Tag Archives: Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Quick Review of Shawn Farquhar’s performance for the 2013 I.B.M. Ring 1 President’s Banquet

Now, for anybody reading this blog, if you are unfamiliar with Shawn Farquhar, he has more international magic awards, not to mention multiple awards from Canada, than most in this business. I could recap them, but seriously, just read the Wikipedia article on him at  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shawn_Farquhar or look at his site at http://magichampion.com.  I don’t need to repeat the credits and discuss what’s already been written.

I could tell you how stellar his act is and do a play by play of what he did, but when a magician is in his class, you know it’s going to be a hell of a show, unless things are really off, which was not the case by far. He is bloody well phenomenal. 

So what am I going to review, then? Well, it goes back to what this blog is in regards to: How his performance affects me and where I’m going.

Do I hope to someday win some awards? Hell, yes. I enjoy competing, and doing magic makes that no different. Really, though, it’s his personality on and off stage.

I’ve been reading a book by a busking magician, “To Lure with Spectacle” by Jimmy Talksalot. He references something said by Jim Cellini about when you perform, you have to play with the audience. In addition to the amazing skill that Shawn shows in his show, he is always playing with the audience. He was cheerful and inviting before the show and continued that same personality throughout the show and afterwards as people came up to talk.

Yeah, there was quite a bit of comedy to his act, but I never got the sense that any of the smiling and joking around were purely an act for our benefit.  Yeah, he is a consummate performer, but when he performed his final routine for the night, “Shape of My Heart,” which was highly technical and is one of the pieces he has won awards for, as I watched the close-up on the projection screen, I also glanced up from time to time to catch the look on his face. It was the look of a man who, even though he is doing some seriously technical work, he’s still a kid at play.

Now, he’s still just another guy, and he’s doing what is his career, so he’s got all the hardship and ugly bits of life that go with that. For all I know, when he goes home, he could go back to absolute toil and turmoil. I don’t know because we all have lives behind closed doors, for better or for worse.

As a magician and performer, though, for all there is of that real life, you see an adult kid at play with a room full of new friends.

When I go out and perform, that’s where I want to be. If I’m busking for a few people or for a large crowd, I want to be able to make that moment happen. I’m already feeling it quite a bit when I perform, but I still have enough nervous energy running that it’s not always as evident on either side of the “stage.”

It might sound sentimental or cliché, but when you play like that and that joy is infectious, for all the sleight of hand and skill, that joy is where the magic is.

Yeah, I want a little of what he’s got, and I will get there.