Tag Archives: Jason Stack

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

Shameless Self-Promotion: St. Louis Fringe Festival 2014

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!

Photo(5)Photo(6)

Out of the Mouths of Babes

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.

Me and my favorite assistant

Me and my favorite assistant

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.

Experience Review – Annie’s Hope 3rd Annual 5K & One Mile Family Fun Walk – 12APR2014

You know, despite trying to get paying gigs in addition to busking, I do love to do shows for charity events. This one was for Annie’s Hope (www.annieshope.org), a bereavement center in St. Louis for children, adolescents, and their families. When the confusion settled, and I got into my groove, man, it felt like I was right where I needed to be.

First off, I planned on doing my busking routine and flipping it over as I was able to get a crowd. The only change from what I had been doing was to replace Rocky the Raccoon with Reggie the Rabbit for the final routine. I had been working with Rocky because of the gags I could do with him, but the more I play with Reggie in my parlor act, the more I like the gags I’m doing with him. It’s mostly the same gags, but something feels more right with Reggie the more I use him. Yeah, I don’t have him jump out and startle like I do with Rocky, but the other gags feel more fleshed out. So that was my only change outside of some adjustments to patter that I wanted to try. Hell, it’s always a work in progress, especially when my act relies on audience participation.

So, after running through the act a number of times the night before, I was ready to go. Case was packed and table was ready for travel.

Saturday morning, after arriving at the event, I was met by one of the other magicians. He was a bit concerned, as I soon became, after we found that a company that focuses on providing children’s magic events was there, represented by one of their magicians and a balloon twister. To add to it, it looked like the only performance space was going to have to be shared. Man, I didn’t want to take away from them, and just as much, I didn’t want anything we did be an assist in promoting their company. They’re nice guys, but when it comes down to it, at some point, I do want to be part of their competition. After talking to the chairperson running the event, I set down my table, grabbed my rings, and started working the crowd. I found it easy to get a crowd while doing the rings, but I had walked away from my table, so after I was done working the linking rings, I was pretty much done with that group. I couldn’t ditch the rings in order to do anything else, so it was time to rethink my strategy. By the time I had pulled my table out to a good spot, the first event, the balloon release to start the 5k run was about to start, so the crowd was moving there.

Facepalm.

By the time the walkers and runners had all returned, Columbus, who was the magician who greeted me, had had to leave for his day job and the two other magicians from IBM Ring One were there and ready to go. So, now for us to really get into our thing.

While the other magicians did their bits, I found I was able to pretty much bally people to my table by just holding the rings looking like I was ready to do something. Admittedly, the crowd was kinda primed, but it was an easy tip to build from without feeling like I was poaching people from the other guys.

As for the crowds, they were small, but good. Very receptive. I think the most fun I had was with one pair of girls who assisted in the Ropes Through the Neck. One was terrified to pull the ropes, while her friend was very eager. I had fun playing off of them, looking at the scared one going, “Don’t worry honey, you won’t hurt me,” and then looking at the other with a “Well, you probably will.” I also learned that when you do the sponge balls with a child who is younger than three, her glee might send you chasing after the balls.

Whether it was the humidity or just me that day, for the life of me, I couldn’t do an overhand shuffle to save my life. Strangely, all the other slights worked without a hitch, but a simple shuffle that I’ve been doing since I was kid was beyond me. On the other hand, I think it only added to the final card reveal for Reggie and built things up nicely. I probably won’t aim for that type of shuffling, but if it happens again, it’s definitely not going to slow me down or frustrate me.

Also, yeah, going with Reggie was the right move. The final bit went right and felt right with each flip of my little act. Reggie got his laughs, and I came up with more material while working the act over and over. Not to disparage little Rocky, but he may be dry docked for a while.

Personal criticisms: Okay, I need to get my bubble routine worked out quickly. It’s going to be my bally, and though this crowd didn’t need one, it’s enough of a spectacle to build that it’s renewed my interest in getting it going as quickly as possible. Not that I’m going to perform it until the mechanics are second nature, but it’s going to be too much fun for me not to do it. Plus, it is luring the audience with spectacle.

Secondly, for some reason I was only able to get the final four-ring shape only half the time. I don’t know what’s going on with that, but I love the patter that goes with that (and it tends to get another laugh), so I need to woodshed that more to break down where the issue is. Not a show-stopper, but it’s a reminder to go back and practice all moves slowly.

Overall, it was a good time. For each crowd I stopped after I had my rig with me, I ran the full act without losing the crowd. Reviewing it, I think I flipped the act eight times after the walkers came back, so it was personally satisfying. Despite the chaos when we showed up, I’m looking forward to working for Annie’s Hope again next year if they put the call out. Good people doing a good thing, and I was glad to be a part of their event.

 

Bringing out Reggie for a card trick -photo by Jennifer Jones

Bringing out Reggie for a card trick -photo by Jennifer Jones

Experience Review – Busking in the Loop, St. Louis, Friday, 21MAR2014

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.

Daily Dose of Magic – Uh, Me

OK, for me this is just painful to watch, but other than video from a high school performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” I’ve never liked watching myself on video. Fair warning, this is pretty much the first act I worked out and I did it (sans tux) for busking. This is less a piece of art than a crayon drawing on the refrigerator, but it’s mine, even if the routines borrowed heavily from Al Schneider (pretty much his Linking Rings routine, just adjusted a bit to suit my taste), Daryl (although it’s a pretty standard Sponge Ball bit) and the Ropes Though the Neck technique is from Harry Monti. This was shot by Greg Lewis at an S.A.M. Assembly 8 meeting on my phone as just a quick and dirty video to show my routine to possibly get into the Midwest Magic Jubilee for their Thursday night performance. Didn’t get in, but I’m okay with that. It was the personal challenge to at least try.

Working My Busking Routine on Stage