I first became aware of this thanks to Pop Haydn mentioning it in a video lecture, and it’s been on deck for a while. Brother Paul’s (www.brotherpaulmagic.com) “Stupid Bean Trick” is one of those absurdities that is just fun to watch. It gives nothing away to where he’s going with the trick, and his characterization is just great. This one really is a gem.
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.
There are very few magicians with the brilliant comedic timing of the late Billy McComb (1922-2006). Watching especially the second clip in this post, I’ve had tears from laughing at the dialogue and his magic is brilliant. Even for knowing the methods involved, his act takes you in and even throws in a few sucker moves so you just don’t know where he’s going to go with his act. And really, when an begins with the line, “I’m wanna speed this along because it’s rice pudding night at the home…” you know you’re going to see something special. Thanks to Pop Haydn for the second link, which is Billy’s act at the Magic Castle. I’ve posted the first link, also, because even though the routine is part of the act in the second, the sound quality is quite a bit better. Do yourself a favor, though, and watch both.
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!
Johnny Thompson (www.tomsoni.com) is one of the contemporary greats in the world of magic. He officially retired at Magic Live! last year, but his legacy is great. He’s influence and been adviser to Penn & Teller, David Blaine, Criss Angel and many others. Some of his effects are in the Smithsonian. One stage, he’s both charming and hysterical, and in interviews and in person, warm with fans and compeers. This video is from an HBO Special from 1977 and his wife and partner, Pamela Hayes, is part of what sets his act apart from so many others.
Jay Marshall (1919-2005) was considered “The Dean of American Magicians.” He was beloved by his peers and is held in high esteem, still, in the magic community. Sit around a group of magicians talking long enough, and his name will inevitably come up. I took out my Chinese Sticks routine because I wasn’t happy with it (I was inspired to do them after watching footage of Roy Benson’s routine), but after watching Jay’s, I think I’m going t o have to put them back in after I revisit and adjust my script a bit. Needless to say, Jay’s charm shines through in this.
Wayne Dobson (www.waynedobson.co.uk) is a master of entertaining people with his show. He suffers from MS and currently, when he performs, he performs from a wheelchair with limited mobility and use f his arms. Still, he persona and skill in working with an audience gives a top-notch show. This clip is from earlier in his career, and even though he does a couple of standard routines, his presentation puts these at the top of any “must see” list.