Tag Archives: Assembly 8

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

Holiday Festival of Magic presented by the Society of American Magicians Assembly 8

For those of you wanting to take a break from your holiday shopping for a good evening of magic, come watch this year’s Holiday Festival of Magic at 7pm on Saturday, 30NOV2013, at the Mount Tabor United Church of Christ, located 6520 Arsenal St here, in St. Louis. Doors open at 6pm, and pre-show entertainment of close-up magic will warm up the crowd for a great evening’s fun. Performers will include Harry Monti (straight from performing for his 50th year at The Magic Castle), Steve Barcellona (stevebarcellona.com), Greg Lewis, Steve Corbett (www.stevecorbitt.com), Dan Todd (thegreattodd.com) and many more! I might have to wear my red fur suit for the occasion! You can contact me via Facebook or this blog for tickets (Adults $10, Children $5), any other members of Assembly 8 you might know, or purchase them online via PayPal at the site linked below or at the door.

SAM Assembly 8 Holiday Festival of Magic

Festival Poster

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

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