Tag Archives: Experience

Experience Review – St. Louis Fringe Fest Performance, 24JUN2014

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.

Mikayla thoroughly unimpressed by the two sponge balls trading places in our hands

Mikayla thoroughly unimpressed by the two sponge balls trading places in our hands

My assistants, Shannon and Torrence, getting ready to strangle me

My assistants, Shannon and Torrence, getting ready to strangle me

Stupid rabbit

Stupid rabbit

My lovely assistants, Mikayla and Torrence, getting a photo with me after the show show

My lovely assistants, Mikayla and Torrence, getting a photo with me after the show show

Performing and Entertaining for Good Friends at a Hard Time

A couple of months ago, a dear friend and personal mentor of mine, Dr. James A. Weigel (“Doc,” to us), passed away. For me, he and his wife, Lex, were the ones that helped push me to try new things and opened me up to life. I learned how to cook in their kitchen. I learned more about appreciating music in discussions with Doc. I learned what I do know about plants from Lex. She taught me to crochet and the basic fundamentals of tatting. Through watching their interactions and how they played together, I found the model for a relationship that has been the standard that I hold up to all relationships, whether my own or watching someone else’s. At one point, when I was in college, my mom was calling Lex to find out how I was doing, knowing that I had probably seen them when I wasn’t coming home to visit my family. So yeah, when Doc passed, I agree with my friend Angie that the world became a little less bright.

We didn’t have a funeral for Doc, although this past weekend we had a celebration of Doc’s life on his birthday weekend. His birthday is also my wife’s and his step-daughter, Jesse (who will always be my First Wife due to our roles in the first play we did together in high school), had hers on the following day. So, even though two with us were celebrating their birthdays, we were there the night before Doc’s celebration to help Lex keep it all together. Our group was made up of Lex, Doc’s daughter, Jen, Jesse, his son-in-law, my wife, and a group of us who were good friends with one or all through grade school and high school. A lot of tears were shed, and a lot of reconnecting across years and miles. It was declared a No Math Weekend, meaning we weren’t going to discuss “how long it’s been.”

After several drinks, lots of conversations, and a toast or two, while we were in discussions flying around Lex’s living room, I got up to talk to Jen without having to shout across the room. For all the noise, as soon as I was standing next to Jen, the damn room went silent. That’s when Chuck, who has seen my act more times than any other human (poor sod), pipes up with, “Hey, Stack! It looks like a stage to me. Time for some magic.” Yeah, either Chuck was trying to goad me, or he knew I would have my Case of Stoopid with me. All things considered, Chuck knows me better than most. We’ve been friends since high school and he was my Best Man at my wedding and probably knows me better than anybody other than my wife. So, after finishing my discussion with Jen, it was time to head out to my van to grab the gear.

Of course, this is where personal frustration occurred. I looked through everything to get myself set up for the act and found the final prop to my Reggie routine missing. As I’m still having way too much fun with him and look to build his bit up, I was really jonesing to see their reactions. Going through my mind, I realized the final prop was still in my jacket from the Children’s Hospital gig from a couple of days before, which was back at home. A few words were muttered in frustration seeing how I had every other prop and made the assumption that it was there, too. (Yeah, I know about assumptions, don’t remind me. Sigh.) So, now I had the set list in my head. Pretty much my standard from last year, which is only different from this year’s because it’s before I added Reggie to the mix, and I went in and set up to go.

Playing to a room full of friends was one of the best experiences I’ve had since I got into this whole mess. Because we were all adults and knew each other, I was able to play and tease with abandon. The usual rules of keeping it completely family friendly were out the window. Not that I really work blue or anything, but to be able to play with whatever lines come to my mind that might get a laugh was great. Seriously, when my mouth is allowed to run unfettered, I have way too much fun. I never want to offend or hurt someone’s feelings, that’s not what I’m into, but I’ve always loved the concept of the court jesters that can say whatever their wit moves them to say, so cheers to Hopfrog and Tyrion in that!

OK, so the act for the night was Linking Rings, Sponge Balls, an Invisible Deck routine (threw that one in on the spot), and finished with Ropes Through the Neck.

As per usual, the rings got me into my groove. Ya know, it was a first of flubs for me. I dropped a ring during a crash link. Never done that before. Hmmm. Something new every routine. Summar, who was holding the link I was crashing to, is a preacher’s wife, so I played a little with that. After that, the routine went through without a hitch and I felt nicely warmed up.

Time for the Sponge Balls. Jen, who is the human who has seen my routine just shy of the number of times Chuck has, has told me that that is her favorite routine, so I brought her in to assist on that. OK, upside, I got her into her favorite bit; downside, she knew what was coming in the routine, so I didn’t get the OMG reaction from her that I would if I used someone fresh to my stoopid. Still, it felt right bringing her in, so even though I didn’t get the strongest reaction, it was right for the moment.

I felt like I needed to throw in something that Chuck and Jen hadn’t seen me do, so I decided to throw in my Invisible Deck routine. OK, once again, it was a lesson to not do something that you haven’t practiced recently. I keep a deck in my case out of habit. Yep, Chuck saw a second card turned upside down, but ti still didn’t take away from the fun we had doing the trick. I’ll have to woodshed that a bit more, though. I know enough guys who keep it as a staple, and maybe I should follow suit a bit on that. At least when Karen revealed her card, it was the card she called out. So all went well in the end and the laughs and reactions were still going strong.

Now we’re up to the finale. I pulled in Jesse and Lex to help me with the Ropes Through the Neck. OK, I mentioned that Lex was the one who taught me to crochet and tat. Let’s just say, she was burning my hands more than anybody else ever has. Pretty sure that she still doesn’t know what I did, but I had a moment of minor panic, then laughter, when she said “I know you did something. I KNOW string!” Yeah, I’ll show her what I did some time. She’s earned that in my book. Hell, when it’s all said and done, even though the move is from Harry Monti, who is my personal hero when it comes to magic, I won’t be surprised if she comes up with something better. Seriously, when she says she knows string, she’s more qualified than most that might make that claim.

All things considered, it might have not been the smoothest performance I’ve ever given, but I think it was easily the most fun I’ve ever had performing. See, I performed for friends that my heart was already swelling with love for in a house that has always been a symbol of love and creativity for me. If I was ever to try to explain Doc and Lex’s home, I would refer people to the house in “You Can’t Take It with You.”

Yeah, I’m annoyed that Reggie didn’t get to do his thing that night, but if I have any real regret, it’s that Doc wasn’t there to see it. I know that we would have had a great discussion about it afterwards. His mentoring always pushed me to try when it came to doing something. His love of the performing arts infected me and he got to me to look into the beauty of different arts that I would not have looked at otherwise. If I had time to come and show him what I was doing since I got into performing magic, it was usually taken away with illnesses around me that I wasn’t willing to expose him to.

In most of the tricks I do or am working on, I have somebody in mind that I think about when I do them. It’s that little, personal dedication that means more to me than it would to anybody else. As I’ve been working on the Multiplying Billiards, I’ve realized that’s his trick to me. I’m still not ready to show it, but if anybody who reads this blog sees me do it, that’s the Trick for Doc. Songwriters and writers dedicate all the time and I do in my own medium, such as it is. When I do the balls, though, it will be keeping in mind that, even though he’s with me only in my heart, I’m trying to get the best reaction from him.

Doc, I raise my glass of brandy in toast to you. Thank you for everything in this world you opened my eyes to. Dammit, I miss you.

My mentor, Doc, to whom I owe so much to in experiencing life and all its richness

My mentor, Doc, to whom I owe so much to in experiencing life and all its richness. This is the sort of goofiness that sums up the joy that he helped me to see.

Personal Performance Review Notes – Shriners Children’s Hospital , St. Louis 15JAN2014 and Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Family Fun Day, 26JAN2014

Admittedly, both of these shows were two different types of shows, but in both cases, I learned quite a bit about my act from each show.

Starting with the Children’s Hospital show, I prepped beforehand to keep my act to 12-15 minutes with additional stuff on deck in case I needed to fill a time gap. I kind of learned this from prior experiences, but considering I was performing with Terry Richison, who I highly respect and gotten great advice from.  This time around, my act was scaled back to the Linking Rings, my sponge ball routine, and my Reggie the Rabbit routine.

I’ve been reworking my Linking Rings during the winter months, and I have to admit that watching Dick Stoner’s routine, I had some ideas on more that I wanted to do. It helps that Dick’s routine is not a silent act, which is a break from most versions I see. For the little bit that I had added, it looked like I had a positive response. As opposed to before, because I’m in close enough quarters with my audience, having them handle the rings is not a problem. The only thing that I might want to work on is getting the people more to the front. Don’t know why I did it, but I worked with what I think were a mother and daughter who were at the extreme stage left of the crowd. It’s definitely something I need to work a bit on. In my typical half-circle show, it’s not a problem, but when I’m dealing with an audience where half the group is in wheelchairs or traction frame, it’s something to consider. As I’m working on taking my act to retirement homes, that’s a serious consideration.

My sponge ball routine got the reactions that I love to get, but I need to work on it a bit more, just for my own personal benefit. I want to expand it a bit more but in a way that will translate well whether I’m on stage or busking. I’m back into a bit of research mode, I think, but more will be added when I’m ready.

And now we get to Reggie the Rabbit. Everything technically went well, but I’m going to listen to some of the notes I got from Terry on it. First, I need to remember to display the empty production box more visibly so it’s clearer that the box is empty. Next, in handling Reggie, I need to work on my handling him so I don’t unconsciously handle him the neck (oops) and look like I’m strangling the poor puppet rabbit. I didn’t realize I was doing that, and those unconscious moments are the ones that it’s always good to get feedback on.

Finally, in the other trips I’ve made to the hospital, we’ve never put much of a focus on teaching magic. When David Copperfield put out the guidelines for doing Project Magic, that was to be a focus considering part of this is learning magic as therapy. I think the Impossible Knot that Terry taught was a bit over their heads, but then again, it pushed them in learning the manipulation, so that was probably part of the point. When I go out to the hospital again in April, this is certainly something I’ll keep in mind.

Now, to yesterday’s performances at the JDRF Family Fun Day.

I ended up basically doing what would be a busking grind act, the only difference was, if I didn’t have a crowd, I would reset my show and try to get a group before starting again. I think with busking, there is so much involved with patter and rhythm that it took me about 45 minutes before I felt like I was in the flow of things. It was also at that point that the crowd became a steady flow of people coming in and out from my little area where I had my table and case set up.

Normally, either with a rope or some other sort of boundary marker, I would try to delineate what was my “stage area,” but the kids were pretty up close and personal. When I handed a sponge ball to one child to examine, you can believe that the kid next to them would grab it and check it, too, so I had some crowd management to deal with there. For the stuff I threw in my case and pockets, about the only thing I didn’t do was my Vanishing Silk routine. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been working on my Linking Rings, and I finally got validation for the changes I’ve made. I actually had kids ask me to do them again. That felt like a major score for me. I tend to lead off my routine with the Rings, but it’s kinda always been more for me than for them, and with kids, they’ve been interested, but usually not seemed impressed until the final chain. I finally found a routine that seems to work well for me.

If there was a routine that I did that I am rethinking, it’s probably the Chinese Sticks. I’m still not satisfied with them, and while today in the shower, I did have one of those “ah-ha” moments on one of the things that I think I need to change. I’m still thinking about dropping them in favor of the Ali Bongo Pom-Pom Stick, and for my style of performance, I still think that might be a better way to go.

On a lark, I tossed my Rocky Raccoon into my case after I found out the night before how nicely he fit into a Crown Royal bag. This killed on such a level, I couldn’t believe it. Yeah, I used some of David Williamson’s material, but not really the impersonation parts. I found once I brought out Rocky, I kind of was able to do some improvisational jazz with him. This was some serious fun for me. I don’t care if maybe only some of the parents caught the reference, but my favorite Rocky impression is going to be “…and from ‘Big Trouble in Little China,’ David Lo-Pan.” It makes me giggle, so I’m keeping it. I ended up doing my card routine that I worked out for Reggie the Rabbit, and it worked out to the delighted squeals of the kids, so I think if I’m going to include a rabbit production I’ll use Reggie, otherwise, Rocky is on deck for the routine. I’m pretty sure Rocky’s coming out with me for busking.

If there is a take-away lesson from yesterday, though, it’s back into crowd management. I was at the inner corner of a T-intersection directly on the way to where the dinner was going to be served, so at one point, there was a serious crowd-press. At one point, I pretty was working inches away from the crowd. The kids were pretty grabby, and if I went into my case, they could see inside. I could keep them from grabbing, but they were going to look. The big issue with this was, as soon as some of them saw the Rings, they wanted to see the routine. Kinda hard at this point.  I need less than five seconds to reset the Rings, but that was a hard five seconds to get. Considering my location and the crowd that was moving through, it was difficult to get space, but somehow I still got it. Definitely a lesson in both crowd management and location.

I did end up with one little girl, Anastasia, crying because she said I never chose her to help me with a trick. For the life of me, I thought I had. I know I was interplaying with her quite a bit. Man, that stung a bit, but I’ve seen the hurt looks from kids who were upset from not getting picked to help before with some of the other people I’ve performed with, so I do know that when I work with kids, that’s going to be a possible hazard, but this is the first time it’s happened to me. It may be unavoidable, but my goal is to make the act fun enough that that is a minimal issue and in general, everybody has a good time.

All things considered, that was an exhausting experience, but great overall and it has my juices flowing for what’s to come this year.

Doing the Sponge Balls (photo by Columbus Smith)

Doing the Sponge Balls (photo by Columbus Smith)

Working the Linking Rings (photo by Columbus Smith)

Working the Linking Rings (photo by Columbus Smith)

Happy Holidays!

I guess posting my wishes to everybody comes a bit late, but I’m okay with that. The holiday season in the U.S. isn’t over, so I’m more posting in the midst of it. In the midst of some decent memories, I do have one that sticks out. I’m feeling a bit loquacious due to a rather stiff drink of Kraken rum and Coke, and due to my wife already being in bed, I’m compelled to write instead.

Due to being sick, my wife and I missed the yearly Christmas Eve party at my grandfather’s house. It was a bit of a bummer for us, and on my side, I was looking to drag whatever poor souls that were willing to watch to a magic show I had prepared. In a house that was probably crowded when my grandparents were raising their five kids, we have a good time with the 30-40 family members that congregate there each year. It’s packed, young children run around like mad, and it is absolute, beautiful chaos. Missing it really did leave me bummed. In this case, though, instead of being on Christmas Eve, it was done on the Sunday before.

We had arranged to go to see my family on Christmas Day once I called them to tell them we wouldn’t be there for the party, but later decided to go on Christmas Eve so we would be able to stay later without dealing with having to leave early from visiting to be ready for work the next day and decided to see my grandfather before going to my parents. And this is where my story really starts.

We went to see Grandpa and had a wonderful time talking to him. I’ve mentioned before (jasonstackmagician.com/2013/11/24/probably-my-favorite-performance-yet) how much esteem I hold my grandfather in, and when my beloved and I visited him, we had a wonderful time chatting, catching up and reminiscing and just enjoying each others’ company. Of course, after his response to me performing magic for him on the last visit, I brought stuff for my act along.

When I figured it was time, I asked if he minded seeing my latest bit that I had been working on and he was very happy to see it. I realized while performing the routine that I had not rehearsed it as many times as I should, and I was glad for the test run, but we all had a great time. After I had done the bit, we started talking and Grandpa told us how his favorite piece of magic was always the Linking Rings, so I performed my routine for him again. And really, as the Linking Rings are my favorite piece of magic, it felt wonderful to know that I shared that in common with someone who I held in such great esteem. With the discussion we had afterwards, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face when I was done.

See, I think that when I perform magic, I’m back to being a kid again. Michele can tell how happy the experience makes me each time I perform, whether it’s been for a small group or running an act over and over again for a festival. One of the major magic suppliers has a motto of “Born to Perform,” and that sums up the experience of performing magic for me. Whether for a group or for a single person, when I perform, the smile plastered to my face is not forced. It’s as genuine as any smile I’ve ever had and lingers long after I’ve packed up my kit and come home.

The icing on the cake for me, though, was what came after. Now, the last time I performed for Grandpa, I noted how his eyes were wide open the entire time I went through my routine, and I got that again. The little, but oh, so substantial, gift I got this time was this: As I fumbled to lock the door behind me on my way out, I heard my grandfather whistling a tune. Seriously, I couldn’t ask for a better Christmas gift than that. That one is going to stay with me for a long time.

Christmas Eve 2013 with Grandpa

Christmas Eve 2013 with Grandpa

Probably My Favorite Performance, Yet

Today I finally got to perform most of my act for my grandfather. I’ll admit, this one was a bit hard for me to do. I mean, even though this is what I love doing and I’ve wanted to perform for him for a while, now, I’ve been dealing with the fear of his reaction. You know, I can perform for complete strangers with only a small amount of stage fright, but doing this for somebody that means so much to me has been hard to do.

Honestly, it’s going to be one of those performances that will stick with me for a long time for all the right reasons.

My bride and I went to visit, and like I’ve done twice before, I had my act packed, ready to go, and with me. I would have probably chickened out if Michele hadn’t brought it up making excuses that I didn’t want to bother him with it. Sometimes, I wish I still had the fearlessness that I had as a kid, not caring about judgment and going through the tricks whether eyes were watching intensely, rolling, or glazed. Reading personal histories of other magicians who started as kids, I find that really trying to start in middle age, I’m doing it completely backwards. Typically, the veterans started out running their stuff to family and friends before getting in front of strangers to perform. For me, it’s harder to do this for friends and family outside of the magic community. I mean, I can talk about working on databases or computer networks until they’re almost begging me to stop, but why, for the love of all that’s holy, do I have this fear to share something that I truly love doing?

It’s pretty much been once again to be an unfounded fear.

I had an audience of two: my grandfather and Michele.

My grandfather sometimes has troubles keeping his eyes open do to issues with tearing, so even though it’s already my opening, I figured I’d at least do the Linking Rings. Nice and visible and if he was having trouble keeping his eyes open after that, well, I could easily call it good.

I’ve not seen his eyes open that wide in a long while, maybe years. And he was laughing and enjoying himself the entire time. I pretty much went through my entire act outside of my new finale. I had left Reggie the Rabbit in my van. (I’m really serious when I tell you how chicken I was about the whole thing.) For the twenty some minutes I did my act, his eyes were open wide the entire time and he laughed through the entire act. I ended the act doing a Mismade Flag routine, and he had been shown how to do this when he was a boy by a magician and had an impish grin on his face at the finale of the routine.

It’s funny, though. I get stage fright to start, but once I’ve started, fear walks out the door and I feel free to play. And that’s what we did. When I start doing my act, the smile plastered to my face is genuine and I can’t stop it.

And my reward for finally doing what I should have done a while back? I saw my grandfather more animated and laughing than I have in a while and got some new stories that he probably didn’t even remember he had. For all the science that can explain it all, for me, this was the true magic.  No token laughter, no eyes mostly closed. Just us having fun together. I’m going to be riding this high for a while.

Adult life has it’s good share of highs and lows, but today has shown me why sometimes the right idea is to let my inner five year old take the driver’s seat of the Lil Tikes car and show me where to go.

Experience Review: Shriners Children’s Hospital – Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Tonight’s routine was a mixture of victory and frustrations. I had been working on new material for doing shows, and this was a test of some of the new stuff in addition to using some of the material I used all summer. All in all, though, the crowd was good and we had fun both during and after the acts. At this point, I’m hoping to pull enough into a good act to start performing, probably starting with the elderly care facilities and working my way into bigger gigs from there. Some of this I’m sure I’ve mentioned before in other blogs, but for anybody just joining in, I figured I’d do that little bit of recap.

After Ken Trokey did his routine, it was time for me to take the stage. After I got my gear in place, I started off with my Linking Rings routine. Now, before, my routine was pretty much Al Schneider’s, just adapted a bit for myself. Since the last time I performed it for a crowd, though, I’ve been reworking it. Between Levent’s Linking Rings DVD set and various lecture notes and printed routines, I had reworked things to a routine that I feel is strong for me, and I was jazzed to perform it. It’s still a five-ring routine, and I think it should be a stronger opener in addition to still being a good routine for busking when I start that again in the spring. And, even though I started strong, I got a bit confused in the routine and got some stuff out of order. Freaking ouch! I got to the point where I couldn’t see my outs, so I ended the routine while it was still okay.  Because of the amount of manipulation involved in the rings, I know that either I should have put more time into the new routine or used the old routine while working through the new material until that was set enough for me to focus harder on the rings. Strong opening to the routine, but not so grand in the finish.

In the set list I had, I ended up dropping the next routine. It’s not a hard one to perform, but at this point I felt it was better to skip over the new and go back to one of my time and tested my routines. Okay, I hadn’t lost the crowd with the rings, but it felt like now I had them back on my side. And seriously, if you ever use the line, “Pull my finger” at the end of a routine that has fathers in the crowd, you know you have them in your corner. Cheap gag, but it seems to work.

The next two routines, my sponge ball bit and the Ropes Thru the Neck, were as solid as I knew they would be. It was at the performances for the Purina Farms Haunted Hayloft that I decided I needed to add a stronger ending to the sponge ball routine, and I had that at the ready, but at this point, I felt it was better to stay in my comfort zone because of my finale routine. As it was, both routines were happily received and we had fun.

And now we come up to what I’ve been stressing out about for the past month and a half, my new finale bit. Bits and pieces have been things that I wanted to do, but I didn’t know how to tie them up together, and at this point, it’s feeling like I’ve got something I and the audience can have fun with. It starts out with my variation on Dan Garrett’s “World Famous Banana Trick” (carrot variation) before leading into my production of Reggie the Rabbit. We do a number of spring animal puppet gags before Reggie reveals a card selected by an audience member (this uses a prop made by Fort Wayne magician Dick Stoner). There are quite a number of tricks involved with the finale routine, so between going through the script and blocking, I was a bit stressed and excited about doing the routine. I might be using bits and pieces from throughout the magic books, but like the new Linking Rings routine, the arrangement is mine, so I’m a bit proud of it.

As it was, some bits got left out and some (a lot) of lines got dropped, but it worked! Not ready for a competition or anything, but we had a lot of fun. Bonus, though, is that the assistant I picked out for the routine is having another round of surgery tomorrow. Bad thing is, I never quite caught what her name was. I know there are plenty of ways around this as far as dialog is concerned, but this kinda means something to me. I love connecting to the audience as we play together, and it helps if it starts by knowing their names. On another note, I started working through this routine a few months ago, and when I performed for the hospital last, a girl by the name of Valora wanted to see a rabbit production. This pushed me to move this routine to the top of the list of routines to add. Sadly, even though she was supposed to be at the hospital until the day before Thanksgiving, she had additional surgery yesterday and wasn’t able to make it to the show tonight. Even worse, she’ll be in the hospital for another six months, so there’s a good chance she’ll be able to catch Reggie’s act. Sadly, she’ll still probably be in a halo. Poor kid, and that goes for all the ones who are out there. Considering the types of treatments kids receive at the Shriners Children’s Hospital, they’re not there just for an overnight stay.

As it was, it was a good night, overall. After our acts were done, I hung out with the kids some more, did a little bit of close-up, was shown a trick from my same lovely assistant from the Reggie routine,  taught them a trick, and got out before I got dealt in to a game of Skip-Bo.

My main take-away from tonight’s performance, though is about playing with the audience. I found the more comfortable I was in performing a routine, the more it was me playing with the audience. I commented about this in my review of Shawn Farquhar’s performance, and I’ve been reminded of this while watching DVDs from John Shyrock. I love calling people up to the stage to keep them part of the act, and I find that I can’t stop smiling the entire time. In Shawn and John’s (sorry for the rhyme) performances, that’s the joy that I feel in the performance. Going with a combination of Murray Hatfield’s and David Ginn’s routining structures, I see how the routine selections can be applied in building that act. Also, going back to Levent, and reviewing his performances, I appreciate how much magic is built into a routine without ever saying “For my next trick…” while performing copious amounts of magic.

Also, I’ve got a greater appreciation of adding new material to routines. My prowess in magic isn’t to the point that I’m able to do a whole new 30 minute act of material I’ve never done before. My new finale was big enough that I should have stayed on with tried and true for the rest of it until the finale was solid enough. Problem is, I’ve broken the seal on some stuff, like the rings routine, I don’t want to look back. The other new material can be worked in and I think I might have to perform a hell of a lot more at club meetings to get the kinks worked out of some other bits. It feels close to go time, though, as far as going to market.

And, hey, a few hours after the performance is done, I’m still smiling about it. How cool is that?

Oh, and for little Paige: You may find out sometime how I did the sponge ball routine, but you won’t hear it from me how it’s done.

Experience Review – Busking the ‘Art and Air Festival’ 12OCT2013

For a while, I’m going to try to write about each new performance I have, if not just to examine the things that went right and went wrong and hopefully plan for better outcomes. For anybody reading this blog, please always feel free to comment with additional thoughts or criticisms. I’m definitely open.

Starting out, yesterday at the Art and Air festival in Webster Groves, MO, was already interesting. I arrived there, and with the email correspondence I had had before performing, I knew that I was open to perform anywhere I wanted. Signing up, I knew I was going to be busking and only working for tips, but that was okay. That’s part of the challenge.

I walked around at the beginning trying to find a good place to set up. The fair itself was pretty much set up mainly in a horseshoe shape along three streets, with the main portion on a blocked off section of one street. After being directed in a few different directions from some of the volunteers, I finally found what I thought might be a good spot and set up.

Tricks set, I called out to my first audience and started the routine, and as soon as I had gotten through the first trick, the crowd had begun to gather a bit and was an okay size by the time I got to the last trick in the act. I prompted that at the end of that trick, that was going to be the end of my show and I was going to ask for tips. The sour faces started. At that moment, I started losing the crowd. I performed the last trick and before I could throw out the final pitch line, the audience had cleared and I heard some utter “Let’s go.” OK, a bit frustrating, but no need to worry. I had all afternoon.

Second time though, it was pretty much the same. Smiles until the mention of tipping, and then sweet went to sour.

I decided not to tip for a while, then, and work on my routine before throwing out the tip lines again. A little while down the road, I called out to a couple of girls, and their immediate response was, “Will we have to pay?” No, girls, I just hope you enjoy the show. Sigh.

From that point on, I decided that I wasn’t going to ask for tips again for the rest of the day and just work on the act. It became a bit of a slog after a while, doing the routine over and over, but I did get to improve some things in my performance and came up with some new lines during the repetitions.

Considering the fact that I wasn’t making any money, at 3:45 I left. Asking around a bit on my way out, plus, listening to the crowd, it became clear that pretty much the only ones really making money were the face painters, food vendors and whoever was selling little glitter-covered skeletons. There was one artist trying to sell who had sustained an eye injury and was just hoping to sell one piece so they could go to urgent care. It became clear I wasn’t the only one having an unprofitable day.

Now, all the stuff I’ve read and watched on busking magic pretty much points to giving the tip lines when I did in my routine: Before you start the last trick, midway into the last trick, and immediately after the trick you then ask for the tips by hatting the crowd. As I write this, I’m still going back and forth on whether this is still the best way to proceed with these types of crowds. Hey, I’m still pretty new at this, and I might not be giving the pitch lines well and may need to keep working on it. Then again, this method has already worked for me.

I begin to wonder how much of it was the type of crowd I was working with. The scenario was a pretty middle class area with mainly people carrying plastic instead of cash. Maybe enough cash that they had specifically earmarked. (In one case, I know one guy who sacrificed his kettle corn cash for his daughter’s face painting.)

Talking to one friend later that evening, he told me that as soon as people start asking him for a tip, he immediately gets upset and they automatically get nothing.

I might have to reconsider the tip jar, which other people have asked about but most busking magician writers tell you to steer away from. It may be a case where I start out with the plan of hatting the crowd at the end of the act and keep the tip jar stashed in the car, just in case.

I mean, hell, I live in St. Louis. Pizza here is so far removed from pizza anywhere else, so maybe there is a good reason to use a different strategy.

As it was, though, I did have a good time for the most part. After a while, it was tiring and I did get burnt out. One thing did give me a little extra push that kept me going on for a bit longer, though.

A couple of girls came over, and after being the skeptical teenage girls “We’re too cool for this,” left after the first trick. An hour later, though, I saw them watching from the back of the group for the entire act. Yeah, they may have been too cool, but they still came back for more.

I must be doing something right.

I didn’t get any photos from this latest jaunt, so here’s one I took of a busker in Kaiserslautern, Germany, last year.

Experience Review – JDRF Walk for the Cure, St. Louis, 06OCT2013

One of the things I want to write about in this blog are the experiences I have while learning to be a better magician and performer. I don’t know how many people get into magic like this during mid-life, so I don’t know how my experiences compare to anybody else’s, so comments to that effect are always welcome and encouraged.

Right, then. Here we go.

A couple of months ago, a call was put out for magicians from I.B.M. Ring 1 to perform for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (http://stl.jdrf.org) Walk for the Cure over in the Kids’ Corner by Steve Finkelstein, who coordinates our participation with JDRF events. Enjoying the idea of performing, let alone performing for a good cause, I submitted myself.

When Steve responded later, he told me I could perform my busking routine for the crowds, and I was pretty jazzed. That is, up until early the morning of the event after a fitful night of waking up due to my sinuses beginning to drain due to changes in the weather. Sigh. But seriously, not being crippled or contagious (this happening in the spring and fall is nothing new to me) and still having a voice, I was damn sure going to be out there. (Note: This review would have been posted earlier, but said sinus condition has left me incapacitated for the past few days.)

As soon as I got out there, I was warmly welcomed in my Steve, Larry Minth, and Tom Westerheide, who had arrived there before me. After a quick discussion with Steve, I found I was going to set up in front of about 50 seats. After my last trip out busking, where I was set upon by a few teenagers who successfully got into my head a few weeks before, I’ll admit, I was feeling less than outgoing in calling in the crowd. After a little bit of encouragement from Steve, though, I started getting into the swing of calling in the crowds. “Young ladies,” or “Young sirs, would you like to watch some magic?”

All in all, the experience was very rewarding. The groups I performed for tended to start off small, usually about 5-10 people and, except for my last go round, always ended a larger crowd, even if some of the initial people had moved on. After one group, I realized I had performed my 12-15 minute routine for about 30 people. That might not sound like much, but at this stage, being able to get in a crowd that size felt pretty successful. I realize that the folks teaching magic at the booth behind me were probably also sending people my way, but still, that feels like a win.

Before, in my routine, I had started off with my Linking Rings routine hoping the sound and shiny objects would help to draw a crowd, but this time I started off smaller and more intimate doing my Sponge Ball bit. From that moment on in the act, I never had to even ask a second time for volunteers. Only once did the wind work against me and leave me scrambling for a sponge ball that had been sent flying off and rolling about 30 feet. Hazards of the gig, I suppose. Steve Barcellona (http://stevebarcellona.com), one of the small number of pro magicians in our organizations, later advised me against doing the sponge balls for this type of reason, and I see his point. On the other hand, it tends to work for me, so the risk/reward factor is keeping it in the act. When it’s windy, though, I may have to rethink my strategy.

Because he was able to watch my routine and saw me perform one trick that he also does, Steve B. was able to give me performance pointers on my movement which I wasn’t aware of. Even though my ending to that bit always got laughs from dads in the crowd, I can see what he was getting at and the advice was perfect. (Sorry, but when you pretty much get out of a “situation” by telling a kid to “Pull my finger,” you’re going to get dads to laugh.) That may be one of the best things about performing not only for regular people, but also while being watched by fellow magicians: they can help you hone your act. I might not be following Steve B.’s advice on doing the sponge balls, but I know why. On the other hand, with the other bit, I’ve started practicing the movements so I can maximize the impact of the performance.

As for my work with the Linking Rings and my performance of “Ropes Through the Neck,” I found that even though the movements are pretty much fully ingrained into me, whether it was because I wasn’t feeling 100 percent or I hadn’t practiced enough (probably a combination of both) some of the moves didn’t feel as smooth as usual. If the audience caught on to what I was doing, they didn’t show it, but there were definitely moments where things didn’t feel completely right, even if the move was successful.

And then came the worst moment of the entire bit. It was at the end of the three hours, people were packing up and the crowds were thin. I was pretty much spent, but I wanted to give it one more go. I stopped a young girl and her mom and performed the sponge balls and ropes just for them, and I probably shouldn’t have. I wasn’t just phoning it in, but I wasn’t near at the top of my game and the little girl cottoned on to what I was doing and neither trick got past her. I should have stopped while I was ahead, but the high of the last successful group was that little push that makes the little voice inside say, “Just give it another go.” Though the mom was impressed, I flubbed when it came to my real target audience at the time. Hello awkward experience.

One other piece of advice was imparted to me by Steve B., and one that I’ll try to use when I hit the streets again, let alone working any crowd. I told him about the teenagers from the few weeks prior, and he told me to listen to them next time it happens. And busking on the streets ensures it will happen again. Maybe the hecklers are calling me out for something I’m missing when I practice. Despite the ”fight or flight” feeling that goes through me during those times, I’ll try to pay better attention. Admittedly, it might not be anything I’m doing, but in case it’s not a case of jerks being jerks, I’ll try to remain open to what they’re calling me out on.

My thanks and appreciation to those Ring 1 members that came out on a brisk morning to perform, teach, and support the walkers: Steve Finkelstein, Larry Minth, Andy Leonard, Tom Westerheide, Dana Scott, Steve Barcellona, Tom and Audrey Levit, D. J. Lentz,  and anybody else I forgot or didn’t realize was there.

More so, my thanks and appreciation to those kids, friends and family who were at the walk. It was a pleasure making some of you smile.

Ring 1 Members at the JDRF 2013 Walk for the Cure