Five ways to be positive, while hopefully not being positive.

•March 14, 2020 • Leave a Comment

As I was putting this blog post together I got a note from Paul Romhany, my editor at Vanish Magic Magazine. He is putting together an article with ideas from some of his key contributors. I can’t wait to read them. It is vital that the magic world handles this world crisis in a sensible manner. 

 

1      Take the time to creatively work on some new pieces for the act. Read, research, and do something to revitalize your show. When everything calms down, which it will, you will have achieved something constructive. You can also use the time to re-evaluate and improve safety. and just as vitally the appearance of safety in your show.

2      Look ahead to when something like this happens again, and it will, and really think about the items/moments in your act that would be cringe-worthy at this moment in time. Work out ways to avoid using saliva during the Gypsy Thread, or doing the   Card From Mouth. Maybe they always were a bit cringeworthy and we didn’t fully realize it. 

3      Plan out a show that requires no assistant coming up onstage. Many magicians use assistant volunteers way too liberally;
are there ways to perform the same routines without parading back and forth continually. This will be a bad optic for a long time to come; plus it will probably really speed up your show in a positive way.

4      See if you can restructure your show so that people do not have touch props during your show. Does the spectator have to really remove a card from the pack or could you handle the situation without any physical contact taking place? Even as things return to normal you can expect people to have a new awareness of these basic safety concerns.

5      Most importantly of all, keep yourself healthy and safe. Everyone is losing shows and dates, everyone is going to be hurting financially. Do not figure that you can just do “this” show without a problem, we need to retool the old adage from if in doubt cut it out and make it If in ANY doubt, close it down.

 

I am already seeing magicians on social media talking about going out and performing magic in stores and other hot spots in order to “raise spirits,” and “cheer people up.” This isn’t about you, or any half-assed notions of being a social media hero. Put those grubby sponge balls back in your pocket; you could potentially be passing on something other than a few moments of amusement. Think it through.


 

Jay Alexander’s Marrakech Magic Theater.

•January 3, 2020 • Leave a Comment

San Francisco: to be honest nobody really needs another reason to plan a trip to the City where Tony Bennett and so many others have already left their hearts. However, I am going to give you just one more really great reason. This is the latest in my series about great magic venues in America.

In the heart of the City by the Bay is a wonderful new magic attraction that I think you are going to really enjoy hearing about and want to visit.  San Francisco has a charm all of its own, but Jay Alexander’s Marrakech Magic Theater has added an entirely new level and dimension to it with the magical experience that his new and unique immersive theatrical event offers. With seven shows a week (soon to be eight) the Marrakech experience is the only multi-night magic event in San Francisco, and with its instantaneous critical and commercial success, you can be sure it will be around for the long haul.

Before I walk you through an evening at the Marrakech, I want to spend a couple of paragraphs talking about its creator and star Jay Alexander.  Jay is one of the most successful corporate and society magical entertainers in America whose high-energy blend of magic and mentalism has placed him at the pinnacle of his profession both artistically and commercially. He is the “go-to” guy for America’s top corporate buyers and bookers.

Alexander was born in Houston, Texas and from the age of 11 to 18 developed and honed his skills as a magician and performer. At age 18 Jay graduated high school, and a couple of days later was on a plane to California where he attended the prestigious San Francisco Art Institute. The Art Institute was the perfect place to fine-tune the artistic vision and sense of design that was already beginning to shape his magical vision. Upon arriving in the San Francisco, Jay took his magic to the streets, and the famous Pier 39 location, as he continued to develop the distinctive high-energy skills, and longhaired Rock and Roll persona that continues to define him today.

Jay became a favorite performer at Bill Graham’s legendary Fillmore West and other music venues, where he entertained the elite of the music world including such iconic rock and rollers as the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Fleetwood Mac, and U2. Alexander then quickly became a busy corporate performer in the San Francisco and Silicon Valley area with the help of these ultra-hip credentials. A really unique and giving person, Jay is the perfect epitome of the smart and skilled contemporary performer. Everywhere he travels to perform his shows the audiences are massively entertained not only by Jay Alexander but magic itself as an art form.

So what was it that caused Alexander to decide to open a magic theater when his performing schedule is already packed with enough corporate dates to exhaust the average performer? “The Marrakech Magic Theater is part of a long-term dream in how to deliver a fully thought out magical experience that communicates with people on a highly personal level,” says Jay. “It was a chance to get somewhere totally different in my career and really explore the art of performance. I wanted it to be elegant and fun.” When Jay hits a roadblock in any of his artistic plans he asks himself a simple question, “What would Walt Disney do?” and “What would Richard Branson do?” This approach seems to be working out just fine so far.

A significant part of the appeal to the Marrakech Theater is in the physical presence of the venue itself; situated at 419 O’Farrell Street (just off Union Square), the theater has a fascinating history that has stamped its own personality on the historic building. The two rooms that comprise the theater are situated in the basement of a splendid Moroccan restaurant–the first such restaurant in the United States. The building is an architectural masterpiece and in an earlier incarnation was a notorious speakeasy. Entering the theater you take two steps off the street and are transported into another world.

An evening at the Marrakech Magic Theater is very definitely an evening with Jay Alexander, who is waiting to seat the guests as they enter the 45-seat Oasis lounge that is the gateway to the main showroom. Delicious appetizers and exotic specialty cocktails are available for pre-show consumption in the lounge by the guests. The walls of the establishment are a veritable museum of magical posters and memorabilia from Jay’s collection.  As is every other element of the experience, the exhibits are geared to appeal as much to a lay audience as it is to magicians. 

The theater is filled with tributes, not just to the famous historical magicians who are regularly showcased in these kinds of establishments; there is the culturally fascinating and somewhat obscure, Henry Box Brown, who used magic to escape from the bonds of slavery. Not familiar with Mr. Brown’s story? Google him and you will unfold a fascinating tale! Also featured in the displays are exhibits of some prominent entertainers such as Woody Allen, Johnny Carson, and Steve Martin, whose interest and history in magic is often a revelation to those with just a casual interest in the magical arts; these exhibits on the walls are accompanied by informative museum-style plaques penned by magical experts such as Jim Steinmeyer.

The magic theme has been incorporated seamlessly into every aspect of the experience in the Oasis lounge, and even the drink coasters are mini-visual illusions that further the attendee’s immersion into the magical theme. With 45 guests sitting at small tables waiting to enter the formal showroom it is the perfect opportunity to introduce the first official magic performance into the proceedings. Alexander himself performs an hour of close-up magic before the doors swing open to the main event. With his larger than life performing style, Jay performs his own high-energy brand of in your face magic. Rather than go for a table-hopping approach to his sleight of hand work, Jay uses his unique personality to perform a show that is as much street magic as it is formal close-up. He plays it really big, and in doing so causes the separate guests to coalesce into one big party for the 60 minutes prior to showtime.  In this way even before the official show is begun the audience is already having a blast, getting to know each other and having fun. This is no throw away element in the event and to see how effective Jay’s handling of this particular format is, just check out the rave reviews for the Marrakech on Yelp and Travel Advisor. 

No matter how effective the magical atmosphere and pre-show festivities are in setting the stage for what follows, they are not going to amount to much without a main event that really hits the jackpot. Quite simply Jay knocks the ball out of the park with his 75-minute “Mind Tricks Live” show that lies at the heart of the Marrakech experience.  If you have never seen Jay’s incredible blend of mentalism, mind games and comedic entertainment then be prepared to watch a master at work. As a performer who regularly entertains huge audiences, and in major theaters, it is a rare treat to experience Jay’s talent in such intimate circumstances. Over the years the show has become so polished that it now allows Jay to improvise and ad-lib to devastating effect. Some of Alexander’s approach to the standard art of Q &A is so fresh and effective it may take away the breath of veteran mentalists. While I could try and paint a picture of what he physically does, I can’t hope to capture the impact of the way Alexander emotionally and existentially connects with his audiences. Is he playing games, reading minds or doing both? The crowds are never really sure and quickly cease to worry about definitions as they jump onboard the runaway express that is a performance by Jay Alexander. This guy is a force of nature and one of the very few magical entertainers who never fail to receive a standing ovation at the conclusion of their shows. 

I am very impressed by the systematic way Jay has created a magical experience that perfectly showcases his specific skills. Many a magic venue has floundered by assuming that the general public’s interest in magic is greater than it is and that every non-magician has a deep and profound fascination in Houdini! For every Magic Castle, there are quite literally hundreds of magical “start-ups” that have quickly wound down.  Jay Alexander has created a magical event built on a previous club started in this space by Peter Morrison, that quite simply works and delivers the goods. The closest experience I can think of is Warren Gibson’s wildly popular “Warren and Annabelle’s” magic venue in Maui, Hawaii. Interestingly enough both ventures are based on the initial willingness of the creator/stars to invest an enormous amount of their energy and time as the centerpieces of their own productions. I believe this intrinsic understanding of their own personal strengths and appeal as performers has a tremendous amount to do with the success of their ventures.

I asked Alexander how he managed to not only launch his new Magic Theater but also continue a successful separate corporate career that is expanding rather than contracting in the face of his new theatrical commitment.  Jay replied with a laugh, “ I get up early, and work hard and late!” This simple philosophy may be a huge part of his success, and people who want to be millionaires on minimum wage ethics generally fall by the wayside fairly quickly. As a long time fan of Jay, I fully expect this latest venture to continue on the successful path on which it has begun. I strongly recommend you spend an evening at The Marrakech Magic Theater, settle back for an unforgettable evening in the hands of a master entertainer and entrepreneur, and enjoy the experience! You can find full details and you’re your tickets for the event at www.sanfranciscomagictheater.com 


 

 

Enjoy a Happy, Magical 2020!

•December 31, 2019 • 2 Comments

As we enter another decade it is a fine time to look back on one’s career and prepare for more adventures to come. I am not a fanatic, but I even got new red and yellow silks for the Color Changing Silks. I may even replace the rubber bands on my folding halves! I think every performer should take the opportunity to re-evaluate his show and re-vitalize it a little. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that because a routine works well that it can’t work better. It is easy to forget that we often spend years adding lines/bits to a routine and occasionally we need to start tightening it up! Maybe that 6-minute routine would pack more of a punch if it only ran 5 minutes; how much can you remove from a routine before you make it less effective? Audience attention spans are shrinking every year, and we need to remember it.

2020 makes 50 years that I have been performing magic full time, actually a little longer, but it was 50 years ago I took my
first overseas job and left home for a substantial time to perform. In the next decade, I am looking forward to expanding my role as a lecturer and starting a series of high-intensity Pro-Magic Masterclasses. In spite of being somewhat retired (I decided in 2018 to nix international travel!) I still seem to be doing an awful lot of dates. However, I am enjoying writing and teaching a great deal, and after a half-century, it is nice to be passing on some information to other performers.

Our company Lewin Enterprises is becoming a pretty big deal these days, I am always involved in coming up with the next release and shooting video for it. I will be releasing my totally unique card stab in the early part of the year. It can be performed close up or onstage, and I think it will be very popular; it has a great double punch to it. The trick is called Taking A Stab and if you want to know about its release then make sure you are on our VIP list at http://www.LewinEnterprises.com

I wish all my readers a wonderful New Year and hope your heart and your datebook are both full!

Marvyn’s Magic Theater

•December 27, 2019 • 2 Comments

This Halloween (2019) I was honored to perform during the grand opening week of Marvyn’s Magic Theater, the magnificent new magic venue in the desert town of La Quinta in California.

The proliferation of intimate and well-equipped magic venues is an exciting development for magicians and magic lovers. Public expectations of magic have changed dramatically recently due to the way magic is currently being presented on television. Shows like America’s Got Talent, Penn & Teller: Fool Us, and Masters of Illusion are all doing a great job exciting lay audiences about the more intimate forms of magic. These new magic venues are supplying a live experience that nicely complements the magic currently being seen on the small screen.

The Big Daddy of all magic locations is the venerable Magic Castle in Hollywood, which has always understood the power of presenting a multifaceted approach to enjoying the delights of close-up, parlor, and stage magic. It is safe to say that the Castle is currently enjoying a golden era in its 50 plus years of presenting magic as an art form. The Castle has the natural benefits of containing many small showrooms and performance areas that allow a visitor to forget precisely how big a venue it is. When Caesars Palace launched its ultimately unsuccessful Magic Empire in 1996, they missed the “scale thing” totally, and the size of the location did not work well with the intimacy of the dining and performance areas. It was a great idea that never really caught fire with the general public.

Now let’s get back to La Quinta and Marvyn’s Magic Theater and discuss how they got it right. Along with Nashville’s House Of Cards and The Chicago Magic Lounge, I believe we are looking at the templates for the next stage in the future of magic. First and foremost, the heart of Marvyn’s success is the experience and skills that producer and director of entertainment Jeff Hobson has brought to the table. A veteran of almost every kind of performance venue, Jeff is one of magic’s funniest and most skilled performers. What is abundantly clear after working a week at Marvyn’s is whether Hobson was performing in a Vegas casino, a small comedy club, or a massive theater he was making a mental note of how things should be done. As Jeff says, “I created the theater to be a place I would’ve wanted to perform in if I were still traveling on the road as a magician.” 

Marvyn’s Magic Theater came into being as a result of the combined efforts of Jeff Hobson and Gary Bueller. Born in Sacramento, Gary is a successful businessman with a lifelong interest in magic. Bueller was one of the founders of A1-MultiMedia, which eventually became A1-MagicMedia, that along with L&L Publishing, launched the beginning of the magic video lecture business. For over 12 years, Gary repeatedly told Hobson that if he wanted to open a magic room that he would be there to back and support him. One day, after falling in love with the La Quinta community,  Jeff said, “Yes.” That was the official launch of Marvyn’s. It was only later that the pair decided to personalize the venture and attach the name Marvyn as a tribute to the great magician Marvyn Roy or as he is known worldwide, Mr. Electric.

If there is anything worth doing in magic Marvyn Roy has done it; at 94 years of age, he is one of magic’s greatest icons. Now living in the La Quinta area, Marvyn is one of the most influential and inspirational magicians the magic world has known. I well remember my wife and I enjoyed a post-show breakfast at Denny’s with Marvyn and his partner Carol back in 1974. I was an unknown 22-year-old magician from England who had only seen Marvyn & Carol on television specials, and they extended a warm camaraderie that was accompanied by some inspirational and life-changing advice.

A location for the Magic Theater was selected, and in 2018 Gary and Jeff began to construct the perfect place for magicians to display their craft. Of course, nothing proceeds perfectly smoothly in a venture like this, and both the budget and construction time of the club expanded dramatically due to their commitment not to cut any corners. During my stay in La Quinta, I spent a delightful evening smoking Davidoff cigars with Jeff and Gary, hearing the full story of the creation of the club. I had to smile when Bueller explained that he could either have bought a yacht or build the club and that the theater was his yacht. In fact, he could probably have bought a couple of yachts, but for the sake of magic, I am delighted he chose this path!

Let me now tell you a little bit about the way Marvyn’s Magic Theater turned out and what to expect if you get to visit it. The decision was made not to house a restaurant inside the club, and it was a good one as there are half a dozen superb dining locations located within a few blocks of the venue. The focus of the theater is the showroom and the beautiful bar and piano bar located front of house. I really like the modern, clean design of the entire establishment. There isn’t that dark wood and red curtain Victorian feel that is so often a feature of magic venues. Everything inside the club is modern and aesthetically pleasing. The entrance and lobby of the theater resemble a bustling little magic shop—the kind that has almost disappeared in this day and age. When you arrive at Marvyn’s, a tuxedo-clad Hobson and his charming wife Yvonne welcome you. Yvonne is a large part of what makes things run smoothly at Marvyn’s; both Jeff and Yvonne put in very long days making sure things run efficiently and seemingly effortlessly. When your reservation is confirmed, there is now the matter of actually entering the club. Come on, you know there is something special waiting to happen here!

Once the guests are ready to leave the lobby of Marvyn’s, Hobson ushers several of the group into a high-tech looking “illusion cabinet” situated against the wall. The rest of their party watch as they visibly appear to dematerialize and gradually disappear from view. The remainder of the group can video these proceedings on their phones, making a great souvenir of the visit. It is a very cool prelude to the evening; the illusion was created by Kerry Pollack, and built by Bill Smith. The remainder of the group then requests to be allowed to enter through the “Green Door.” As they enter the club, the “dematerialized” members of the party are waiting there to greet them. It is a simple and very effective procedure that sets the tone of the evening even before it begins.

The main bar is elegant, with plenty of comfortable tables to enjoy a pre-show cocktail. There is also a central area set up as a piano bar, and resting on the piano is a large close-up mat that allows for a combination of music and magic to entertain guests before and after the theater show. Marvyn’s features either a pianist or a guitarist serving double duty as a magical performer in a very effective manner. When I worked the grand opening week, I was delighted to discover that my old friend Andrew Goldenhersh was featured in this capacity. Andrew is not only an incredible magician but also an outstanding guitarist. His hybrid performance did a great job of bookending the stage show.

If you are not familiar with Goldenhersh, his magic is fresh and original and always has a powerful impact on the audience. After demonstrating his musical talents, Andrew performs a short set that features a masterful ring off rope routine involving a velvet rope and borrowed finger ring. By the time he closes out the routine with a definitive version of Ring Flight, the audience is thoroughly entertained and ready for the next stage of their magical event. After the stage presentation, Andrew performs another musical/close-up melange that features probably the finest needle swallowing and threading routine in the magic world. Goldenhersh is a wonderful asset to the club, and his contribution to the evening was a delightful experience. Informal and personable the quality of Andrew’s work made him one of the real gems that the evening offered.

Let me take a moment to mention the magic video montages that Hobson has created that are as a significant visual element playing on screens in the bar area. When the theater doors open, the video entertainment continues on a large screen situated above the stage. Very fittingly, the video entertainment ends with a segment featuring Marvyn and Carol Roy performing their legendary Mr. Electric show. The footage does a great job demonstrating why they have chosen to use Marvyn as an integral element at the heart of the club. It was an intriguing and very successful decision to personalize the nature of the club rather than use magic as a generic source of interest.

As I mentioned previously, it was evident to any working performer how carefully Hobson had drawn from his personal experience to maximize the impact of the club. Nowhere is Jeff’s influence more evident than in the physical construction of the actual showroom. The 129 seat theater is a room specifically designed for watching a magic show. Every one of the comfortable theater seats commands a perfect view of the stage. The sound and lighting are exceptional, and a two-person technical team ensures that the performing experience is ideal for both audience and performer. Backstage is as carefully designed as the front of house and contains two comfortable and well-equipped dressing rooms. Each dressing room includes a nicely stocked refrigerator, a monitor to the onstage action, and its own bathroom. I have worked in many full-sized Performing Arts Centers that can’t begin to rival the backstage environment at Marvyn’s. As a performer, it is always nice to realize that the management is as thoughtful about the performer’s environment as it is to the audience’s needs.

The theater show ran approximately 80 minutes and consisted of an opening act performing for 15 minutes, the headliner doing 45/50 minutes, and the MC tying everything together. I was working with the world-class juggler Romano Frediani. Romano electrified the crowd with his high speed and dynamic performance; this came as no surprise as this talented performer hails from one of Europe’s most distinguished families of variety entertainers. Romano is the eighth generation of the legendary Frediani family, who are considered royalty within the performing word; Romano’s father was Nino Frediani, whose high energy juggling became a worldwide sensation. Romano now performs his father’s act, and it fits him like a glove. Jeff Hobson hosted and MC’d our show, and as always, he charmed the crowd, getting big laughs while performing some great magic. Nobody can win over an audience faster than Hobson, and his participation as the host is an integral part of the success of the show.

I confidently predict that Marvyn’s Magic Theater is going to be a big hit. The attention to detail in the club, combined with the strong line up of performers, will ensure that audiences are enjoying some of the best variety entertainment available. The audiences’ enthusiastic reactions throughout the week leave me confident that Marvyn’s Magic Theater is a winner, and going to be around for the long haul. To check out upcoming bookings, and other show details go to their website      www.marvynsmagictheater.com  

Andrew Goldenhersh

Romano Frediani

Nick and Jeff

Main Bar

Front of House


The Main Showroom


 

The Politics of Patter.

•October 17, 2019 • 8 Comments

Patter is an integral word in the magician’s lexicon. Generally speaking, it is considered rather inconsequential

 compared with the visuals that are taking place. The very word itself tends to suggest something rather trivial. If you substitute a word like dialogue, the dictionary gives you something with a little more gravitas. 

 1: A discussion between two or more people or groups, especially one directed toward exploration of a particular subject.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary has this to say on the word patter when used as a noun.

1: a specialized lingo

, especially: the jargon of criminals (such as thieves.)

2: the spiel of a street hawker or a circus barker.

3: empty chattering talk.

Used as a verb, my MacBook tells me that to patter is to talk at length without saying anything significant: she pattered on incessantly. None of this sounds too good.

It would be my observation that the difference between pattering to your audience and having a dialogue with them is often the difference in talking at an audience and talking with them. In the magic world, often we are presented with patter that is written and delivered to us in pre-planned ready to go scripts or books. Because magicians are lucky enough to have an almost unlimited repertoire of routines available for our performance, we get somewhat spoiled. When I release an effect to the magic community, I often get negative comments if an entire performance script does not accompany that routine. I usually do supply that script, but not to save the purchaser the job of writing original dialogue. There is another quite substantial reason for my doing so.

A comedy magician or mentalist who creates a commercial and powerful routine has usually thought very carefully about what he will say during its performance. The juxtaposition of words to actions may be an integral part of the inherent misdirection necessary for success. I always recommend when someone is trying to learn one of my routines, that they initially memorize the script I supply. Once you have studied the dialogue for a while, and then they can start to discern precisely why I say certain things at specific times. Once someone grasps the creative structure, then they can begin to change those words and make the routine their own, without losing the rhythms that made it work in the first place.

If you are a comedy magician, it sometimes seems like a good idea “cherry-pick” jokes from a variety of other magicians to improve your show. This performance crutch is understandable when you are starting as an act. However, it is something that will eventually handicap a performer a great deal more than he realizes. Stealing someone else joke is a very different proposition to creating a line that adds to your performing persona, and produces an original laugh. If one continues on the borrowed “cut and paste” comedy path, you begin to lose the mental ability to create fresh and relevant material. You begin to sell yourself short, and that is a shame. You owe it to yourself to be yourself.

If you want to say something funny, or say something worth hearing, during your show; a performer must fully grasp the simultaneously important of what he is doing and saying. They are the dual sides of the same coin, and need to be synergistically harnessed to achieve maximum success. I have seen exceptional magicians whose actions display endless hours of rehearsal, only to be sabotaged by what they say. Although we all speak throughout the day, this in no way prepares us for scripting/presenting our show spontaneously. NO, you can’t “umm” or “errr,” you mustn’t make your dialogue a recitation of the actions that your audience can observe you doing. A statement like “I am going to take this regular deck of cards and place it on the table,” has two inherent flaws in it. 

If a magician wants to add comedy to his show, he must resist the temptation to reach for a book of jokes or comedy lines. He/she needs to analyze what is taking place, and what is in his audience’s mind as it happens. He/she must consider the props that are utilized and especially what makes that moment unique. If the performer can come up with a statement that covers the moment, or better still spots an incongruency within it, then he has the opportunity to polish the moment into something unique and personalized. Often the exact right line comes out spontaneously during a performance. When this happens all the performer has to do is remember to write it down to work on later.

When I talk about “working on” or “refining” a line, let me make an informed analysis on what fundamentally needs to be done to achieve a professional polish. If you write a joke for your show, you should immediately run it through a two-part testing program. Job number one is to make sure the words convey your exact meaning and are that they are words your audience will understand. The next step is to eliminate every single word that is not needed to make your meaning clear. You are going to have to put your potential line into written form to do either of these procedures properly. It is much easier to edit the written word than loose words echoing in your mind.

Having spent eleven years headlining in the comedy club market, I have worked with both good and bad stand up comedians. Let me make it clear—the good ones are those who know how to edit. Comics would sit backstage for endless hours editing their monologues down to a minimum. After honing a “hunk” to the bare bones, it is then possible to make sure that any additional words/ideas are adding something tangible and meaningful. A tiny percentage of gifted comedians can do this in their minds; the vast majority do it in written form. The written joke is the building block of a comedian’s work in much the same way that a magic prop is to the average magician. Comedians are often needlessly scathing in their opinion of the way magicians use physical props to facilitate their work. A great many magicians are just as incorrect in failing to appreciate the importance of correct authorship where a one-liner is concerned.

In the magic community, we are blessed to have an enormous quantity of books, DVDs, lectures, and downloads to help improve our knowledge and skills as magicians. There is probably no other hobby/art form that has more words and ideas available to its rank and file. There are very few books available for professional comedians, there are certainly joke books, but these are intended for the amateur “water cooler comedian.” No professional comedian sits around reading a ten dollar book entitled “1000 Blockbuster Jokes,” to add one to his show. Actual original and commercial jokes change hands at a high price in the comedy world. Maybe this is the reason that comedians are much more aggressive in their reaction to the theft of comedy material.

Magicians who think nothing of spending thousands of dollars a year on props rarely think of spending a few hundred dollars on a one-liner. It is easier to find a joke in another performs act that they like and then appropriate it—perhaps changing a word or two along the way. After enough performers have stolen a joke, it is then considered “stock material” and is re-classified as being available to everyone. This practice highlights an uncomfortable disconnect in a community that has become obsessively committed to crediting creators and originators. One of the most common refrains from comedians (and bookers) is that magicians all tell the same jokes, and it is hard to disagree.

In magic, there is often more than a hint of “patter” being used to fill in time by stating the obvious, a gigantic flaw in goals. A good performer is not on stage to fill up time but rather to make time fly by effortlessly. We have to get beyond the desperately flawed magician’s concept, “How long I can get out of a trick….”   Instead, we need to be thinking how much time can I remove from a trick without impacting the effectiveness. If a performer can cut four minutes of unnecessary dialogue in his show, he might be able to add one or two more applause getting effects. Lay audiences view most of their variety entertainment on America’s Got Talent, and are used to magic presented in 90-second hunks. Unless a live performer keeps this reality in mind, he runs the risk of seeming old hat.

Even a short article like this would be glaringly remiss if it didn’t touch upon the endlessly debated and protested area of political correctness. Magicians tend to have a colossal identification with the past; it seems built into our DNA. We love those old fashioned illusions and Victorian props. Heck, we still use school slates, walking canes, top hats, thimbles, milk pitchers, birdcages, and handkerchiefs. To a certain extent, audiences expect (and in some cases dread) these anomalies, it is a good idea to keep your dialogue more attuned to this century! It is much wiser to eliminate vocal anachronisms from your script. If you say something that you think might be sexist or racist, it almost definitely is! In spite of any personal bias against politically correct jargon, it is an excellent idea to guard against it entering into your show. You are not here to make a brave beacon of an anti-PC statement, and are just going to look old fashioned and out of touch. Keep your dialogue and script contemporary, and it will sound less like old fashioned dated patter. Reading online magic forums, it is apparent that some magicians think they can make the PC culture disappear by closing their eyes to it. They are wrong. 

One of the most overused cliches in magic is that old Robert-Houdin quote, “ A magician is an actor playing the part of a magician.” I frequently vent about the ways this concept is used to cover indulgent and precious behavior. In this instance, let me agree with it in theory, however never forget that a true actor has a carefully written script that informs the role he is playing. He doesn’t go onstage and patter to his audience, he uses his dialogues and monologues to amuse, inform, and entertainment. It is time to intellectually throw away those wonderfully nostalgic Robert Orben books and enter the post-patter era.

The Magic of Mentoring,

•July 24, 2019 • Leave a Comment

The Nisus Thesaurus on my computer describes a mentor as: ‘A wise and trusted guide and advisor.’ I think this is a concise and excellent place to begin this essay. Mentoring is a term that is used much less frequently these days than it was in my younger days.

If you have a computer, Google and an Internet connection then you either already know everything or with a few clicks on the keyboard you can do so. If life were really that simple wouldn’t it be grand with everybody an expert. However, it just doesn’t work that way. Computers are wonderful for giving you access to almost any information you need. From making an atom bomb to palming a card, it is all there, as long as you know the right questions to ask. There is an added ingredient necessary though.

This is when a wise, trusted, guide and advisor enters into the picture. He is the one who can help you determine exactly what are the right questions for you to ask. As my favorite fugitive futurist and digital pioneer used to say about politics; “If you can get people to ask the wrong questions then it doesn’t matter what answers you give them, even the truth!” No wonder they locked him up! It’s not about the answers but the questions.

In the old days, information was a very special commodity, if time was money then knowledge was the big bucks. In magic, we searched through books for our information but more often than not, actual wisdom was transferred one on one. In my younger days, it was often the owner of your favorite magic shop who was the first person to help shape and develop your talents and strengths. 

As a young man visiting magic shops and being able to learn from Jon Tremaine, Pat Page and Ken Brooke was a very special privilege that transcended the mere act of buying a trick. When I arrived in America in 1974 you could still go to the magic shop and receive wise and trusted advice from the likes of Jay Marshall, Al Flosso, Jules Lenier or Mike Skinner. Their interest and love of magic far exceeded their desire to merely make a sale. They were advisors.

Nowadays much magic is purchased through the Internet and the personal touch is all but gone. The guys who make a good living selling magic are the good businessmen and not always the true magicians. I say this with love in my heart for them but would you really expect to get the same career guidance from Hank Lee or Joe Stevens that you would from a Ken Brooke or Patrick Page. I think not.

After I left England and Ken Brooke, the next mentor who furthered my career was the inimitable Billy McComb. Billy taught me not just what to do but how to do it and why. I remember Billy explaining to me that when performing the Gypsy Thread to a large audience that you needed to light and sell it larger than life. When you broke that tiny piece of thread your whole shoulders had to move. It wasn’t that you needed that much strength to break it but it allowed the people in the back of the auditorium to realize what you were doing, even if they couldn’t see the thread they saw your shoulders move!

While I am a great believer in the act of mentoring, I am absolutely opposed to the random giving of advice that so often takes place at magic clubs and conventions. Unless you have a special bond with that ‘wise and trusted advisor,’ you can do yourself more harm than good by following every bit of advice given to you. The majority of it is given in the spirit of “I know something you don’t, look at me, I’m cleverer than you are!” 

I run a mile when someone whom I don’t know and respect, comes up to me after a show to tell me how to improve a routine that is probably more carefully assembled than he can even imagine. Nine times out of ten he is going to tell me something that I already know and have dismissed for a very sound personal reason. Therein is the difference between information and knowledge- a meddler and a mentor.

Magic needs more mentors to pass on the knowledge that they have accumulated. When acquired in a careful and considered fashion this knowledge is the personal ‘one on one’ way to improve our art. However, this is only possible by understanding the person you are giving your knowledge to. Otherwise, instead of mentoring you are merely speaking about yourself, to yourself and thus pouring nothing into the void.

True Magic is the Art of Surfing the Waves

•July 10, 2019 • 1 Comment

One of the exciting parts of having been around the magic business full-time for over five decades is that you really start to notice some of the trends that arise in our beloved art form. These trends appear and then disappear, only to arrive back again slightly re-tuned a while later. When you are too deeply absorbed in what is happening at this very instant, it is easy to dismiss the evolutionary recycling that is continuously at work in life. Once you have been around the block a few times, it makes it a lot easier to spot and greet an old friend when he pops up in a slightly different garb. If you do this often enough, and for long enough you sometimes even get credit for being an expert.

During the 1980s I was frequently making TV appearances, and like everyone else had dreams of creating a smash magical special for that medium. In the early 80s, I wrote an outline for a magic special that took place on the streets of Los Angeles. No stage, no glitter, no assistants and no big box tricks; I called it Gorilla Magic. Along with a very highly regarded producer Michael Sloan, we had a pitch meeting with the head of HBO to try and bring this concept to the small screen. During the meeting, she just looked at us in amazed bewilderment, and then fairly patiently explained that this wasn’t how magic specials were supposed to be and it could never work. At that particular moment in time, she was probably absolutely right. Much as I liked my idea, I reluctantly realized she was right, and the concept was a non-starter. When someone with a great deal of experience, who was in a position to greenlight it, said no — then it was probably time for me to let it go. I could have continued battering my head against an invisible wall; however, I moved on and saved my energy for another battle. 

In 1996 David Blaine took the TV world by storm with a very similar approach to a TV special and Street Magic was born. The timing was just not right when I proposed the idea, and it was perfect for the time when David did. It usually isn’t a personal thing, just the weight and state of the universe that ultimately carries an idea to fruition. You have to be sensitive to where and when the energy is working in your favor and act accordingly. For lasting success in showbiz, it is necessary to keep your eyes and mind open and look for the next trend that might lead you onward and upward. I like the analogy of a surfer staying just ahead of the crest of the wave and achieving a subtle balance that allows him to produce a graceful movement that requires almost no effort on the part of the wave rider. Just being in the right place at the right time and keeping your balance gets the job done.

I could go into many specific details of some of the trends that I have seen sweep through the magic world in the years since I first became a magician, but here are just a few very simple ones. From the iconic white tie and tails of Channing Pollack and Cardini to the casual garb of Henning and Copperfield, it only took a couple of trendsetters to influence entire generations of magicians. Remember when that one weird guy at the local magic club (wearing a pendant with a question mark on it) was the only mentalist in town? Nowadays there are more mentalists than you can shake a wand at. I now sometimes joke with bookers that I am the magician who doesn’t read minds! One year every performer was an entertainer, a quick change in the federal tax deductions and suddenly everyone was a keynote speaker. Before David Blaine, there were no Street Magicians, after David, there were more street magicians than dove acts. I could go on with this list forever, but I want to zero in on what I consider the most interesting current trends that are available for a little career surfing.

After years of lamenting the lack of variety on network television, we are happily back in a golden era of variety programming. The most significant reason for this development is the America’s Got Talent show and the numerous other International variations that were inspired by the British prototype. When the show was launched initially in America, it was all about the BIG illusions and effects. However, times change, and recently various smaller forms of magic have been gaining serious traction and success. In 2015 the series was won by Mat Franco performing what amounted to parlor magic. In 2018 the contest was won by Shin Lim performing his breathtaking close-up magic. Somewhere between finishing my first draft of this story and sending it to my editor Shin Lim just won the AGT: The Champions, 2019 contest; all my congratulations go out to him! This successful segue to the more intimate side of our art form has been mirrored in the acts/routines featured on Penn & Teller: Fool Us and Masters of Illusion. The public has become infinitely more educated in the sleight of hand and mentalism schools of magic, and it has opened up an entirely new market for performers to explore. In my opinion, this is a trend that has been way too long in arriving.

We are currently at a point of time where smaller magic in smaller venues is in vogue, and it is springing up in cities across the country. While the larger touring magic shows, such as The Illusionists still feature plenty of grand illusion they are beginning to feature more intimate kinds of magic simply because the audiences want to see it. There are now many smaller venues with live magic that are popping up and catering to the type of intimate magic that is currently being featured on television. What is even more exciting is that these shows are attracting enthusiastic audiences and meeting with a great deal of critical and commercial success. Steve Cohen has been quite a trailblazer and pioneer in this kind of endeavor, and his style and methods have been adapted and adopted with excellent results by other magicians. The late Ricky Jay was also way ahead of the curve in this respect with his various one-man shows. This trend is now becoming an incredible boon to many sleight of hand performers, and I think we will see this approach continue to escalate for quite some time.

The recent opening of Milt and Arlene Larsen’s Magic Castle Cabaret in Santa Barbara is just the latest and classiest addition to the 30 to 40 seat magic showrooms that are popping up nationwide. To lay audiences, the very intimacy of these micro showrooms is a refreshing development in the way they can observe and participate in magical events. To mention a few other examples of this kind of venue, just in the state of California; Jay Alexander’s Marrakech Magic Theater, Steve Mitchell’s Junkyard Magic and Gerry Griffin’s California Magic Theater jump to mind as powerful success stories. The integral intimacy of these showrooms is a considerable part of their continuing success.

The average magician tends to think BIG when it comes to magic showrooms, and I suspect it has a great deal to do with our being raised on the mystique of the gigantic traveling roadshow’s of Houdini, Thurston, Copperfield, and other luminaries from the last century. It always seemed so enticingly simple, Houdini arrived in town, performed a sensational publicity stunt and voilà the theatre was filled. Of course, there was no internet, television or Netflix to compete with the public’s attention in those truly golden years! It was the arrival of cinema that helped draw the curtain on that era. There were still a few performers who could muster the mass crowds needed to fill a regional theatre; however, it quickly became apparent that there were only a handful of performers who could make that old paradigm succeed in modern times. 

The size of the show/showroom has a direct correlation with how many people are needed to fill the seats in a venue sufficiently for the production to be considered a success. A full-sized theatre with 40 people in it is a disaster; the same audience in a 40 seat showroom is called a sold-out performance, and you are then ready to add a second show in the same night. The tough part of producing an ongoing magic event is never about the mounting of the show, but almost always about getting those paying asses in the seats.

This fundamental economic truth doesn’t even take into account that contemporary audiences currently really enjoy being up close, and experiencing their magic as an “in your face” event. 

This freedom resulting from the downsizing of magic venues has allowed magicians around the country to create their own showrooms, often in unusual places, and fill them with enthusiastic audiences. Even more exciting is that performers can do this in the town where they live, and not have to spend the time, effort and expense of traveling. I consider this an outstanding development and opportunity for the average magician who wants to move from hobbyist to professional performer. The only way to improve as a performer is to keep on performing until you get it right and then go right on developing it until it can’t go wrong. 

Over the years I have produced shows in many locations, ranging from nightclubs, comedy clubs, hotels right up to Las Vegas showrooms. However, I have never had the experience of staging a show to the kind of small audiences that I am describing in this article. I figured that it was time to give it a shot, and I am currently launching a new monthly 40 seat magic show in Austin, Texas. It is a combination of parlor and close-up magic employing video assist and a few other surprises to sweeten the deal. There is no similar show in our hip little city, and I am excited to see how quickly we can get it off the ground and flying. Will it be an instant success? I doubt it, but my guess is that it will fairly quickly build into an excellent show that will allow me and my guest performers to have a lot of fun, make some cash, and create a forum that will result in some lucrative private bookings. I strongly suspect it will quickly build to becoming a weekly event and that is my ideal scenario. You could do the same in the city in which you live—we live in exciting times now that we can explore magic without feeling that you need a truck full of expensive illusions to guarantee an audience. Besides, in honesty, some of those deceptive bases don’t look quite as deceptive as they once did.

This scenario is the latest way that I plan to ride the waves of the latest trends in magic. For over 50 years I have enjoyed performing magic for my livelihood and don’t expect to stop any day soon. I love the entire process of studying magic, perfecting tricks and then delivering them to an audience, but it is especially helpful to control the circumstances in which present your show. I am intrigued by the way lay audiences are now viewing the role and repertoire of a magician, and I am fascinated to see how this response to the current magical zeitgeist will play out. If there is one thing I have discovered in my career, it is that if you allow the current trends to carry you forward, then you are letting the Universe do the heavy lifting for you. A tremendous amount of energy in the magical world is spent in trying to re-create what happened in another era. By keeping your eyes and ears open to what contemporary audiences are enjoying you pave the way for ongoing success. As my old friend and Zen master, Jack Goldfinger observes, “It is easier to wear carpet slippers than carpet the world.” I am not entirely sure exactly what he means  (you never are with these zen masters), but I am pretty sure it fits in exactly with what I am saying here! 


 

 
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