Tag Archives: Mentalism

Review: St. Louis IBM Jam – May 30, 2015 (Part Two)

This past weekend was the IBM Jam in St. Louis. For a little about what it was all about, you can read Part One of my review here.

After Ice’s lecture was over, we had around an hour (give or take) to relax, talk, and jam. (Huh. It’s almost like they planned it this way.) During that time, while Joey Night was showing me his home-made thimble that our little group got a dose of Shawn Farquhar’s mind at work as he played with the thimble a bit, but I’ll expand on that a little further down the line. But now, it’s time for our next lecture.

Friends and fellow magi, put your hands together for Chuck Arkin!

First off, I’m not a mentalist and have no plans in the foreseeable future for doing a real mentalism routine, but as I watch each mentalist lecture that comes around, I do develop an appreciation for the art form.

Chuck’s lecture went into depth about some of the systems that mentalists use. I won’t expand too much on that, except that Chuck’s practical handling of some effective methods demonstrated the effectiveness of the methods, both with effective gaffs and without. Okay, maybe I haven’t seen enough mentalism lectures, I’ll admit, but seeing principles I’ve read about done well enough that I didn’t see through the methods impressed the hell out of me.

This was the first time I’ve seen or met Chuck, and of the three presenters that day, Chuck’s the only one who isn’t a full-time magician. He and his friend, Joe Farag, came down from Cincinnati, OH, to the Jam. In addition to being a presenter, he’s also the International Treasurer for the IBM in addition to being a vice president in major banking organization in the Midwest. Be that as it may, he still gigs and he definitely showed why he had his place on the day’s billing.

The thing is, because of the practical applications that Chuck was showing, I found myself rethinking tricks and routines I’ve been mulling over and seeing new possibilities to applications. Now, it’s something that happens with most lectures, but Chuck’s mentalism isn’t clouded with a bunch of ego that I tend to see other mentalists covered up in. and that little difference made it a bit easier for what he taught to sink in.

After another break for talking and jamming, we come up to the final lecture of the day.

Please give a warm welcome to the IBM International President, Shawn Farquhar!

In all fairness, I’ve been a fan of Shawn’s since before I got back into magic. I saw his appearance on Penn and Teller’s Fool Us a few years before I got into the magic scene and before it made its US appearance. (Thanks, YouTube!) He was also one of the first lecture reviews I did on this blog (without going back to check, I think probably the first) and for as much as he may have a name for himself after appearances on television and world-wide acclaim (the most FISM awards on record to date, in addition to awards from plenty of other organizations), he’s very easily one of the nicest people you’ll meet in this business.

Also, when it comes to magic, he is an analytical, computational machine. The man sees the potential in each trick and gimmick he sees. In this way, I pretty much consider him North America’s answer to Juan Tamariz. In addition to this, in his presidency, he’s been a driving force to add value to being a member of this international club at a time when people have started doubting the value to having membership. In taking on the presidency, Shawn’s worked hard to make sure that taking the job did not just render him a figurehead by adding resources like Ask Alexander to member magicians and giving value to the membership that far outweighs the cost of dues. Before I keep doing the gushing fan-boy thing, though, let’s get back to his lecture, though.

Quite a bit of his lecture was what we saw a couple of years ago, but Shawn’s one of those magicians that even when you know some of his tricks, he still hits you in a way that you don’t expect. I know that viewing one of his routines, even from an extreme angle that should have given it away, and even knowing the damn move, I was still just as caught off guard. Even Dan Todd, who had sat in the same lecture before I had and was on stage with Shawn assisting, was just as taken in by the effects.

And here’s the maddening thing: In general, outside of the use of some specific gimmicks for an effect, most of the moves he is using, especially in cards, incorporates moves that most magicians have in books that they have on their shelves. The man sees all these applications that can be applied to the moves. Using psychology and human perception (after reading Tommy Wonder’s “Books of Wonder,” I’m loathe, for good reason, to use the term “misdirection”), he pulls off stuff that, if you realized what was going on, you’d have a bruise on your forehead from clapping it for being suckered in.

That’s not saying that he isn’t an outstanding manipulator, because he’s one of the best. What he’s demonstrates, though, is how when you have that move or set of moves down, you can stop thinking about the move and open yourself to the applications. In his hands, a simple deck of cards becomes a tool he can use the same way a master painter can realize new realities with paints and a brush.

And like said master painter, like most master artists, he’s not limited in just one medium. Going back to the thimble I mentioned before, when Shawn picked it up and started playing with it, he started spewing different ideas and premises that could be applied, riffing ideas out. Later, at dinner, I mentioned a routine that’s just beginning to take root in my mind, and he started riffing on that, opening me to additional possibilities I hadn’t even had an inkling of. Whether I work the ideas into the routine, it started the juices flowing with a chemistry that I hadn’t even considered.

For everything that happened at the Jam, it surely didn’t feel like six hours

For an analogy of methods and styles between the three presenters, I’ll try this: Ice McDonald is the shot of tequila you and your friends taste and drink down to get an evening’s festivities started. You’re not wasted by any means, but you’re fired up for what’s to come. Chuck Arkin’s presentation and manner is the smooth bourbon you share as you and your friends share a good moment of bonding, maybe after having a bite to eat along the way. And Shawn Farquhar, he’s that cocktail you get you ask the bartender to make you their favorite drink to mix, where you know you’re going to get a combination of liquors in a surprising way that knocks you off your feet. Either that, or he’s the jungle juice of every liquor in the house of some rowdy party. I’m not sure which.

Slainte mhath!

For more information on the International Brotherhood of Magicians, go to www.magician.org.

In St. Louis, you can find out about IBM Ring One at ibmring1.com.

Ice McDonald’s website is at icestormentertainmentgroup.com.

For Shawn Farquhar, you can visit his site at www.magichampion.com or visit his YouTube channel here.

Ice McDonald, Chuck Arkin, me and Reggie, and Shawn Farquhar

Ice McDonald, Chuck Arkin, me and Reggie, and Shawn Farquhar

Lecture Review: Nathan Kranzo Workshop, St. Louis S.A.M. Assembly 8, 17SEP2014

When Nathan Kranzo came through and lectured for S.A.M. Assembly 8 earlier this year, I was a bit annoyed because of getting held up with day-job work stuff, so when I found he was doing a workshop, I was quite happy and immediately signed up as soon as I heard. That was definitely a good decision on my part.

Now, Nathan did admit there was a little cross-over between his lecture and his workshop but he minimized that and only went through a couple of things that were in the initial lecture. As part of the package, there were two DVDs (one covering a gaff Nathan has developed from an older gaff concept) and a good number of downloadable files including pdf lecture notes and a video of a routine and explanation.

The main thing I found really cool about what Nathan was presenting in this workshop was how he developed a number of routines using gaffs that have been around for quite some time. His opener routine that he gave us was a coin routine that used and milked a gaff that probably most magicians who do coin work have picked up and used along the way. What he focused on was using manipulations in addition to the gaff to build a routine around a number of tricks that flowed from the start of production to finishing clean. Yeah, I know I’m keeping it vague on what he presented, but I’d rather not name any of the gaffs discussed just in the event that laypeople actually read this blog.

What the first routine (and really, the subsequent routines, as well) reminded me of was of watching Boris Wild about probably his biggest contribution so far to magic tools. In both cases, we have serious manipulation skills combined with a creative knowledge of using the gaffs employed. When Boris discussed his gaff, he referred to it as jazz, taking the gaff and playing with it and finding new ways to use it. In both the case of Boris and Nathan, in addition to classic routines and premises, we had additional new and off-beat premises shown to where the gaffs involved. Coming back around to Nathan, if anybody during the discussion asked where he got a trick from, unless he was naming a specific move, he would list off a number of magicians whose ideas had been implemented. In some cases, it was material developed for a different tool completely but had enough shared DNA with what Nathan was using that in was adapted.

Now, I’m sure that for an awful lot of magicians, this isn’t anything new, but I also know enough magi who, once they get a gaff or gimmick, play it only really the way it is presented in the instructions that came with it. For me personally, it timed perfectly. I had just recently started playing with a gaff that I had picked up well over a year ago and, pretty much after seeing only minor variations of Don Alan’s routine with the gaff performed, I pretty much put it down figuring it was probably locked into that one presentation, and I’d rather put my own spin on it. Nathan’s workshop inspired me to look at other gaffs that had enough matching DNA that I started jamming with the gimmick running a few manipulations that were more for the other gimmick. I’m now seeing the potential.

It’s not a case, really, of when you discover how to use a hammer everything is a nail, but rather, learning that in addition to pounding a nail into a board, a hammer can pull or straighten a bent nail (and though I’m a big horror movie fan, I won’t drag this analogy further into “Toolbox Murders” territory). I personally generally dislike gimmicks that can only be used for one trick and that’s it. I’m always looking for at least three phases to each routine, if not more. Hell, even though in general there’s only really one move to a good operation of the Three Shell Game, a great presentation gets creative in the implementation.

Now, I must say, for the routines and tricks Nathan performed, I will say that if I was to adapt one routine for my own, it would have been his finisher. In this case, there was no gaff used. It was a series of coin though silk manipulations that, for being close-up magic, plays big. Yeah, we all find our favorites, and for what he presented us, this was definitely mine. For busking, it is perfect, but all in all, like anything else, once I start working with it, it will be a path of discovery until the routine has DNA in Nathan’s routine (in addition to so many others) but its final presentation is mine.

All in all, my final take-away from Nathan’s workshop, for all the technical information he dropped on us, it was a tent-revival for my creative side.

Yep, the gratuitous fan-boy shot with Nathan Kranzo

Yep, the gratuitous fan-boy shot with Nathan Kranzo

Daily Dose of Magic – Jim Steinmeyer – Demonstration from “The Last Greatest Magician in the World”

In addition to being one of the top illusion creators in the business, Jim Steinmeyer (www.jimsteinmeyer.com) is also one of the magic community’s treasures as a historian. Jim doesn’t perform much for the public, but when he does, it usually is for a private event and there’s not much video documentation openly available. This particular video is one Jim put out in conjunction with his outstanding book (seriously, if you are into magic history, it is a required read) “The Last Greatest Magician in the World.”

Jim Steinmeyer – Demonstration from “The Last Greatest Magician in the World”

Daily Dose of Magic – Max Maven “The Hawk”

One of the major contributors to contemporary mentalism is Max Maven (www.maxmaven.com). The man is phenomenal and has a great reputation in the magic community as a person, in general. My early thoughts of mentalism were that it was going to be all dark and creepy, kinda in the oogie-boogie realm, but as I see more and more of it, it’s all about entertainment. In that, Max certainly fits the bill.

Max Maven “The Hawk”

Daily Dose of Magic – Chris Korn “Smash and Stab”

Last weekend, at our local Magicians’ Round Table, I got the opportunity to meet St. Louis native and globally-renown television magician Chris Korn (www.chriskorn.com), who was in town for a corporate gig the night before. For the St. Louis magi, I’m probably one of the last to meet Chris, but he’s a seriously nice guy in addition to his skill in magic. In 2011, he appeared on a BBC show, “The Magicians,” and though he didn’t win the competition, he definitely put on a great show. He performed this routine with actress Sam Womack, and with the double-blind effect, makes it all the more impressive.

Chris Korn and Sam Womack “Smash and Stab”

Daily Dose of Magic – John Archer Fools Penn & Teller

Award winning John Archer (www.john-archer.com) is brilliant when it comes to magic combined with comic timing. In this piece, he fools Penn & Teller (he was the first one on their show to do this) with a piece of mentalism. Bonus to a great act is Penn looking flustered.

John Archer Fools Penn & Teller

Roy Zaltsman Lecture Review – I.B.M. Ring 1, St. Louis, MO Wednesday, 06NOV2013

This is really only the second mentalist lecture I’ve attended. Considering the previous lecture that was touted as a mentalism lecture was no more, really, than a dealer show, I really did not know what to expect. Considering the fact that I was a bit soured on the previous lecture (and had my thoughts about that lecturer confirmed by some others in the magic community), I still didn’t know what to expect. Fortunately, I was amazingly impressed by the skill and knowledge dropped by Roy and came out a fan of what mentalism magic can be.

First, a little bit of background about Roy. He’s from Israel and very personable. For years he had worked going back and forth doing magic for both kids and adults and became tired of the grind from carrying all the props and switching between the mindsets between shows for each age group. About ten years ago, he sold all his props and started doing mentalism and hasn’t looked back since.

Throughout his lecture, he asks questions about the crowd. In this way, we were constantly participating in the act. He explained a lot of the psychology behind his prompts. In one case, he had a stellar example where using the statistical knowledge he had when he “knew” things about audience members that wouldn’t necessarily always come up in conversation. The fact that he “knew” that one of the audience members had a scar, which was revealed by the member as from a shark bite, was just bloody well impressive. (Okay, you had to be there for that one, but, man, that was cool!)

What impressed me so much about Roy, and this probably goes for mentalism in general, was that so much of it is knowing psychology, sociology and statistics about human beings. The props he uses can all fit in his pockets, so he’s relying on the audience to be a good part of the presentation. This, of course, greatly increases his chance of failure, which he can masterfully either laugh off or work to his advantage, depending on the situation.  Of course, even though his chance of failure is greater than if he was doing manipulations or illusions, he’s working in a system where his chances of success are greatly in his favor.

I’m currently putting my first 30 minute act together, and even though I don’t have any plans to put mentalism into my act (but I never know what I’m going to do in the future) I came back with quite a good amount of information.

As I’ve seen stressed by other magicians, the first key is entertainment. Roy is very personable and as much as he is the attraction, the audience is very much a part of the show. His show relies on audience participation, so he is warm and inviting when he is using audience members in the routines. There is a lot of comedy involved, but it’s not a comedy act as much as a feeling of “We’re all friends and we can all laugh together.” Admittedly, as he was performing for magicians, he was a bit looser than if doing his act for laypeople, but my guess is only marginally so.

The next take-away would be the fact that he really can’t be hampered by a fear that something is going to fail. Once again, the deck is stacked in his favor, but with all the variables in what he’s doing, he knows that at some point, there is going to be a failure. Maybe big, maybe small, but still it’s likely going to happen at some point. In this way, he’s got to be a bit fearless. After the lecture, he was relating a story about how one trick failed for a prominent client, and he was pretty sure he was not going to be asked there again. Even with the failure (and he did relay that it was one of those times that had him concerned), he ended up booked for two more large corporate gigs. Okay, I’m a far cry from having enough experience to know how to cope with things that well if a trick fails in a performance, but it’s a good lesson on how such an instance is not necessarily the end of the world.

Finally, the last item I’ll mention of note from his lecture is his adaptability. In his case, he is able to play off things that in some cases, he can use a coincidence to make a small miracle. Wow, I mentioned the shark bite earlier, but he related another coincidence that he able to use to just blow people away. I could say more on this example, but as some who read this may not be in the magic community, I really don’t want to give it away. Sometimes, it sucks to have to bite my tongue.

OK, despite the less-than-impressive presentation from the prior mentalist, Roy Zaltsman gave a great show and great lecture. It really was one of the lectures that I wished my wife could have seen, as I know it would have interested her as much as it would have blown her away. Okay, my wife isn’t really a bar that I use to rate lectures, as I’m happy that she tolerates me, but the amount of practical psychology discussed would have kept her entranced. From what I got that can be applied to magic performance in general, damn, I’m glad I was there.

Roy Zaltsman and me after his lecture for Ring 1. OK, It kinda pains me to say it, but, Mind. Blown.

Roy Zaltsman and me after his lecture for Ring 1. OK, It kinda pains me to say it, but, Mind. Blown.

Another Dose of Magic – Roy Zaltsman in Houston

Tomorrow night, Wednesday, 06NOV2013, IBM Ring 1 will host a mentalism lecture by Israeli magician Roy Zaltsman (www.telepathylive.com). He has a number of videos on YouTube, but I chose one that was taken from the lecture he gave in Houston. Even in this short video, he shows that in addition to being an internationally acclaimed mentalist, he’s also a fine entertainer. It’s a lecture I’m seriously looking forward to.

Roy Zaltsman in Houston

Daily Dose of Magic – Marc Oberon “23rd International Close Up Competition”

British magician Marc Oberon (www.marcoberon.com) gives a great demonstration of having the Midas Touch in this internationally award winning routine. I love the inventiveness Oberon uses to combine these effects into a beautiful routine. His patter also adds quite a bit to the routine. As much as I like the manipulation routines I’ve posted and will continue to post, my preference is usually for routines where there is patter and we get to see a bit of the magician’s personality.

Marc Oberon “23rd International Close Up Competition”