Currently, one of the biggest and most exclusive events in close-up magic is going on, and that is Fechter’s Finger Flicking Frolic. It’s an invitation-only event, and it draws magicians from around the world. Magicians only, spouses and companions are not allowed. Yeah, someday I’ll make it there, and when I do, I look forward to raising a pint with some of the friends I’ve met along this road, and Boris (www.boriswild.com) is chief among those I look forward to seeing there. This video was shot there in 2011 and in it, he does his “ACAAB (Any Card at Any Birthday)” routine.
I had posted this on Facebook before I started this blog, but oddly enough, Boris Wild’s (www.boriswild.com) “The Butterfly Act,” was my first Daily Dose post (jasonstackmagician.com/?p=37). “The Butterfly Act” is a small vignette that depicts loss, albeit in a beautiful way, but “The Kiss Act,” which Boris won a FISM award for in Close-Up magic, depicts love in its earliest stages. Currently, one of my mentors in life is struggling in an ICU, and I’ve been to sit with him and his wife, another of my mentors and a second mother to me. The two of them have been models to me of a beautiful relationship and marriage, and after 30 years of being married, even though their love has always been deep, it has always seemed to be constantly renewing, which brought this to mind for tonight’s post. The act is to George Michael’s cover of Stevie Wonder’s “They Won’t Go When I Go” and is about new love. Doc and Lex, my deepest love and thanks to you for all you’ve shown and brought into my life.
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.
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.
Yesterday, I posted a link on Facebook to Boris Wild’s “Kiss,” and today’s DDoM is the sequel he developed, revisiting the relationship some years after the that joy of a first kiss. This is a bit darker, but, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful pieces of magic I’ve seen.
I’ve now been to a number of magic lectures, today’s being with Shawn Farquhar, and it has me thinking about what people intend to get out the lectures they go to.
Now, admittedly, I haven’t been to as many as a lot of the people involved in the magic scene have been to, and I don’t know what percentage of magicians, hobbyists, pros, or semi-pros, intend to get out of the lectures. I know for some people, if the lecturer isn’t selling a bunch of stuff, then they feel let down. There are an awful lot of magicians out there that are looking for that new trick being demonstrated that they can feel is a reputation maker. Some people are just collectors with hoards of stuff they’ve bought and the lecture is more or less a demonstration. I get that, but because I need to focus on learning and becoming proficient with the fundamentals. Maybe someday, I’ll buy more stuff at the lectures, but to me, I appreciate more than a demo show. In fact, one lecture I saw a number of months ago, I know I felt like it was lame because it seemed like mainly a sales pitch for a lot of gimmicks and was thoroughly unimpressed while some of the others, who walked out with loads of stuff, thought it was the best lecture they had ever seen. To this date, though, there are four lectures I’ve seen that stuck with me, and I’ll discuss why.
The first one on my list was with Ice McDonald (http://www.ice.mcdonald.net). In his lecture, he seemed to know his audience was mainly hobbyists or people wanting to break out and start really performing. He had stuff to sell, but mainly, for me, it was like a tent-revival encouraging magicians to perfect their craft and get out there and perform. Man, did that message sink in for me. Yeah, he sold some stuff, but what impressed me a bit later was watching Silly Jilly (http://www.sillyjilly.com) take something Ice had taught and sold and adapt it to her kids show. She combined elements from other tricks and came up with something that stuck with the kids. Ice’s routine wasn’t for kids. Not that it was inappropriate or anything, it just would have been lost on them, but Jill’s spin on it was what makes the trick work for her. Jill’s already a serious working performer, so I don’t know how much inspiration she got from the lecture other than the routine, but I know I came out wanting to perform even more than before.
Boris Wild (http://www.boriswild.com) is the next lecturer I want to discuss. To me, Boris is a true artist in magic and one of the nicest people I’ve met in this field. (All things considered, though, of the people I’ve had the privilege to meet in magic, most of them have been really kind, but Boris stands out.) In the notes for one of his past lectures, in the forward he states,
“…I am sure your closets at home are packed with props, books and DVDs you probably
have not had the time to study yet. So you already have a lot to play with. This is why I
would rather focus here on something other than tricks. I would rather focus on things
that professional magicians often keep to themselves and very rarely reveal to the magic community.”
That lecture was called “Creativity & Impact,” and even though that was not the lecture I saw, there was an awful lot of that attitude with what he taught. He sold only one gimmick, but what he showed us was how versatile that particular gimmick could be. What he encouraged was to take it and play with it. Jam with it and find new ways of making it work for you. It wasn’t a matter of letting the gimmick be the trick but rather and instrument for magic to be played on. Now, Boris’ talent and skill is insanely good and has one him awards and a hell of a lot of respect in the magic community, but it was the encouragement of taking this tool and playing with it to constantly come up with something new that was inspiring to me. Boris is one of my inspirations to going back and hammering out the fundamentals so I might be able to see the possibilities with educated eyes.
Shawn Farquhar’s lecture today (http://magichampion.com) was similar in some ways to Boris’. Shawn went through a lot of tricks and routines, but even more to the point, he strongly promoted the attitude of working and being creative with the gimmicks, utility moves, and concepts. The man has explored all the angles and is always delving into more. He didn’t discuss or show anything without going through additional concepts and applications. As you can see, I like the idea that Alton Brown promoted in his show, “Good Eats,” of avoiding uni-taskers as much as possible. Shawn is constantly inventing and building on tricks, whether he is the originator or it started out as someone else’s. It’s the joy of taking something known and turning it on its ear so that you’re constantly creating. It’s the joy of creation in addition to performing.
Finally, we get to Levent. (http://www.leventmagic.com) Levent, in addition to being an amazing magician and performer, is one of the best researchers into the history of effects. For me, I was completely sucked in to his lecture when he started an in-depth discussion of the Linking Rings, which have become my personal favorite piece of magic to perform, whether I’m performing for myself or for other people. When he gets into a piece of magic, it’s full immersion. He just recently released a 7 ½ hour four DVD set just on the rings, and it’s on my wishlist. What he has inspired in me is the desire to research what has been done with a particular routine to find out what has been done so that I can make something new from the pieces.
I’m still a student tracing drawings until I learn enough to draw freehand, but I can see the beauty and art that will be available to me once I’ve put in the time, whether it’s in performance or skill.
Man, I love this gig.