This Friday, July 11, is Maplewood’s tribute to Bastille Day. From 6pm until later into the evening, I’ll be performing the section of Sutton Blvd. Maplewood has blocked off for the occasion (between Marietta and Hazel). Doing my busking routine and bringing my brand of stoopid and magic to the festivities. Looking at the list of entertainment, it looks like it should be a great party atmosphere for everybody who comes out. Hi Tadah, the top spinner I really dug at Fringe Fest will also be performing, so I’m digging on that. Check out the information for Let Them Eat Art at http://www.cityofmaplewood.com/index.aspx?NID=147. Admittedly, in the Entertainers section, the write-up they culled for me is a little disjointed (I’m going to have to put together a stock one so that is a little clearer for future events) and the picture they used is of Gazzo (Damn, I wish I was at his level!) but I will be there. I hope to see you all there, too!
Once I got confirmed for this show, I was a bit concerned that I wouldn’t have anybody watching. Outdoor festival, Sunday afternoon, 4:30 pm. I was less worried about the show going well than I was about anybody being there to see it. A dear friend of mine was in the area, and where I had hoped that she would be able to make it, it was the same time and day as her parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary party. (Which, had I known about earlier, I would have been at. Again, Happy 50th, Tom and Linda, and thanks for being one of my sets of surrogate parents during high school.)
I had thought about publicizing the show a bit more than just the week before on my blog and on Facebook , LinkedIn, and Twitter, but I couldn’t come up with a flyer I liked. I had tried for something more like black and white punk show flyers that I collected from college campuses, either from local bands I liked or just because I dug the artwork so much, but I really couldn’t come up with something I liked. Plus, knowing this was mainly a free show, I didn’t want to try to bum decent artwork from some of my more artistic friends. I had one friend in mind that probably would have come up with something perfect, but I value his artistic ability too much to have done that. As this was to be street performance done a little bigger, though, Ben’s artistic direction on a flyer would have been perfect. Maybe next time.
Anyway, I pretty much just settled on word of mouth and the little bit of publicity.
I worked through my routine, and where they wanted about a 45 minute show, I had everything timed to about 38 minutes, and, knowing that there would be a lot of additional patter as I played with the crowd (see, I’m still working under the assumption there will be a crowd), I figured I was in a good safe zone for time.
A couple of days before, I got an email from the organizer for the street performers, and she gave the alternate plans in case there was rain. We’d move the stage to across the street from the park. Not a problem.
I had planned to busk during Saturday, but when I got to the park and saw the arrangement, it wasn’t going to work. The park was crammed, with displays, and to try to get a small circle show was not going to happen. The heat and humidity had people pretty much sitting watching the main stage and there was only one busker working, To Yo, a top spinner. I did get to see what the staging situation would be, though, watched Martin Bronson from Tapmen Productions tap dance on the stage, and got to watch To Yo performing some seriously cool top spinning.
Okay, getting into Sunday, I got a call in the morning about everything being moved into the church because of rain. No worries. Posted the update to Facebook, and settled in to relax before final prep for the show. When time came, packed the act and the wife and away we went. Once we got to the park, checked in and was told we were back outside, so another update.
Not many people in the park and most of the vendors had packed up. The act before me had to end really early. It was another tap dancing group, but they hadn’t brought their own surface to dance on, and the stage had started to tear their shoes apart. I was told I could start whenever I wanted (to get ahead of any possible rain), but as I had advertised it was at 4:30, so if anybody I knew was going to show, I wanted them to see the entire act. I was approached by a couple of little girls (who I later found out were named Mikayla and Torrence) who asked if they could help me in the act, and I assured them they would, so at least I knew I was going to have two helpers for the show.
Okay, now, I could go over the routines I did, but I’ll now just focus on some personal observations of the show.
It did go well. For the crowd I started out with, about 15 people, it doubled by the time I had gotten into the third routine, so I must have been doing something right. People who started out watching from the sidelines ended up moving into the seats to settle down and enjoy the show. Not a big crowd, but it was a majority of the people who were left in the park at that point, so I’ll take that as a win.
I was loathe to throw in a Mis-made Flag routine because in general, I tend to feel that it’s kinda overdone. Also, the local Ronald McDonald does it in his act, so it’s always a fear of reproducing routines that everybody has seen before. I say this, even though I open with my Linking Rings routine, but at least that bit of manipulation (with origins in Al Schneider’s routine, but changed over and over with influences by Harry Monti, Levent, Jimmy Talksalot, and Dick Stoner) is my own. Oddly enough, though, the Mis-made Flag was my wife’s favorite routine I did. Okay. For something that, honestly, I really only put in there to pad for time, it worked well.
The patter, in general, worked really well. I’ll be the first to admit, I try to pull out as many laughs as I can. I had a crowd that was all-ages, and from the littlest kids to the oldest adults, everybody there seemed to be laughing and having a good time. Another personal victory.
A downside I’m looking at, and I’m still wondering a bit about it and how I want to fix it, is I seem to play the “Magician in Trouble” plot in a large percentage in my routine. For any of the laypeople reading this, that’s a case where the trick doesn’t seem to be working for me, but it works out in the end to big laughs. Off the top of my head, four of my routines use this plot in some way. Now, usually it’s used to get laughs and a bigger response as I capitalize on it throughout the routine, but maybe four is too many. I still don’t know. Hell, Tommy Cooper made a career out of bumbling through his routines, most often failing, and was hysterical in doing it. Check the links in the Tommy Cooper tags in this blog or even search YouTube for him to see what I mean. I’m still wondering about this, so it’s a consideration.
I had timed the act for 37 minutes, thinking that I take even more time with playing with the audience. As it was, the entire act ran in about 30 minutes. It reminded me of when I was in rock bands lo so many years ago and we would blast through our set in performance in almost half the time we had timed ourselves at while rehearsing. I’m sure this will settle as more shows develop, but wow. I didn’t cut or leave anything out, so yeah, I blazed through it. As it was, I think that it was probably the right length, so there’s that.
Finally, the last routine I did, my finale with a spring rabbit named Reggie, failed. He got the chosen card wrong. Now, I played with the audience and had them with me until the very end, but damn, that scenario happened. The routine failed. I had gone over and over in my head about how I would end the routine if that happened. I was pretty certain it would work, though. It’s not failed before, but there’s always that first time. For all my contingency planning, my solution was not even close to anything that had been considered before. If I had a Tommy Cooper moment, that was it. Even with the failure, though, the routine got big laughs and it didn’t detract from the show at all. This time around, the magician really was in trouble, but the overall payoff was still pretty good. May not have been the routine ending I wanted, but that’s all right.
In general, it was a good show. For a late Sunday afternoon festival show, I had a better audience than I had feared I’d have, and my two young assistants that had approached me earlier gave me watercolor paintings they had done earlier. The sound guy who had worked the entire festival seemed to have a good time, and I figure he would have been one of the toughest sells, but once I got started, because I wasn’t using the PA, he sat down in the middle of the audience and laughed along with us.
Again, for all the laughs, I don’t think anybody had a better time of it than I did, but because they were laughing and having a good time along with me, I definitely will chalk it up as a win.
For anybody who may have planned on coming out to see my show today, because of the weather, the show has been moved across the street from Strauss Park to Third Baptist Church at 620 N. Grand. The church is catty-corner to the Fox Theater, so if you know where the Fox is, finding the church shouldn’t be that hard. I will be performing at 4:30 it’s a free performance, magic, and laughs.
This weekend, June 21 and 22, I will be performing at the St. Louis Fringe Festival. I have a family event to attend Saturday morning/early afternoon, so I won’t start doing my busking act at the festival until probably around 4 pm until whenever I feel I’ve run my course with it or the evening festivities wind down. (Hey, it’s busking. I can make my own schedule on this.) Sunday, I will be performing a 45 minute show on the Street Fringe stage they have set up in Strauss Park at 4:30 pm. According to the notice I received, “In the case of rain all Street Fringe performances will be moved to Third Baptist Church at 620 N. Grand.” That’s across the street from Strauss Park. They have a lot of acts going on, some in theaters, and a lot going on in the Street Fringe area. Theater shows have ticket prices attached to them, but the street stuff is all free. As I’m busking, yeah, I’ll hat whatever crowd stops to enjoy the show, but it’s all up to you if you want to pay. Kind words are payment enough, but money is always welcome. It’ll be hot out (if not wet), but it will be a good time. More information on the St. Louis Fringe Festival can be found at http://stlfringe.com. Everybody who can is invited and welcome to come on out and enjoy the stoopid!
I’ve gone back and forth as to whether or not to go to the Don England (www.dmksingle.com) Night Before Workshop that is happening in Springfield, IL at the 2014 Central Illinois Magic Get-together (www.cimgt.org). I started going through articles and YouTube videos, and man, I’m sorry I hesitated. He’ll be lecturing at the convention, but the chance to do a workshop with him in a relaxed and casual atmosphere seems like a good learning opportunity. Of the stuff I read and watched, this was the trick that amused me the most. The videos are all close-up without really any audience involvement (I tend to want to see audience reactions), but getting the feeling of “this is really cool” sold me on wanting to spend more time learning from Don. Most magicians are familiar with a trick called “Card Warp,” but this takes a similar plot and turns it on its ear.
Johnny Thompson (www.tomsoni.com) is one of the contemporary greats in the world of magic. He officially retired at Magic Live! last year, but his legacy is great. He’s influence and been adviser to Penn & Teller, David Blaine, Criss Angel and many others. Some of his effects are in the Smithsonian. One stage, he’s both charming and hysterical, and in interviews and in person, warm with fans and compeers. This video is from an HBO Special from 1977 and his wife and partner, Pamela Hayes, is part of what sets his act apart from so many others.
Jay Marshall (1919-2005) was considered “The Dean of American Magicians.” He was beloved by his peers and is held in high esteem, still, in the magic community. Sit around a group of magicians talking long enough, and his name will inevitably come up. I took out my Chinese Sticks routine because I wasn’t happy with it (I was inspired to do them after watching footage of Roy Benson’s routine), but after watching Jay’s, I think I’m going t o have to put them back in after I revisit and adjust my script a bit. Needless to say, Jay’s charm shines through in this.
Currently, one of the biggest and most exclusive events in close-up magic is going on, and that is Fechter’s Finger Flicking Frolic. It’s an invitation-only event, and it draws magicians from around the world. Magicians only, spouses and companions are not allowed. Yeah, someday I’ll make it there, and when I do, I look forward to raising a pint with some of the friends I’ve met along this road, and Boris (www.boriswild.com) is chief among those I look forward to seeing there. This video was shot there in 2011 and in it, he does his “ACAAB (Any Card at Any Birthday)” routine.
Today’s post and yesterday’s entry are all about moments with family. Yesterday’s was about performing for that family that hopefully we all have –the people we love and choose as members of our personal tribe that time and miles might make it harder to see, but when together, it’s like the moments in between weren’t as long because we find ourselves in those people, same as we did when they became part of our family.
And tonight’s entry goes to direct blood relations. In this case, my niece, Whitney, in particular and how she helped me on Easter Sunday.
A little background, first. I’m sure I mentioned her and her friend’s reaction when I first did the sponge ball routine for them. They hounded me over and over to “do it again.” Well, we had enough fun that I bought her a magic set for Christmas. Annoyingly enough, I didn’t realize until I got a phone call from my sister, Jennifer, a week later asking for help. Yeah, I picked the one set that didn’t have an instructional DVD to it, so Jen was helping Whitney work through the tricks to compensate for Whitney’s reading level vs. the level of the instructions. (For the record, the next magic set I get for Whitney, and there will be another one, will have a DVD. Plus, I will buy two of them and work through as much as I can before Whitney gets her so I can teach her while we’re together.)
OK, Whitney’s strongest virtue is by no means patience, but if she’s getting into this enough that Jen’s being press-ganged to help her learn, I may have finally hit on my connection with her. I know that her lack of patience will add to her increased frustration when it comes to learning and practicing hours of manipulation, so they’ll need to be easy tricks that build fundamentals. Dammit, though, I’ve got her hooked.
And, I digress.
Whitney’s seen most of my show, though. In the time between Friday night at Lex’s and Sunday, I was able to make a replacement prop for the Reggie routine, so I was able to do it and it did get her surprise and approval. She assisted me with a card trick and then, for giggles, I did a vanishing silk routine.
The Vanishing Silk is pretty standard. In my routine, I use Alexander DeCova’s method, which is different than the most standard vanish. The problem is, I don’t like leaving the silk vanished without some sort of restoration. DeCova has a beautiful routine, but where I like his method, the routine doesn’t completely feel right for me. He’s a master and his routine shows it in the most basic of tricks, but I have to add some stoopid to the whole mix. I want the feeling of magic, but I also want the laughs and the smiles to come along with it.
Well, I had had some ideas, but never really got a good feel for where I wanted the trick to go. I love John Shryock’s plot, but it won’t work on the street. So I had a routine that felt just incomplete, but I performed what I had for Whitney. Bless her, I know I’m by no means the first person to pull a vanished silk out of someone’s ear, and that’s the finish she wanted to see. It was one of the things I considered, but she nailed it into the routine for me.
Yeah, it’s such a little thing, but that little bit of validation for my eight year old niece helped me solve the problem I’ve been trying to solve for so long. Ok, it’s a trick that most magicians know how to do, but it’s fun to do and gets a good reaction. And for any routine I do, no matter how goofy it is, I really do put quite a bit of thought into it. It’s all scripted out, so even when there’s extraneous stuff spewing out of my mouth because I was able to latch onto something going on and fling my limited wit in its direction, I’ve still got a script that I’m ad-libbing against. Hell, it’s what pretty much all the top magicians recommend, and I so know where their coming from even with my experience. So, even a little trick as small and basic as a silk vanish gets quite a bit of thought put into it.
Following a day of Whitney running me through every trick I had with or on me, a walk in my Dad’s woods, and she playing teacher while she gave me spelling tests, getting a five minute hug from her just topped the day before we had to leave.
Yep, I’ve got an eight year old magic adviser, and I’m quite okay with that.
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.