Category Archives: Lecture Review

Review: St. Louis IBM Jam – May 30, 2015 (Part Two)

This past weekend was the IBM Jam in St. Louis. For a little about what it was all about, you can read Part One of my review here.

After Ice’s lecture was over, we had around an hour (give or take) to relax, talk, and jam. (Huh. It’s almost like they planned it this way.) During that time, while Joey Night was showing me his home-made thimble that our little group got a dose of Shawn Farquhar’s mind at work as he played with the thimble a bit, but I’ll expand on that a little further down the line. But now, it’s time for our next lecture.

Friends and fellow magi, put your hands together for Chuck Arkin!

First off, I’m not a mentalist and have no plans in the foreseeable future for doing a real mentalism routine, but as I watch each mentalist lecture that comes around, I do develop an appreciation for the art form.

Chuck’s lecture went into depth about some of the systems that mentalists use. I won’t expand too much on that, except that Chuck’s practical handling of some effective methods demonstrated the effectiveness of the methods, both with effective gaffs and without. Okay, maybe I haven’t seen enough mentalism lectures, I’ll admit, but seeing principles I’ve read about done well enough that I didn’t see through the methods impressed the hell out of me.

This was the first time I’ve seen or met Chuck, and of the three presenters that day, Chuck’s the only one who isn’t a full-time magician. He and his friend, Joe Farag, came down from Cincinnati, OH, to the Jam. In addition to being a presenter, he’s also the International Treasurer for the IBM in addition to being a vice president in major banking organization in the Midwest. Be that as it may, he still gigs and he definitely showed why he had his place on the day’s billing.

The thing is, because of the practical applications that Chuck was showing, I found myself rethinking tricks and routines I’ve been mulling over and seeing new possibilities to applications. Now, it’s something that happens with most lectures, but Chuck’s mentalism isn’t clouded with a bunch of ego that I tend to see other mentalists covered up in. and that little difference made it a bit easier for what he taught to sink in.

After another break for talking and jamming, we come up to the final lecture of the day.

Please give a warm welcome to the IBM International President, Shawn Farquhar!

In all fairness, I’ve been a fan of Shawn’s since before I got back into magic. I saw his appearance on Penn and Teller’s Fool Us a few years before I got into the magic scene and before it made its US appearance. (Thanks, YouTube!) He was also one of the first lecture reviews I did on this blog (without going back to check, I think probably the first) and for as much as he may have a name for himself after appearances on television and world-wide acclaim (the most FISM awards on record to date, in addition to awards from plenty of other organizations), he’s very easily one of the nicest people you’ll meet in this business.

Also, when it comes to magic, he is an analytical, computational machine. The man sees the potential in each trick and gimmick he sees. In this way, I pretty much consider him North America’s answer to Juan Tamariz. In addition to this, in his presidency, he’s been a driving force to add value to being a member of this international club at a time when people have started doubting the value to having membership. In taking on the presidency, Shawn’s worked hard to make sure that taking the job did not just render him a figurehead by adding resources like Ask Alexander to member magicians and giving value to the membership that far outweighs the cost of dues. Before I keep doing the gushing fan-boy thing, though, let’s get back to his lecture, though.

Quite a bit of his lecture was what we saw a couple of years ago, but Shawn’s one of those magicians that even when you know some of his tricks, he still hits you in a way that you don’t expect. I know that viewing one of his routines, even from an extreme angle that should have given it away, and even knowing the damn move, I was still just as caught off guard. Even Dan Todd, who had sat in the same lecture before I had and was on stage with Shawn assisting, was just as taken in by the effects.

And here’s the maddening thing: In general, outside of the use of some specific gimmicks for an effect, most of the moves he is using, especially in cards, incorporates moves that most magicians have in books that they have on their shelves. The man sees all these applications that can be applied to the moves. Using psychology and human perception (after reading Tommy Wonder’s “Books of Wonder,” I’m loathe, for good reason, to use the term “misdirection”), he pulls off stuff that, if you realized what was going on, you’d have a bruise on your forehead from clapping it for being suckered in.

That’s not saying that he isn’t an outstanding manipulator, because he’s one of the best. What he’s demonstrates, though, is how when you have that move or set of moves down, you can stop thinking about the move and open yourself to the applications. In his hands, a simple deck of cards becomes a tool he can use the same way a master painter can realize new realities with paints and a brush.

And like said master painter, like most master artists, he’s not limited in just one medium. Going back to the thimble I mentioned before, when Shawn picked it up and started playing with it, he started spewing different ideas and premises that could be applied, riffing ideas out. Later, at dinner, I mentioned a routine that’s just beginning to take root in my mind, and he started riffing on that, opening me to additional possibilities I hadn’t even had an inkling of. Whether I work the ideas into the routine, it started the juices flowing with a chemistry that I hadn’t even considered.

For everything that happened at the Jam, it surely didn’t feel like six hours

For an analogy of methods and styles between the three presenters, I’ll try this: Ice McDonald is the shot of tequila you and your friends taste and drink down to get an evening’s festivities started. You’re not wasted by any means, but you’re fired up for what’s to come. Chuck Arkin’s presentation and manner is the smooth bourbon you share as you and your friends share a good moment of bonding, maybe after having a bite to eat along the way. And Shawn Farquhar, he’s that cocktail you get you ask the bartender to make you their favorite drink to mix, where you know you’re going to get a combination of liquors in a surprising way that knocks you off your feet. Either that, or he’s the jungle juice of every liquor in the house of some rowdy party. I’m not sure which.

Slainte mhath!

For more information on the International Brotherhood of Magicians, go to www.magician.org.

In St. Louis, you can find out about IBM Ring One at ibmring1.com.

Ice McDonald’s website is at icestormentertainmentgroup.com.

For Shawn Farquhar, you can visit his site at www.magichampion.com or visit his YouTube channel here.

Ice McDonald, Chuck Arkin, me and Reggie, and Shawn Farquhar

Ice McDonald, Chuck Arkin, me and Reggie, and Shawn Farquhar

Review: St. Louis IBM Jam – May 30, 2015 (Part One)

It’s been a while since I’ve posted in this blog, and it’s time I got the ball rolling again. Fortunately, in this review, I get to review one of my established favorite magicians, whom I wrote a review for before, and a magician whose lectures I just dig, plus one magician I hadn’t heard of before.

OK, to start off with, one of the things Shawn Farquhar ushered into the IBM when he took the presidency last summer was the idea of an IBM Jam. These are member-only events that are a combination of fellowship and presentations. The lecturers donated their time and expenses to be at these events. Shawn was able to schedule a handful of these, and St. Louis Ring One was able to host the final one of Shawn presidential tenure. Also on hand at each event was Kenrick “Ice” McDonald, who in addition to being an Order of Merlin in the IBM, is also the current president of the SAM. For those readers who may not be familiar with the organization acronyms I’m throwing out, the IBM is the International Brotherhood of Magicians, and the SAM is the Society of American Magicians.

The Jams are open to all IBM members, and even though Ring One hosted, we had magicians show up from all over the Midwest and also from the South. I’ve been working with thimbles lately, so I started talking to few guys also into thimbles from other rings, not to mention got some ideas from my friend Joey Night when he pulled out a thimble he made.

After about an hour of everybody talking, jamming different tricks (mainly cards, but also coins and whatever else people brought with them), and just getting to know each other a bit, our first lecture started.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Ice McDonald!

Okay, this is the second time I’ve seen Ice lecture, and for me, the man is like a tent revival evangelist preaching the gospel of performing good magic. Seriously, I dig this man’s lectures. If there is one magician who gets me fired up to not only perform, but go out and perform well, giving everything I’ve got both in rehearsal and performance, it’s Ice.

One of the topics he focused on was practicing your outs. An out is what you do when a trick fails, whether it’s at the end or somewhere midway. His delivered thoughts on how to practice outs in a way that, even though I hadn’t thought of them that way before, I’m sure that there were some that had. I could go into detail about his thoughts on this, but it wouldn’t do justice to Ice’s message.

Here’s the kicker, though. Another strong message Ice preached was not just to go out and perform magic, but that we owe it to the art to go out and perform good magic. See, it’s a message we’ve heard plenty of times before, but Ice’s message is not as much a condemnation of bad magic (it’s there, but that’s not the focus), as much as “Go forth and perform Good Magic. Your audience is watching and they deserve it.” Coming from Ice and his passion for the art, it’s a bit inspiring.

Now, Ice is noted mainly as a stage magician who has made his mark mainly for his routine with doves, and his act is outstanding, but where I’ve appreciated his magic from the first time I saw him, I can say I became a fan and thoroughly appreciate why he’s the president of the SAM (first black president, by the way) at dinner after the Jam. This is a bit of a digression, but it is why as much as I think of him as a friend in this business, I’m now a fan.

See, we had dinner at the hotel the Jam was at, and we had one server for the horde of us. As soon as the server found out what we did, magicians at the table started performing for him and frying the poor guy’s head. Now, we’re getting ready to leave, and he wants to see one last trick. Ice has been ready for this. This kid is the only layman watching, and Ice performs a couple of mentalism tricks with cards. His final trick in his routine is one I know I’m familiar with a variation of, so I’m sure I wasn’t the only one, but damn! When Ice finished his routine, it felt like a miracle. His poise and command, it was like watching a wizard with every other magi a trickster. When Shawn said before that Ice sweated magic, he was not kidding. When Ice was done, it was a proverbial mic drop. I saw every bit of why Ice has the respect he has. If I had known what was coming, I would have filmed it. Then again, all I would have filmed was floor as I was pretty much dumbstruck.

Okay, back from the digression.

Next up, Ladies and Gentleman, Chuck Arkin and Shawn Farquhar…

Me, Reggie, and Ice McDonald

Me, Reggie, and Ice McDonald

Part Two can be read here.

Lecture Review: Nathan Kranzo Workshop, St. Louis S.A.M. Assembly 8, 17SEP2014

When Nathan Kranzo came through and lectured for S.A.M. Assembly 8 earlier this year, I was a bit annoyed because of getting held up with day-job work stuff, so when I found he was doing a workshop, I was quite happy and immediately signed up as soon as I heard. That was definitely a good decision on my part.

Now, Nathan did admit there was a little cross-over between his lecture and his workshop but he minimized that and only went through a couple of things that were in the initial lecture. As part of the package, there were two DVDs (one covering a gaff Nathan has developed from an older gaff concept) and a good number of downloadable files including pdf lecture notes and a video of a routine and explanation.

The main thing I found really cool about what Nathan was presenting in this workshop was how he developed a number of routines using gaffs that have been around for quite some time. His opener routine that he gave us was a coin routine that used and milked a gaff that probably most magicians who do coin work have picked up and used along the way. What he focused on was using manipulations in addition to the gaff to build a routine around a number of tricks that flowed from the start of production to finishing clean. Yeah, I know I’m keeping it vague on what he presented, but I’d rather not name any of the gaffs discussed just in the event that laypeople actually read this blog.

What the first routine (and really, the subsequent routines, as well) reminded me of was of watching Boris Wild about probably his biggest contribution so far to magic tools. In both cases, we have serious manipulation skills combined with a creative knowledge of using the gaffs employed. When Boris discussed his gaff, he referred to it as jazz, taking the gaff and playing with it and finding new ways to use it. In both the case of Boris and Nathan, in addition to classic routines and premises, we had additional new and off-beat premises shown to where the gaffs involved. Coming back around to Nathan, if anybody during the discussion asked where he got a trick from, unless he was naming a specific move, he would list off a number of magicians whose ideas had been implemented. In some cases, it was material developed for a different tool completely but had enough shared DNA with what Nathan was using that in was adapted.

Now, I’m sure that for an awful lot of magicians, this isn’t anything new, but I also know enough magi who, once they get a gaff or gimmick, play it only really the way it is presented in the instructions that came with it. For me personally, it timed perfectly. I had just recently started playing with a gaff that I had picked up well over a year ago and, pretty much after seeing only minor variations of Don Alan’s routine with the gaff performed, I pretty much put it down figuring it was probably locked into that one presentation, and I’d rather put my own spin on it. Nathan’s workshop inspired me to look at other gaffs that had enough matching DNA that I started jamming with the gimmick running a few manipulations that were more for the other gimmick. I’m now seeing the potential.

It’s not a case, really, of when you discover how to use a hammer everything is a nail, but rather, learning that in addition to pounding a nail into a board, a hammer can pull or straighten a bent nail (and though I’m a big horror movie fan, I won’t drag this analogy further into “Toolbox Murders” territory). I personally generally dislike gimmicks that can only be used for one trick and that’s it. I’m always looking for at least three phases to each routine, if not more. Hell, even though in general there’s only really one move to a good operation of the Three Shell Game, a great presentation gets creative in the implementation.

Now, I must say, for the routines and tricks Nathan performed, I will say that if I was to adapt one routine for my own, it would have been his finisher. In this case, there was no gaff used. It was a series of coin though silk manipulations that, for being close-up magic, plays big. Yeah, we all find our favorites, and for what he presented us, this was definitely mine. For busking, it is perfect, but all in all, like anything else, once I start working with it, it will be a path of discovery until the routine has DNA in Nathan’s routine (in addition to so many others) but its final presentation is mine.

All in all, my final take-away from Nathan’s workshop, for all the technical information he dropped on us, it was a tent-revival for my creative side.

Yep, the gratuitous fan-boy shot with Nathan Kranzo

Yep, the gratuitous fan-boy shot with Nathan Kranzo

Lecture Review – Wayne Houchin, IBM Ring 1, 11AUG2014

For starters, by this point in my time while taking this made business of legerdemain a bit seriously, between the couple of conventions I’ve been to and clubs, I’ve only seen somewhere between 20-30 magic lectures. For magicians who’ve been in this longer, that’s quite a small number. That being said, I’ve had the opportunity to see some great lectures. Only a small few have been less than inspiring, but most of them give me something to walk away with that ends up in that mental backpack that carries all the random crap that I end up pulling out at some point and incorporating. By all means, I should have written about a few in general that I never did due to either personal sloth or just plain regular life taking control of my time.

That being said, last night’s lecture by Wayne Houchin was outstanding. My own take-away was this was a great lecture, and the comments by the other magicians that I heard confirmed what I felt.

Now, if you’re one of those people that, like me, has done away with normal television and has opted for just what you can get online, you might not be aware of Wayne’s television appearances, including the Discovery Channel’s “Breaking Magic: The Magic of Science.” I had seen Wayne’s products advertised by magic retailers and knew his name, but before his lecture, I wanted to know more about him before I saw him. Where I saw his name over and over again was behind the scenes as one of the magic creators whose works are used by some very visible magicians, such as Criss Angel and David Blaine. Wayne’s illusions are outstanding and very effective to pleasing and amazing the audiences and this is really where this review starts.

Coming into the lecture, Wayne and his wife Frania were there to meet and greet everybody as they arrived. Wayne’s very bright and personable and the type of guy you just feel you’re going to like. He’s there to please the audience, and as he mentioned in the lecture, it’s that connection that comes from pleasing the audience and feeling that energy flowing back and forth between performer and audience that is the magic that we crave when we’re performing.

Admittedly, when magicians are performing for other magicians, the energy is different than when performing for laypeople. We know so many aspects of slights and performance machinations that it’s got to be different. In this case, Wayne’s main theme of this lecture, called “Remix,” is how he’s taken pre-existing effects and reworked them. In some cases, rebuilding them from the ground up to where the DNA of the original effect is only evident when he tells the lifecycle of how it developed. In fact, when you read the lecture notes (also, the most gorgeous lecture notes I’ve gotten, yet), you’ll find not one trick covered was solely his, even though, by the time he’s done, it pretty much is. It’s kind of like listening to Dylan’s original recording of “All Along the Watchtower” and then comparing to what Hendrix did afterwards. In all cases, Wayne takes a premise and rebuilds it through his own originality and developing the trick to his needs.

Okay, this might not seem like such as big deal, but in addition to discussing the techniques used, he walked us through the observations and thought processes (as much as could be covered in such a venue and still be entertaining). He discussed the evolution of how the effects developed after the initial premise was performed and what he found with crowd reactions and the additional tweaks he made along the way without bogging us in the details. During the lecture, he did this with confidence and enthusiasm without any real sense of egotism. Admittedly, by the point that he gave his lecture to us, he’s performed it around the world, so I doubt we could hit him with much that he hasn’t seen or heard in responses from the magicians watching, but he never gave a feeling of “been there, done that.”

For my personal take-away from this, outside of the seriously amazing work he showed us, his discussions on what aspects he looked at to developing the effect for how he wanted to perform it was the food he gave to my mind. He discussed the input from other magicians and what they called him out on to push the effect from being good to great. Wayne’s confident, but not to the degree that he’s not open to input and criticism from his peers when developing. His development of an effect originally produced by Jay Sankey showed how he took a close-up effect that would work, at its largest working, in a parlor-sized audience, to an effect that could be played to a full-sized theater with no video screens. It was his discussions in aspects like this that had me more sucked into the lecture than anything else.

For me, because I typically perform outdoors in a situation that leaves me in the potential for being seen from 360 degrees by the audience and passers-by, I’ve left some effects that I would love to do either on one of the far back-burners or just to collect dust altogether. It’s left me feeling a bit defeated, but this lecture gave me a renewed sense of “Screw it. Let’s do the impossible, even by magician standards.” I mean, it’s not a particularly new concept, but you know, when you take that inspiration from a man who’s shot lightning from his fingertips (not featured at this lecture), man, it seems all the more worthwhile.

Wayne’s final words were how it wasn’t anything that was on his merch table or in his notes that was important, but what you develop and share between you and your audience where the real magic was. This wasn’t just rhetoric that Wayne was spouting. Anybody who loves performing knows just how true that is.

Wayne, thanks for one of our best lectures at Ring 1 and certainly one of the top lectures I’ve seen in my own development.

Yeah, as per usual, I had to get the fan-boy shot with the performer of the night.

Yeah, as per usual, I had to get the fan-boy shot with the performer of the night.

Roy Zaltsman Lecture Review – I.B.M. Ring 1, St. Louis, MO Wednesday, 06NOV2013

This is really only the second mentalist lecture I’ve attended. Considering the previous lecture that was touted as a mentalism lecture was no more, really, than a dealer show, I really did not know what to expect. Considering the fact that I was a bit soured on the previous lecture (and had my thoughts about that lecturer confirmed by some others in the magic community), I still didn’t know what to expect. Fortunately, I was amazingly impressed by the skill and knowledge dropped by Roy and came out a fan of what mentalism magic can be.

First, a little bit of background about Roy. He’s from Israel and very personable. For years he had worked going back and forth doing magic for both kids and adults and became tired of the grind from carrying all the props and switching between the mindsets between shows for each age group. About ten years ago, he sold all his props and started doing mentalism and hasn’t looked back since.

Throughout his lecture, he asks questions about the crowd. In this way, we were constantly participating in the act. He explained a lot of the psychology behind his prompts. In one case, he had a stellar example where using the statistical knowledge he had when he “knew” things about audience members that wouldn’t necessarily always come up in conversation. The fact that he “knew” that one of the audience members had a scar, which was revealed by the member as from a shark bite, was just bloody well impressive. (Okay, you had to be there for that one, but, man, that was cool!)

What impressed me so much about Roy, and this probably goes for mentalism in general, was that so much of it is knowing psychology, sociology and statistics about human beings. The props he uses can all fit in his pockets, so he’s relying on the audience to be a good part of the presentation. This, of course, greatly increases his chance of failure, which he can masterfully either laugh off or work to his advantage, depending on the situation.  Of course, even though his chance of failure is greater than if he was doing manipulations or illusions, he’s working in a system where his chances of success are greatly in his favor.

I’m currently putting my first 30 minute act together, and even though I don’t have any plans to put mentalism into my act (but I never know what I’m going to do in the future) I came back with quite a good amount of information.

As I’ve seen stressed by other magicians, the first key is entertainment. Roy is very personable and as much as he is the attraction, the audience is very much a part of the show. His show relies on audience participation, so he is warm and inviting when he is using audience members in the routines. There is a lot of comedy involved, but it’s not a comedy act as much as a feeling of “We’re all friends and we can all laugh together.” Admittedly, as he was performing for magicians, he was a bit looser than if doing his act for laypeople, but my guess is only marginally so.

The next take-away would be the fact that he really can’t be hampered by a fear that something is going to fail. Once again, the deck is stacked in his favor, but with all the variables in what he’s doing, he knows that at some point, there is going to be a failure. Maybe big, maybe small, but still it’s likely going to happen at some point. In this way, he’s got to be a bit fearless. After the lecture, he was relating a story about how one trick failed for a prominent client, and he was pretty sure he was not going to be asked there again. Even with the failure (and he did relay that it was one of those times that had him concerned), he ended up booked for two more large corporate gigs. Okay, I’m a far cry from having enough experience to know how to cope with things that well if a trick fails in a performance, but it’s a good lesson on how such an instance is not necessarily the end of the world.

Finally, the last item I’ll mention of note from his lecture is his adaptability. In his case, he is able to play off things that in some cases, he can use a coincidence to make a small miracle. Wow, I mentioned the shark bite earlier, but he related another coincidence that he able to use to just blow people away. I could say more on this example, but as some who read this may not be in the magic community, I really don’t want to give it away. Sometimes, it sucks to have to bite my tongue.

OK, despite the less-than-impressive presentation from the prior mentalist, Roy Zaltsman gave a great show and great lecture. It really was one of the lectures that I wished my wife could have seen, as I know it would have interested her as much as it would have blown her away. Okay, my wife isn’t really a bar that I use to rate lectures, as I’m happy that she tolerates me, but the amount of practical psychology discussed would have kept her entranced. From what I got that can be applied to magic performance in general, damn, I’m glad I was there.

Roy Zaltsman and me after his lecture for Ring 1. OK, It kinda pains me to say it, but, Mind. Blown.

Roy Zaltsman and me after his lecture for Ring 1. OK, It kinda pains me to say it, but, Mind. Blown.