Category Archives: Magic – Historical

Historical Magic links and information.

Another Carnival Done!

carnival_AnS_2015This past weekend at Kingdom A&S we ran the Carnival of The Phoenix again.

This time we played the day a little differently.  The last time all we did was shows through out the day, basically every hour on the hour.  This time, because it was A&S, we reserved the morning for classes and the afternoon for games and entertainment.  My apprentice Ghislaine taught two classes, I taught one.  I believe she will be posting about her classes relatively soon on her blog; Prognosticating Cow.  Be sure to wander over there and check it out.  She taught on the history of Necromancy and on the psychology of Divination presentations.  Both classes were very interesting.

I taught my Theatrical Skills for Bards class again, but this time I had probably the best turn out I have ever had with that class.  The students were very responsive and I know that at least a couple of them really saw something valuable in what I taught when they showed up for the show later on in the day.  More about that later.

After the classes and through the middle of the afternoon we had our Carnival games out, as well as all the juggling gear.  Several people came by to play and learn to juggle so we did that for about two hours.  Again, a great deal of fun was had.

A slight digression though; it looks like I need to put out the same kind of general rule/announcement about the Carnival just like Page School.  Kids are certainly welcome, but there needs to be a certain amount of parental involvement as well.  The Carnival isn’t supposed to be a baby-sitting service.  A few of the kids had their parents there for a bit but there were far more children then there were adults to watch them and we got close to having the game broken a time or two because the kids weren’t being properly managed.  So I’ll need to do something about that.

But the games went over well.  It is time to build one or two more though I think.  I’d like to have a few more.

That afternoon, after the games were done we were graced by an opportunity to host a toast to one of our friends, Maestra Vittoria, who has recently finished a long journey in academia and emerged with her doctorate; a great achievement.  I’ve been friends with her for a number of years now and I have had the pleasure of watching her on her journey every now and again.  She is an amazing person and I am very happy for her.

From there we went almost immediately in to our evening show.

carnival_choir_AnS_2015We started with The West Kingdom Choir.  They performed approximately 20 minutes of material and it was really wonderful.  We had a nice shady spot under the trees and the sun was setting so we had the makings of one of those magical SCA moments we so often look forward to.  The Choir was in fine voice and everyone really enjoyed their performance.

From there a few of the cast from the last Golden Stag Players show performed a scene from “12th Night” which we performed at this past 12th Night.  The jail scene which is one of the most iconic Shakespeare scenes and was very well performed.  Although I must admit that I missed an opportunity when I introduced them.  I should have said “Cope” like we usually do but I was distracted thinking about how to introduce the next performance and about my performance following that.

And then Maestra Vittoria performed her translation of a 16th Century Italian story about Narcissus.  It was a piece we’ve seen before but it was fabulous.  She had been working on it and this performance was amazingly funny.  It is a great humorous piece and it was wonderful to have it given that it’s hard to say we’ll have another performance from her again.  Now that she has finished her schooling she is on the job hunt and it seems likely that it will take her away from us.  I wish her well of course, but I and the Carnival will miss her.

Finally I got to do my show.

The Carnival provides me with the kind of “stage” that I truly appreciate.  A medium sized group, close enough to appreciate the slight of hand when I perform it, but just separated enough that I can have the formal stage I have grown up with all my life.

I performed three story pieces, the first a bare handed production of a rainbow ribbon, the second a new piece where I link three borrowed finger rings from the audience, and the final piece a routine written around a bottle that was a gift to the Caliph from Sinbad the Sailor.  The first and the third are pieces I have had at my command for some time but the second piece was a new and this was it’s first outing.

I was truly amazed at the power of the piece actually.  It is a recreation of a routine done by a professional that I have a great deal of respect for but done with my own words and presentation.  His performance of it stuck with me but his words and rhythm would never have worked for me.  My recreation focused on the idea of the universal nature of music and its ability to create harmony in anyone.  The story was a strong one and it clearly moved my audience.  I was very happy.

But what was perhaps the best part of my day, as much as I amazed my audience, was the fact that after the show I was approached by two of my students (at different times) from my “bardic skills” class, both of whom said that having seen my performance it crystallized their understanding of the material I taught earlier and they were looking forward to putting my lessons in to action in their own performances.

That is success.

So A&S was a lot of fun, the Carnival was a success, the classes were a success, and for about three days after I was totally exhausted.  But I’m back on my game now and very happy for it.

The Phoenix Calmly Nesting In Ashes – West Kingdom Towne Faire

 

phoenix_014When I first thought of the idea of trying to create a kind of SCA Carnival, it was intended to be a show place for the entertainers who normally don’t get a chance to perform at events because what they do doesn’t necessarily fit around the classic ‘bardic circle’. That space is perfect for singers, musicians, poets and storytellers. I can compete there as a magician from time to time, but it isn’t exactly the right venue for me. (I talk about managing venues in the SCA in my article “Theatrical Skills for the SCA Bard.”)

So, to a certain extant, the creation of The Carnival of The Phoenix has been a selfish act, giving myself the venue I most want for my magic. But I am unbelievably fortunate to have friends who benefit from the same kind of venue, and this past weekend at the first ever West Kingdom Towne Faire I had the perfect opportunity to bring out The Carnival not just for myself but for those entertainer friends of mine. The end result was pretty fabulous.

Friday saw me on site first thing, even before the event coordinators. Considering how very loaded down my vehicle was I left early in order to give myself enough time to drive safely to the site. I was only early by an hour or so and that gave me time to sit and relax and enjoy the calm before the storm. I already knew roughly where I was going to be as a map had been made early on. The Carnival was given a rather premier space over all, being set at the end of one of the long crossroads, and actually mostly in a nice shady spot. We had the road noise to deal with, but all things considered we were actually pretty brilliantly set and if this event is done again I would most happily use that same space. It was ideal for us.

Saturday morning we set up our carnival games and my apprentice took her place for part of the scheduled time as the fortune teller. She had her own booth as well, just across the road from the Carnival so she spent most of her time there.

IMG_0462The games we set out were built by my friend Rory Jamesson and I. Though to give credit where credit is due, Rory did the bulk of the work including the research on the games and how they were to be played. The first was in essence a table top version of bowling called Skittles. The second was a table top version of shuffle board called Shove Groat.

The Shove Groat tables were set up so more players could be playing simultaneously, but I think that the Skittles table was a bit more popular. Both were being played more or less continuously and both were equally accessible to both adults and children, both as far as the rules were concerned and just the physical nature of the games.

We left the games running all morning and about half way through the lunch break. But it was definitely time to break them down so that we could set up the first of our actual acts.

Yukiko and her “Noh Hands PuIMG_0477ppet Theater” were reprising their puppet play “The Krakken Bell Brothers.” The first time we got the Carnival up and running it was a bit difficult as we were facing some extreme weather challenges, in this case extremely high temperatures. In fact most of the acts I had lined up had vanished on us and the only ones that made it through were the puppet play, my magic show, and my apprentice reading fortunes during a bard circle afterward.

We did have a bit of a weather challenge this time, but in this case it was wind threatening to blow down the puppet stage. Some quick thinking on my part and we had ropes and stakes set to hold everything in place. It worked extremely well and the puppet show went on.

It was quite the success. I didn’t take an actual head count (I wish I had thought to), but from what I can recall I would say that there were probably 15 to 20 people watching the show, kids and adults, and everyone clearly enjoyed it. And this was what I considered to be the first real hurdle – one of our “shows” and how much audience we could draw. Given the overall size of the event and the number of things we had to compete with I considered this to be an extreme success.

IMG_0484Next we had Inara The Minstrel who hosted songs and stories out of The Carnival. Although a stage space had been set up we decided for the comfort of the audience to bring them in to the sunshade and arranged them around so that they could all see and hear Inara just fine. Inara put on a heck of a show. Solo performers have their own special challenges. Inara rose to those challenges and definitely exceeded them. People got to hear songs they hadn’t heard before and I am sure I will remember and tell the story of “The Debate in Sign Language” because it was hysterical.

Again, it was definitely a success with another rough audience count of 15 to 20. By this point I felt that if we got the same kinds of counts for the rest of the shows on the schedule then we would be doing extremely well.

IMG_0511After that we we graced by the lovely Vittoria who regaled us with an adapted story from a historical source, because she is so good that way, called “The Ambling Nymph.” The story is adapted from Isabella Andreini’s 1588 comedy, La Mirtilla, and it was about a lovely wood nymph who finds a pool of water to take a bath in but upon seeing the audience thinks better of it. Seeing her own reflection becomes enamored and things get even funnier from there.

It was wonderfully entertaining and Vittoria, dressed as a wood nymph was charming and funny, especially with that blond wig on. Normally she has auburn hair and the wig totally changed everything. Some people actually didn’t recognize her at first because of it. She too had a good sized audience who were vastly entertained by her antics.

IMG_0524This brought us up to the next act which was The Golden Stag Players (GSP)doing their encore performance of “The Lunatic Lovers”, which is the Commedia dell’Arte show we did at 12th Night. The past few weeks we had a couple of pick up rehearsals and put a lot of energy into figuring out how to deal with being an an outdoor venue. It has been over 20 years since the GSP has performed outside.

I have to say that this worried me a great deal. Not that I didn’t think the actors could handle it. The brilliance of improve is that you can adapt to virtually anything. But at this point in the day the wind was kicking up and the curtains were proving to be useless. Also, the audience was going to be sitting in the sun and the show is long enough that I was a bit worried about that.

People adapt though. Many had brought parasols and hats. Many sat in the large communal pavilion that was right across the road from us on the opposite side as the Diviner. And all together I believe that the play had as many as 30 to 50 people watching, a tremendous audience given the conditions. Admittedly our 12th Night shows are much larger, but for an outside venue this was amazing!

At this point we took about two hours to have a bit of a potluck with any of the entertainers who wanted to be with us. It was not as well organized as I wanted it to be but that is entirely on me. It’s one of the planning things that simply fell through the cracks on my end of the world. I’ll cut myself some slack though given how much of this whole thing was riding on my shoulders to begin with. Everyone played their parts well, but if I had asked for a bit more help I’m sure things could have gone better. Control freak on my part.

IMG_0597Of course the real issue for me was that after the dinner break was my magic show and despite every effort on my part to plan, prepare and rehearse, I never got the opportunity to. So I still only had the roughest idea of what I was going to actually do. I knew where I was starting, I knew where I was ending and I knew on piece I was going to do in the middle. Everything else was improvised based on what I had with me in my bag of tricks.

Still I managed to put on a good 20 to 30 minute show (didn’t time myself) and everyone loved it, especially the fire eating end which happened just as things were starting to get dark. And I too had a good sized audience including The Queen!

Once that was done it was time for the open bardic circle. It proved to be a bit smallish but truthfully I liked that. And although Inara had not initially planned on staying so late (she had many things to do), she did end up staying and managing the circle and we made “sh’moes” (yes, I know they are s’mores, but we make them with fancy chocolate and sometimes even home made marsh mellows, so we give them a different name).

The next day was a slow break down. Usually the people who camp with me stick around to help break things down but due to some serious medical concerns they ended up leaving early (as far as I know all is well at this time), so it was just myself for the first part of the morning and then my apprentice helping towards the end. So it went slower than usual, but considering how tired and sore I was from the previous day, slow was just fine.

So I believe that this time around The Carnival was a complete success. It came together almost exactly as I had envisioned it. There were some hiccups along the way but anyone who has ever been in the theater can tell you that no show is perfect. This was, as I told everyone who would listen, my circus and my monkeys. They all made me proud.

But it’s time for this Phoenix to rest among it’s ashes, having burned with the brightest fires of creativity and theatricality.

The Carnival of The Phoenix will rise again but only time can tell us when.

The Carnival of The Phoenix Rises Again – West Kingdom Towne Faire

This weekend, at a brand new SCA Event called The West Kingdom Towne Faire we will have the opportunity to once again present The Carnival of The Phoenix!

And oh, what an event it is going to be. The whole thing is going to be unlike other SCA events. I expect it to be a very different challenge to run than any event has been done before. Rather than have an event centered around the activities of fighting, it is going to be centered around, well pretty much everything else.

Arts, crafts, entertainment, games, food and really all the other wonderful things that we do as an organization which don’t normally get the spot light.

As to The Carnival itself, well we have a very full schedule.

First we’ll be setting up the morning with games and our Diviner. Rory and I built a game table called Skittles (consider it a table top version of bowling), and we built a pair of two player game tables for a game called “Shove Groat” which is basically a table top version of shuffle board. Well, I say that Rory and I built them, but truthfully he put far more work into them than I did. He’s the skilled wood worker and he has done a fabulous job.

My apprentice is, of course, the Diviner. She will be spending the morning at the Carnival proper, but she also has her own booth nearby where you will be able to go and get your fortune told and even a proper medieval horoscope drawn!

Then, after the lunch break we will have a puppet show called “The Krakken Bell Brothers”! This is the puppet show we had when the Carnival last appeared. It is the fable of two Scandinavian brothers and the dreaded monster of the sea, the Krakken, that shaped their fates! It is fabulous!

Following that the lovely and talented Inara The Minstrel will be playing songs, telling stories and doing a bit of bellydancing for your entertainment! Inara really is a wonderfully talented variety entertainer and brings an amazing energy to her shows.

Another lovely and talented storyteller, Vittoria, (yes, I am a very fortune man with so many lovely ladies sharing their skills with the Carnival!) will then be presenting a tale called “The Ambling Nymph”, a comic sketch about the (mis)adventures of a strong-minded wood nymph. Adapted from Isabella Andreini’s 1588 comedy, La Mirtilla.

Did you miss The Golden Stag Players at 12th Night doing their Commedia dell’Arte performance of “The Lunatic Lovers”? Did you want to see it again? Well here is your chance! The Golden Stag Players are the Premier Acting Troupe of The West Kingdom. For more than 20 years now The Golden Stag Players have been providing entertainment at 12th Night, but now you can see them in a totally new setting which has brought out a whole new level of comedy and hijinks the likes of which you have not seen before! Now with 10% more jokes and 5% more laughs! Okay, just kidding about that part, (really it’s a lot more than that!) but trust me when I say you’ll love this show!

After the dinner break Master Magician Juan Santiago (HEY! That’s Me!) will be presenting a display of the Prestidigitory Arts to amaze and astound you. Years of study in both the medieval and modern arts of the magician have helped Santiago create a performance that has helped him achieve both his Laurel in the SCA and his membership to the prestigious Magic Castle in Hollywood and to The Inner Circle of Bizarre Magicians.

Finally, join us around the fire for an open Bardic Circle where all of you will have the opportunity to share your talents and your joy of performing!

It promises to be an amazing day and I look forward to seeing you!

For more information about the event please visit:

http://www.westkingdomfaire.org/

Our schedule for The Carnival of The Phoenix is:

  • 9:00AM – 12:00PM  – Carnival Games
  • 9:00AM – 11:00AM  – Madam Ghislaine, Diviner
  • 1:00PM – Puppet Show – The Kraken Bell Brothers
  • 2:00PM – Inara The Minstrel, Songs, Stories and Bellydancing!
  • 3:00PM – Vittoria’s Story TimeStory Time: “The Ambling Nymph”
  • 4:00PM – Golden Stag Players: “The Lunatic Lovers”
  • 8:00PM – The Magic of Juan Santiago
  • 9:00PM – Bardic Circle & Fortune Telling

A Slideshow of Magic Lantern Slides

magiclanternToday I spent my time going through the slides which came with my new Magic Lantern.

By cataloging them I hope to be able to do some image searches and maybe find the stories that are being told or even find replacements for the slides which are missing.

Many people came by my table where I had the lantern disassembled and the slides set out to see what it was I was playing with.  It was fun to share the wonders of what I had in front of me with an appreciative group of people.  And at least one was inspired to spend time researching and developing their own photography skills further in the hopes being able to produce slides for my use.

All I did was place the slides on white paper and yet that was enough to bring the images out in brilliant colors.  It is amazing to see how well these slides have lasted considering how old they are.  I am looking forward to when I can actually fire up the lantern itself and test it out.  I won’t be doing that for a bit as the oil lamp which is the source of light for the lantern needs some care before I risk putting any fuel in it.  Either that or I will need to simply replace it.

Below is a slideshow of the images I took.  There are a few missing slides from the sets which are clearly sequenced stories but otherwise everything I have is present.  If you get any ideas about what the stories might be I’d appreciate a comment letting me know.

Enjoy!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

What do Aladdin and I have in common?

One of the coolest things in magic history is the magic lantern. A device which is essentially a medieval version of a modern slide projector. Although the history is a bit difficult to pin down, the magic lantern is generally thought to have been invented in the late 1650’s by Christiaan Huygens. However there is evidence that a similar device existed in the early 15th Century created by Giovanni Fontana.

Giovanni’s device projected an image of a demon and in fact this seems to have set the trend in how the devices were used for at least a couple of centuries as they were taken up by magicians and conjurers to project images of ghosts, devils, demons, animate inanimate objects or convince people that their loved ones could be spoken to from beyond the grave or even brought back to life.

By the 18th century they devices were being used in seances and eventually a Belgian inventor named Etienne-Gaspard Robert eventually created a theatrical show called “Phantasmagoria” using the devices to create a whole variety of images for entertainment.

As you might well imagine this is a real amazing kind of thing. A really cool bit of history for magic, theater and the movies.

So imagine how utterly floored, completely dumbfounded and increadibly stunned I am to now have in my possesion an actual antique Magic Lantern, complete with intact glass slides for the device. I am floored.

My birthday is coming up in a few weeks. My apprentice happened to find one at an estate sale yesterday and gave me an early birthday present.  I am so moved words can not describe it.

It needs a little TLC but it is already actually functional. I need to sort through the glass slides and see what is there. Some are numbered so there may actually be a set telling a story. If so, I’ll need to find the story.  When I’m ready I think I will try and add this to my Carnival.

But I have a real Magic Lantern.  Just like Aladdin.

To give you an idea of the kinds of things that were accomplished with Magic Lanterns take a look at this video.  The lantern I have isn’t as sophisticated as the one used to create these images, but the tech is very similar.

The Art of The Quick Change

One of my favorite types of magic acts is The Quick Change act. The magician and/or assistant come on stage, dance around a bit, and through a series of rapid fire progressions completely change outfits.

Although interestingly enough the first time I ever saw a Quick Change it wasn’t being done by magicians but rather a marching band! The color guard erected a large cloth tunnel on the field and the marching band went through in a single file line. The tunnel was maybe ten feet in length over all but literally as each member of the band marched through from one end to the next their uniform colors completely changed and the music never missed a note. It was quite cool.

Later on I started seeing quick change being used as a kind of “kicker” note in various acts. Most notably in my experience was Jonathan and Charolette Pendragon doing the Houdini Substitution Trunk. Jonathan gets into a bag inside a large trunk which gets closed and locked. Charolette wearing a black spandex outfit stands on top of the trunk, raises a curtain and in less than a second the curtain drops to show Jonathan standing on top of the trunk. He opens it up, opens the bag and Charolette pops out wearing a white spandex outfit.

A change of places and a change of outfits. Very cool.

Later on I began seeing actual Quick Change acts where the overwhelming number of changes is the whole point of the show. I’d sort of figured out how I thought a single quick change could be done, but as soon as I started seeing these full on quick change shows I was pretty surprised and my little theory was blown out of the water.

Not long ago I did finally lay my hands on the right information so now I know how it’s done. Would I ever do it? I don’t know. It’s fun to watch and I appreciate it for what it is, but I don’t think I would do an act like that though I might consider doing a singular quick change as part of something more appropriate to me.

What I am finding out is that there is some tiny historical evidence to suggest that quick change may in fact reach just barely into the period of history the SCA covers, though not the culture.

There is a suggestion of quick change having some origin in Kabuki theater in the very late 1500’s to very early 1600’s. Kabuki is said to have begun in 1603 according to the history I have so far, but I’m willing to give a couple of years grace period for development (and let’s face it, wishful thinking). Did its origin include quick change? I do not know that yet but again, wishful thinking.

I am not a proponent of Far Eastern culture in the SCA generally speaking, but I’m finding more and more that a lot of the entertainments that I am interested in presenting for my medieval carnival do have some origins in ancient Chinese acrobatic theater. So my historical wanderings include these things for completeness sake as I continue to develop the ideas.

Watch the videos below. The first is a couple of German quick change artists who have achieved a significant amount recognition for the quality of their act. The second is a Chinese magician who has been doing his act for his whole life and is using historical techniques (not as far back as I’d like) as his basis and extending them himself.

And then imagine how cool it might be to quick change between your two favorite SCA costumes at 12th Night.

Yeah, that’s a cool trick.

The Houdini problem

Harry Houdini is an interesting character in magic history. Of course even if you don’t know anything about magic you know the name Houdini and whether you like him or hate him (my apprentice is definitely not a fan) you have to give him credit for one thing at least: Public Relations.

There is no doubt about it, he knew how to advertise himself. So much so that even now, 86 years after his death everyone knows who he is and that he was “the greatest escape artist” of all time.

A lot of magicians strive to be the one most closely associated with some particular thing in magic; the performer whose act absolutely epitomizes some specific skills or presentation. And when it comes to escapes Houdini is “the man.” He’s the one everyone else who does escapes is compared to or measured against.

“He’s a modern day Houdini.” Yeah, yeah.

Here’s my Houdini problem.

I’m trying to do research into escapology prior to Houdini. Ideally I’d like to see what I can find out about escapology in medieval history. I’m sure there is some there, but the research is thin on the ground so far. Looking up any combination of “history”, “escapes”, “Magic” or “Entertainment” (and variations on those words) results in tons of links that start with Houdini and proceed from there as if no one ever thought of tieing someone up prior to that. (You people with your Inquisition Fetishes not withstanding…. *GRIN*)

So that’s my problem. How do I tease out the historical evidence prior to Houdini? This is going to take some work I’m sure. The right combination of search terms until I can find some decent clues to follow and then likely off to the library for me.

But until now I liked Houdini. Now, I’m starting to have some problems with him.

Here are a couple things I’ve found that are at least interesting if not that helpful:

Automata – Wooden Cups and Balls Magician

Two posts in one day?  What’s the world coming too?

Well, who knows, maybe it will be even more then two posts, but I just ran across this and I had to share.

Automata were very famous for a good long time.  One of the most famous being “The Chess Playing Turk”, a mechanical man that played championship level chess and supposedly even played and beat Napoleon.  Very cool stuff.

There have been a number of people who have engaged in recreating various kinds of automata.  I don’t have the skill to myself at this point though maybe I could add that to my ever growing list of cool and bizarre things I’d like to do.

In any case, this video is of an automata performing The Cups and Balls.  It’s really cool and I just had to share it out there.

Added a Current Projects Menu

I added a Current Projects Menu with the idea that it will help me keep an eye on things I’m supposed to be putting some work and effort into.

Currently I’m very gung-ho about my Telescope project and I want to do more work on my Carnival project as well.  I figure by running a Current Projects list I may actually get stuff done.  And once the projects are actually finished I can move the pages to another location for future reference.

Also, I added links to my Magic-Historical section.  Makes sense since that is what I’m supposed to be a Laurel for.  I’m a little surprised at how little I have to put up there.  Need to find material that I can actually put on-line so I can add it in to my overall research archive.

%d bloggers like this: