Category Archives: Personal History

Happy Holidays!

I guess posting my wishes to everybody comes a bit late, but I’m okay with that. The holiday season in the U.S. isn’t over, so I’m more posting in the midst of it. In the midst of some decent memories, I do have one that sticks out. I’m feeling a bit loquacious due to a rather stiff drink of Kraken rum and Coke, and due to my wife already being in bed, I’m compelled to write instead.

Due to being sick, my wife and I missed the yearly Christmas Eve party at my grandfather’s house. It was a bit of a bummer for us, and on my side, I was looking to drag whatever poor souls that were willing to watch to a magic show I had prepared. In a house that was probably crowded when my grandparents were raising their five kids, we have a good time with the 30-40 family members that congregate there each year. It’s packed, young children run around like mad, and it is absolute, beautiful chaos. Missing it really did leave me bummed. In this case, though, instead of being on Christmas Eve, it was done on the Sunday before.

We had arranged to go to see my family on Christmas Day once I called them to tell them we wouldn’t be there for the party, but later decided to go on Christmas Eve so we would be able to stay later without dealing with having to leave early from visiting to be ready for work the next day and decided to see my grandfather before going to my parents. And this is where my story really starts.

We went to see Grandpa and had a wonderful time talking to him. I’ve mentioned before (jasonstackmagician.com/2013/11/24/probably-my-favorite-performance-yet) how much esteem I hold my grandfather in, and when my beloved and I visited him, we had a wonderful time chatting, catching up and reminiscing and just enjoying each others’ company. Of course, after his response to me performing magic for him on the last visit, I brought stuff for my act along.

When I figured it was time, I asked if he minded seeing my latest bit that I had been working on and he was very happy to see it. I realized while performing the routine that I had not rehearsed it as many times as I should, and I was glad for the test run, but we all had a great time. After I had done the bit, we started talking and Grandpa told us how his favorite piece of magic was always the Linking Rings, so I performed my routine for him again. And really, as the Linking Rings are my favorite piece of magic, it felt wonderful to know that I shared that in common with someone who I held in such great esteem. With the discussion we had afterwards, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face when I was done.

See, I think that when I perform magic, I’m back to being a kid again. Michele can tell how happy the experience makes me each time I perform, whether it’s been for a small group or running an act over and over again for a festival. One of the major magic suppliers has a motto of “Born to Perform,” and that sums up the experience of performing magic for me. Whether for a group or for a single person, when I perform, the smile plastered to my face is not forced. It’s as genuine as any smile I’ve ever had and lingers long after I’ve packed up my kit and come home.

The icing on the cake for me, though, was what came after. Now, the last time I performed for Grandpa, I noted how his eyes were wide open the entire time I went through my routine, and I got that again. The little, but oh, so substantial, gift I got this time was this: As I fumbled to lock the door behind me on my way out, I heard my grandfather whistling a tune. Seriously, I couldn’t ask for a better Christmas gift than that. That one is going to stay with me for a long time.

Christmas Eve 2013 with Grandpa

Christmas Eve 2013 with Grandpa

Daily Dose of Magic – Uh, Me

OK, for me this is just painful to watch, but other than video from a high school performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” I’ve never liked watching myself on video. Fair warning, this is pretty much the first act I worked out and I did it (sans tux) for busking. This is less a piece of art than a crayon drawing on the refrigerator, but it’s mine, even if the routines borrowed heavily from Al Schneider (pretty much his Linking Rings routine, just adjusted a bit to suit my taste), Daryl (although it’s a pretty standard Sponge Ball bit) and the Ropes Though the Neck technique is from Harry Monti. This was shot by Greg Lewis at an S.A.M. Assembly 8 meeting on my phone as just a quick and dirty video to show my routine to possibly get into the Midwest Magic Jubilee for their Thursday night performance. Didn’t get in, but I’m okay with that. It was the personal challenge to at least try.

Working My Busking Routine on Stage

The Greatest Magician I’ve Ever Known

Two little blackbirds sitting on a hill,
One named Jack,
One named Jill.
Fly away, Jack!
Fly away, Jill!
Come back, Jack!
Come back, Jill!”

This little rhyme and bit of finger manipulation is very old and a variation on an older rhyme you can read about at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Two_Little_Dickie_Birds. This was really the first bit of magic I ever saw, performed for me and my sister and cousins by my grandfather. As I think about it, it is probably the strongest bit of magic I ever saw, but not because of the complexity of the trick, but rather, because of the fact that I saw something impossible for the first time and it filled me with wonder.

I don’t come from a family of magicians, and as far as I know, this is the only trick my grandfather performed for us, but man, did it kill every time. I’m pretty sure that the other kids cottoned on to what the trick was long before I did. I was kept in wonder until I found it in the first magic book I ever bought and, sadly, once I knew the secret, all the wonder was gone.

I posted a link to a short film called “The Magic Box” (http://jasonstackmagician.com/?p=60) , and when I first watched it,  it took me back to my childhood, watching my grandfather, maybe the kindest man I’ve ever known, do this little trick. It sent us into hysterics as kids, asking how he did it. Given the fact he wouldn’t tell, we’d scream for him to do it again, climbing all over him, trying to find the birds. I was always convinced he somehow hid them behind his ears, even when I watched and didn’t see anything there.

Honestly, as I watched that film, I had tears in my eyes.

My wife and I don’t have kids of our own, but we have nieces and a nephew, compliments of my sister, Jennifer. My nephew is 17 and concerned with teenage things, but the girls are far younger. I am remiss at this point for not performing this trick for them, but I’ve gotten the reaction I want from little Whitney by doing my sponge ball routine. Each time the one sponge ball disappears from my hand and she sees she’s holding not one, but two, she squeals and, barring the fact I won’t tell her how it’s done, holds me hostage until I “do it again, just one more time.”

When I started doing magic and started deciding what tricks I was going to do, I decided that whenever I do the sponge balls, it would be in honor or my grandfather because it’s something that always makes the audience smile and laugh. I didn’t even think about the “Two Little Blackbirds,” but maybe that was niggling around there somewhere I hadn’t looked back in my mind.

I dread the day when I lose my grandfather. To me, he is the Greatest Magician I’ve Ever Known. And all because of one trick, maybe the only trick he knew. To me, though, it made all the difference.

I love you, Grandpa.

My Grandpa, Willet Schaefer, surrounded by his grandsons and great grandsons.

My Grandpa, Willet Schaefer, surrounded by his grandsons and great grandsons. Christmas 2012

Accessibility in the Magic Community

One of the cool things I’ve found in the magic community in the short time I’ve been involved is how accessible the top-ranking guys generally are to those of us in the lower ranks. There’s something to the name of one of the major organizations, the International Brotherhood of Magicians, which rings true. Admittedly, the name doesn’t reflect the number of women in the group, which is admittedly small, but it does reflect the camaraderie within the ranks.

I’m not saying I’ll have David Copperfield on my speed-dial any time soon, but in general, I’ve found that, as time and schedules allow, the top guys are willing to respond to emails within a reasonable time and help if you have questions.

Yeah, there are a slew of egos involved, but you have to have a good amount of that to perform this stuff in front of a crowd. And face it, as far as the performing arts are concerned, magicians are held in regard not that far above street mimes. I mean, people know our art is fooling them and messing with their perceptions, so it does take a bit of ego to step out there and perform.

But, unlike other areas of the performing arts, like with actors or musicians, the top people are willing to give time to those of us who are trying to chew our way up.

In a prior post, I mentioned the warm welcomes I received when I first came to the local meetings, in particular by Harry Monti and Dan Todd, but it didn’t just end with those guys. It started with them. Within a short time, I was welcomed in by a lot of the members and was encouraged to keep learning, practicing, and performing in order to get better. Within the first meeting or two, I was invited to hang out after the meetings with this group of friends in arms and meet up on Saturday afternoons for lunch and to hang out at their informal Round Table meetings.

As I listened to the conversations flying around me, I kept noticing that people talked about various other top stage magicians as though friends. And not just one or two names, but a lot of them.

You know, there is quite a bit of truth in that. I’ve been only to one convention so far, and that was due to it being in St. Louis, truth be told, but in that time, I got to meet and talk with the top magicians who were there, and it was more than just in the sense of meet and greet and shuffle along. Now, I was working the convention and was working for them, so I may have had additional exposure, but I also know that these guys were in the dealer room, in the lounge area and just hanging out with everybody else.

At other conventions, it’s pretty much the same. And most of the performers come through doing lectures, where, once again, they’re accessible and generally happy to chat, exchange stories, give advice, and just generally socialize.

It’s great knowing that there is a camaraderie between the artists and performers and hobbyists. I may not be hanging with the highest echelon of the entertainment industry (David Copperfield, aside), but I think I’m definitely in the coolest.

(Then again, I wear a bow tie and either a derby or Panama hat, so my idea of cool might be a bit skewed from everyone else’s.)

Round Table, sometime in June 2013

Just one of the collections of friends getting together at the weekly Saturday Round Table

My Backstory – Part 1

Well, this is the first post, and welcome to it.  I’ll admit, I’m beginning this blog before this site’s theme is complete, and parts of it I like so far, and parts need either to be reworked or scrapped and replaced with something else.

Kinda like my act right now.

Now, initially, I expect that most of the people who might read this blog are people I know or have met along my way through life. Probably the most traffic will be from announcing the blog posts on Facebook or Google+, so we’re talking mostly friends. In the case of those who I’ve friended after meeting them either at magic club meetings or the one magic convention I’ve been to, the 2013 Midwest Magic Jubilee, maybe this will keep me from being compelled to tell my life’s story and we can just talk about the beautiful now.

For this blog, I’ll talk mainly about the magic world, what I observe in it, and my own place in it. I’m going to attempt to discuss without giving anything away to those who don’t perform. First, because that’s kinda what we try not to do, although there’s plenty on YouTube that can give most secrets away. Secondly, because even as my wife learned, sometimes it’s better not to know so you can just enjoy the routine. Even when you can admire the skill of some sleight of hand, knowing sometimes can remove you away from some of the “Wow” moments that you get when you just don’t know how it’s done.

As I’m writing this, the photo (admittedly, a bit manipulated in GIMP) in the banner is of Burg (Castle) Frankenstein. It’s a bit symbolic for what I’m doing in magic and learning to perform. I’m assembling bits and pieces from those that came before me to try to make my own creature. Like learning to draw, you start out by tracing other peoples’ work before you start drawing freehand.

I’ve loved magic ever since I saw Doug Henning on TV as a kid. The first magic trick I ever owned would have either been one of the Adam’s magic tricks sold on a rack at a Kay-Bee Toys (man, the hours of fun I had with “Smoke From Your Fingertips”) or the Goofy Card Magic set my Aunt Marti bought me, where I learned my first card trick.

Growing up in Centralia, IL didn’t leave me with many options to learn more magic, and it some of the trips later on, I picked up a couple of magic books and prior to getting the “magic bug” as my mid-life crisis, the only time I performed anything that could be, even by the shakiest of definitions, was on a rainy day to my very patient grandparents. Man, what love and patience they had. I think I may have done a torn and restored cigarette paper trick and “Thieves and Sheep,” but what else I submitted them to is lost to my memory.

My first trip to an actual magic shop was in high school when my friend, Kad Day, took me with him to Gibbol’s in St. Louis. I ended up with a couple of sponge ball tricks and my first Hot Rod. The store magician, Bob Cole, was great in getting me excited in the little bit of sleight of hand that he showed me, but distance to St. Louis kept me from getting too caught up (not to mention all the hormones that ruled my life, then). Being involved with theater, there were plenty of other things to provide that rush that comes with performing on stage, so theater also took the foreground.

And so, despite the number of times I told myself I should make a trip to Gibbol’s and revisit that rush of learning some new (to me) magic, I didn’t go back for many years.

I’ll end this little overview here and continue in the next post. I should get a bit more to the point of where my intent is to go with this blog then. Yeah, I know that you should put the thesis statement in the beginning, and I have done that to a certain extent, but maybe it’ll be a bit clearer then.