Monthly Archives: June 2016
In the movies “Now You See Me” and “Now You See Me 2” the central plot is encompassed by a secret society of magicians known as “The Eye”. This organization has supposedly existed since ancient Egypt as a group who has used their skills to right social injustices.
Now, before you start worrying about me becoming a conspiracy theorist, let me reassure you that I don’t think “The Eye” as portrayed in the movies actually exists, or even could exist. However I do have an interesting social idea lurking around in my head about this, and I think that it could be a thing in and of itself.
In the interest of full disclosure I need to make it clear that I have very strong visceral reactions to both of these films. Not just because I am a magician but because there is a form of idealism and justice in these movies that I react to. These movies are very “Robin Hood” in nature; taking from the rich and giving to the poor. And by way of a slight digression, “Robin Hood” historically was believed to be based on a number of different people, one of whom is in my own family tree according to the genealogy that has been done by my family. I have a certain level of identification with idealism and justice.
I certainly identify with wanting to make the world a better place and with using magic as a way of touching people’s lives.
Now there are tons of logistical reasons why many of the things portrayed couldn’t actually work, but that isn’t the point. No heist movie, based on magicians or anything else, actually would have enough ways to beat the reality they are up against.
But what if magicians took a real lesson from these movies, from what is really underlying them, the idea that magic can bring about change for the better, and embraced that as a part of their characters and presentations?
I am lucky in that the magic community that I am most a part of actually does believe that magic is real in a very special way. We know that what we do is trickery, gimmickry, artistry. We also know that magic happens in the minds and hearts of the people we entertain. That all our skills and tools are meant to accomplish only one thing – an emotional response.
Most of the time, 99% of the time, that emotional response is astonishment.
Unfortunately far to large a percentage of that is mixed in with a certain amount of disgust at how badly audiences and volunteers are treated. And certainly there is a real level of confrontation because of magicians who come out with the attitude of “I’m going to fool you and you can’t catch me.”
But the community that I am attached to looks back to the lessons learned from ancient cultures and what their magic was. Not necessarily the slight of hand trickery, but the implications of contacting spiritual realms and learning lessons from “gods, ghosts, and the spiritual realm”.
It’s not that far a leap really. Those lessons were, as a general rule, the same kind of socially just and responsible messages we want to share today. Everyone can dream, everyone can become something special, everyone has greatness in them, be kind to one another.
Some of the best magic I have ever done has helped people feel better about themselves, helped them heal, helped them release stress in their lives. It can be done.
By way of example I was sitting with a friend a number of years ago who was experiencing a very high level of stress over a class they were taking. So much so that they were having trouble sleeping and where on the verge of tears at any given time. I performed a piece of magic just for them which was all about helping them get passed things that hold us back and stress us out. When I was done they were in tears. The best kind of tears, tears of release that helped them let go of the things that were upsetting them.
That was years ago and I still remember how much good I felt I was doing for them. Occasionally it comes up in conversation and they tell me how much it helped them. Clearly this is magic that had a lasting impact and that is what all magicians who really care about what they are doing are striving for; to create magic that makes a difference.
What if “The Eye” was not so much an organization, but instead a choice? A goal for magicians to strive for?
What if being a part of “The Eye” meant that magicians decided to be dedicated to creating magic that was all geared towards building people up, teaching moral and ethical lessons, inspiring people to do great things and strive to be what they dream themselves to be? Wouldn’t that be a way to impact society, to provide a kind of social justice? Wouldn’t that be a way to help people, heal people, and inspire them?
I know of magicians who incorporate inspirational stories and themes in to parts of their act. I know some who tell stories of healing and wisdom.
When I got started doing this stuff I was trying to find my way and I had no role models. When I went to my first Mystery School I found role models; magicians who cared so much about their art and it’s origins and it’s underlying meanings. They were teachers and they created in me a desire to create something great.
They talk about the responsibility of our art and the possibilities of the things we can create.
And so I wonder, in a way could “The Eye” be real?
Okay, it’s no secret that I am an atheist. And a fairly vocal one at that. But just so you have some background here before I go on to something challenging, you should know that for years I was Christian, grew up going to Church every Sunday, and even attended a Christian school for most of my middle school and junior high years.
So why the change? There are a lot of reason, but the things I’m about to go in to now really do sort of drill down into the heart of it all.
And why am I doing this now? Because the recent tragedies pretty clearly have a motivating factor that I think is core to the whole problem, and this meme ties in to it in such a way that it made my teeth itch.
Yesterday something went past me that talked about the source of the recent mass shootings as being “toxic and violent masculinity.” This really made me mad. It made me mad on two levels; the first being the broad brush misuse of the terms (which I addressed with some people on Facebook and won’t rehash here), the second being what I consider to be the real source of these problems that underly the motivations and education of the people who do commit these mass shootings; bigotry, intolerance, and ignorance.
But what does any of that have to do with this meme?
I think that the source of all of this crap is religious. The point that I have made time and time again is that we are not born with hate. We are taught to hate. We learn hate from authorities in our lives; our parents, our teachers, and our religious leaders.
Where do parents and teachers get their prejudices from? From theirs or from their beliefs. Where do those beliefs come from? Religious leaders and their interpretations of scriptures. And whatever prejudices came along for the ride for them as well.
But we’re afraid to criticize religion in this country. We’re not allowed to. Because to do so automatically condemns us to hell. We’re automatically immoral if we stop and say “hey, this doesn’t make sense.”
And always there is the “God is love” set and the “not all Christians” set and plenty of other apologetics. And that’s why this meme is bugging me.
It’s the perfect example….
Jesus did, in fact, tell people to hate. Luke 14:26. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters–yes, even their own life–such a person cannot be my disciple.”
He wasn’t the most all inclusive guy either. Luke 12:51. “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.”
And fairly warlike. Matthew 10: 33-35. “But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father in heaven. Do not assume that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘A man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.…”
If you were raised in a religious tradition that promotes the idea of “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” as all the same entity then I simply need to point you to the *ENTIRE* Old Testament for examples of God/Jesus/Spirit demanding that his “chosen people” commit the slaughter of others who look different, who love different, who worship different. Even if you don’t follow that whole “Holy Trinity” bit I still refer you to the Old Testament.
And before anyone says “You’re cherry picking” or “not all Christians” I want you think about something.
My point here is exactly “cherry picking”.
It takes about five minutes of effort to find anything you want in the Bible to support either love or hate which is precisely what “all Christians” have been doing for centuries. The doctrinal differences of say, Catholics and Protestants are the results of cherry picking the parts that support the prejudices of the group in question. The Bible has been used to both justify AND condemn war, slavery, abuse, and a host of other crimes equally.
Here is the real challenging part of the thought….
If you are sitting there and reading this and thinking any thought that is even remotely related to “well I would never do those bad things in the Bible” then you and I are much closer than you might realize because you have a moral sense that supersedes the so called moral lessons of the Bible. You can sit there in judgement of GOD and say “this was right and this was wrong.”
If you can do that then you can open yourself to the thought that maybe, just maybe, all that stuff you were taught might not be inspired by the divine, but instead it might be the ramblings of people who had agendas. Or who were taught that “gays are bad” and “women are property” and “slavery is good” and “kill the evil ones in the name of God.”
You might even start to think, like I think, that as long as this kind of toxicity exists in our culture then there will always be people who will think that they are perfectly justified in picking up a gun and slaughtering people who don’t conform to their beliefs. As long as people can justify their actions through the teachings of a “loving God” as merciful killings than these killings will continue.
And let me just add that if you are thinking “well my religion isn’t like this” then you’ve missed the point. Any religion that creates an “us versus them” divide contains the seed that leads to tragedies like these. Any belief system that promotes a “chosen people” automatically sets one group over all the rest, the “haves vs have nots”. That is what radicalization actually is; taking that seed of destruction and growing it in to something powerful enough that it seems reasonable to pick up a gun or strap on a bomb and start killing people.
Now that I’ve said all of these things let me say what is on the other side as I see it.
Yes, there are many perfectly acceptable and even beautiful lessons to be learned from the Bible, or the Koran, or virtually any religious text you care to name. In fact many of them share variations on exactly the same beautiful lessons of love and tolerance and acceptance. If you want to draw your inspiration from those lessons feel free to do so. Much can be learned.
So in a way this meme is actually right even as wrong as it is. Jesus (if he existed at all, but that’s an entirely different discussion!) also said that we were supposed to love one another. That’s a pretty simple lesson.
Just don’t let these lessons supersede your own intelligence. Learn all the lessons together as a cohesive whole. Judge them by your own standards and by the most simple of all lessons –
We’re all humans and we’re all in this together.
Or as so many of my friends have been known to say –
Don’t be a dick.
LEVITATE ALL THE THINGS!!!!
Today was really wonderful. Yeah, yeah, Santiago, we’ve heard that.
Shut up. This is my blog. **smile**
Today was really wonderful. I say that as a joke aimed at magicians who might understand that one of the masters of a specific kind of levitation technique is Tommy Wonder and we spent some really good time working on material of his and related stuff. So yeah…. WONDER-FULL…..
heh – I’m a comic genius…..
But we worked on a variety of other levitation types of things, including the prop I brought special to get help with. And I got help, definitely. There are several levitations that I now feel a lot better about that I will be bringing in to my act.
When I was a kid I saw one of the earliest David Copperfield specials on TV and there were two things he did that have literally stayed with me the entire time. One of those things is The Dancing Cane. When I first got in to magic it was one of the first things I wanted to learn and I was actually actively discouraged by magicians and magic dealers who all claimed it was to hard an effect to do.
Several years ago I acquired a custom made Dancing Cane and played with it, and it was pretty difficult but not impossible. I eventually got pretty decent with it, but I never had a really good opportunity to use it either, largely because I just never found a way to fit it in with the rest of my general performance style.
Now I have a way, and it is awesome. And I will say this much – in order to perfect it I will need to be using a cane, fire, and the new sword I had made. Yup, a sword.
***insert maniacal laughter here***
But beyond that I got a lot of great work on The Dancing Cane. Things that I didn’t know even with all the effort I’d put in to it years before, and I will probably be finding a whole variety of ways to work it in now.
But as I said, today was very definitely about levitating all the things, so don’t be to surprised if you start seeing a few other things floating around that you didn’t expect.
I also learned some great things to do to a scroll….the kinds of things that should make some scribes I know cringe. And really, isn’t that worth while? Making scribes freak out when you do evil things to a scroll is funny! You know, folding it up, pouring water in it, generally messing it up….and maybe, if they are nice to me I’ll fix it all in the end….
Or I’ll never get another scroll again.
Maybe not the best plan. We’ll see.
Tomorrow is going to be an early day. I have to head off to the airport early enough to catch a morning flight. I’ll be home by early afternoon. But as they say, no rest for the wicked. I’ll be getting ready to turn right around to head out to an SCA event. Which means not any real time to get anything ready to perform. Or practiced.
But a head full of ideas.
So, signing off for now from this round of Magic School.
I know I’ve said this many times before, but today really was. And in this instance it’s only been the first day and I’ve come away with six “new” pieces of magic to add to my act. I say “new” in quotes because like many things in magic, these are not necessarily new creations, but revelations about things that I have long been familiar with but given new life.
Although some of the things are indeed “new” in the sense of totally new to me as well! So I’m very happy about that.
I should back up a bit though. Just so damn excited!
As I mentioned previously, Parlor Magic is really my default venue. I do my best work with this level of show. So when we started today we were told that these two days were going to be much more “practicum” than theory and we were handed a list of classics of Parlor Magic. We were told “pick three” and for the next two days the group would go over them together.
So I managed to narrow the list down to six items…. Yeah, I know, “pick three”, but I also damn well know that we were all doing the same thing; picking a longer list and then listening to each other to see if someone else mentioned something we had on our list so we could mention something else!
Few things are harder to do than to try and be “sneaky” in a group of magicians….
Well, there are only eight of us in the class, and when we were done we ended up with a list of about 10 things we all wanted to cover. This is a pretty damn good balance. And everything I wanted on that list is there! So, to use a phrase, “AWESOME SAUCE!”
Another cool thing is that there are only eight of us! Lots of individual attention. Although we’re having a small problem with that with one student. I’ll get there in a moment.
Also, there are almost as many women as there are men in the class. 3 women, 5 men. Given the usual kinds of percentages I see that is actually remarkable. I like having female students in the same class because female magicians bring a different angle and perspective that is always worthwhile.
As an example, one of the things I brought up earlier in the day was my desire to figure out how to really narrow down the material I use to the kinds of things that fit the direction I’ve been building for myself. However, before we began we did the usual “let us all introduce ourselves and tell everyone a little bit” sort of thing and as I explained all the various things I do (basically the results of everything I’ve learned in the SCA) it seemed to have left an impression on one of the ladies. As we sat at lunch she suggested that rather than try to limit what I do I should embrace as much as I can and use the fact that my life is filled with so much as the inspiration for that.
While I’m not sure that is the best idea for myself, it is an idea worth considering, and it is very clearly a good example of how a female magician looks differently at developing an act. Certainly she left me with much to ponder.
So anyway, yeah, there is a kind of “problem child”.
We have one student in the class who is very enthusiastic. So much so that he has to be constantly reminded to not blurt out. So much so that he has to be constantly reminded that there are other students who spent just as much money as he did to get their time in the school as well.
Now Jeff has spent many years teaching, has taken and certified in management courses, knows and understand group dynamics, and generally is exceptionally skilled in handling situations just like this.
This kid is pushing the limits. I’ve seen Jeff get frustrated on rare occasions, and this one is included.
Still, I can’t fault this kid. I completely understand his enthusiasm. I feel it every time as well. I want to get all the attention and explore the possibilities and the theory and the practical applications with Jeff’s full attention.
There are ways for me to do that. But they are hugely expensive. Well, more like, expensive enough that I would have to plan for it well in advance.
I still am getting some amazing training, just like usual. And tomorrow is going to be extra awesome because while everything I got today was fantastic, tomorrow will actually be focused on the main items I selected on the list including an opportunity to work with a prop I brought out special just to get some quality brainstorming in.
I’m not sure I could ask for a better group to brainstorm with. Jeff, several female magicians, some long time workers, and even Mr. OverEnthusiastic will all bring some great stuff to the table when we work on developing something for this new prop of mine.
So, that’s day one in a nutshell. Having a great time. Filling my brain with all this wonderful stuff.
I’m looking forward to bring new stuff to my audiences.
Like an idiot I failed to notice that my flight is not direct, but instead is making a stop in Orange County first. Meh. Not a big deal. I don’t have to change planes, and since I was in boarding group “A” this time I’m actually close enough to the front that I’m not even inclined to try and change seats during the stop over. No real point in it.
So, what am I off for this time? A focus seminar on Parlor Magic. What, pray tell, is that? Well I’m glad you asked.
Parlor Magic is what I do. No, really. Probably more than anything else, the magic I do is Parlor Magic, so if you’ve seen me, then you’ve seen it. It’s basically defined by virtue of audience size. My preferred venue is an audience approximately 20 to 40 people. To large to do card tricks for the most part. Not really large enough to be sawing ladies in half.
But Rings, Ropes, Balls (Cups and…), juggling, a wide variety props, the option to do silent or to tell stories, this is a world I like. This is also the world that a lot of magicians refer to as “Packs Small, Plays Big.” This is where we figure out how to take those tiny little things and make them fill a room.
And my mentor, Jeff McBride, well, he’s the expert. This is his thing. This is the guy who packs an act big enough to fill a stage in a case for a pair of sunglasses. I am not exaggerating. His emergency act that he travels with when he is going around the world and there is a chance his bags might get lost (because that never happens, right?) fits in to a case that small and goes with him on the plane. It’s 15 minutes of material.
Now admittedly the guy is so insanely skilled he can pretty much do any damn thing he wants with a couple decks of cards, a handful of coins, a spool of thread, and a stick. But still, that’s packing pretty damn small.
So, can I do that? Well, I’ve gotten pretty good. I have a travel case I can perform out of that is about the size of a decent camera case. I’m not necessarily looking to get smaller either. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a ton more to learn. There always is.
So, off I go. Time to fill the brain with magic. And, as a little bonus, I’ve brought along a little something that I’ve been trying to figure out how I want to use. I like the effect, but there is a variety of staging issues that I am lost on. And who better than Jeff and others in the Las Vegas magic scene to discuss such things with?
Well, I can feel that the plane is making it’s descent, so time to put this away. There will be more my friends. There will be more.
Edited to Add: Yes, if you cough occasionally and looks slightly nauseous people decide to pass the empty seat next to you even though it’s practically right next to the door off the plane.