made up of Lex, Doc’s daughter, Jen, Jesse, his son-in-law, my wife, and a group of us who were good friends with one or all through grade school and high school. A lot of tears were shed, and a lot of reconnecting across years and miles. It was declared a No Math Weekend, meaning we weren’t going to discuss “how long it’s been.”
After several drinks, lots of conversations, and a toast or two, while we were in discussions flying around Lex’s living room, I got up to talk to Jen without having to shout across the room. For all the noise, as soon as I was standing next to Jen, the damn room went silent. That’s when Chuck, who has seen my act more times than any other human (poor sod), pipes up with, “Hey, Stack! It looks like a stage to me. Time for some magic.” Yeah, either Chuck was trying to goad me, or he knew I would have my Case of Stoopid with me. All things considered, Chuck knows me better than most. We’ve been friends since high school and he was my Best Man at my wedding and probably knows me better than anybody other than my wife. So, after finishing my discussion with Jen, it was time to head out to my van to grab the gear.
Of course, this is where personal frustration occurred. I looked through everything to get myself set up for the act and found the final prop to my Reggie routine missing. As I’m still having way too much fun with him and look to build his bit up, I was really jonesing to see their reactions. Going through my mind, I realized the final prop was still in my jacket from the Children’s Hospital gig from a couple of days before, which was back at home. A few words were muttered in frustration seeing how I had every other prop and made the assumption that it was there, too. (Yeah, I know about assumptions, don’t remind me. Sigh.) So, now I had the set list in my head. Pretty much my standard from last year, which is only different from this year’s because it’s before I added Reggie to the mix, and I went in and set up to go.
Playing to a room full of friends was one of the best experiences I’ve had since I got into this whole mess. Because we were all adults and knew each other, I was able to play and tease with abandon. The usual rules of keeping it completely family friendly were out the window. Not that I really work blue or anything, but to be able to play with whatever lines come to my mind that might get a laugh was great. Seriously, when my mouth is allowed to run unfettered, I have way too much fun. I never want to offend or hurt someone’s feelings, that’s not what I’m into, but I’ve always loved the concept of the court jesters that can say whatever their wit moves them to say, so cheers to Hopfrog and Tyrion in that!
OK, so the act for the night was Linking Rings, Sponge Balls, an Invisible Deck routine (threw that one in on the spot), and finished with Ropes Through the Neck.
As per usual, the rings got me into my groove. Ya know, it was a first of flubs for me. I dropped a ring during a crash link. Never done that before. Hmmm. Something new every routine. Summar, who was holding the link I was crashing to, is a preacher’s wife, so I played a little with that. After that, the routine went through without a hitch and I felt nicely warmed up.
Time for the Sponge Balls. Jen, who is the human who has seen my routine just shy of the number of times Chuck has, has told me that that is her favorite routine, so I brought her in to assist on that. OK, upside, I got her into her favorite bit; downside, she knew what was coming in the routine, so I didn’t get the OMG reaction from her that I would if I used someone fresh to my stoopid. Still, it felt right bringing her in, so even though I didn’t get the strongest reaction, it was right for the moment.
I felt like I needed to throw in something that Chuck and Jen hadn’t seen me do, so I decided to throw in my Invisible Deck routine. OK, once again, it was a lesson to not do something that you haven’t practiced recently. I keep a deck in my case out of habit. Yep, Chuck saw a second card turned upside down, but ti still didn’t take away from the fun we had doing the trick. I’ll have to woodshed that a bit more, though. I know enough guys who keep it as a staple, and maybe I should follow suit a bit on that. At least when Karen revealed her card, it was the card she called out. So all went well in the end and the laughs and reactions were still going strong.
Now we’re up to the finale. I pulled in Jesse and Lex to help me with the Ropes Through the Neck. OK, I mentioned that Lex was the one who taught me to crochet and tat. Let’s just say, she was burning my hands more than anybody else ever has. Pretty sure that she still doesn’t know what I did, but I had a moment of minor panic, then laughter, when she said “I know you did something. I KNOW string!” Yeah, I’ll show her what I did some time. She’s earned that in my book. Hell, when it’s all said and done, even though the move is from Harry Monti, who is my personal hero when it comes to magic, I won’t be surprised if she comes up with something better. Seriously, when she says she knows string, she’s more qualified than most that might make that claim.
All things considered, it might have not been the smoothest performance I’ve ever given, but I think it was easily the most fun I’ve ever had performing. See, I performed for friends that my heart was already swelling with love for in a house that has always been a symbol of love and creativity for me. If I was ever to try to explain Doc and Lex’s home, I would refer people to the house in “You Can’t Take It with You.”
Yeah, I’m annoyed that Reggie didn’t get to do his thing that night, but if I have any real regret, it’s that Doc wasn’t there to see it. I know that we would have had a great discussion about it afterwards. His mentoring always pushed me to try when it came to doing something. His love of the performing arts infected me and he got to me to look into the beauty of different arts that I would not have looked at otherwise. If I had time to come and show him what I was doing since I got into performing magic, it was usually taken away with illnesses around me that I wasn’t willing to expose him to.
In most of the tricks I do or am working on, I have somebody in mind that I think about when I do them. It’s that little, personal dedication that means more to me than it would to anybody else. As I’ve been working on the Multiplying Billiards, I’ve realized that’s his trick to me. I’m still not ready to show it, but if anybody who reads this blog sees me do it, that’s the Trick for Doc. Songwriters and writers dedicate all the time and I do in my own medium, such as it is. When I do the balls, though, it will be keeping in mind that, even though he’s with me only in my heart, I’m trying to get the best reaction from him.
Doc, I raise my glass of brandy in toast to you. Thank you for everything in this world you opened my eyes to. Dammit, I miss you.
Wayne Dobson (www.waynedobson.co.uk) is a master of entertaining people with his show. He suffers from MS and currently, when he performs, he performs from a wheelchair with limited mobility and use f his arms. Still, he persona and skill in working with an audience gives a top-notch show. This clip is from earlier in his career, and even though he does a couple of standard routines, his presentation puts these at the top of any “must see” list.
You know, despite trying to get paying gigs in addition to busking, I do love to do shows for charity events. This one was for Annie’s Hope (www.annieshope.org), a bereavement center in St. Louis for children, adolescents, and their families. When the confusion settled, and I got into my groove, man, it felt like I was right where I needed to be.
First off, I planned on doing my busking routine and flipping it over as I was able to get a crowd. The only change from what I had been doing was to replace Rocky the Raccoon with Reggie the Rabbit for the final routine. I had been working with Rocky because of the gags I could do with him, but the more I play with Reggie in my parlor act, the more I like the gags I’m doing with him. It’s mostly the same gags, but something feels more right with Reggie the more I use him. Yeah, I don’t have him jump out and startle like I do with Rocky, but the other gags feel more fleshed out. So that was my only change outside of some adjustments to patter that I wanted to try. Hell, it’s always a work in progress, especially when my act relies on audience participation.
So, after running through the act a number of times the night before, I was ready to go. Case was packed and table was ready for travel.
Saturday morning, after arriving at the event, I was met by one of the other magicians. He was a bit concerned, as I soon became, after we found that a company that focuses on providing children’s magic events was there, represented by one of their magicians and a balloon twister. To add to it, it looked like the only performance space was going to have to be shared. Man, I didn’t want to take away from them, and just as much, I didn’t want anything we did be an assist in promoting their company. They’re nice guys, but when it comes down to it, at some point, I do want to be part of their competition. After talking to the chairperson running the event, I set down my table, grabbed my rings, and started working the crowd. I found it easy to get a crowd while doing the rings, but I had walked away from my table, so after I was done working the linking rings, I was pretty much done with that group. I couldn’t ditch the rings in order to do anything else, so it was time to rethink my strategy. By the time I had pulled my table out to a good spot, the first event, the balloon release to start the 5k run was about to start, so the crowd was moving there.
By the time the walkers and runners had all returned, Columbus, who was the magician who greeted me, had had to leave for his day job and the two other magicians from IBM Ring One were there and ready to go. So, now for us to really get into our thing.
While the other magicians did their bits, I found I was able to pretty much bally people to my table by just holding the rings looking like I was ready to do something. Admittedly, the crowd was kinda primed, but it was an easy tip to build from without feeling like I was poaching people from the other guys.
As for the crowds, they were small, but good. Very receptive. I think the most fun I had was with one pair of girls who assisted in the Ropes Through the Neck. One was terrified to pull the ropes, while her friend was very eager. I had fun playing off of them, looking at the scared one going, “Don’t worry honey, you won’t hurt me,” and then looking at the other with a “Well, you probably will.” I also learned that when you do the sponge balls with a child who is younger than three, her glee might send you chasing after the balls.
Whether it was the humidity or just me that day, for the life of me, I couldn’t do an overhand shuffle to save my life. Strangely, all the other slights worked without a hitch, but a simple shuffle that I’ve been doing since I was kid was beyond me. On the other hand, I think it only added to the final card reveal for Reggie and built things up nicely. I probably won’t aim for that type of shuffling, but if it happens again, it’s definitely not going to slow me down or frustrate me.
Also, yeah, going with Reggie was the right move. The final bit went right and felt right with each flip of my little act. Reggie got his laughs, and I came up with more material while working the act over and over. Not to disparage little Rocky, but he may be dry docked for a while.
Personal criticisms: Okay, I need to get my bubble routine worked out quickly. It’s going to be my bally, and though this crowd didn’t need one, it’s enough of a spectacle to build that it’s renewed my interest in getting it going as quickly as possible. Not that I’m going to perform it until the mechanics are second nature, but it’s going to be too much fun for me not to do it. Plus, it is luring the audience with spectacle.
Secondly, for some reason I was only able to get the final four-ring shape only half the time. I don’t know what’s going on with that, but I love the patter that goes with that (and it tends to get another laugh), so I need to woodshed that more to break down where the issue is. Not a show-stopper, but it’s a reminder to go back and practice all moves slowly.
Overall, it was a good time. For each crowd I stopped after I had my rig with me, I ran the full act without losing the crowd. Reviewing it, I think I flipped the act eight times after the walkers came back, so it was personally satisfying. Despite the chaos when we showed up, I’m looking forward to working for Annie’s Hope again next year if they put the call out. Good people doing a good thing, and I was glad to be a part of their event.
Noted magician and barber, Dean Dill (www.deandill.com), was a frequent visitor to Johnny Carson’s house to work on coin and card tricks with Johnny for years before Johnny convinced him to go on the show, and that probably wouldn’t have happened had Johnny not announced his retirement. I just recently watched an interview with Dean at Reel Magic Magazine (www.reelmagicmagazine.com – subscription required) and just generally liked his easy-going and casual manner. I love watching Matrix routines, and Dean’s is a killer in this clip.
Losander LevitationsI’ve mentioned the bubble routine I’m trying to work on for my opener, and Losander (www.losandermagic.com) is where I started thinking about it. Admittedly, where Losander’s act, while playful, is beautiful and magical, I’m aiming more for the playful, yet magical side. Play until I have their attention, and then do some levitation work. Losander, though, is a master of making what looks like real magic.
Currently, I’m working on a bubble routine to start opening my act with. In all honesty, I want to create enough of a spectacle that people stop and start watching so that the opening sequence is a bally in itself to start creating crowd interest. I came across this routine, which is magic, but is just plain fun to watch by Darren Burrell, better known as Burl the Bubble Guy (www.burlthebubbleguy.com). His routine here has given me some ideas to think about. Even though this is not a magic act, for some ideas here to lead into some of the bubble magic leave some room for serious consideration.