Thursday, November 29, 2012

Magic Mirror by Robert Neal and David Parr

One man's thoughts another man's words, an unusual premise for a book but it seems to work well. The book started as a collection of essays by Robert Neal, which were re-written by David Parr. Now I've never had any contact with Mr Neal, but David Parr is basically the head Mugwump at my favorite forum and thanks to the small but dedicated user base I have has some interaction with him. I've found him to be both helpful and insightful. This book is split into two parts, the first part is magical theory and the second part is effects. Not a lot of effects in this book maybe nine total but that's not this point of this book. The effects are darn good effects a fair few will make their way into my repertoire. But really if you are just hunting for good effects you may want to spend your money elsewhere, where this book shines is the theory portion. If you've ever wanted your magic to feel like something other than silly tricks, this book is for you. It approaches magic from a more anthropological view point. It asks and answers the question of why man created magic and why they need magic. The book also offers a new way to classify magic one I find to practical and thought provoking.

Bottom line is this book offers a new way of looking at the performance of magic. Which is something I think all performers need in general. Seriously if hope to grow at all you need to take a look at your magic from a different perspective at every opportunity.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Book of Forgotten Secrets by Stephen Minch

The webpage said "This IS your father's bizarre magick, full of alien gods, scuttering monsters, pentagrams and flash paper!" how could you not want a copy. In the seventies Stephen Minch released a book of seven H.P. Lovecraft inspired routines called 'Lovecraftian Ceremonies' it is now out of print and hard to get and I so very much wanted a copy. Lucky for me in 2009 an updated and expanded version of the book was released in a limited run under the title of "Book of Forgotten Secrets" each copy is signed and numbered. Mine is number 400 out of 500. Now I'm not going to go into the effects this a book a secrets you want the secrets you gotta get the book. First thing I like about this book is the look of it. It looks like a book of secrets should. It even has one of those built in ribbon bookmarks. The only way it good be better is if it was aged and written in some indecipherable script. It starts by stressing the importance of performance in order for the success of the effects. Even with the actual effect more information is placed on the script than on the methodology and stage direction. When it comes to methodologies don't expect any mind blowing new methods. Not only is it you fathers bizarre magic it's also his methods. So there really nothing here for what could be called move monkey's, the people that buy up everything they can in order to learn all possible methods. Where I think this book is the most use is in building an understanding of the proper way to construct a bizarre routine. There are somethings that took a second read through for me to get, like the advice to not do these routines for Lovecraft aficionados. I kind of feel that if you're into bizarre it won't hurt to have in your collection. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

My confession

I don't like close up magic. Don't get me wrong, I like the effects, I like doing the effects. I just don't like performing close up. There's just some folks I'd rather not get close up to. In fact its most people. When I go to a party I do my best to perform for any interested party and sometimes I'll find my self wrapping up quickly so I can get away from the person. I have a friend who wants to start his own event planning company and to me I see it as an opportunity in the making so I help out and attend his events in case he gets his act together and actually gets it too work out that'll be a valuable resource. Any way I'm at his event and he's having a raffle so I go to purchase a ticket but he's not really worked out how to do it yet, so I write 1 raffle ticket on one of my business cards and give it to him so he has a reminder that I bought one. After he got the raffle together and no longer need my business card it some how found it's way into the hand of a large redneck like fellow who came up to me to ask me to define some words. My business card at the time read;
"Magnus Asbjorn
Worker of Wonders
Maker of Miracles
Purveyor of Bizarre Arcanum"
Now before you give me crap about them I'd like to point out that I printed them myself for the purpose of using in the Stigmata effect. I explain that Thaumaturgist means wizard. And then he asked what Bizarre Arcanum meant and I explained that it meant bizarre secrets. To which he replied and I quote "What? Like I like to suck on toes or have a dildo in my back pocket?" If I weren't already done talking to this drunkard I definitely did not want to talk to him more. I did the hot rod effect and he sent him on about his day. Recently I had a run in with the worst type of spectator, the troublemaker, the entire effect she did nothing but try and mess me up. She failed and everyone but me and her had a good time. My point that until just after she choose a card there were no warning signs that I was about to have trouble.

Now at this point in my magic learning I can still choose who I want to perform for but if I were to go pro with the close up magic, I can't really say I don't want to perform for someone. Now I can turn down clients as I see fit but as long as I'm on the clock I have to entertain the guests of whomever hired me. The last thing I want is for a guest to complain that I ignored him or was rude to him. No matter how good a performer I am the are others out there in the same pay grade that are just as if not more willing to take the job and please everyone.

When I got into magic I was and still am enamored with the idea of parlor magic, but I had no idea how to get into that, my plan was to start with close-up learn how magic works, the basic principles and sleights  pick up some good effects, and then work my way towards my goal. Beyond learning closeup for that plan I feel a magician should be able to magic at any time, not just on stage. Not saying he has to just cause he's asked to just that he should be able to. It seems like it would make you look a little silly if you could do all that stuff on stage and then after if someone see you in the bar be all I can't. And obviously you should have a dynamite close up effect to show bookers, and convince them to hire your act, unless your act packs small enough or you have somewhere to show it off.

Monday, November 19, 2012


I was recently informed that David Blaine's minimalistic patter style comes from his belief that  "if someone was to do magic, like really do magic, I don't think they'd have a big presentation. They would just do it. Like I would just pick up a rock and crush it into sand. No fancy presentation" I don't actually care too much for Blaine's performances especially since he moved to a more stunt focused character but it got me thinking about what real magic would look like.

I came to the conclusion that the idea that if one could do magic they would just do it doesn't really fit into what I'm gonna call the cultural subconscious. I'm not really an expert but it seems to me for the most part going back in time both in real life and stories magic men, wizards, witches, shamans, witch doctors, etc required items and rituals and what have you. The beings who could just change reality with little more than a thought generally were gods and demons and other supernatural beasts, and in some mythologies the gods still needed items and all that to make the changes. But when a supernatural being does that, it's not magic, it's no longer the impossible its just that being doing its thing.

What I see as support of the idea of an underlying cultural understanding of magic is that anytime a writer deviates from this traditional thinking of how magic works they have devote time in story to exposition on the way magic works. Like in Harry Potter no explanation is given for how magic works you just read them doing magic. But for the Sword of Truth series (the only deviation I could think of at the moment) theres a page or two where one character sets another down and explains how magic works just before that knowledge becomes relevant to the story and that pretty much happens every time a new understanding is needed by the reader.

While I don't see myself joining the minimal patter bandwagon, I suppose if one explained in a reasonable fashion their Djinn like nature they could perform feats with no build. Although I fail to see a way to make it entertaining. Beside it makes the whole thing a little questionable, if you could just change reality why do you need me to pay you to perform card tricks. What I'm trying to say is that whether or not they know it people expects a little something to make magic, they expects odd words and gestures cause growing up that is what caused magic in the tales they were told. And because of this you can't do something magical with no build and expect it to be anything other than a surprise, magic needs a build up or its just tricks (which I'm not against just tricks cause those are still fun just not really all that magical).

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Skeptics be crazy

So I don't know how many of you subscribe to the Magic Roadshow newsletter but this latest issue had a link to an episode of the Amazing Kreskin a TV show from the 70's and then it had a link to opinion of Kreskin and then an opinion of the opinion. If you don't read the opinion at the link you won't know what I'm talking about. The article is almost two decades old but what I found interesting about it was the fascinating look it gave me into the mind of a skeptic. I have always know that skeptics existed but I had always thought that what they were fighting was the Miss Cleo's of the world. For those that don't know Miss Cleo was a fake Jamaican that sold psychic readings over the phone with some pay-per-call service back in the late 90's. I thought they were fighting the psychics that sold their services as real and not the entertainers. I've never seen anything that painted Kreskin as anything other than an entertainer but this article's tone really communicates a hatred of Kreskin. I mean it was the plan of this skeptic group to get one of their people in to surprise and harass Kreskin, sad part is today the producers would probably hurry the skeptic to a front row seat just because it would be good for ratings. I mean that takes a lot of animosity. There are a lot of people I don't like but the idea of taking time out of my day to harass them especially if I didn't know them personally seems a bit much. Beyond the authors own distaste towards Kreskin it seems that he is rather surprised that the interviewer did not share his desire to verbally attack an old man on stage (Kreskin would have been around 60 when the article was written), or that a publishing company would publish Kreskin's book.

The way I see it as a performer it's understood that what I do is an act for peoples entertainment, I may try to blur the lines of reality in performance but only in order to be entertaining so that you will feel that whatever it cost to see me was worth it, so that people will come see me so I can support myself doing what I love to do. So to any would be skeptics who want to give me a hard time remember the skills I use to entertain would make me a lot more more if used to swindle.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Best Color Monte Ever.

The original Color Monte (or at least the one I know as the original) using a red and blue diamond is a bit of a silly trick. And I always wondered if it was just colored squares why have a standard card back. There are a lot of versions of color montes out there. Various colors, pictures, and themes. But for the most part they are very similar, they feel similar. This one feels different. It has three actors and makes use of the audience. The audience participation is funny without making anyone the butt of a joke. Even if the story is similar, I feel a lot of thinking went into this effect. Then think of the effort of working in two other actors. Thats a lot of work in jazzing up the color monte and to me that shows that the magician really cares about giving his audience something to see.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Scoundrels Touch from The School for Scoundrels

Two DVDs for the price of one, not really as it costs more than $50 (which I guess in term of magic DVDs there are some out there that cost $50 or more) but its worth every penny if you seriously work the shells. By seriously work the shells I mean that you love the effect not that you are an actual conman. The Scoundrels Touch has so much content it needs two disks. And it really is two DVDs in one because Bob Sheets' DVD 'Absolutely Nuts' is part of disk one. The quality of the video is excellent better than it needs to be in the non teaching sections but I think the quality of School for Scoundrels products is what makes it worth their sometimes high dollar prices.

The menu is very similar to the one from the previous School for Scoundrels Three shell game DVD. Clicking play all takes us into an introduction from Whit Haydn, Bob Sheets, and Chef Anton. One can not help but think that Bob must feel a little under-dressed between Whit and Chef. Next up is Whit introducing us to the system presented in this volume, and he starts with a history lesson. Like a lot of talk of the shells this one starts with Soapy Smith. Soapy's method gave Whit an idea that he couldn't get to work which he shared with Bob, who worked on it for a year and then came back to fry minds with it. Next up is Bob explaining how the system works. After a quick explanation we cut to Bob Sheets performing at the Magic Castle. Like the video from the first volume he is using his variation on the Dr Beaumont patter, his version has extra emphasis on poo in order to tie his patter to scarab shells. Maybe he is too ingrained with that patter because he's using regular looking walnut style shells but still brought out a scarab shell for his patter and that is all that shell is there for, it plays no other part in the routine. This is followed by another performance at wherever the video was shot, he's mostly performing for the camera with the help of an off screen spectator. Now we finally get to learn how to do this routine. After that we get some more information on the system and an updated Sheet's acquitment. I don't know why it needed the update to its handling but as I have not done the move anywhere as near as often as Bob Sheets has I have to assume it's a needed improvement. What I like about this routine is that it works with larger shells. Finding a glass the right size for a shot glass finally was a pain with with my Black Fox Master Shells. After explaining the routine the go into more details on some of the moves. Then they go over ways to ring a pea in and out including the use of the Sheets' Stack. One of the things I like about this series  of DVDs is that even when they are explaining one of the products School for Scoundrels sells I never feel as if they're trying to sell me the product. It's more if you have or want said product this is how it works and never you should get this product. After that is a nice alternative ending that use two shells. Next we cut to Bob Sheet's Absolutely Nuts DVD, not having the original DVD I can't say how it was modified to fit on this DVD. For the most part with the exception of the system that makes up The Scoundrels Touch and a pea in the hand move most of the info in this section is the same as what you would find on volume one of the series. After Absolutely nuts section we have Whit giving us a refresher on the V-grip, the Haydn Turnover, and the Maneuvers  I consider the Hayden turn over essential because no matter how many times you tell them it's off limits someone will make a grab for your equipment, if I see someone go for the shell with the pea I can do the turnover before he can grab it. Once the refresher is over we have Whit teach the kick steal. The drawback to the kick steal is it need a heavier shell to function. Next is what may be my favorite part of disk one "Feints, Hooks, Come Ons, and Ruses" apparently this section is just a teaser for volume three. I CAN'T WAIT. The moves taught here are designed to help the spectator think he has one up on the operator so they will want to play. The are more valuable to people that use the shells more as an actual con than for the magician doing a routine. The final bit of video is Whit going over the various shells available at the Scoundrels store. I must be done talking about disk one, wait, nope, the disk also has files to be opened on a computer. With the exception of the photos these seem to be mostly the same files from volume one.

The menu is no different here than on the other DVD. This video start with Chef Anton doing is routine. I really enjoy this routine and I will be learning it. So it good that next part is Chef teaching this routine. Followed by Chef with an alternate ending. Next is Whit showing an alternative ending for if you have magnetic shells. Then Chef shows how to do the same with a magnetic cigar instead of magnetic shells. Whit up next with a run down of the Sheets Stack, the Sharper Pens, and the Pea Can. After that we find that Chef is a fan of outs, that he loves doing them and he teaches some of the ones he enjoys. Whit then introduces us to psychological outs which vary from the regular ones in that you don't manipulate the shells. These are bits of business that make it OK that the spectator got the right shell and Whit goes into how you can use them to get a read on what kind of player you have on your hands. Then we have what I think could be the most useful section two videos of Whit performing the same routine to different groups at the magic castle. In one it goes perfect and in the other the spectators are trouble. Besides being able to contrast the two performances it help to see how a master like Whit handles the situation. I also find it interesting to see how Whit uses the whole table not just the area in front of him. Next we learn the Escobar move which Whit says is a come on in that it let's you do the shells with one arm behind your back. A surprise character follows, a Giuseppe that teaches us about the modern outfit. It's a little odd watching a man dressed like he belongs on a river boat talking about about sanding bottle caps. Beyond that the information seems solid and is straightforwardly presented. The most useful of the information he presents for someone that is running more of legitimate game than a routine is that of Betting Cycles. Giuseppe is followed by Whit showing how to use a handheld board. After Whit is video of a real operator and his crew working a festival. Next is a lecture with Whit and Chef called "Thinking like a Scoundrel" They go over the difference between a real operator and someone doing an exhibition. They talk about what we can learn as performers from a real operator. The files on the DVD worth mentioning are the pictures of legitimate mobs in action and a transcript of Gamblin' Sams forum posts.

So what do you get for your money well you get two routines from Bob Sheets and one from Chef Anton, a solid system to always win at the shells, new moves and bits of business, a lot of information about the legitimate operations of the con, and good bit of stuff that takes some actual time spent thinking and considering. I know that The School for Scoundrels says that you don't need the first video to benefit from this one but there a good bit of info here that needs the operator to have a thorough understanding of the basics.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Kings Rising Levitation from Ellusionist.

I rarely say not to get something but unless you're getting this DVD as part of a package deal or you are a levitation junky don't bother with this DVD. The problem with this levitation is that it requires certain footwear and a jacket. Other than that its just as angle prohibitive as the Balducci levitation. All you really gain is that spectators see both sets of toes come up off the ground instead of both heels. If anything it's Balducci with different angles that requires special props and is harder to get into.

The teaching is good and solid and the video is good quality. You also gain access to a dead forum. Which is annoying cause its a selling point on the web page but it not worth the time to go to.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The cost to do magic.

"I'd really like to get _____ but the cost is so high" Oh I hates that phrase it's poor people thinking at best. The only time I consider cost is in relation to the quality of the item. If I drop $250 on close up pad I expect to get a high quality close up pad that will last through several years of use. If I spend $450 on a set of shells for the three shell game I expect to receive an expertly cast set of pure silver shells. At no point do I think that I won't buy those items at those prices because sitting here imagining doing the shells with silver shells using a white "pearl" on the Victorian close up pad is like mental porn.

When I was significantly younger I remember hearing a quote that stuck with me, "A poor person thinks 'I can't afford that', a rich person thinks 'How can I afford that?' " It's not a question of how much the item costs it's a question of how do you align your finances in a way in which you can afford it, which may take time and patience but if you really want something it's possible. Now I do understand buyers remorse where you get something and it turns out to be crap. At lest in the magic world you have the benefit of reviews out there so do your research to avoid that. But that's way different than avoiding something simply due to the price. Price alone should never be the deciding factor.

This complaining mostly happens with cards. "I like the look of  ____ deck but at $___ it's a bit much." Then go use standard bikes if cost is your deciding factor. The idea that a deck of card should be longer lasting just because it cost more is also annoying.

Lets say there are three levels of magician; hobbyist, amateur, and professional. The hobbyist enjoys magic, it's a fun way to spend time and waste money. Like a regular person and sports, an average sports fan may watch the game and chat with folks about it, he may own some memorabilia like a hat or tee-shirt and if invited he may attend a game but he'd never go to one by himself. The amateur loves magic, loves it, is devoted to it, and he may never be paid to do it, but still has a room devoted to it. In terms of sports fans this is the guy with all the swag half naked painted team colors that buys tickets to as many games as he can. And lastly the professional is anyone that makes money with magic. This is the guy that buy and sale sports memorabilia, that turned his love of the game into a career about it.

Now when it comes to the hobbyist, his purchases should be things he wants that help him enjoy his hobby. He really lacks the drive or need for the big ticket items. But if it meets those two criteria (wants it/makes the hobby enjoyable) he has no reason to balk at the cost. Now the amateur is in it for the love of it, he needs it all and so lacks a reason to balk. Lastly and with the least reason to balk is the pro. Because with pro his magic items cost him less because if he's doing it right his customers pay for his items. Lets say I charge $80 for an hour of strolling magic. To me it breaks down like this: $20 for wear and tear on my gear and props, and consumables (flashpaper, cards, etc), $15 travel, and that leaves $45 for my time. In addition some of those props are bound to be tax deductible. When I sold steak knives any thing I bough to cut up in my demonstration was tax deductible. So at the very least I bet you can deduct cards.

What inspired this rant, well tired of hearing that load of bollocks first quoted, a lack of sleep probably too, but what pushed me enough to write a post about it was the forum posts for the Victorian close up pad that I read while looking for color pictures of it. The idea that a <$50 roll up pad was just as good as the more expensive pad was a bit annoying. First from an actual standpoint of the item themselves. While they may have changed the Victorian pad currently for sale is two sided and stiff. Besides the fact that it has two usable sides which you would only get from the other if you glued two pads together the fact that its stiff mean that you don't need a table to use it, you can lay it on your lap or find a pair of willing hands. This next point applies to the pros more but is still valuable across the board. As a magician what you are selling is not the magic anyone can do magic, what you are selling is yourself. Your image is what sells you to the customer and it sells the magic to the spectator. Anything you can do to help that is a good investment. Is a card clip and fancy pad necessary to do magic, no, but they do help you look like a professional. Obviously you want ones that fit with your character but other than that there's no good reason to not have them. I mean you don't really need all that stuff to be a magician so if you're going to get them why cheap out. I can't think of any effect I do that absolutely need a close up pad, I had some bad props that wouldn't function properly without one (needs close-up pad is some info that should have been on the package), but I got better props. I have no need for a close up pad from a 'make my effects work' stand point but, it helps me look like a pro and provide my close up work a stage to perform on.

Now I don't want you to think that I'm saying to go out and buy the most expensive version of everything. I mean I like nice things, I wear suits all the time, it's not beyond expectation that I would have a close up pad that costs a pretty penny. You need to get what suits you best.What I'm saying is if you want it the cost should not be your sole reason to not get it. And what ever you do don't listen to the guy that said to glue some fabric to four mouse pads and call it a close up pad, unless your performance character is a hobo.