Category Archives: Observations

Out of the Mouths of Babes

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.

Me and my favorite assistant

Me and my favorite assistant

Probably My Favorite Performance, Yet

Today I finally got to perform most of my act for my grandfather. I’ll admit, this one was a bit hard for me to do. I mean, even though this is what I love doing and I’ve wanted to perform for him for a while, now, I’ve been dealing with the fear of his reaction. You know, I can perform for complete strangers with only a small amount of stage fright, but doing this for somebody that means so much to me has been hard to do.

Honestly, it’s going to be one of those performances that will stick with me for a long time for all the right reasons.

My bride and I went to visit, and like I’ve done twice before, I had my act packed, ready to go, and with me. I would have probably chickened out if Michele hadn’t brought it up making excuses that I didn’t want to bother him with it. Sometimes, I wish I still had the fearlessness that I had as a kid, not caring about judgment and going through the tricks whether eyes were watching intensely, rolling, or glazed. Reading personal histories of other magicians who started as kids, I find that really trying to start in middle age, I’m doing it completely backwards. Typically, the veterans started out running their stuff to family and friends before getting in front of strangers to perform. For me, it’s harder to do this for friends and family outside of the magic community. I mean, I can talk about working on databases or computer networks until they’re almost begging me to stop, but why, for the love of all that’s holy, do I have this fear to share something that I truly love doing?

It’s pretty much been once again to be an unfounded fear.

I had an audience of two: my grandfather and Michele.

My grandfather sometimes has troubles keeping his eyes open do to issues with tearing, so even though it’s already my opening, I figured I’d at least do the Linking Rings. Nice and visible and if he was having trouble keeping his eyes open after that, well, I could easily call it good.

I’ve not seen his eyes open that wide in a long while, maybe years. And he was laughing and enjoying himself the entire time. I pretty much went through my entire act outside of my new finale. I had left Reggie the Rabbit in my van. (I’m really serious when I tell you how chicken I was about the whole thing.) For the twenty some minutes I did my act, his eyes were open wide the entire time and he laughed through the entire act. I ended the act doing a Mismade Flag routine, and he had been shown how to do this when he was a boy by a magician and had an impish grin on his face at the finale of the routine.

It’s funny, though. I get stage fright to start, but once I’ve started, fear walks out the door and I feel free to play. And that’s what we did. When I start doing my act, the smile plastered to my face is genuine and I can’t stop it.

And my reward for finally doing what I should have done a while back? I saw my grandfather more animated and laughing than I have in a while and got some new stories that he probably didn’t even remember he had. For all the science that can explain it all, for me, this was the true magic.  No token laughter, no eyes mostly closed. Just us having fun together. I’m going to be riding this high for a while.

Adult life has it’s good share of highs and lows, but today has shown me why sometimes the right idea is to let my inner five year old take the driver’s seat of the Lil Tikes car and show me where to go.

Experience Review: Shriners Children’s Hospital – Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Tonight’s routine was a mixture of victory and frustrations. I had been working on new material for doing shows, and this was a test of some of the new stuff in addition to using some of the material I used all summer. All in all, though, the crowd was good and we had fun both during and after the acts. At this point, I’m hoping to pull enough into a good act to start performing, probably starting with the elderly care facilities and working my way into bigger gigs from there. Some of this I’m sure I’ve mentioned before in other blogs, but for anybody just joining in, I figured I’d do that little bit of recap.

After Ken Trokey did his routine, it was time for me to take the stage. After I got my gear in place, I started off with my Linking Rings routine. Now, before, my routine was pretty much Al Schneider’s, just adapted a bit for myself. Since the last time I performed it for a crowd, though, I’ve been reworking it. Between Levent’s Linking Rings DVD set and various lecture notes and printed routines, I had reworked things to a routine that I feel is strong for me, and I was jazzed to perform it. It’s still a five-ring routine, and I think it should be a stronger opener in addition to still being a good routine for busking when I start that again in the spring. And, even though I started strong, I got a bit confused in the routine and got some stuff out of order. Freaking ouch! I got to the point where I couldn’t see my outs, so I ended the routine while it was still okay.  Because of the amount of manipulation involved in the rings, I know that either I should have put more time into the new routine or used the old routine while working through the new material until that was set enough for me to focus harder on the rings. Strong opening to the routine, but not so grand in the finish.

In the set list I had, I ended up dropping the next routine. It’s not a hard one to perform, but at this point I felt it was better to skip over the new and go back to one of my time and tested my routines. Okay, I hadn’t lost the crowd with the rings, but it felt like now I had them back on my side. And seriously, if you ever use the line, “Pull my finger” at the end of a routine that has fathers in the crowd, you know you have them in your corner. Cheap gag, but it seems to work.

The next two routines, my sponge ball bit and the Ropes Thru the Neck, were as solid as I knew they would be. It was at the performances for the Purina Farms Haunted Hayloft that I decided I needed to add a stronger ending to the sponge ball routine, and I had that at the ready, but at this point, I felt it was better to stay in my comfort zone because of my finale routine. As it was, both routines were happily received and we had fun.

And now we come up to what I’ve been stressing out about for the past month and a half, my new finale bit. Bits and pieces have been things that I wanted to do, but I didn’t know how to tie them up together, and at this point, it’s feeling like I’ve got something I and the audience can have fun with. It starts out with my variation on Dan Garrett’s “World Famous Banana Trick” (carrot variation) before leading into my production of Reggie the Rabbit. We do a number of spring animal puppet gags before Reggie reveals a card selected by an audience member (this uses a prop made by Fort Wayne magician Dick Stoner). There are quite a number of tricks involved with the finale routine, so between going through the script and blocking, I was a bit stressed and excited about doing the routine. I might be using bits and pieces from throughout the magic books, but like the new Linking Rings routine, the arrangement is mine, so I’m a bit proud of it.

As it was, some bits got left out and some (a lot) of lines got dropped, but it worked! Not ready for a competition or anything, but we had a lot of fun. Bonus, though, is that the assistant I picked out for the routine is having another round of surgery tomorrow. Bad thing is, I never quite caught what her name was. I know there are plenty of ways around this as far as dialog is concerned, but this kinda means something to me. I love connecting to the audience as we play together, and it helps if it starts by knowing their names. On another note, I started working through this routine a few months ago, and when I performed for the hospital last, a girl by the name of Valora wanted to see a rabbit production. This pushed me to move this routine to the top of the list of routines to add. Sadly, even though she was supposed to be at the hospital until the day before Thanksgiving, she had additional surgery yesterday and wasn’t able to make it to the show tonight. Even worse, she’ll be in the hospital for another six months, so there’s a good chance she’ll be able to catch Reggie’s act. Sadly, she’ll still probably be in a halo. Poor kid, and that goes for all the ones who are out there. Considering the types of treatments kids receive at the Shriners Children’s Hospital, they’re not there just for an overnight stay.

As it was, it was a good night, overall. After our acts were done, I hung out with the kids some more, did a little bit of close-up, was shown a trick from my same lovely assistant from the Reggie routine,  taught them a trick, and got out before I got dealt in to a game of Skip-Bo.

My main take-away from tonight’s performance, though is about playing with the audience. I found the more comfortable I was in performing a routine, the more it was me playing with the audience. I commented about this in my review of Shawn Farquhar’s performance, and I’ve been reminded of this while watching DVDs from John Shyrock. I love calling people up to the stage to keep them part of the act, and I find that I can’t stop smiling the entire time. In Shawn and John’s (sorry for the rhyme) performances, that’s the joy that I feel in the performance. Going with a combination of Murray Hatfield’s and David Ginn’s routining structures, I see how the routine selections can be applied in building that act. Also, going back to Levent, and reviewing his performances, I appreciate how much magic is built into a routine without ever saying “For my next trick…” while performing copious amounts of magic.

Also, I’ve got a greater appreciation of adding new material to routines. My prowess in magic isn’t to the point that I’m able to do a whole new 30 minute act of material I’ve never done before. My new finale was big enough that I should have stayed on with tried and true for the rest of it until the finale was solid enough. Problem is, I’ve broken the seal on some stuff, like the rings routine, I don’t want to look back. The other new material can be worked in and I think I might have to perform a hell of a lot more at club meetings to get the kinks worked out of some other bits. It feels close to go time, though, as far as going to market.

And, hey, a few hours after the performance is done, I’m still smiling about it. How cool is that?

Oh, and for little Paige: You may find out sometime how I did the sponge ball routine, but you won’t hear it from me how it’s done.

Another Example of Accessibility in the Magic Community

I mentioned in previous blog posts that I’m now putting together my first 30 minute act after spending the past summer working with a 15 minute busking routine. As I’ve been going through the tricks that I’m going to use and scripting things out, I’ve also been looking into how to build the routine, and one of the sources has been from information I’ve been absorbing from lectures and through lecture notes. This leads me to something that happened a few days ago that kinda humbled me and made me even happier to be in this community with such great people.

Some months ago, Ring 1 in St. Louis had a lecture from a magician who spoke about building a routine and gave a great mnemonic device for creating the structure for the show. After the lecture, I wrote down notes from what had been imparted, but, considering my level of organization (absolute chaos, which sends my wife into apoplectic fits when she comes into my office) I’ve not been able to find those notes.  Time to go to the source, then, so I first called magician, John Shryrock (www.shryockmagic.com) to get his lecture notes.

The phone call was a bust. John said even though he covered routining in his lecture, the lecture notes he has for sale don’t cover that. I was a bit bummed, but I thanked him and apologized for bothering him. Later that night, I went ahead and ordered the notes he does have for sale and wrote him an email describing the information I was looking for, specifically the mnemonic and its explanation.

The next evening, I got an email back from John, and he explained that the information I was probably looking for wasn’t his, and I had probably originally gotten it from Murray Hatfield (murrayhatfieldmagic.com), who had also lectured for us. Then, instead of just pushing me off onto Murray (who’s also a pretty swell guy to talk to in addition to being thoroughly knowledgable) , John was gracious and gave me the mnemonic and a brief explanation of each point. It was exactly the information I was looking for and I was completely stoked. In a subsequent email, John explained to me he had spent seven weeks on tour with Murray and was quite familiar with Murray’s lecture and that Murray’s “thoughts on show structure are spot on.”

See, this is just an example of the accessibility we have with the top guys in the field. The guys on top are willing to help the shlubs down at my level when we’re trying to find our way up. Ego could have kept John from helping and he could have just blown me off.  Instead, he was gracious and willing to help me out.

The more I get into wanting to perform, the more I find this throughout the magic community. At one of the message boards, The Magic Café (www.themagiccafe.com), as you go through the messages, you see advice and help given to those who ask for it from magicians from all levels (from Pop Haydn, Levent, and Pete Biro on down to guys just getting started) and all walks of life. Yeah, in the areas open to the public, there’s a lot of abbreviation and kinda coded language at times to prevent just casual readers from necessarily picking up on certain secrets, but there’s usually the offer given, if needed to PM or email for additional explanation.  And there definitely is lots of encouragement.

John, another thank you for your help and for being a perfect representative of why this is such a great group of people to be mixed up with.

John Shryock and me after the finale show at the Midwest Magic Jubilee 2013

John Shryock and me after the finale show at the Midwest Magic Jubilee 2013

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.

Not a Real Magician?

Some time ago, I was in a discussion, and I brought up advice given to me about busking and who gave it to me.  Now, the advice was that if I wanted to make money busking, that I should give up on doing magic and just twist balloons. Though this advice is valid, and it was given to me by a fellow magician who does more than just magic when he performs, it’s not advice that I want to follow and mainly because I want to do magic. So, yeah, I’m gonna go the hard way through.  When I mentioned this, though, one of the prominent members in the group replied that, well, the one guy would say that, but he’s not a real magician. The comment stunned me, and I didn’t reply at the time.

The entertainment industry is full of egos, and the magic community is no different. Face it, to get in front of people and perform, whether it’s acting, performing music, dancing, or doing card tricks, takes a certain amount of confidence and bravado. Even more so if you’re going to be paid and hope to continue getting gigs. Skill is a given, but to a certain degree, a lot of tricks don’t require a whole lot of skill to perform, just a lot a showmanship to be done well for people.

I do mention the part about skill because I do occasionally see top magicians make an appearance on television on one chat show or another performing tricks that are so well-guarded all it takes is a trip to the library to find out how they’re done. (Please don’t get me started on YouTube and how much you can find there showing how a trick is done in such a way that it’s embarrassing and painful to watch. Worse than all the drunken karaoke renditions of “Friends in Low Places” I’ve endured.) Even in cases where a gimmick does the work, thus, removing the skill factor, it does take showmanship to make the moment seem like a miracle.

Any way around it, though, practice is needed.

Now, in a way, each performance can be practice. New lines can be picked up, especially when the routine isn’t silent. But even in a silent routine, timing and crowd reactions to moments is learned, especially when the routine is new. Routines and acts are always evolving. Case in point, Howard Thurston, one of the greatest American magicians, paid attention to his audience. If something got a good reaction, he made note of it to keep in the act, even to the point that if it was a heckler who got off a particular good line, he would have one of his crew in the audience as a stooge to repeat the line in later performances.

Admittedly, though, once you start performing in the magic community, there are going to be two main types of people you will perform for: laypeople and other magicians. And really, the technical difficulty involved in a show to entertain magicians might not necessarily get as good a response with a crowd of laypeople. Even Shawn Farquhar’s performance for our I.B.M. Ring 1 President’s Dinner was not filled with illusions that I didn’t know the secrets of. Other than his final routine, I knew the tricks he was performing. Then again, even though the dinner was for a magic club, there were plenty of spouses and family members in attendance.  Shawn, being an excellent performer as well as magician, was able to put on one hell of a show. I’ve not heard any complaints from anybody and even heard some people who weren’t sure it was a good idea to bring him in (mainly being cost-conscious) admit they were wrong. I’ve certainly not heard any complaints that Shawn didn’t perform magic.

Boris Wild did a lecture a while back (I didn’t get to see it, but I have the lecture notes) called “Creativity & Impact.” It focuses on those two aspects of creating an act and designing it for the best impact with an audience. I took quite a bit to heart and am working with the concepts in building my current act. One line does stick out, though, and that’s “To optimize the impact of your performance and have the best possible reactions from the spectators, you have to make sure they are interested in what you do.” Boris’ “Butterflies Act” moved me to tears. He knew what he wanted to do to make the act as strong with the audience as he could. In that act, he focused on the concepts of love and loss, but when he does other card tricks, he aims for just as strong of reactions, just with other emotional strings. Hell, if Boris did “Hippity Hop Rabbits,” he’d be playing it for as strong a reaction from the kids. (Note: “Hippity Hop Rabbits” doesn’t seem to be Boris’ style, but playing a routine for maximum impact certainly does.)

Going back to the “non-magician” who was discussed, the man performs magic in addition to a good amount of comedy and non-magic bits in his routines. He’s had some pretty strong gigs and gets even more because of his reputation. He has the audience eating out of his hand when he performs. The one who said that about him is even more prominent in the area and has a lot of gigs and also has the audience in the palm of his hand. If one had called the other an asshole, that’s fair. It would have never bothered me. You don’t have to like everybody you know in this business, but, you know, call it straight.

After reading through some message boards to see how other people responded to the question, “What is a magician?” I’ll leave it to the words of Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin, considered the father of modern conjuring: “A magician is an actor playing the part of a magician.”

I challenge anybody to say it better.

Me and Boris Wild at the Midwest Magic Jubilee 2013

Boris Wild and me at the Midwest Magic Jubilee 2013

Two Magic Clubs Are Better Than One

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.

Slainte mhaith!

Me with Harry Monti, the Godfather of St. Louis Magic and the first one to welcome me into this strange business

Me with Harry Monti, the Godfather of St. Louis Magic and the first one to welcome me into this strange business