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.
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.
Noted magician and barber, Dean Dill (www.deandill.com), was a frequent visitor to Johnny Carson’s house to work on coin and card tricks with Johnny for years before Johnny convinced him to go on the show, and that probably wouldn’t have happened had Johnny not announced his retirement. I just recently watched an interview with Dean at Reel Magic Magazine (www.reelmagicmagazine.com – subscription required) and just generally liked his easy-going and casual manner. I love watching Matrix routines, and Dean’s is a killer in this clip.
Well, today was my first day out busking in St. Louis for 2014, and though I might have not reached some personal goals I had set for the outing, I’m not complaining.
Needless to say, though, my anxiety was running pretty high leading up to the show. There have been a few weekends so far that would have been good to work during, because of work, illness, and other prior commitments, I wasn’t able to go out. Knowing that this weekend will be too cold to be able to keep a crowd, I knew I had to go out today after I left the day job early.
And I have been nervous as hell about going out. Even though I’ve been out before, enough time has passed since my last venture out that all sorts of fears (rational and irrational) piled up. I really have been losing sleep over this, going over the act over and over in my head. And really, I’ve only added one new bit to the act since I was doing it last year and in other outings for the local clubs, I’ve been able to keep trying some new bits of patter to see what might work or not. I was getting pretty OCD about it all by the time I was hitting the door to head to Delmar. Yeah, despite the number of checks of my case, I still had to check it one more time while standing at the van before I finally was able to drive off.
I chose Delmar because of the amount of foot traffic and the fact that it was a typically pleasant to work last year. I was hoping to get the same spot I was working last year, but a couple of guitarists (not bad, by the way) were snagging it as I did a drive up and down Delmar to scope out the Friday late afternoon scene. The pickings were pretty ugly as far as pitches were concerned, so I ended up settling on a few that I hoped were the least of the evils.
Once I parked and was walking, I noticed that the wind was kinda heavy. Didn’t know if it would be a deal breaker, I just knew I didn’t want to do things so that I was chasing a sponge ball or two that were blown down the street. I also knew I needed this outing to happen because I was seriously tempted to chicken out.
I set up in the pitch I selected, which was on the corner to a parking garage across from the Tivoli theater. Foot traffic looked pretty good, but once I got going, I realized how bad the spot was. More on that in a bit.
The first group I got to stop was a pair of teenage couples. The guys stopped immediately and wanted to see what I was going to do with the Linking Rings, and the women suddenly became interested as soon as the clanking began. One of the women started out naysaying with the words, “It’s an illusion,” but I was able to still get a “Wait! How’d you do that?” out of her. By the end of the rings, I had also built the crowd up a bit. I zeroed in on my early naysayer and did my sponge ball routine with her, and had her attention. I then used a thirty-something couple to help me with the Ropes Through the Neck routine, and the look on the wife’s face was what I was hoping for. She really didn’t want to pull on the ropes and strangle me. Bless her! After that, though, the crowd broke up immediately before I could finish with my Rocky Raccoon routine. Dammit!
No problem, though. I took a moment to reset the act and stopped another group of girls who enjoyed the rings, but took off. Which led me to the best group of the day.
Okay, first off, when the hell did I get old enough that I can’t tell if a group of girls is high school aged or college aged? I remember this happening to adults older than me as I was growing up and always thinking, “Well, duh. It’s obvious.” Sigh.
Anyway, I stopped a group of about six young women and had then fighting over the chain of three rings trying to figure out where the “soft spot” was. That was worth the moment by itself, but getting the screams of “Oh my GOD!” with the sponge balls, followed by “Okay! Do that trick on me next!” kinda had my personal magic bug in heaven. When I passed out the ropes for examination, both of the volunteers were afraid to touch them because they were afraid they were going to turn into something. I love this gig. Once I had the knot tied in the ropes and they saw where this was going, they were pretty much terrified. This group (plus the additional people that gathered) was the only one that saw the Rocky routine, and by the time Rocky revealed the selected card, we were all having a good time. It was the only group that saw the full set, but I’ll explain some of the issues I need to learn to either deal with or avoid in the future.
Okay, the sidewalk I was working on was a bit shallow for me as far as crowd control. If the crowd got too big, I had possible safety issues pushing people into the street just trying to get enough space to link the ring I was holding to the one being held by a helper, let alone leaving enough room for others not watching to pass by the act. It’s one thing to have a horseshoe group around you, but when there’s not even enough space for a full arm’s length around, it’s something I’m going to have to learn to work with. Let’s just say, if anything relies on angles, you’ve got a tough row to hoe. Also, with people passing by so closely, it keeps the group constantly shifting and not as stable as I’d like, so I really need to work hard on my crowd management in addition to pitch selection.
With these factors going on, even though I was doing some decent magic, I was dropping a lot as far as patter because I was also distracted. That didn’t help, so I’m going to have to put a good amount of time under my belt to get comfortable with all those issues.
All in all, I didn’t make any money, and my performance goal of at least ten sets didn’t quite happen. In the time I was out there, I ended up doing the rings twelve times, the sponge balls seven, the ropes four, and Rocky once. I ended up blowing off the pitch after an hour and fifteen minutes, because with the tough pitch and my level of experience, it probably was going to get far more frustrating without getting better.
In all, though, it felt good to be back out there. I think this outing was just to get back out there and get the nerves settled. The people were, in general, good to work with, and I’m looking forward to more and getting better with the tasks and challenges ahead. Yeah, a lot of irrational fears leading up to getting out there, but that should be far more diminished next time (which, if the weather forecast is right, won’t be for another couple of weeks). I don’t know where I’ll hit next, but I have some other locations in mind.
Two last things: Levent’s advice to me to get the rings into the spectators’ hands is the best advice I’ve gotten on the rings. I had to rework my routine from what it started out as to make it happen with some of the routining I really didn’t want to drop, but as it worked for the kids’ performances, it worked doubly so for busking.
Secondly, there’s a special place in my heart for the chemically-altered guy that was dogging me after one of the groups dissolved. Sorry, but I just couldn’t bring myself to show him “how to hide stuff so the cops can’t find it.” He just really knew I could help him out.
One of my earliest Daily Doses was of Gazzo (www.gazzoshow.com) doing his Cups and Balls routine on Penn & Teller’s “Fool Us.” (jasonstackmagician.com/?p=145) Considering today was the first day I’ve gone out busking in 2014, I thought I would revisit Gazzo’s routine, but this time in its most natural habitat, the streets where Gazzo performs. In this performance, which is a lot longer than the “Fool Us” version, you get to see all the interaction he does with the crowd. In the pantheon of busking magicians, Gazzo really is one of our patron saints.
Richard Turner (richardturner52.com) is a wonder when it comes to card cheats and manipulations. At the top of his class, it’s even more impressive when you consider he’s been blind since he had scarlet fever at age nine. In addition to being one of the world’s foremost card sharps and card magicians, Master Turner earned the ranking of Sixth Degree Black Belt in the Wa Do Kai karate, which just further demonstrates how amazing he is. A documentary is in the works about Richard called “Dealt,” and information about it can be found on his website and at http://dealtmovie.com. This video demonstration was shot with his wife, Kim, and his son, Asa, assisting him and I found it on Asa’s YouTube channel.
Polish magician Tomasz Chelminski (1929-2006) was better known by the name of Salvano and was noted for his smooth style. When you watch this video of his take on the Multiplying Billiard Balls, it’s evident why he had that reputation. This performance is simply beautiful. Even knowing the moves and techniques, it’s difficult not to get lost in the execution of such a great act.
As I start getting excited for the warm weather to get here in St. Louis again so I can start busking, I’m drawn to these sorts of acts. Close-up with the crowd right there in your face. Waving a knife around might not be the best idea for me, but Bob Sheets (www.bobsheets.com) keeps the crowd rolling in this Card Stab routine.
Bob Sheets (www.bobsheets.com) is one of the rare breed that comes from experience in circus, sideshow, trade show, bar magic, festival, and street performance. Man, his manner, patter and crowd handling is the type of performance I really dig and pretty much aspire to. His recent DVD of a “boot camp” course in the Three Shell Game will probably become a new standard in teaching a routine until it is drilled in as second nature. This video, though, is of him doing a Cups and Balls routine, and what sets it apart from most performances is how he is working not only closely surrounded, but also has members of the crowd (in this case, kids) involved and working with him. The magic community knows Bob Sheets’ name, and everybody who is into life performance should, too.
OK, it may be a serious misnomer calling it the Spring Parade of Magic, but a great show of magic performances will be held on Saturday February 15, 2014 at the Kirkwood Community Center, located at 111 S Geyer Rd, Kirkwood, MO. Show times 2 and 7 pm, but when the doors open an hour before showtimes, close-up magic will be performed in the lobby. I’ll be part of the lobby close-up team, along with my friend Cameron Jones (the youngest magician in Ring 1) and the great Harry Monti. Main stage performers will be Terry Richison (magicofterryrich.com), Steve Barcellona (stevebarcellona.com), Marty Kopp (martinkopp.com), and Mike Niehaus (mikeniehaus.com), and the show emcee will be the IBM International President, Bill Evans. Admission is $10.00 for adults and $5.00 for children.