I’m a bit remiss in the fact that, in addition to not posting much, lately, I’ve also shared only one Tommy Wonder video until now. This video, and the other I have posted, are taken from the video collection “Visions of Wonder,” which is a great demonstration of the skill and presentation Tommy brought to the craft. His book set, “The Books of Wonder,” should be a staple in any magicians library for the theory he presents as much as the tricks and routines he documents. This routine is one of his takes on the classic plot of Coins Across. Tommy’s contributions to the magic community are numerous, and the legacy he left is something that is almost more miraculous when you see what goes on behind each routine as much as when you’ve no idea how he did it.
After yesterday’s Daily Dose featured Ice McDonald, it’s time to link you to another Shawn Farquhar (www.magichampion.com) video that he just posted to his YouTube channel last week. I’ve linked to a couple of his videos before (here and here), and he’s always someone to watch. The fun part of this video is that it was done while goofing around with the Vancouver IBM Ring #92 (The Vancouver Magic Circle) at a restaurant. It’s one more demonstration of how you never know what to expect when Shawn’s involved.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This Friday, July 11, is Maplewood’s tribute to Bastille Day. From 6pm until later into the evening, I’ll be performing the section of Sutton Blvd. Maplewood has blocked off for the occasion (between Marietta and Hazel). Doing my busking routine and bringing my brand of stoopid and magic to the festivities. Looking at the list of entertainment, it looks like it should be a great party atmosphere for everybody who comes out. Hi Tadah, the top spinner I really dug at Fringe Fest will also be performing, so I’m digging on that. Check out the information for Let Them Eat Art at http://www.cityofmaplewood.com/index.aspx?NID=147. Admittedly, in the Entertainers section, the write-up they culled for me is a little disjointed (I’m going to have to put together a stock one so that is a little clearer for future events) and the picture they used is of Gazzo (Damn, I wish I was at his level!) but I will be there. I hope to see you all there, too!
Once I got confirmed for this show, I was a bit concerned that I wouldn’t have anybody watching. Outdoor festival, Sunday afternoon, 4:30 pm. I was less worried about the show going well than I was about anybody being there to see it. A dear friend of mine was in the area, and where I had hoped that she would be able to make it, it was the same time and day as her parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary party. (Which, had I known about earlier, I would have been at. Again, Happy 50th, Tom and Linda, and thanks for being one of my sets of surrogate parents during high school.)
I had thought about publicizing the show a bit more than just the week before on my blog and on Facebook , LinkedIn, and Twitter, but I couldn’t come up with a flyer I liked. I had tried for something more like black and white punk show flyers that I collected from college campuses, either from local bands I liked or just because I dug the artwork so much, but I really couldn’t come up with something I liked. Plus, knowing this was mainly a free show, I didn’t want to try to bum decent artwork from some of my more artistic friends. I had one friend in mind that probably would have come up with something perfect, but I value his artistic ability too much to have done that. As this was to be street performance done a little bigger, though, Ben’s artistic direction on a flyer would have been perfect. Maybe next time.
Anyway, I pretty much just settled on word of mouth and the little bit of publicity.
I worked through my routine, and where they wanted about a 45 minute show, I had everything timed to about 38 minutes, and, knowing that there would be a lot of additional patter as I played with the crowd (see, I’m still working under the assumption there will be a crowd), I figured I was in a good safe zone for time.
A couple of days before, I got an email from the organizer for the street performers, and she gave the alternate plans in case there was rain. We’d move the stage to across the street from the park. Not a problem.
I had planned to busk during Saturday, but when I got to the park and saw the arrangement, it wasn’t going to work. The park was crammed, with displays, and to try to get a small circle show was not going to happen. The heat and humidity had people pretty much sitting watching the main stage and there was only one busker working, To Yo, a top spinner. I did get to see what the staging situation would be, though, watched Martin Bronson from Tapmen Productions tap dance on the stage, and got to watch To Yo performing some seriously cool top spinning.
Okay, getting into Sunday, I got a call in the morning about everything being moved into the church because of rain. No worries. Posted the update to Facebook, and settled in to relax before final prep for the show. When time came, packed the act and the wife and away we went. Once we got to the park, checked in and was told we were back outside, so another update.
Not many people in the park and most of the vendors had packed up. The act before me had to end really early. It was another tap dancing group, but they hadn’t brought their own surface to dance on, and the stage had started to tear their shoes apart. I was told I could start whenever I wanted (to get ahead of any possible rain), but as I had advertised it was at 4:30, so if anybody I knew was going to show, I wanted them to see the entire act. I was approached by a couple of little girls (who I later found out were named Mikayla and Torrence) who asked if they could help me in the act, and I assured them they would, so at least I knew I was going to have two helpers for the show.
Okay, now, I could go over the routines I did, but I’ll now just focus on some personal observations of the show.
It did go well. For the crowd I started out with, about 15 people, it doubled by the time I had gotten into the third routine, so I must have been doing something right. People who started out watching from the sidelines ended up moving into the seats to settle down and enjoy the show. Not a big crowd, but it was a majority of the people who were left in the park at that point, so I’ll take that as a win.
I was loathe to throw in a Mis-made Flag routine because in general, I tend to feel that it’s kinda overdone. Also, the local Ronald McDonald does it in his act, so it’s always a fear of reproducing routines that everybody has seen before. I say this, even though I open with my Linking Rings routine, but at least that bit of manipulation (with origins in Al Schneider’s routine, but changed over and over with influences by Harry Monti, Levent, Jimmy Talksalot, and Dick Stoner) is my own. Oddly enough, though, the Mis-made Flag was my wife’s favorite routine I did. Okay. For something that, honestly, I really only put in there to pad for time, it worked well.
The patter, in general, worked really well. I’ll be the first to admit, I try to pull out as many laughs as I can. I had a crowd that was all-ages, and from the littlest kids to the oldest adults, everybody there seemed to be laughing and having a good time. Another personal victory.
A downside I’m looking at, and I’m still wondering a bit about it and how I want to fix it, is I seem to play the “Magician in Trouble” plot in a large percentage in my routine. For any of the laypeople reading this, that’s a case where the trick doesn’t seem to be working for me, but it works out in the end to big laughs. Off the top of my head, four of my routines use this plot in some way. Now, usually it’s used to get laughs and a bigger response as I capitalize on it throughout the routine, but maybe four is too many. I still don’t know. Hell, Tommy Cooper made a career out of bumbling through his routines, most often failing, and was hysterical in doing it. Check the links in the Tommy Cooper tags in this blog or even search YouTube for him to see what I mean. I’m still wondering about this, so it’s a consideration.
I had timed the act for 37 minutes, thinking that I take even more time with playing with the audience. As it was, the entire act ran in about 30 minutes. It reminded me of when I was in rock bands lo so many years ago and we would blast through our set in performance in almost half the time we had timed ourselves at while rehearsing. I’m sure this will settle as more shows develop, but wow. I didn’t cut or leave anything out, so yeah, I blazed through it. As it was, I think that it was probably the right length, so there’s that.
Finally, the last routine I did, my finale with a spring rabbit named Reggie, failed. He got the chosen card wrong. Now, I played with the audience and had them with me until the very end, but damn, that scenario happened. The routine failed. I had gone over and over in my head about how I would end the routine if that happened. I was pretty certain it would work, though. It’s not failed before, but there’s always that first time. For all my contingency planning, my solution was not even close to anything that had been considered before. If I had a Tommy Cooper moment, that was it. Even with the failure, though, the routine got big laughs and it didn’t detract from the show at all. This time around, the magician really was in trouble, but the overall payoff was still pretty good. May not have been the routine ending I wanted, but that’s all right.
In general, it was a good show. For a late Sunday afternoon festival show, I had a better audience than I had feared I’d have, and my two young assistants that had approached me earlier gave me watercolor paintings they had done earlier. The sound guy who had worked the entire festival seemed to have a good time, and I figure he would have been one of the toughest sells, but once I got started, because I wasn’t using the PA, he sat down in the middle of the audience and laughed along with us.
Again, for all the laughs, I don’t think anybody had a better time of it than I did, but because they were laughing and having a good time along with me, I definitely will chalk it up as a win.
For anybody who may have planned on coming out to see my show today, because of the weather, the show has been moved across the street from Strauss Park to Third Baptist Church at 620 N. Grand. The church is catty-corner to the Fox Theater, so if you know where the Fox is, finding the church shouldn’t be that hard. I will be performing at 4:30 it’s a free performance, magic, and laughs.
This weekend, June 21 and 22, I will be performing at the St. Louis Fringe Festival. I have a family event to attend Saturday morning/early afternoon, so I won’t start doing my busking act at the festival until probably around 4 pm until whenever I feel I’ve run my course with it or the evening festivities wind down. (Hey, it’s busking. I can make my own schedule on this.) Sunday, I will be performing a 45 minute show on the Street Fringe stage they have set up in Strauss Park at 4:30 pm. According to the notice I received, “In the case of rain all Street Fringe performances will be moved to Third Baptist Church at 620 N. Grand.” That’s across the street from Strauss Park. They have a lot of acts going on, some in theaters, and a lot going on in the Street Fringe area. Theater shows have ticket prices attached to them, but the street stuff is all free. As I’m busking, yeah, I’ll hat whatever crowd stops to enjoy the show, but it’s all up to you if you want to pay. Kind words are payment enough, but money is always welcome. It’ll be hot out (if not wet), but it will be a good time. More information on the St. Louis Fringe Festival can be found at http://stlfringe.com. Everybody who can is invited and welcome to come on out and enjoy the stoopid!
I’ve gone back and forth as to whether or not to go to the Don England (www.dmksingle.com) Night Before Workshop that is happening in Springfield, IL at the 2014 Central Illinois Magic Get-together (www.cimgt.org). I started going through articles and YouTube videos, and man, I’m sorry I hesitated. He’ll be lecturing at the convention, but the chance to do a workshop with him in a relaxed and casual atmosphere seems like a good learning opportunity. Of the stuff I read and watched, this was the trick that amused me the most. The videos are all close-up without really any audience involvement (I tend to want to see audience reactions), but getting the feeling of “this is really cool” sold me on wanting to spend more time learning from Don. Most magicians are familiar with a trick called “Card Warp,” but this takes a similar plot and turns it on its ear.