Levent (www.leventmagic.com) is probably one of the magicians I respect the most in the magic community. I posted the first part of this act in one of my first Daily Doses (http://jasonstackmagician.com/?p=71) and as I’ve read his material in the Society of American Magician’s magazine, “M.U.M.” I have his DVDs on the Linking Rings and Billiard Balls, and look forward to reading his biography on Roy Benson. In the Billiard Ball DVD, he explains the routine you’ll see at the end of this video clip, and really, this is an amazing routine of ball manipulation. This does have touches of Roy Benson’s act, but the routine is completely Levent’s. It’s impressive when you watch it, but even more stunning if you know all the manipulation he’s pulling off throughout the routine.
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.
In the St. Louis area, we have two magic clubs, which are local chapters of national and international organizations: The Society of American Magicians Assembly 8 and The International Brotherhood of Magicians Ring 1. When I first got into the magic scene almost a year ago, I asked what the difference in the clubs was and, politics aside, was it necessary to have two clubs. In that time, I’ve found having the two clubs does create more opportunity and experience that just one club I don’t think would.
Now, before I go on, let me disclose that I don’t know how the other clubs in the other cities interact with each other. I can only comment on my experience within St. Louis.
When I got started on this personal journey, I had no idea I would want to perform for more than either friends or (and the reason I joined up in the first place) maybe getting a chance to perform for kids at a children’s hospital. In fact, the main reason I had any real interest in finding out about the clubs was about performing for local charities and such.
The first non-lecture club meeting I attended was with Assembly 8. The way the meeting went that night was, after a business meeting, the Vice President at the time went around asking for names of everybody who would like to perform that night. Of course I said no, but I was excited to sit and see what the others did. What I saw encouraged me. I saw a number of members perform, and almost as many tricks failed as worked.
Either way the trick went, the atmosphere was warm and jovial. People laughed and had a good time. Nobody laughed at the performer. It was always laughing with them. The eye of mockery or disdain never showed itself. It was all done among friends.
When I finally performed my first trick for the club a few meetings down the road, it was bad. Certain principles I hadn’t really cottoned on to, yet, and it was clumsy as all hell, complete with club members on the ground helping me find a rhinestone that had fallen out of one of my gimmicks. After that clumsy act, though, some of the members came up afterwards and started telling me stories and anecdotes about their starts. With the warmth and camaraderie, I felt encouraged to meet up with the other magicians at the first of many of the informal Round Table meetings and just listen to the stories that abounded along with whatever magic anybody needed to do. Because of some of the moves I had tried to incorporate into my routine, I got to know Harry Monti, who is pretty much the Godfather of St. Louis magic. When he started working with me on one particular move, the whole table watched like it was a master class.
OK, I’ve digressed a bit, but it’s that warmth in acceptance that drew me further into this whole mess, but what I’m really trying to get at in my roundabout way is that Assembly 8 provides a nurturing atmosphere because, as most of the crowd you perform in front of at meetings knows the secrets behind what you’re doing. If you fail, you don’t have to fear that you’re giving any secrets away. Especially when starting out, because you’re only going to give away the basics that most members know. They’ll also give you a hand in getting better at what you’re doing.
Ring 1 is a bit different. Even though there is a Magic 101 class before each meeting, it feels like the bar is higher when it comes to performing. On the other hand, though, this is a group that provides more opportunity to perform for the public.
A few months after I first started coming to the meetings, they circulated a sign-up list for performers to perform for the Shriners’ Children’s Hospital each month. I signed up once for later in the year in hopes of having a 20 minute routine by then. After that list started circulating, they asked for volunteers to work at a Juvenile Diabetes event, either as a performer or to teach basic magic tricks at a table that would be set up. OK, now I had an opportunity to do something that was basically easy, but still get to do something for the community and learn a bit about working closely with the public as a magic performer. I got to teach some rubber band magic and a simple card trick and never had a moment during that time that I had to worry too much. If I stumbled, there were other experienced guys around me to catch me. I got a chance to listen to patter, try my own, and watch what was working and what wasn’t. For doing something so simple, I learned a lot.
As one of my double majors in school had been in technical theater, when the first show came up, I signed up to work in the stage crew, not realizing I would be the backstage crew. Once again, a good experience as I learned more about how the magicians were interacting with the crowd. You know, you can watch plenty of videos on doing a trick or read the same, but it’s only live that you begin to see it all put into practice. I started to build friendships with the guys I was working with, even if it was just as stage hand.
Admittedly, personal initiative has played a part in opening doors, but Ring 1 has provided throughout the year plenty of opportunity to push myself as a magical performer in front of lay people. Throughout the year, they also offer more lectures by touring working pros so you get additional advice from a wider variety of types of sources.
When it came to the local convention, the Midwest Magic Jubilee, it was two Ring 1 members that pushed me to get out there and play to my strengths. Mike Niehaus and Terry Richison opened my eyes to the possibilities presented. Because of Terry pushing me to compete in one of the competitions, even when I knew there was no likelihood of winning, he explained that I would get valuable feedback from judges who were top magicians. That was very valuable advice. I keep the scoring sheets handy to this day and review the notes the judges made. Personal feedback from the likes of Levent and Boris Wild is just not something I could have gotten pretty much any other way at this stage of my development. Mike helped me see how much I would get out of working the convention just in what I would learn from working backstage. Damned if he wasn’t right. I ended up in conversations I probably wouldn’t have had any time soon had not pretty much every one of the guest magicians known be by sight, if not name, from doing everything from running one magician all over the North side of St. Louis looking for a late-night Wal-Mart for supplies to working backstage to helping to run the close-up competition.
There are plenty of people who are only members of one club or another for reasons of logistics or internal politics (sigh), but there are also plenty like me who are active members of both.
Between the nurturing atmosphere of Assembly 8 and the many opportunities Ring 1 has provided me, being a member of two different clubs has been a great help in my development as a performing magician.
I raise my glass of water as a meager toast to the friends and mentors I’ve found on this road, no matter where we’ve met. Thank you for the experience and fellowship.
Levent (http://www.leventmagic.com) is probably one of today’s great magic historians in addition to just being flat out one of the top comedy magicians. Before this year’s Midwest Magic Jubilee, I only knew Levent from his articles in the magazine for the Society of American Magicians. When Boris Wild said, “Oh great. I have to go on after the wild man,” I knew I was in for something good. This is from one of Levent’s appearances on “The Masters of Illusion” TV show. Enjoy the laughs and keep your bunnies safe.
I’ve now been to a number of magic lectures, today’s being with Shawn Farquhar, and it has me thinking about what people intend to get out the lectures they go to.
Now, admittedly, I haven’t been to as many as a lot of the people involved in the magic scene have been to, and I don’t know what percentage of magicians, hobbyists, pros, or semi-pros, intend to get out of the lectures. I know for some people, if the lecturer isn’t selling a bunch of stuff, then they feel let down. There are an awful lot of magicians out there that are looking for that new trick being demonstrated that they can feel is a reputation maker. Some people are just collectors with hoards of stuff they’ve bought and the lecture is more or less a demonstration. I get that, but because I need to focus on learning and becoming proficient with the fundamentals. Maybe someday, I’ll buy more stuff at the lectures, but to me, I appreciate more than a demo show. In fact, one lecture I saw a number of months ago, I know I felt like it was lame because it seemed like mainly a sales pitch for a lot of gimmicks and was thoroughly unimpressed while some of the others, who walked out with loads of stuff, thought it was the best lecture they had ever seen. To this date, though, there are four lectures I’ve seen that stuck with me, and I’ll discuss why.
The first one on my list was with Ice McDonald (http://www.ice.mcdonald.net). In his lecture, he seemed to know his audience was mainly hobbyists or people wanting to break out and start really performing. He had stuff to sell, but mainly, for me, it was like a tent-revival encouraging magicians to perfect their craft and get out there and perform. Man, did that message sink in for me. Yeah, he sold some stuff, but what impressed me a bit later was watching Silly Jilly (http://www.sillyjilly.com) take something Ice had taught and sold and adapt it to her kids show. She combined elements from other tricks and came up with something that stuck with the kids. Ice’s routine wasn’t for kids. Not that it was inappropriate or anything, it just would have been lost on them, but Jill’s spin on it was what makes the trick work for her. Jill’s already a serious working performer, so I don’t know how much inspiration she got from the lecture other than the routine, but I know I came out wanting to perform even more than before.
Boris Wild (http://www.boriswild.com) is the next lecturer I want to discuss. To me, Boris is a true artist in magic and one of the nicest people I’ve met in this field. (All things considered, though, of the people I’ve had the privilege to meet in magic, most of them have been really kind, but Boris stands out.) In the notes for one of his past lectures, in the forward he states,
“…I am sure your closets at home are packed with props, books and DVDs you probably
have not had the time to study yet. So you already have a lot to play with. This is why I
would rather focus here on something other than tricks. I would rather focus on things
that professional magicians often keep to themselves and very rarely reveal to the magic community.”
That lecture was called “Creativity & Impact,” and even though that was not the lecture I saw, there was an awful lot of that attitude with what he taught. He sold only one gimmick, but what he showed us was how versatile that particular gimmick could be. What he encouraged was to take it and play with it. Jam with it and find new ways of making it work for you. It wasn’t a matter of letting the gimmick be the trick but rather and instrument for magic to be played on. Now, Boris’ talent and skill is insanely good and has one him awards and a hell of a lot of respect in the magic community, but it was the encouragement of taking this tool and playing with it to constantly come up with something new that was inspiring to me. Boris is one of my inspirations to going back and hammering out the fundamentals so I might be able to see the possibilities with educated eyes.
Shawn Farquhar’s lecture today (http://magichampion.com) was similar in some ways to Boris’. Shawn went through a lot of tricks and routines, but even more to the point, he strongly promoted the attitude of working and being creative with the gimmicks, utility moves, and concepts. The man has explored all the angles and is always delving into more. He didn’t discuss or show anything without going through additional concepts and applications. As you can see, I like the idea that Alton Brown promoted in his show, “Good Eats,” of avoiding uni-taskers as much as possible. Shawn is constantly inventing and building on tricks, whether he is the originator or it started out as someone else’s. It’s the joy of taking something known and turning it on its ear so that you’re constantly creating. It’s the joy of creation in addition to performing.
Finally, we get to Levent. (http://www.leventmagic.com) Levent, in addition to being an amazing magician and performer, is one of the best researchers into the history of effects. For me, I was completely sucked in to his lecture when he started an in-depth discussion of the Linking Rings, which have become my personal favorite piece of magic to perform, whether I’m performing for myself or for other people. When he gets into a piece of magic, it’s full immersion. He just recently released a 7 ½ hour four DVD set just on the rings, and it’s on my wishlist. What he has inspired in me is the desire to research what has been done with a particular routine to find out what has been done so that I can make something new from the pieces.
I’m still a student tracing drawings until I learn enough to draw freehand, but I can see the beauty and art that will be available to me once I’ve put in the time, whether it’s in performance or skill.
Man, I love this gig.