Author Archives: santiagosgrimoire
Okay, so it’s been a couple of weeks now and I’m finally getting around to writing my thoughts down about my show at lillie aeske.
I have been doing magic for a long time now. Mostly at parties and a few corporate events. A lot of strolling magic, some formalized shows. But other than my one time at Wonderground (really have to figure out my schedule so I can do that again) I have never done something that was “open to the public”. And even my Wonderground performance was a mere 15 minute time slot as part of an ensemble of other magicians.
But all of the shows, all of the times I have performed, I am almost always asked the same thing – “Do you do any public shows?” Or some variation thereof. I’ve made enough of an impression on these people that they want to come and see a live show in some theatrical setting.
My opportunities for such things are vanishingly small. There just aren’t that many venues around where I live that I can easily book. The more I looked in to such things, the more I found that I was underprepared for such an endeavor.
Fill a half hour? I can do that with one deck of cards tied behind my back. Forty-five minutes? Yes I can do that. An hour? Pushing my previous limits. Or so I thought.
What do all these theater venues want? Ninety minutes or more.
Now I do know a lot of magic. How much I keep rehearsed/practiced at any given time is somewhat variable but more or less continues to grow. All magicians have their “go to” effects, the stuff they do all the time that is so well known that they don’t have to think about them at all. My “go to” list got small for a while but I’ve been working to build it up again.
But to fill ninety minutes plus was a daunting challenge for me. I’ve been in the theater pretty much my whole life. But a one man show of ninety minutes is a challenge for anyone who isn’t a seasoned full time professional.
So, in other words, I had pretty successfully identified my biggest weakness. The hurdle I needed to jump next in order to take my magic to the next level. I identified this lack some time ago but I think it really hit home about two years ago when I got serious about contacting venues and finding out what they required. One of the venues I wanted to try to get in on was (and maybe still is) Dragon Theater. What attracted my attention was that they have “practice nights” which I thought meant multiple groups/performers going in and maybe doing a little bit of what they were working on, sort of creating an impromptu “variety show”. I figured I could bring half an hour to forty five minutes of stuff and be part of an evening of entertainment. Nope. Not the way they work. Because they primarily host full theatrical productions, those nights are more like dress rehearsals for a full show.
In any case I still needed to figure out what I was going to do.
This is where my wonderful friend Glenda comes in. She has been doing her touring around and her salons and I have been able to get some stage time with her more and more lately. We did a show together at a shop in Santa Cruz called “Hive and Hum” and the owners there turned me on to their friends who run lillie aeske in Boulder Creek. I resolved to talk to them.
And an opportunity soon presented itself when one of our local “First Friday Art Walks” happened. Laurie and I headed downtown and lillie aeske was one of the participating shops. We went in, checked it out, and I managed to work up the gumption to ask one of the owners about their performing arts programs.
So, for those of you who don’t know lillie aeske is a little hole in the wall arts boutique. Most weekends they host local performers as a part of what they do. Their main showroom is approximately 20 feet wide and 60 feet deep. The stage is 7 feet wide by 6 feet deep at one end. Usually they host local musicians and as you might well imagine the bulk of that is going to be the usual folk performer or very small band.
But for me, this space was damn near perfect.
I don’t need much stage space (yet) and the total audience size for this space is thirty, which is an ideal number. This is, what we magicians call, “Parlour Magic”, and that is what I do best.
The conversation that started me on this journey went something like this:
Me: “This is a great little space. Can I ask you about the performing arts stuff you do here?”
Them: “Yes. So what we do is open the calendar up for performers who contact us and just work with them directly to provide them a date and space to perform. What do you do?”
Me: “Well, I’m a magician and I’d like….”
Them: “When can you come in?”
Yeah, I didn’t even have to try and sell them on the idea. They were immediately excited about the idea. So we exchanged contact information and a few days later I emailed them and asked about calendar dates. We exchanged a few messages back and forth and settled on a date.
And then panic set in. Because while I know a lot of magic and have a couple of decades of experience performing it, I was now committed to doing something I haven’t done before, a full length one-man show for the public.
Now, to be absolutely clear, I knew exactly what I was getting in to. I set myself up for it completely and totally on purpose. These are the hurdles I knew all along that I was going to need to get over next and by setting a date I had committed myself to a timeline that I couldn’t just half-ass my way through. This was a project that I spent months on. I wrote, rewrote, polished, practiced, and rehearsed on a fairly rigorous scale. If you were following along on my FB account than you saw me posting daily (or nearly daily) about what I was doing as a part of my own self-accountability.
In the midst of that I went to Vegas for a week of “Spring Training” at Mystery School. And this too helped me get more focused, and build better ideas for my show. In fact some of my show changed dramatically after that week because new ideas, new energy, new focus created better direction for my efforts. Not to mention some individual attention from Jeff McBride to help me with a couple of pieces of material.
So, after several months of pretty hard work I finally had a show. Two acts, approximately forty-five to fifty minutes each. One pretty cohesive whole story, my journey from the very beginning of my interests in magic to the present day magician I have become and, hopefully, communicating the message that we can all pursue our dreams if we work hard enough.
I have, over the years, had maybe half a dozen false starts on creating this show. The idea has always been there but so many times I’ve gotten started on it I have been unable to maintain the necessary focus to complete the script. Or to get it in to a state that I felt comfortable with, like I wasn’t trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
But that past few years of my journeys out to Mystery School have been more than just opportunities to learn new skills and knowledge, but to also gain the self confidence I needed to tackle something this big.
Now those of you who have performed with me on stage (Stags) know that I am very nervous kind of performer. In a full cast show I’m mostly fine to be around but I do kind of keep myself to myself until I hit the stage and then all that nervous energy turns in to performance energy. And I have a varying level of comfort depending on a wide variety of factors.
As a solo performer this is more intensified and I have a varying level of ability to deal with it.
As it turned out, that same day was also an SCA event that several of you, including my wife Laurie, were in attendance at. Pretty much required to be in attendance at. And it was far enough away that I was momentarily surprised when I realized that the Friday before I was completely on my own. This turned out to be a good thing as I would have been utterly intolerable to deal with by that point, my nerves were so high strung.
Saturday morning I got up, continued to tinker and futz with my props and show materials until about noon when I finally literally yelled at myself (the cats can confirm this) and started packing everything up so that I could put it in to my car. I then forced myself to sit quietly and watch a couple of movies to fill the next several hours until I was going to get up, take a second shower, and get dressed in my “show clothes”.
It should be noted, by the way, that I am still working hard to create the physical appearance I want on stage. I like my current look, but there are few more steps to go, hence my rants of late against the fashion industry that refuses to make the clothes I like in my size but taunts me by being one size to small. But I digress. Like that never happens.
I arrived early, because me, and sat in my car in front of lillie aeske for about fifteen minutes. When it was time I knocked on the door, unloaded my stuff, set up my stage, tested my sound, and then for the next hour puttered around with the owners until it was time to “open the house”.
Let me just say that the people at lillie aeske are pretty darn awesome and that we bonded pretty well. I have every intention of making performing there a regular thing and now it’s just going to be a matter of working out how that will happen with them.
I should also note at this point that my show was sold out. That has everything to do with my friends and family. Aside from the one ticket I put on hold for Laurie the first ticket actually sold went to my former apprentice Sandra. And shortly after that the sales started to flow. In fact, according to my hosts, they almost never sell any tickets until the week of any given performance, but my show sold half it’s tickets almost immediately, we sold out well in advance, and had a waiting list. Not only that, but apparently during the day people came back the shop and saw the sign saying that my show was sold out and expressed disappointment.
And here is where some of my thinking went out the window. Even though I was thinking I needed to advertise (and I did) to the general public in order to fill the house, almost all the seats were filled by friends and family (including family I haven’t seen in decades). And all of you both made me feel more comfortable and challenged me at the same time. Whole huge parts of my script were written with the idea of a house full of strangers. On the fly I had to adapt simply to make things make sense.
This is, really, okay. After all the whole point of magicians having scripts, a lesson hammered on by my mentors (especially Eugene Burger), is so that when you need to diverge from the script you still know where to come back to! I still told my story in pretty much exactly the format that I needed to, and was relaxed and comfortable as I could possibly be.
And as always, when it was “curtain” all the nervous energy became show energy.
I started by grabbing attention with my theatrical skills, moved into a demonstration of childhood magic and memories, progressed to the present schooling, a tribute to one of the most influential magicians I have ever learned from, and in to art. In the second act I focused on the connections we all have to each other, the things I am inspired by such as games and movies, and in the end left with something fun and something touching.
In between acts a few minutes to refresh myself and to give everyone a chance to stand, mingle, and get a breath of air. But when it was over I sat on the stage, gathered signatures on my straight jacket (as part of my post show interactions if I do my straight jacket escape I ask people to autograph it), and generally thanked everyone. And off to ice cream with a few people afterwards before going home and falling into a deep sleep.
Here’s the thing; I don’t remember the show. I remember doing it. I don’t remember the show. I remember thinking at the beginning that I was going to fast and I needed to slow down. I remember getting very emotional when I introduced my tribute to Eugene. I remember the music for my Linking Rings, and I remember doing my “Clue!” routine. The rest is a blur. If I look at the pictures and videos that I have I recall, but the whole show in my mind is a blur.
BUT! But, I now have done what I set out to do. I have created a full length one man show that I can do almost anywhere. I can entertain a large audience for a movie length of time. Well, general movies, not Infinity War (“It’s 2:40! Don’t eat or drink before you go see it!”).
That is a pretty big milestone in my development as a magician. The show is perfect in it’s current existence and now I will go on to make it even more perfect, because no matter how perfect something is it can always be made better, right? Right? Okay maybe “perfect” is a strong word but you get my point I’m sure.
“In Restless Dreams” is finally a reality. It’s taken years and a lot of hard work to get it there. But it’s there. And not only that but I have a hell of a lot more confidence about putting on a show that big. I’ll start to hunt around for venues that will work for this. If anyone knows any little box theaters (30 to 100 seats) I’d love to know about it. I need to start thinking about how and where to market this thing so I can start doing more performances of this show.
But it is my show. A full actual show. Not just a performance. A show.
That makes me really crazy happy. It means I have proven to myself that I can build that big, and that means I will.
I got here because of years of support from my friends and family. Thank you doesn’t even begin to cover it. In the years to come I hope to have more opportunities to perform this and other shows I will develop for the future. Now that I know what it takes I have some interesting notes to go back to and start crafting from. I don’t know where it will take me next.
But then, that is what it means to have “Restless Dreams”.
I think it’s fitting that I post this today. A part of why I managed to accomplish this is through the lessons of one of my many friends and mentors, Eugene Burger.
Today would have been Eugene’s 79th birthday.
Thanks Eugene for all the lessons, all the wisdom, and all the friendship.
The other day I was having an interesting conversation. It’s one that has come up on occasion in different forms, but in this instance something specific set me off. I’ll share that in a moment.
The nature of the conversation is whether or not Magic Clubs are good for magic? For the most part I’m not sure that they are. Most people who belong to a magic club would argue otherwise, and I’m not suggesting that they can’t be good for magic. Rather what I am saying is that my experience of Magic Clubs would tend to suggest that they aren’t. So this is an exploration of that idea and of course any discussion is appreciated.
First, there are good things to be had in a magic club. Community right at the top of the list. Magicians are, by nature, a secretive lot. Our art relies on maintaining a certain amount of secrecy. Unfortunately, as my teacher Eugene Burger once observed, after politicians, magicians are some of the worst secret keepers out there.
From my perspective you can tell the relative age of a magician (ie how long he or she has been studying magic, not necessarily their chronological age) by how easy it is to get them to tell you how they did something. The newer they are, the easier it is. That’s because secrets are cool and new magicians are so easily impressed by the secrets that they tend to think you will be too and so they share it thinking that you’ll be impressed with them for having such knowledge.
Rarely does that work out well.
But having a magic club community means that secrets are kept in relative safety as it provides the environment where these “younger” magicians can share their secrets with someone who will be impressed and will still stand a chance, at least, of not letting the secret out.
Which brings me to another benefit; education. Learning magic from available resources is time consuming and difficult if done in isolation. Going to a club means that there is a better chance someone there will know the thing you want to know and will be able to teach it to you.
For my part, the reason I find that I am not so enamored of magic clubs is that far to frequently the things that I want to discuss, or that I find important, are of little interest to the average magic club ecosystem. Usually I want to discuss things like character building, stories, and theatrical considerations applied to every possible arena of magic performance. To my mind these are the tools one uses to build such a compelling presentation that you never have to deal with all the problems associated with hecklers or audience members who feel challenged to try and figure out the trick.
My experience of the magic club ecosystem is that all anyone wants to know is how to do the latest finger tangling card and coin gymnastics, or the quest for the latest, greatest, holy grail that these club members seem to think will make them the next David Copperfield or Jeff McBride. Rarely are they concerned with all the rest of everything that David and Jeff did to become the magic superstars that they are.
If I may, I’m going to share a brief story about the day I decided to stop attending my local magic club. Maybe it will illustrate the point.
I had been brainstorming an idea for a theatrical presentation that was literally built to generate a gasp from the audience. It was a kind of “haunted” magic effect that involved what many horror movies call a “jump scare”. The effect involved everyone sitting around a table with their hands on it and all focusing their eyes on a small object in the center of the table. Instructed to blow at the object I would wait until they were almost out of breath and then do the secret action that would cause the object to jump suddenly. The combination of sudden movement with everyone nearly out of breath would automatically cause the “gasp” as everyone inhaled.
I was very proud of this effect. I handmade the prop so that no one would even have an idea where it came from and, despite being very scared about performing this thing, brought it with me to the magic club and volunteered to perform.
One of the older members, a man in his late 70’s at the time, and someone who had been doing magic for decades deliberately went out of his way to foul up the effect by getting his free hand in the way of my hidden method. This nearly caused the physical effect to fail, and it did completely derail the mood I was setting.
Now, why did he do this? You might be tempted to argue that he was showing me a flaw in my presentation. After all, for something that was basically a “haunted” or “seance” effect it would have made sense for me to have everyone sitting around the table hold hands. Common for such a setting.
But that wasn’t why he did it. I know because afterwards I was very angry and I asked him what he thought he was doing.
His answer? He thought he was being funny, and besides he doesn’t like those creepy “haunted” magic effects anyway.
I did try to stick around for a while longer with that club, working to change things so that people would understand that the club space should be a safe one for people to try out new material. But truthfully I knew I was wasting my time. These weren’t my people.
Now, this was just one example in a long line of examples of many different people at several different magic clubs who all felt that “being funny” and being disruptive during someone else’s performance was perfectly acceptable. And much of this is “justified” with arguments like “they have to learn to deal with difficult audiences, I’m just helping.”
Yeah, we have to learn to be able to deal with difficult audiences, but I would argue that a more important thing to learn first is how to perform that damn trick in the first place. In my experience it is much easier to learn to do anything when you are working with people in a supportive atmosphere than if you are working in a combative one.
Magic clubs seem to foster this competitiveness. People seem to think that simply because they are magicians they shouldn’t be fooled and being fooled, even in a club setting, is a challenge to their…. I don’t know….. “Superiority”? “Masculinity”? Their overall skill and knowledge as a magician?
And if all of your experiences come from clubs like this, what kind of a magician are you going to be in the long run?
You might be tempted to say “Not my Magic Club!”
You might be right. But let me throw another recent example to you for consideration.
In one of the seemingly limitless magic forums that has proliferated online someone asked the following question: “Where can I perform for a small group of people? I’m scared to perform.”
Half the answers were “you can perform at your local magic club” to which the response was “never perform at a local magic club, those people are mean.” The cries of “not my magic club” proceed from there.
I could break down the details of the messages but I think it’s clear that isn’t necessary. The very existence of the conversation is sufficient to the point.
So, where does that leave us?
Well, there are groups and clubs that aren’t like this. They do exist. But you have to spend some time looking for them. And sometimes they aren’t close to you. So what do you do?
The obvious answer would be to form your own club, and this is a good answer. Or you might be able to create a separate group within your existing club by ferreting out the other members who are looking for the same kinds of things as you. In either case the point is to find like minded individuals and work with them more closely and even in a separate space.
Another thing you can do is to form your own “test audience”. This would be people who aren’t necessarily other magicians, but rather lay people who understand what you are going for. A small handful of people, maybe family members, but I think ideally also people who are outside your family who don’t see you rehearsing all the time. Thus giving you fresher eyes.
These ideas are good ones and should work extremely well, however I would like to offer up one more variation on this theme that you might not have considered.
I call this “the performers collective.”
So what do I mean? Well, I want you to stop thinking “magician” and start thinking “performer” or “entertainer”. There are connections to be made in the world that could be of much greater value to you.
Let me give you my personal example and I think you’ll start to see what I mean. I spend a lot of time in the company of other very talented entertainers. An acting troupe who specializes in Commedia dell’Arte. I am friends with a variety of singers and musicians. I know a couple of balloon twisters, some jugglers, a DJ, and so on.
Over the past couple of years I have become good friends with one of the singers/musicians who has a band and has been traveling the world performing her music. She is actively engaged in her art as her career, and pursuing multiple avenues to create a unique entertainment space in our local area.
She and I have begun to work together more closely and to bring with us a couple of other entertainers, and as a result of this we are beginning to create a “performers collective” where we can work together, show each other what we are doing, and get feedback in an environment consisting of people who understand the needs of entertaining an audience, and can provide useful input no matter what the form of entertainment is.
Not only that, but because their art is different from my art, we have perspectives to offer each other that we might not see for ourselves.
You see where I am going with this?
We magicians have blind spots. We try so hard to be writer, director, prop master, technician, and star, but the truth is we can’t really do all of those things all of the time. There comes a point where we’re going to miss something. Having other performers around means we have access to the thought processes of other experienced individuals.
For all of our blind spots, we do have a very unique view that other performers can benefit from as well.
Not only that but other types of entertainers have connections that you may never have thought of. Depending on who they are and what they do you might benefit from introductions to new venues, new resources, and potentially new clients for your art.
Other types of entertainers won’t be threatened by you because you are doing something entirely different from what they are doing. Depending again on who they are and what they do you may find that you are working with people who are doing things that compliment what you do. You could find yourself forming a good working relationship that could lead to some great gigs for both of you.
So what are we really talking about here? Networking. Yup, that whole big deal in the world of business could be exactly the tool you need to find a whole new world outside of the realm of magic clubs.
How do you network with entertainers?
I think it’s a little different than you might find networking with business and technical people. For starters, entertainers are a much more eclectic group of people and going to the local networking events probably isn’t on their agenda.
But there are other ways to reach out to this community. For starters just look to the internet. Search for local entertainment spots. Search for local entertainer “meet-ups”. And go to them! Take a stack of business cards, a small notebook and pen, and go to these places and try to talk to the entertainers you meet. Exchange contact info. Get cards, give cards. Mostly get cards and contact info.
Take notes! What do they do? Where do they usually perform? What kinds of things do they find they have to deal with? Ask how to book them. Ask what their average fees are. Ask what they are interested in doing next. Then, once you’re back home, you can sort everything and figure out who among these people you feel comfortable talking to further.
If one already exists, go to the “Meet Up” that most closely achieves your goals. If it doesn’t exist, create your own “Meet-Up” and invite those people.
The point is simply this; don’t wait to stumble into a new community of entertainers. Actively find it or create it. It could be other magicians, but I honestly believe that there are greater benefits in getting hooked into, or creating, a “performers collective” where you and your new friends can share ideas, information, and resources that can benefit all of you.
Are all magic clubs bad? No, of course not. But you need to ask yourself a very important question —
Am I getting what I want and need from my magic club?
After that, it’s all up to you!
Okay, so it’s finally time to tell the story.
I met and had dinner with David Copperfield a couple of weeks ago. Is this a big deal? To me, absolutely yes.
I have talked a lot about my mentors, Jeff McBride and Eugene Burger. You’ll hear more as I learn from Eugene’s successor in the school, Larry Haas. I have talked of my experiences in the Mystery School. I have talked about how all of this has had such a profound impact on me and the magician I have become and continue to become.
But how did it all start? David Copperfield.
When I was a kid I spent a couple of summers with my aunt and uncle. My brother and I were “on loan” to them so they could see what it might be like to have kids of their own. My parents got a break, they got an experience, and my brother and I got a vacation.
One day I remember watching TV and seeing David Copperfield for the first time on television. I watched him do the Dancing Cane. I watched him do the Dancing Silk. I watched him dance. Lot of dancing going on. But it was magic that stuck with me. Not the dancing part, but the actual magic part. To this day I still want to do the Dancing Cane (and I’ve been slowly working on a piece for myself based on work I’ve done with Jeff) as well as the Dancing Silk. I love animations and levitations, and that’s in large part because of David.
So, here I am many years later, and through some magic magazine or forum or discussion or something I hear about the fact that David is building a magic museum filled with props and devices and memorabilia of famous magicians. Names you’ve heard. Names you’ve never heard unless you are a magician too. And I dream about being able to go there someday even though I know it’s a private museum and so not very likely.
And now, just recently, I learn that Jeff and two of his “apprentices”, Will and Jordan, are “on loan” to David to work on the museum. And I say “Wow! I’d heard about that place! I wish I could see it someday!” And everyone is very sad for me because they know that David isn’t really going to open the place up to the public, it’s his private museum after all. And this is okay really. I don’t mean to make it sound like I was gaming for a way in or anything like that because I really wasn’t. I knew what the story was.
But a boy can dream.
The next morning I wake up in my hotel room and as I go about my morning routine I check my phone for messages, texts, etc. and sure enough I have a text from my mentor Jeff. And he says “don’t make any plans for tonight, I’ll tell you more later.”
I’m sworn to secrecy for the duration of the class because I am being given a special treat that no one else is able to indulge in at this point. That evening, after class is over I rush back to my hotel and get myself fed and cleaned up. Then I get a text saying “Come pick me up” and I go get Jeff and we go to David Copperfields warehouse.
Now you need to understand something here. City blocks in Las Vegas are huge. Really huge. And as near as I can tell, David’s warehouse fills one up. The place is massive. And when I walk in I’m immediately looking at the actual stage illusions he’s used over the years. Stuff I’ve seen on TV and in shows. Stuff I’ve watched over and over again on DVD.
And we walk along and through another set of doors and here I am inside the museum.
I can’t even begin to describe this. I still don’t exactly understand the enormity of what I am looking at. But I’ll get to that as I go along here. Just join me for the ride.
But immediately there are a couple of plastic folding tables with old props strewn about and for at least the next hour or two I am here to help Jeff, Will, and Jordan sort through them, help put stuff away, and clean.
I promise you that never in my life have I ever been so happy to do chores, nor will I ever be so happy to do them again.
While doing these tasks Will’s phone rings. He answers it on speaker. It’s David. He’s calling from back stage of his show. Like mere moments before he’s going to be going on stage, he’s calling, just to check in and see how things are going.
DAVID “FREAKING” COPPERFIELD IS CALLING JUST TO CHECK IN BEFORE GOING ON STAGE!!!!
(Okay, calm down. Breath.)
So, we fall in to the process of sorting through things, cleaning, reorganizing, and I kind of loose myself in the whole process. Will takes me around a little bit as we’re moving some stuff and I get into another room where there are rows and rows and rows of shelves of things that haven’t yet been organized just waiting and one of the things he points me at is a whole rack of antique magic lamps.
Okay, I’m not talking Aladdin here (although for all I know there is a shelf full of those kind as well), but rather the first step in the eventual creation of movie projectors. Big wooden boxes with bright lamps and big lenses and racks of hand painted glass slides that used to be used to tell stories, some of which were even “animated” by virtue of having multiple pains of glass that would be slid in to place so that the image might transform.
Imagine being in a darkened theater space, a bit of smoke in the air in front of a wall and a lantern throwing an image of a man into the space that, with the shift of a lever, suddenly becomes a demon. Imagine what that would be like back in the mid to late 1800’s. Yeah.
I have one of these myself. A tiny little thing, but precious.
David has a rack full of full sized ones and another rack stacked high with the individual glass slides for who knows how many stories. He doesn’t know. Not yet. That’s one of the many reasons why Will and Jordan and Jeff are working away here, to organize and delve into the depths of magic history accumulating inside these walls.
And I’m crying again at how cool these things are.
And over to this side there are something like 50 ventriloquist dummies, sitting on little chairs in semi-circles facing one big rocking chair with one of the most famous ventriloquist dummies out there; Madam. Did you know that David was learning to become a ventriloquist before he got in to magic? I did. But here was a lot of evidence, just in case you didn’t know…..
So David calls again to let us know he’s on his way over (HE’S ON HIS WAY OVER!!!!!! *SQUEEEEEEEEEE*) and we go in to over drive to clean up the last few things. Mostly we’re sorting stuff that we’ll need David to tell us what he wants done with.
And then David shows up.
Now you need to understand something. When you’ve seen David on TV or even if you’ve seen his live show (on tour or in Vegas), every single second he is performing the greatest magic he knows; to look like David Copperfield. Because the guy who walked in to the room wasn’t 19 feet tall with wind blowing in his hair and smoke billowing around him. All that stuff is for the show.
Nope. This guy who walked in was actually shorter than me, dressed all in black, wearing a black winter coat bordering on parka, and slightly hunched over and shuffling. He looked like the pleasant older gentleman you might run in to at the park feeding pigeons. A complete dichotomy of the image of the super human being he has been for my entire life.
Which is not to say that he didn’t have an immediate charisma and charm. Far from it. He is still completely the handsome and powerful presence you would expect, but on stage he is a sorcerer and here he was more a shaman, to use archetypes we study in the school. And no, that isn’t even the fan-boy in me speaking up. It’s just literally the case.
On the drive over Jeff had given me a few tips on dealing with David, specifically not to go all fan-boy on him (perfectly understandable and I can tell you that I did absolutely everything to remain as respectful and on my best behavior as I possibly could), that he doesn’t really like being chatty, but if I showed my appreciation for where we were and what we were doing that David would be very appreciative of that. And Jeff knew that this is what kind of person I would be because “DAVID COPPERFIELD’S PRIVATE MAGIC MUESUM”!!! I would be in a place filled with so much awesome that I have spent years and years and years of my life learning about, there simply wouldn’t be any other way for me to be.
So, where was I? Oh yeah, David shows up.
Now, if you’ve seen his show you know that he likes to indulge in some pretty silly humor. You would think that this might be scripted in to his show, and basically it is, but it’s scripted as examples of real life, because he seems to have that very same silly humor in real life. You all know that I perform under the name Santiago. So when David shows up Jeff introduces me, saying “this is one of my students, Santiago.” And I swear to you, without missing a beat David Copperfield walks up to me, extends his hand and shakes mine as he says —
“So, your last name is Chile?”
DO YOU KNOW HOW HARD IT IS NOT TO GROAN IN THE FACE OF ONE OF YOUR BIGGEST HEROES WHEN HE LANDS A JOKE LIKE THAT AS YOUR FIRST REAL INTRODUCTION????????????
Let me tell you —
IT’S ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
And now I’m standing in one of the most awesome places I have ever been in my life, shaking hands with someone who I have idolized pretty much my entire life, and of all the ways I have imagined it might be like to meet him, never once did I ever consider the possibility that it might happen OVER A PUN ABOUT MY NAME!!!!!!!
(As I write this tears of laughter are spilling down my face.)
Okay, deep breath. There is no such thing as a snappy come back here, and all I can do is chuckle and acknowledge that I’ve just been punked, and that I am actually totally fine with it.
While I am recovering from this David proceeds to show us how he became the borderline BILLIONAIRE (Seriously, he is almost now worth a Billion Dollars – like maybe two more shows or something) he is by becoming the total professional that he is, inspecting the work we’ve done, the decisions we’ve made, making some suggestions for what he wants to have happen next, and generally checking everything out. And that’s when the next bit of coolness happens.
Sitting on a counter top are three packages of an illusion that David performed on one of his earliest television specials. One he did with Loni Andersson as the special guest star, and the prop involved a poster of Loni in a bathing suit that was hanging on the walls of many a teenage boy back then. The routine is called “Bathing Beauty” and literally by sheer coincidence earlier that day Will and I had been discussing the method for that effect in relation to a piece I’ve been noodling over for about a year now. He knows how it works and suggested that the method to that effect might be the answer to how to accomplish the effect I’m working on.
David picks them up and asks why they are sitting there. Will says “Oh, Santiago and I were just talking about that effect earlier today.” And I say “Yeah, that’s the one you did in your special with Loni Andersson”. And then it’s something along the lines of “They were just sitting here and we weren’t sure what you wanted to do with them since they probably don’t belong in here.”
David says “Here, take one,” as he hands me one of the packages, “and we’ll put these others away over here for now.”
Yup, he just handed me free material like it’s nothing. And I guess to him, in a way, it basically is. It was product he was selling. He can certainly afford the generosity. But at this point, honestly, he’s known me for approximately 90 seconds. So I’m still recovering from the joke and he’s now giving me gifts, and he’s doing it simply because he can and he knows that such generosity is the way to build relationships. He doesn’t know me but he knows that I am here and that I wouldn’t be if Jeff, Will, and Jordan had even the slightest doubt of my character.
Next he happens to pick up a black folded card, something large enough to hold postcard sized material and he opens it up. He shows it to me and asks “Do you know what these are?”
I smile. “Oh! Yes, those are samples of the cards you used in your ‘Orient Express’ special. The interactive piece with the TV audience where they ended up deciding which train car you were going to vanish! I love that one!”
He smiles and I have the distinct impression that I have passed some kind of test.
And now, after a bit more by-play and conversation, he wants to give me the tour. Well, he wants to test things and the best way to do that is to give me the tour.
You see, this is more than just a museum. It’s an interactive tour, and he’s done more than just put things on display, he’s created a theatrical experience. Well, duh, right? I mean come on, what else would this man do?
So he’s got a little handheld box with a bunch of buttons on it. It’s presets. He’s got sound and lighting cues all set up for this whole museum. It’s a guided tour of magic history, both general and personal, and the docent is David Copperfield.
Here is how it goes. Starting at the front door you come in to a large room almost completely pitch black. A low light shines from the ceiling straight down on to a single glass counter like you find in any department store and David is behind it. The counter is filled with some very old magic props, books, and instructions of various kinds and on top are a few more items. David tells you that this counter is the one from the old Macy’s where he bought his first magic trick, which he then performs for you right there. In the background you can here the kind of music and voices you would have heard in a Macy’s at the time.
Then, the lights come up for the rest of the room and you find yourself standing in a recreation of the original Tannen’s Magic Shop. This is where David went next after depleting all that Macy’s had to offer. When I say that this is a recreation, I mean down to every last detail that can be mustered from David’s memory and every old photography (lovingly kept in a photo album on the counter) that he has. The huge U-shaped glass counter is filled with the same kinds of effects that would have been available at the time, and the walls have floor to ceiling cases just like the ones from Tannen’s brimming with magic collections of various name magicians at the time. The room is filled with the sounds of a busy shop filled with magicians and enthusiasts. Every inch of every shelf is covered with things that any magician devoted to the history of our art would look at and be filled with wonder and imagination. There are more beautiful secrets in this one room than I could ever hope to study in my life time. Which would not stop me or even slow me down from making a serious, concerted, and very determined effort.
But there is more….
You see in the back corner of this room is a doorway blocked by crushed red velvet curtains, something so completely in tune with the old theaters of a time I wish I could have seen, and in the Tannen’s of yesterday that led to “The Stock Room”, which is what David refers to as the space beyond this point as well.
But while Tannen’s stock room was probably a very tiny space that held plain boxes of things to go on the shelves, here is something very different.
Now pause for a moment and consider this — in today’s world we consider hand crafted items to be of great value. We appreciate the time it takes to produce something that is strong, sturdy, and beautiful in it’s construction. But it wasn’t that long ago when hand crafted items were the norm. That while industrialization was in it’s infancy, it hadn’t really touched the markets for specialty items and goods. And there aren’t that many items one could point to as being much more “specialty” than magician’s props.
Magicians around the turn of the 19th century especially were creating their shows and if not building things themselves, certainly were employing builders, craftsmen, and artists in order to create the unique items they were using, as well as producing in limited quantities the things they were willing to sell. These collections would, as you might expect, be named for the magicians who were responsible for their creation.
Okay, got that? Good.
Now, imagine walking in to a long room, maybe 30 yards by about 10 yards wide. Imagine that in this room are shelves arranged lengthwise in multiple rows in this room and that they go floor to ceiling.
Imagine you turn to one section and in your hands you are holding a large book, a couple of inches thick, most of which are pictures of all of the props ever made by and for a magician named Theo Bamberg, who performed under the name Okito. You open the book and on the first page you see a particularly beautiful box used to produce doves on stage. It is decorated in reds and golds with Chinese Dragons and characters on it. You look up and right in front of you is the box. You look at the next picture and it is another box that is used to produce lanterns and brightly colored banners. You look up and right in front of you is that box. And on and on, page after page, in the exact order the shelves in front of you carry upon them all manner of small, medium, and large lovingly hand crafted magical items of a magician whose greatest trick was to convince the world that he wasn’t a British man but an Oriental one, and that all of his illusions were “mystic secrets of the Orient.”
And then you can repeat this process for the Thayer Collection, and the Fantasio Collection, and, and, and….
Shelves and shelves and shelves and not single square inch remains uncovered by a treasure.
I take a few moments to gather myself because I want to sit down and play with every single thing in this room but I can’t and the amount of self control it takes to keep my hands off is nearly more than I can take.
But there is more….
Through another curtained doorway I stepped, but this time I have travelled back in time and to a deeply secret place.
The oldest magic shop in the country is a place called Martinka’s Magic, founded in 1877 in New York City. And I’ve just found myself in the back room. A place that held it’s own little theater, with rows of wooden benches. On the stage is magic of the era including the Blooming Rose Bush, an effect where a plant grew roses right before your very eyes. Martinka’s existed before The Society of American Magician’s did. The SAM was founded in it’s back room.
The greatest magician’s of a by gone age congregated there including Alexander Herrmann, Harry Kellar, Howard Thurston, and Harry Houdini.
And here I was standing in a place in time I have never even thought to dream of being able to consider going to.
And yup, I’m crying again.
It’s all coming at me so fast and not a single thing I’ve seen so far isn’t the most beautiful artifact I have ever seen in my life.
But Jeff is pushing me. Why? Because David has disappeared through another curtained doorway and I’m falling behind.
Yes, there is more….
I step in to a room that almost seems like an actual museum now. I’m confronted immediately by a large glass case with a mannequin in it wearing a very distinctive tux. Well, distinctive to me, and to almost any magician whose spent any time looking in to the history of stage illusion and most especially the dove act.
Because now I’m looking at the tux belonging to Channing Pollock, the man who practically created the modern dove act and all the special props and tools used. Every magician who does a dove act today owes it to Channing. Straight up plain and simple. A number of years ago I got to spend an entire day hanging out with Channing and Eugene who were friends in Channing’s home in Half Moon Bay at the time. A lavish house literally built on a cliff face overlooking the ocean. I spent the day in awe listening to two old masters and absorbing everything I could.
And here, preserved in a giant glass case is his stuff.
And behind me is the same kind of display for a magician named Al Flosso.
And another display for Dante.
And another for Doug Henning.
And on and on and on and on and on…….
And we stop at another doorway but David stops me. Because this room isn’t ready to be shown yet, but I can see full scale stage illusions and a giant billboard poster for Herrmann, and another for Dante, and it’s not hard to guess what is going to be happening in here. So we turn back, and work our way to the beginning again. And I am in heaven. I have seen a place very few people are ever going to see.
You see, this museum is David’s private museum. It’s the result of his love for the art he has devoted his lifetime to. And it’s not going to be a place that the public, for the most part, will even be able to appreciate. Because to the eyes of someone not in the know, all of this stuff is pretty, and cool, and even interesting, but chances are that the average person will not also be inspired, touched, moved by the miracles contained in these walls. If anything, like everything else about magic, unless you are truly devoted to this art, this life, then all you might find are the secrets that will spoil the magic for you.
The burden of magic secrets belongs on the shoulders of magicians. We derive our joy in magic by watching you when we perform it. But a place like this should remain available only to a select few.
I hope that I comported myself well. You see I know that Jeff is diligently working with David in the hopes that a select few of his students will be able to visit as well in the future. I don’t know if that will happen or not, but maybe, just maybe, by being as devoted as I am, as respectful as I was, maybe David will allow future Mystery School students to take a step into this beautiful space as well. But as far as I know, I was the first one of the Mystery School Students to see this, and I am deeply humbled by the experience.
In the meantime, the journey back to some level of reality took place as we moved back to the starting point of the museum and the space I had become familiar with over the past several hours now.
And there, waiting for us on a table, was the biggest, greasiest, most delicious pepperoni pizza I have ever had. Seems David was feeling a little hungry after his show and had his personal assistant order while we were on the tour.
So there we sat, David, his assistant Maria, Jeff, Will, Jordan, and I, having a pizza party, talking shop, and just hanging out.
The evening is coming to an end and I ask David if I can have a picture with him. He says yes, and I settle in next to him, break out the phone and set it up. He takes it from me and performs the greatest magic trick he’s ever done. In the split second between smiling for the camera and returning it to my hands he transformed himself into the 19 foot tall man of magic I have always known him to be for the picture you see above, handsome, charismatic, and every inch the reason I wanted to be a magician in the first place.
I thanked him as profoundly as I could for the privilege I had been given that evening and he smiled and thanked me for coming and for appreciating what he had shown me.
I drove Jeff home and then got myself back to my hotel at about 1:30 am, but sleep would elude me for some time. I began to think how was I ever going to be able to tell this story, and it’s taken me all this time to find the words.
They only scratch the surface.
Nevertheless, that was my dinner with David.
I haven’t been motivated to write a movie review in quite some time. Not even for “The Last Jedi”, which I have a lot of feelings about.
But after seeing “The Greatest Showman” I have some things to say.
First, for some mysterious reason there are people out there who seem to think that this is some kind of bio-pic. Uhhh, no. For starters, IT’S A FREAKIN MUSICAL. The closest I have ever seen a musical come to depicting actual events is “Chess” and here’s a hint that you can apply to almost all musicals — The singing and dancing parts probably aren’t the historical parts!!!! If you are thinking you are going to get even a remotely accurate picture of how P.T. Barnum got the whole thing going you are going to be disappointed. A good biography will be more worthwhile and I’d love to see one actually. P.T. Barnum is an interesting, if sometimes very disturbing character.
Anyway, you shouldn’t be disappointed. No far from it.
So I’m going to start with this little tidbit of information which you may or may not know. I do not like musicals. I can count the number of musicals I actually like on one hand and still have fingers left over.
But being who I am, being interested in things like this, and knowing that Hugh Jackman actually was a song and dance man long before he ever took on the mantle of Wolverine, I figured I’d go and see it. At worst I would see circus and sideshow acts I’ve been fascinated by since I was a kid.
This was oh so much more.
Maybe I’m especially susceptible to the overriding theme of this movie summed up well in the following lyrics:
Every night I lie in bed
The brightest colors fill my head
A million dreams are keeping me awake
I think of what the world could be
A vision of the one I see
A million dreams is all it’s gonna take
A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make
Every artist/entertainer dreams big. One of the earliest lessons I ever got from Mystery School was to “imagine as if you had unlimited resources.” That way you have a vision. After that you can start to figure out how to make it work.
And that is exactly what the overriding message of this film is. Yes, the road has it’s challenges, and that’s the story here, but the message, the thing you will walk away from this with is one of the most entertaining depictions of “DREAM BIG” I have ever seen.
The stories of “outsiders” making a home with each other should speak to the souls of nearly everyone I know. The music is relentlessly modern, as are the depictions of the various circus acts, and I am completely fine with that. This is meant to appeal to a modern audience. Nevertheless, the imagery still maintains an era appropriate feel even if not a strictly era appropriate authenticity. Again, I am good with this as the point is not to recreate but to reimagine a story you are meant to feel good about. It’s meant to move you and inspire you, and for my money it does so incredibly well.
I was moved to tears of happiness from the very opening moments and the rollercoaster ride of inspired dreamer never left me.
I can say with all honesty that I have found another musical that I can add to my very short list, and I only have one finger left before I need to go to another hand for counting.
With the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi has come a wave of controversy utterly unexpected. I’ve seen it twice now. The first time with my wife and a friend who had gotten the tickets for free. The second time because my office decided that was what we were going to do for our holiday party. We’ve been doing that every year since I started working here actually, so I’ve seen Force Awakens, Rogue One, and Last Jedi all on my office’s dime.
I have to admit that after my first viewing I had some serious questions, which I could talk about endlessly but that isn’t the point of what I’m writing here. Upon doing a little extra reading and then seeing it a second time I think I am having some serious reconsiderations such that Last Jedi may be up there even with Empire Strikes Back as one of the best of the whole Star Wars saga.
No, I’m not interested in debating that with anyone. Time will tell whether I am right or not about it, but regardless I believe that I have found the aspects of this movie that lead me to thinking it is actually that good and that’s enough for me.
So what am I here to talk about?
Artistic Control. See here is the thing, whether you like it or hate it, it has inspired some serious reaction in you the viewer. And debate about the merits of a film in a beloved epic is really the heart and soul of the geek. Cue stereotypically slurred speech patterns arguing “Space Leia”, “Finn’s a coward”, “Poe sucks” or any other topic you like.
But what set me off is that yesterday I actually saw a petition that someone had started to try and have Last Jedi “stricken from cannon”. Seriously. Here’s the link: https://www.change.org/p/the-walt-disney-company-have-disney-strike-star-wars-episode-viii-from-the-official-canon
As of this writing it has gotten nearly 35,000 signatures.
Think about that for a second.
Now, admittedly since then it has changed directions, and that’s a good thing, but think for just a moment about the implications of such a petition.
Have we become so easily riled up that we think we, the fans, have any kind of right to demand such an asinine thing in the first place? Do we genuinely believe we have a right to control another artists vision simply because we disagree with it?
Look at our political climate right now. Silencing dissent is a huge issue for us as a nation.
I remember about 15 years ago getting a phone call from a religious group that wanted to actually put in to law that Hollywood had to make “Christian friendly” versions of their films. This, of course, died a quick death, but it seems that some of us are still suffering from the same kind of backwards thinking regarding ART!!!
Just because you don’t like the art doesn’t mean you have a right to force the artist to conform to your demands. What you do have the right to do is talk about it. Say why you don’t like it. Say why you do like it. And best of all — YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO CREATE YOUR OWN ART!
And THAT is what we all need to be doing. Creating art. Art that inspires. Art that disturbs. Art that gets the conversation flowing, that points out the greatness in humanity, and reveals it’s flaws.
A society that thinks it can petition to have art removed in any fashion is a society that is heading in a dangerously bad direction.
Create your art. I look forward to seeing it.
The past few months have been difficult for several friends of mine. Conflicts over misunderstandings compounded by lack of communication compounded by miscommunication compounded by rumors and untruths. My loyalties have been stretched beyond their limits and still I held on because that’s the person I am. I have sacrificed myself on that hill for others in the past, I will continue to do so for others in the future.
One of the hardest things I have ever had to do in my life is to give up on someone. In my entire life I have only done it twice.
I might be looking at a third time now. I don’t know.
Whatever the situation is now, this is not by my choice. I have worked hard to find a path for them to help them. I have spent my time, energy, credibility, and sanity on them. I feel like some of my own friends have started to steer clear of me because of my association with this one person for whom I have a loyalty I can not just dismiss out of hand, thus trapping me in between people in ways that I should never have had to deal with. A situation even they admitted I didn’t deserve.
I can’t blame my other friends for their seeming withdrawal, but that doesn’t change the fact that real or not it hurts like hell to feel this way. But I must acknowledge that my own perspectives have been skewed and it’s going to take me a while to get a handle on such things again. If any of you read this then consider it a request for understanding on my part and a chance to reach back and forth across any gap that has grown between us.
For the time being it seems that this one person has dismissed me from their life entirely now and there may simply be nothing I can do about that. Or should do about that. If years of loyalty to them and supporting them means so little that one honest statement during such hard times coming from me, one of the few remaining people in their corner, is enough to write me off than there is a clear lesson in that.
Maybe they will wake up and realize what they have done. Maybe they won’t. Even if they do, will they attempt to resolve this situation? Who knows. Certainly I don’t. I understand stubbornness and how ingrained never apologizing is for them. But my loyalty to them is such that I’ll hear them out. No matter what else might be true I do still care about their well being. They have been through years of difficult times and I bear a responsibility in that. Because of these things and more I will always want the best for them. It is who I am.
I know the terrible troubles they have been through. I know them better than anyone as the only person who was ever completely confided in. I know the emotional storms they passed through that would distort their heart and mind, the fears that would cause them to act out in ways that were irrational and hurtful. I also knew the times when things were well, when they had control and mastery over their own nature, and at those times they could achieve great things, be deeply generous, and even powerful.
None of which should be taken as anything other than some entirely to brief glimpse into why I have done what I have done for them over the years, caring for their well being. Now it seems that care is no longer requested or required of me.
I need to care about my own well being too.
I have been spending a lot of time over the past couple of years in particular trying to relearn gratitude. Trying to relearn my own boundaries and limits so that I would know better how to not hurt myself overextending to help everyone I hold so dear. I have been carefully harboring my resources so that I could fulfill my dreams.
I have been trying to relearn my own value and how to be better at not letting others words and actions make me doubt it. As cheesy as it sounds I have been very grateful to the wisdom of my “wizards community” and the guidance they provide in seeing things differently and with purpose.
The world has changed and if resolution is what this one person wants, there is going to be a whole lot of work that would need to be done before it can happen. I will listen, happily, to what they have to say. There will be things I will be listening for though. Important things. I hope that I will hear them.
It is a terrible burden to lose someone whom you have invested so much in to. But this is what they seem to have chosen. I haven’t given up on them. I’m not prepared to do so.
But all I can do for now is go forward and see what happens next.
Tomorrow I am doing a community service thing with my office. We’re going to go to a senior center and help out with a party they are throwing for the residents.
In theory this is a good thing. Even in practice it is a good thing.
Except I’m scared.
Okay, here’s the thing. First off I was thrown under the bus by the person who arranged this because while everyone else in the office is just going to be helping with decorations and serving food, I am going to be entertaining. I wasn’t asked if I wanted to. I was volunteered.
And by now if you know me you know exactly how I feel about being volunteered without my knowledge or consent.
But this particular one goes a little deeper for me.
My grandmother used to be a nurse in a nursing home. And one year, when I was in about 6th , my school decided it would be a good thing to go to the nursing home and put on a show. It was some kind of a Christmas program as I recall, involving a bunch of “cute kids” singing carols and passing out gifts and cards to the residents.
This is a good thing. Both in theory and in practice. I know that such places are starved for entertainment and for general human interaction. I know that residents of such places are very lonely.
And it has been pointed out that magicians use such opportunities to build their shows and perform for an audience that is deeply appreciative. And can even make some decent money doing so, though obviously there are better reasons than just dollars to do such things.
Except I’m scared.
See, during that little Christmas show I was a part of all those years ago, I walked the halls of the facility passing out cards and gifts. At one point I stopped and handed a card to an elderly lady but before I could move on she grabbed my hand and began crying. She clutched my hand and arm so hard that I would have had a very difficult time escaping without hurting her. She tried to pull me in closer to her and while I know intellectually that she had no ill intentions, emotionally I was never prepared for that and there were no adults in the immediate vicinity to help me.
I found myself holding very still and listening and doing the best job a kid that young could do to try and comfort her, to make her feel a little less lonely, and through all of it I was very scared. I didn’t know or understand back then just how difficult it can be for people in such facilities. I didn’t have the maturity to deal with it.
It wasn’t long before an adult came along and got me out of that situation. Maybe no more than a minute. But clearly that situation has stayed with me far longer than I ever realized.
Now, I’ve been ambushed again. This time by one of my own co-workers by offering me up without asking me in advance. But I’m not shying away from this either.
Those fears that I thought were long gone have re-emerged. I understand them much better. I am not as worried about them as once I was. I am even eager to engage and perform for these people because I have a much better understanding of them and their emotional load.
And I have that little touch of fear but the tools I need to be able to face it and overcome it.
I don’t anticipate it will be a huge challenge honestly. I mean until this whole thing came up I didn’t realize I was still carrying around any of those feelings at all. But it’s good to know that I am going in to this situation prepared and more focused than I ever have before.
What will be most interesting to me in the end of this is how they will receive me. I will not be doing a lot of entertaining. Only about 15 minutes. But, after circumventing the person in my office who arranged this, I spoke with the entertainment director at the Senior Center and what started out as my being thrown under the bus has now become a kind of audition.
You see, they’d like to be able to have a magician they can bring in more frequently to do shows for them. They were looking in to it already when my name came up. So now, for them and for myself, I will be going in with a much better feeling and attitude. I’ll challenge my old fear and be free of it, and if all goes well, I’ll come out of it not just better internally, but better externally with a contact and a future venue.
All from a small ambush.
Okay, look, I know that all of you in Facebook land who care saw lots of pictures, but I still think a summary is in order here. For me if nobody else. I like to get it all in to a nice little package at the end.
In the interest of full disclosure there are a few things you should know up front:
- Ostensibly this was a trip to celebrate my father-in-laws 75th birthday
- I didn’t pick the time of year to go to Orlando. That happened due to other management
- Due to the timing it was actually closer to his 75.5th birthday
- Yes it was freaking hot. I know, I was there.
- While we are big Disney fans, the truth is we were much more excited about going to Harry Potter Land. Get over it. It was worth it.
- I highly recommend having a father-in-law who is retired military and can get awesome level guest passes for you. For about half the price of two day park hoppers for Universal and Disney we ended up with four day park hoppers for both. This gave us pretty much unlimited freedom while we were there.
Okay, so, we stayed at a Doubletree Resort which put us approximately ten minutes from Universal Orlando and twenty minutes from Disney World. In other words, the perfect spot. Weirdly the Doubletree Resort had things like an arcade, miniature golf course, people sized checkers and checker board, an outdoor pool table, and multiple pools, along with the other regular amenities. It was very strange. Our room was pretty much standard Doubletree fair, but no refrigerator. Called the front desk to deal with that because although not necessary I do prefer to keep my insulin refrigerated whenever I can. And of course it makes a good place to store extra snacks and water bottles.
Flight out wasn’t to bad even having to get up at 3am, but it was still late afternoon by the time we got there. We had just about enough time to get to the hotel, decompress briefly from the flight, and then meet up with family in the Universal City Walk for dinner.
So, if you don’t know, Universal Orlando is basically divided up in to four areas; The City Walk which is pretty much like Downtown Disney (lots of shops, restaurants, and a theater), Hollywood Studios where you’ll find a lot of their rides and attractions, Volcano Bay which is basically a giant water park, and Islands of Adventure which is more rides and attractions.
Most of the restaurants around there seem to be loud and themed-kitchy. In other words not my thing. But this is central to everyone and we’re there for all the adventuring to be had, so loud and themed-kitchy is the order of the day. We tried to go to Margaritaville, which I’ve been to one before and was very not impressed, but this one had a really long wait and none of us were in the mood for that. We ended up in a place called “Grill & Brew” which was basically a sports bar type place. Food was mostly adequate, service was terrible. I say “mostly adequate” because most of us got something edible but one of our party literally (yes, I do mean literally) got mashed potatoes that you could bounce your fork off of. When I say the service was terrible this is because when this unfortunate mashed potato situation was pointed out he got another order from the same batch. Words and discounts were had but I wouldn’t really recommend the place.
Anyway, if you want to do the whole Harry Potter Experience ( tm ), you will need to get a park hopper pass. This is because half of it is in Hollywood Studios (Kings Cross Station and Diagon Alley) and half of it is in Islands of Adventure (Hogsmead). The two are connected by The Hogwards Express but you can’t ride if you don’t have that park hopper.
We did. It’s worth it. Ride it both directions because different things happen going each way.
We started off in Hogsmead because most of the rides are there. The two competing “dragon” roller coasters, The Dragon Challenge, were totally awesome and if you do it right you can ride them one immediately after the other. We did. Got a little wozy by the time we got off the second one riding them in such rapid succession. It was good.
There is the Flight of The Hippogriff roller coaster that is basically a kids coaster but it’s got some moves and was fun.
Harry Potter and The Forbidden Journey was a pretty good ride but I had some trouble with it as it mixes live and video interactive elements and the video stuff tends to set me off a bit because I tend to see the off sync nature of the video versus your actual movements. But it was still really fun and worth the slight dizzy I get.
There are multiple Olivander’s Wand Shops as well as carts and other places you can buy wands. You can buy “interactive” wands or not. The “interactive” wands allow you to manipulate/activate little attractions all around the parks. Not unsurprisingly we got “interactive” wands and it wasn’t long before I was helping people figure out how to properly use them. I did start to wish I had brought my wand holster.
Riding the Hogwarts Express was a great way to get over to the other park. One of the cool things is that when you walk out of Kings Cross station it just dumps you into Hollywood Studios. You have to go looking for the way in to Diagon Alley. It’s not hard to find, but it’s not obvious either. If you aren’t looking for it you could walk right passed and you wouldn’t know.
That being said, we walked in and it was really amazing. As cool as Hogsmead was, this was more so. Because of the way it’s hidden and how you get in, you really do feel like you are walking in to a “hidden world”. The architecture is exactly as you would expect based on the movies but standing there makes a huge difference.
Of course we went into the Weasley’s joke shop. And you can get so pretty amusing stuff there. The Leaky Cauldron is there, and although we took a quick look in, we didn’t really stop for a bite there.
But the real stars of Diagon Alley are the Escape from Gringot’s ride, and Nocturn Alley. Escape from Gringot’s is another ride that combines live action and video action, but I actually found it much smoother and it didn’t set me off. It was an excellent ride and a lot of fun.
But Nocturn Alley…..
Oh my friends, Nocturn Alley….
Again, you have to go looking for it. You know it’s got to be there somewhere but if you aren’t looking you could miss it. We didn’t. And as immersive as walking in to Diagon Alley was, Nocturn Alley was more so. Standing there was the deepest I felt I could get in to actually being in the Harry Potter universe. It was amazing.
The next day we headed out to Kennedy Space Center for several hours. One could easily spend several days there but we just didn’t have the time. What we did have time for was to visit Shuttle Atlantis. Which we did, and which I cried over, and which I wrote about already. But I will say this much again here – the nation we were that could do those things is a nation I wish we would be again. Yes, we’ve grown and improved many things, but socially we’ve taking huge steps backwards since then and we won’t survive if that continues to be the case. Okay, enough of that.
Once we were done there we headed back to the Universal City Walk, ostensibly to meet up with the family, get dinner, and do some more rides. That only partially worked out. The rest of the family had already gotten in to Margaritaville (some are very determined). Laurie and I decided on Vivo, a nice Italian place. And I do mean nice. We sat down in a very quiet place, had a fabulous meal, discussed various things including our need for quiet meals when we are on trips like these as this is a part of our way to decompress or at least regroup before tackling anything else.
Once we were done we headed back out only to discover that the rest of the family was still at Margaritaville, but getting very annoyed because they couldn’t get out. No waiter, no bill, once bill arrived, complaints and coupons apparently. Such is the way of things, but through observation I am once again convinced that I don’t really have a need to ever go to another one. My one time long ago was enough.
An amusing incident while waiting – I was sitting on the edge of a fountain while Laurie was off doing something and as I sat there a very drunk guy of the “bro” persuasion sat down nearby. He was very definitely hammered. Eventually Laurie returned and shortly thereafter his girlfriend also showed up in a pretty drunk state.
I’m not sure what happened next exactly, but either he fell or he was pushed. In either case, he was hanging backwards in the fountain while his girlfriend was desperately trying to keep him from falling all the way in. I stepped up and helped fish him out.
Once the ten minutes that it was supposed to take the family to get out of their restaurant had turned to thirty Laurie and I stole the kids and headed back in to the Universal Hollywood Studios park.
Basically we hit three rides there. Spiderman, Hulk, and The Mummy.
Spiderman was mostly a 3D ride on a rail. And pretty good for it. I think the fact that it was on a rail is one of the reasons why it didn’t make me dizzy but I’ll have to think about that.
The Mummy was much like Indiana Jones in Disneyland, but obviously Mummy themed. And the Brenden Fraiser Mummy thank you. This one was also pretty damn good. Very enjoyable. Someone did decide to have a political statement though as somewhere along the few days we were there they had managed to get a red “Make America Great Again” hat on to one of the animatronic mummies. It wasn’t there the first time through for my sister-in-law, but it showed up later. And for all I know it’s still there.
But the real winner on this set of rides was definitely Hulk. Hoo-boy! This is one of those hanging coasters, lots of corkscrews and upside down outside loops. The really awesome thing though is that like many coasters it has that initial uphill climb but halfway through that turns into a magnetic launch system. So you’re slowly going “click-click-click” up the track and all of the sudden you go from that to “WHOOSH” as it shoots you out the end of a cannon! Which, by the way, ROARS like The Hulk.
We took the extra few minutes to ride the front car there just as we did with the dragons in Harry Potter Land. And Holy-Crap was that worth it! Definitely a kickass coaster!
Now this is just two days in and we still haven’t actually gotten to any of the Disney stuff yet. But now it’s time.
The next day we headed over to Disney Hollywood Studios. Think of this as roughly the same as California Adventure in Anaheim. Our goal here was to ride The Tower of Terror as we no longer have one here.
This is where things get interesting. We had been experiencing difficulties all along due to the fact that we have become so well versed in our Disney experience that doing these parks were confusing. Trying to figure out where this thing or that thing was involved a lot more work than usual.
But we found our way to the Tower relatively easily and it was great. More elaborate exterior, but the ride itself had some interesting differences, including a long horizontal portion through mirrored hallways and extra set dressing. But the same ride in the end and well worth the trip for us.
While there we saw The Beauty and The Beast live show which was fun, did Toy Story Mania and Muppet*Vision 3D. All of these were pretty much exactly the same as in California Adventure but things we love to hit so worth it. In general everything had a more elaborate exterior given that the parks in general have more space. Among other things this does make being in line more tolerable simply because more of the lines are INSIDE! More air conditioning! YAY!
We hit Tower of Terror a second time and then finished up with dinner at The Brown Derby. Basically contemporary American cuisine in a “Golden Age of Hollywood” setting. We had a great waiter from Jamaica named Jerry. Food was outstanding. I would definitely go back to that place again.
Last day – The Magic Kingdom!
So, this is Disneyland but bigger. I mean, exactly the same layout, but with more room. So, you go up Main Street, you have big circle in the center, you have all the lands laid out radially and in the same order. Now, those navigational instincts of ours were usable again. It was definitely a case of “well, it should be over there if they’ve stayed the same” and we were always pretty well on target.
A brief digression. Normally I don’t care about FastPasses. This is because I don’t like the hassle of running from place to place to try and get them at the beginning of the day. They’ve solved this problem via the DisneyWorld App. If you have an account, you can tie your tickets or Annual Pass to the account and you can then start reserving FastPasses directly on your phone. There are limitations, but they aren’t unreasonable ones and we definitely took advantage of this. If Disneyland adopts this (and I know that they are working on it) I will be much more likely to use them in the future.
Anyway, we scheduled FastPasses for ourselves at Space Mountain, Pirates, and The Haunted Mansion. These were the important ones for obvious reasons. Our passes for Space Mountain weren’t until late in the evening. The rest were early in the day. But we had enough time that we headed straight to Space Mountain and rode it first.
I have to say I was a tad disappointed.
The environment was great! But the ride didn’t have the same speed and kick as ours does. It was good, really. But when I get off of Space Mountain in Anaheim, I’m totally adrenalin rushed. It’s a kick in the chest. This one just didn’t have that same level of UMPH that I love so much.
Pirates and Haunted Mansion both were practically identical to ours and definitely fun for that! Haunted Mansion doesn’t have the Hat Box Ghost though. Not surprising, but we noticed it’s absence.
We also hit Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, The Tiki Room, and The Little Mermaid.
There were many other things we could have hit if we had more time. Clearly a return trip is in order, but that might be a while.
Finally we headed from there to Disney Springs. Think of this as Downtown Disney but not close enough to any parks to make it easily accessible. It’s Commerce Land. There are tons of shops, including the dress show that Laurie really wanted to go to that does Disney Themed retro style dresses. Next fancy dress up party people are going to see something interesting I think.
And our final meal with the family was at Morimoto’s Asia. Another good meal in a really good place. Very fancy.
There were plenty of pictures to be had as any of you who saw my Facebook feed knows. Some pretty spectacular stuff all the way around. And I came home with a fair number of treasures, mostly pins to add to my collection both from Disney and Harry Potter Land.
I’m sure I would like to return at some point, but I love my Disneyland. I’ll have to try the Harry Potter Land at Universal down here. I know it’s not as extensive but I’d like to see it for myself. That may become a part of the planning for the next Laurel/Apprentice trip going forward.
The thing that I love so much about being able to do all of this is that it does inspire my creativity. Looking at even the smallest details of places like this gives me a lot of ideas.
I wonder if I can write off the expenses as “research” for my business. Hmmm, where are those receipts.
Anyway, that’s what I did on my Summer Vacation.