Category Archives: Magic – Modern
Modern Magic links and information.
It’s been a long while since I’ve written anything here.
I’ve been busy. Real busy. Like crazy busy.
If all goes according to plan I will be relaunching my magic business in the next few months. That’s a lot of planning.
“But Santiago,” you say. “You’ve never stopped doing magic, right?”
Yeah, kind of.
Almost all of my performing opportunities have come about because of my participation in the SCA. I’ve built up things like my Carnival and continued the work of the Golden Stag Players. I’ve used those opportunities to expand my magic and they have been good.
But I want more.
For one thing, it’s not the kind of opportunity it takes to make money. I don’t charge for my performances in the SCA. No reason to. No reason why I would expect anyone to pay me in that context. Just isn’t the right way for me to do things.
The past couple of years I have been going back and forth to Las Vegas to Jeff McBride’s Magic and Mystery School, taking classes and building skills. I’ve taken the opportunity to perform at The Las Vegas Wonderground. I’ve also made a connection with a local performing artist, a wonderful singer and musician named Glenda Benevides, and we’ve started to work out opportunities to perform together. In fact I was able to debut my Straight Jacket Escape at one of her events.
And perhaps even more influential I have been binge listening to a number of really great podcasts including story telling casts and interview shows. They have given me great ideas and great tips for getting my business going again. Maybe even, with enough work, back to the level of being possible to support myself full time. That’s the dream.
But it has to start somewhere. So there has been a lot of planning, a lot of scheming, a lot of study and research.
So, as they say, if you put something out in to the real world, if you go public with it, then you give it legs, you make it real.
So, time to go public with it.
By the end of this year I intend to have my magic business up and running again. I don’t anticipate it being my full time business, but I do anticipate making it in to something that will provide a nice supplementary income.
In a couple of weeks I’m going out to Vegas again and when I come back I hope to have in hand a real foundation for a whole new version of me as an entertainer. After that I plan to tackle getting a serious long term situation going by trying to score an actual restaurant gig. More about that as my plans firm up. I also expect to launch a whole new website with this new version of me.
So, lots of things. Lots of planning. Not as much writing as I was up to.
I appreciate your patience. I appreciate the support I’ve received. I promise I’ll keep you posted.
This weekend I was in Vegas at a seminar on “Hypnotic Wizardry.” So, what is that? Well it was all about learning the art of Stage Hypnosis and using principles of hypnosis in performance magic.
Sounds cool doesn’t it? Well, it’s even cooler than you might think.
But let me start at the beginning –
I’ve been doing magic for “a while now”. But when I first got started I was practicing in isolation. There were no other magicians in my area and there really wasn’t an I.B.M. (International Brotherhood of Magicians) club or an S.A.M. (Society of American Magicians) club in my immediate area. The closest magic shop was about an hour a way, which is admittedly not that far but far enough to make just hanging out there not really an option.
I was learning everything from books and training videos. Early on I discovered the works of Michael Ammar who is one of the most respected teachers in the field of magic. I went to a few of his seminars and learned a lot of great stuff. Stuff that is still in my repitoire today.
There are magic conventions, just like there are conventions for damn near everything else. None of them particularly interested me. I went to one or two and all you get is a couple hundred guys (and about half a dozen women sadly – a different topic entirely) all trying to outdo each other with the latest card sleight. No thanks.
Then I saw Jeff McBride on TV. Worlds Greatest Magic. And he was doing some really amazing stuff. About half of it was card work, but it was the kind of thing that I found interesting enough that I wanted to know more. I was finding myself as a magician and Jeff was doing magic I wanted to do. (This is, of course, on top of long standing admiration for David Copperfield who I had been watching since I was a kid.)
Doing my research I discovered that Jeff ran “The Mystery School.” And what I read about that was amazing! But controversial! How? Well, here was an annual gathering that was limited in size, focused not on the latest and greatest card trick but instead on theater, storytelling, character building, and a healthy dose of mysticism.
Yup, Jeff and his crew were trying to put magic back in to magic. At least that was what everyone on the outside was thinking. Ads and reviews talked about Mystery School as being an “experiential retreat” and that there would be drumming, and dancing, and fire circles……
Sound familiar? Sound like something someone like me would be fascinated by? Damn skippy!
Mystery School ran for ten years. I got to go to the ninth and tenth years. And while I could go on and on and on about how amazing it was for me, no matter how many words I used you wouldn’t entirely be able to get it. And that is on purpose. That’s what “experiential retreats” are about.
But I will say this, and my wife can confirm it. I came back a changed man.
I know how overly dramatic that sounds but truthfully I mean it. I had transformative experiences going to Mystery School. Profound shifts in the way I saw my art and how much impact it could and would have not just on my art but on my life.
This first one I went to was held in San Diego. I was there for a week. I took the train home. When I got off the train my wife said she didn’t need to see me through the crowd because I was hovering over the top of it.
Since then I have spent years learning more and more from Jeff and from Eugene Burger, the Dean of Mystery School. Their words, their works, their advice, has informed so much of what I do that other magicians who know them can see their finger prints on my work.
Since then I have returned to transformed versions of Mystery School whenever I can. And every time I return I am welcomed with open arms like I’m coming home.
Which is a long introduction to how I got here, but now there is another introduction to come. You see, like anyone my life has multiple paths in it. My journey, like yours, is made up of many components. One of those components is a long standing interest in hypnosis and hypnotherapy.
When I was younger, I loved the show M*A*S*H. Still do and now that Netflix has it I have been happily devouring it. My favorite reoccurring secondary character was Dr. Sydney Freedman. His calm, left of center approach to the insanity around him always appealed to me. Then there was an episode where it was necessary for him to put a young soldier (weren’t they all young?) in to a trance and recreate a battlefield scenario for him in order to get him to break his amnesia and begin to heal.
That scene taught me a lot about acting (I learned how to make myself cry on stage whenever I needed to from watching that scene) but it also sparked a deep interest in hypnosis. I began devouring material on the subject and even learned enough to start doing simple hypnosis with my friends. I took psychology classes. I wanted to learn it all.
Over the years I have returned to that interest many times. If I hadn’t gone in to a career in the software industry it’s very likely I would have become a hypnotherapist. Even now I have not discarded that idea and have researched courses on the subject to become a certified hypnotherapist.
Enter Richard Nongard, the guest speaker at the seminar I just came from.
Richard is a magician. But he is also a stage hypnotist and he is also a fully certified hypnotherapist. And, in fact, he is so good at what he does in this realm that other professionals come to him when they need advice.
Richard offers courses to become a fully certified hypnotherapist. I’ve looked at taking those course for a number of years and believe me, the moment I can put sufficient funds together to be able to afford it, I will be doing precisely that.
Richard, as a magician, was a student of Eugene Burger. He was also a student of Jeff McBride.
See how the circles close in?
I began with Richards work, in the same way that I began with Jeff’s. Books, video training, and learning everything I could. And my skill set with hypnotism has increased from that. But now we’re here.
Jeff likes to keep in touch with his students past and present. He uses Facebook to check in on them. He pops up on occasion liking things or making a quick comment just to let you know he’s there and he cares about what’s going on in your life.
A few months ago he posted something on his own page that I commented on, and I guess that the comment was insightful enough that he decided to reach out to me. In that conversation he invited me to come out, made it possible for me to do so and with the help of my friends and family I returned to Mystery School, this time to learn not just from Jeff, but from Richard, a skill set which has always been of deep interest to me.
So, that’s my introduction to this weekend. Yeah, kind of wordy, but necessary for you to understand the depth of what I got here.
As it turns out I had remarkably little trouble flying out and back. Usually flying is not the best situation for me, but short flights (only about an hour) are easier and I was able to manage.
I got out, got to my hotel, settled in and then waited in anticipation of the first evenings festivities. Just a meet and greet, but when it comes to Mystery School there is never anything ordinary about what we do. I met the other students (there were nine of us), and we were treated to a show. Jeff has part of his house set up as a theater space.
And let me just say right now that the range of people who come to Mystery School is pretty incredible. One of the students who was there was a competitor on Wizard Wars and this week will be filming for another Penn & Teller related even which I won’t say more about other than – COOL!!!!
The show consisted of some great magic from Jeff and a few visitors and a couple of the students. Some wonderful stuff really. Including a version of an David Copperfield effect I first saw several decades ago that is still one of the strongest effects in my memory, and this version was even better.
From there we simply enjoyed the evening and prepared ourselves for what was to come.
The next morning was registration, setting expectations, learning some magic and then learning the foundation principles of hypnosis. We got some great revelations.
Here is where things start to pay off for me. While I had learned so much about hypnosis already, I was now in a position where I could review that knowledge in a larger context and get a much better understanding of how all those pieces actually fit together and how to use them more effectively. I was given the tools I needed to actually bring my skills together, and I was given additional skills that let me start doing things I didn’t think I was ever going to learn.
Chief among those skills – the speed induction.
You’ve seen it. When the hypnotist walks up to somebody, snaps their fingers, says “sleep”, and the person just falls over in to a trance. Yeah. I can do that now.
Well, I can do it the way it’s actually done as opposed to the misunderstood “Hollywood Stereotype” way everyone thinks it is.
It’s the skill set that let me, that first day, put Jeff under hypnosis in less than fifteen seconds. Twice. In a crowded, noisy room.
How cool is this? It is deeply cool. You see so much of what I had read before on the topic was just unclear enough that the couple of times I managed it I was still uncertain of everything that went in to the process. Now I know. (Insert evil laugh here.)
The rest of the weekend involved learning more of the tools of the trade of Stage Hypnosis. It involved learning new magic that works on the same themes and can use some of the same principles. It involved building a deeper understanding of how minds work and how to work with people.
We also heard some “war stories.” Oh wow.
So a stage hypnosis show is all about “the things you get people to do that they wouldn’t normally do.” At least that is the basic understanding most people have. The classic “cluck like a chicken” comment pretty much sums that up.
But to give you a more precise idea, stage hypnosis is about creating hypnotic phenomena. What are hypnotic phenomena? Well that can be all kinds of things. Creating dreams, removing and blocking pain, time distortion, forgetting things, and catalepsy just to name a few.
So, what kinds of “war stories” do hypnotists have? Wow.
Let’s start, just at random with catalepsy. Here is how you can tell the difference between a stage hypnotist with insurance and one without insurance. The one without will do full body catalepsy in their show.
Turns out insurance companies that handle entertainers don’t like you to do things that might get people hurt. The typical full body catalepsy demonstration usually involves turning some small light bodied person into a board, setting them suspended between two boards and then sitting on them like a bench. Or some variation thereof.
Well, hypnosis can produce that full body catalepsy and a nice healthy strong body can become stiff enough to support a fair amount of weight. But what do you suppose happens when the person that gets hypnotized has a bad back? No way for the hypnotist to know that in advance.
Enough bad shit has happened that insurance companies call out “FULL BODY CATALEPSY” specifically as a reason they will not insure you or pay out a claim.
Let’s try something else.
Picture if you will, a row of people sitting on stage in a deep trance. In the center is a big biker dude. Sitting next to him is a tiny ninety-eight pound girl. While in a trance they have been told that when they wake up they will smell that most terrible smell they have ever smelled. It will be horrible. They will not get sick on stage, but it will be awful.
The hypnotist turns around, faces the audience, snaps his fingers and from behind him he hears a voice shout “OH MY GOD YOU STINK!” followed by the unmistakable sound of someone being punched in the face.
Turns out the little girl jumped out of her chair, turned and punched the biker in the face and broke his nose.
And he had his nose broken so many times in the past that all he did was reach up, snap his nose back in to place and kept on going like nothing had happened.
Or here’s a good one.
First you have to understand something about hypnosis. You’re never really completely asleep. You aren’t sleeping at all really. You are just in a state of trance. There are only two things that can happen as a result of this. Either –
1 – You wake up.
2 – You fall completely asleep like normal and you wake up later.
However, because people who come to see these shows often don’t understand this (did you before I said it? You may have but that’s because I have a generally smarter readership.), they have been known to pretend to stay hypnotized looking for their opportunity to either get more attention for themselves or to even maybe sue somebody, probably the hypnotist.
One such case involved a teenager who ended up suing on the grounds that while being left in a hypnotic state from which he allegedly could not awaken he was also left open to being possessed by demons.
The insurance company settled that one.
One last “war story” that was shared with us.
The hypnotist who we went to see Saturday evening put on a hell of a show. And one of the things he advertises as part of the show is that every single show is recorded and if you want a DVD of the show (for instance because you were on stage) than you can buy one within minutes after the show is done. He has a full DVD burner set up where here is cranking out several disks in just a few minutes.
He keeps a disk of every show for himself. Now, a lot of performers record their performances for a variety of reasons. Archival, self examination to help improve the show. Things like that.
He keeps it because he has been accused of doing things that he has later needed video evidence of in order to prove his innocence.
As a stage performer I am aware of, and have had to deal with hecklers and other problematic audience members or volunteers.
Imagine being approached by an angry husband who is accusing you of being rude, nasty, and even potentially abusive to his wife.
“My wife says you called her names and threw her off your stage.”
“Well, sir, I did throw her off stage, and here is why.” Cue video footage of drunk off her ass wife making herself a total nuisance, disrupting the show, being politely asked to restrain herself, refusing to cooperate, calling the hypnotist nasty names, repeatedly being asked politely to restrain herself, getting physically violent with the hypnotist and being forcefully removed from the show.
Now imagine embarrassed husband shaking his head, apologizing to the hypnotist and leaving.
Other things we learned?
Hmm, how about, shake the hand of every person you bring up on stage. Why? Because if you do that you can take a moment to pull their arm slightly and twist their wrist up and look for cutting or needle marks. Yup.
How about, don’t bring up the painfully thin looking woman on stage. Why? You can tell the difference between thin and painfully thin, and the painfully thin ones are potentially anorexic which means they might trigger for a variety of reason, none of which you have any real control over but if they do on your stage then you know you’re going to have to, at the very least, defend that in court.
Don’t bring up the 350 lbs guy who broke a sweat standing up. Why? Because he’s going to pick a moment during your show to have a heart attack. And once again, at the very least, you’re going to have to defend that in court.
Now, lest you think that these things are a common occurrence allow me to reassure you. These are rare. These are “war stories.” Every performer has them. The point is that I got to hear them and I got to learn from them and I got to learn what to do about them. That’s what “war stories” are good for.
But the good stuff…. oh wow, the good stuff.
Here’s the thing. A hypnosis show is about the good stuff. It’s about helping a bunch of people on stage have the best damn time of their lives. How? Because what hypnosis does is it allows you to come out of your shell. It brings out the silly side.
Examples from the show we saw.
Two of the students from the class were on stage. They were on either side immediately around the big black dude sitting in the center named Chad. He was the anchor. Everyone, when they fell in to a trance leaned to the center because Chad could support them all, and he was awesome.
Remember that “everything smelling bad” from earlier? Know what happens when you tell everyone that the smell they are about to smell is the best smell they have ever smelled and that smell is coming from the person sitting next to you?
Everyone sniffs each other. Picture two small guys sniffing Chad in the center of the stage. Are you laughing? You should be. It was hilarious! And the next day at school, one of them walked in and said in a nice loud voice “that dude smelled really good last night.”
And Cynthia. Oh Cynthia.
Cynthia was a short, somewhat overweight, mid-40s lady. And she’s got some moves. How do I know? Because she got up and danced like Britney Spears. And she loved it. Not just because she was told that she loved it, but because after she had been brought out of hypnosis at the end of the show the entire audience cheered her on for how cool she was.
And Brenda? Well, Brenda wasn’t on stage. She was sitting in the audience. Who is she? She’s Chad’s girlfriend. They were in Vegas for their two year anniversary. I don’t know a lot, but I know this – for the rest of the weekend, any time Brenda (and only Brenda) said the word “purple” Chad was compelled to give her a big kiss.
Was he really “compelled”? Well, you can’t make someone do something they wouldn’t really do anyway. But with hypnosis you can trigger them to do things they want to do without reservation that’s for sure, and from what the audience saw, Chad must be a pretty damn good kisser.
In the end every single one of those people on stage had a fabulous time. And in the end they were all given a great experience that they will always remember (because they were told to remember everything they did, and I’m sure there were some DVD sales at the end there as well), and they were left with post hypnotic suggestions that gave them energy and well being and joy.
Now, who wouldn’t want to be able to do things like that?
I certainly do. And now, thanks to my trip to Vegas, the generosity of my magic mentors and friends, all my friends and family here, I have a new skill set. And a new energy and drive to entertain and help people with what I’ve learned.
Would you like to experience hypnotism?
Then listen to my voice as I count back from –
Brian Brushwood – Spinning Cups routine: https://youtu.be/qOPT-BHX4Fk
Sometimes it really is about the environment you are in.
I’ve admired this effect for a long time now. I’ve considered doing it but I don’t really know for sure how it’s done.
Scratch that. I don’t know how Brian does it.
On the plane ride here I was reading a magic book I have written by Jeff McBride (The Show Doctor) and I was trying to get myself in the proper mindset for being here and learning. While reading something unrelated in the book an idea came to me for how to do a version of this effect.
Upon rewatching the video I can confirm that Brian is not doing it the way I thought of, but that doesn’t really matter. I know that my method would work just fine. And even while writing this post I have thought of a second method that may or may not be the way Brian is doing it but even if so, I can’t tell from the video and it doesn’t matter because I know I could do it that way too.
I find this piece very moving. I know in large part that is due to the music and story which he is telling. But the effect itself is a very strong one and I think it would go well for my usual audiences (mostly SCA) who are all used to handling knives and therefore have an appreciation of the dangers inherint in mishandling one.
I have less than an hour before the main festivities begin for me this weekend and already my magic thought processes are kicking in to high gear.
Indeed sometimes it really is about the environment you are in.
In a few days I will be heading out to Vegas to take a seminar on magic and stage hypnotism/NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming)! I am really looking forward to this.
The magic portion of things will be handled by my favorite magic teacher and mentor, Jeff McBride. I’ve been studying Jeff’s work for years and I’ve learned so much. It’s been several years since I’ve seen him and his lovely wife Abbey, so I am truly looking forward just to getting out and renewing our friendship. As an alum of Mystery School it’s a bit like a home coming for me.
The big portion of things for me is the hypnosis/NLP part. I’ve been interested in the topic since I was in High School. I actually have done it off and on for a number of years, but only self taught. The person who is teaching this material is actually a former student of Jeff’s, a gentleman named Richard Nongard. At this point Richard is actually so accomplished that he runs his own school(s) and provides certifications for professional hypnosis all the way up to clinical hypnotherapy.
I have spent the past couple of years trying to figure out when I could assemble the funds needed to take the full certification. It’s broken in to parts and I’ve looked at acquiring them in stages, but given that it’s an actual license I’d be pursuing it is a bit more expensive than I’ve been able to put together. (I’ve considered a ‘gofundme’ type request in the past.)
Regardless, being able to finally meet and learn from him will be an excellent experience.
I’ve seen a few stage hypnosis acts and I’m very interested in building one myself. It’s more or less the ultimate “packs small/plays big” show since I don’t have to pack anything at all and all the props are people! Life size!
Over the years I have seen a few such shows and I like them. I also like the idea of being able to use those kinds of skills to help people. Hence my interest in the whole certification program. I have seen many people benefit from such work, and even with my limited skills I’ve helped a few myself with simple things. If a good opportunity presents itself for me to gain more experience and get closer to pursuing such a certification I will definitely leap on it.
And when I get back, if you happen to look across the field at an SCA event and you see the entire Laurel or Pelican council suddenly slump in their chairs and then get up and start clucking like chickens you’ll know I learned some really great stuff!
But that does mean that when magic shows do come on television then magicians like me flock to them desperate to be entertained. We hunger for the opportunity to see something new and different, to see something that might challenge us or inspire us to engage.
Well, I’ve got some good news and some bad news.
The good news is that there are two new shows on television for magicians to enjoy. The bad news is that you’re only going to enjoy one of them.
Well, that’s what I think anyway. And if you are anything like me, you want the bad news first so you can get it out of the way.
So, The CW is airing a show called Masters of Illusion. What a disappointment. In truth I only heard about this show at all because one of my mentors (Jeff McBride) will be appearing on it, so he announced it on his Facebook feed. I have watched four episodes so far and I have yet to see an episode where he appears but I am dreading it. Not because Jeff will be bad, far from it. In point of fact my feeling is that many of the magicians appearing on this show are probably quite brilliant.
The problem is the editing. It’s terrible.
Allow me to explain. Magic as an art requires at least a small amount of time for every magician to establish themselves and their character on stage. This can be done relatively quickly or it can take a bit longer, especially if you have information you want the audience to know before you start performing the effect. We need that time to establish the storyline and to create the right mood to build the effect.
Some years ago for about five years running at Thanksgiving a magic show aired called Worlds Greatest Magic (which was, by the way, the first time I ever saw Jeff McBride perform). This show would feature about 8 magicians and would take an hour to run. There would be a host and even some magic taught to the viewing audience. But because the format was as long as it was all of the magicians were given a decent slice of time to not only establish themselves and their act, but to be properly introduced and lauded for their accomplishments (winner of this award or that award, voted best magician by this group, etc, etc, etc), so that the audience could truly appreciate who these performers were and what they had accomplished in order to be considered among the “Worlds Greatest”.
The editors at The CW seem to think that they can take the same basic show and cram it into half an hour. No lessons, almost nothing in the way of introductions, no chances at all for the magicians to establish themselves or their acts on stage. Every aspect of the show is rushed and as a result nothing is particularly entertaining.
It’s clear that these are some talented magicians for the most part (okay, yes, a couple are really surprisingly bad from my personal perspective). And I’m sure that given a more reasonable amount of time they could, in fact, be vastly more interesting than The CW seems to be willing to allow them and that is a real shame.
Magic as an art form, as an entertainment can be one of the most satisfying not just for the performers but for an audience that really is drowning in the vast mediocrity of television options. Little would have to change right now for the show to be improved ten fold. Make the show an hour long and give those same magicians a nicer slice of time and they will do the rest. Guaranteed. The CW would have a winner on its hands.
But I did say there was good news too, didn’t I? Well there is and it comes in the form of yet another Penn & Teller show called Wizard Wars.
Competition shows have become a pretty solid mainstay of television fair right now, and SyFy has come up with a number of them over the years that have been just eccentric enough to win them some solid ratings. Well, SyFy has taken a chance on magicians this time with Penn & Teller at the helm.
Wizard Wars is a competition show where two teams of magicians come in, are handed a stack of random everyday objects and told “Go make a magic act using all this junk.” Then the teams come back, compete against each other for an audience and a panel of judges consisting of Penn & Teller and two other judges. The winning team moves on to the next round where they will compete against two of the four “Wizards” to create yet another original piece of magic with a whole new pile of random objects.
If the competitors win they get $10,000.
All of this takes place in a nice comfortable hour long block were we get to see each of the four “Wizards” do a little something, we get to learn about the competitors and what they do, we get to see four full acts from start to finish, and we get to learn a little something from Penn & Teller as well.
There has only been one episode of Wizard Wars to date and already I am totally blown away. And I think that the magic I’ve seen in Wizard Wars is significantly better than what I’ve seen on four episodes of Masters of Illusion.
Okay, so I don’t have a lot of options to watch magic on television, and I’ll keep watching Masters of Illusion because I’m fairly certain that The CW knows that my lack of choice guarantees them at least some audience share. But Wizard Wars wins this war in my opinion hands down.
BONUS: Penn & Teller ran a show over in the UK for the past couple of years called Penn & Teller: Fool Us which was another competition type show. Performers came on, did their acts and if they were good enough to fool Penn & Teller, then they got to come to Vegas to open for Penn & Teller in their theatre.
All those episodes are now airing here in the US. Yes, I watched several of them on YouTube, but they are here now on broadcast television, so one more option for my magic viewing pleasure!
As promised, I am writing a post explaining the insanity I faced at my recent gig at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History.
Let me say up front that the gig was actually really good. I enjoyed myself for everything else that happened. I made a bit of a reconnection with the local magic club and the people at the museum were friendly and easy to work with. Everyone I dealt with, audience, other entertainers, other exhibitors and the staff were fabulous.
But the people of Risa’s Stars were most definitely not. I should explain.
So the event was a members night for the museum where they decided that the theme would be ‘magic.’ This theme was being fairly broadly interpreted. They had myself as a strolling magician, they had the local club doing ‘stage time’, they had people doing bubble stuff, playing Magic The Gathering, showing films of magicians, people making magic wands, people teaching how to “cast spells” (yes, supposedly ‘real’ spells), displaying ‘the magic of physics’, talks about the magic of the universe and astronomy.
Okay, it is no surprise that I have little use for astrology and people ‘casting real spells.’ Yeah. Right.
But I will say right here and now that I didn’t go looking for trouble, I didn’t go looking for these people, I didn’t intend to interact with any of them. Not because of my disagreements with what they do but simply because I was there to do what I do, entertain people. I was in full on professional mode.
Here is the way this comes together. I was brought on early. I went to the museum about a month and half before the gig to talk with the events coordinator and to check out the area. This was a totally volunteer gig, I wasn’t going to get paid. That was fine. Doing free gigs every now and again is a good thing, and considering it was for the museum I felt pretty good about it.
If you haven’t been to this particular museum it’s pretty nice. It is three levels and at the very top there is an open air sculpture garden which I thought would be a really good place to entertain. At the bottom level was a stage area, on the middle level landing the local club magicians were set up and I was set to wander about and entertain any place I wanted.
The event was to run from five o’clock to eight o’clock. But, because we were all unpaid volunteers we were told that we could come whenever we wanted and leave whenever we wanted.
I showed up at five o’clock. I changed into my costume very quickly and got out among the already over full site. They had anticipated three hundred. Apparently they had about seven hundred.
I made a point of checking in with the event coordinator first thing and then proceeded to wander about. I found the local club group and made contact. I performed for a couple of kids and then I found myself at the top of the museum.
When I wandered out on to the open air sculpture garden I was impressed. Someone had decorated with strings of lights and put up a popup tent that had been decorated to be a kind of ‘meditation’ space. All around the space they had set up astrological signs – ie sheets of paper with a sign and the appropriate date range for the modern signs. They also had chalked up the pavement with a ‘meditation path’ and drawn a simply horoscope circle.
In other words nothing that particularly marked this as an exhibit instead of the outside space it was intended to be save the actual popup. No one was walking around the space explaining anything or offering up any interaction with the guests in order to make it clear there was anything there except stuff to look at, and mostly pretty boring stuff at that.
When I walked out the door and into the space I was actually very warmly greeted by the woman I presumed to be “Risa” of Risa’s Stars. After the fact, mind you. At the time she didn’t introduce herself or her exhibit. I’ve made the guess about her identity based on information gathered after the fact. In any case all she did was compliment me my costume and point out that I would go well with the tent they had set up, including pointing out the camel they had set up.
I thanked her for the compliment and then moved away rather quickly because there was another woman standing there with a burning smudge stick and it was rather noxious to me.
I walked over to the tent that had a small bench in front of it. I sat down, pulled out my bubble stuff and started entertaining the kids who had been running around and screaming like kids are want to do. When I pull the bubble stuff out they immediately gather and they generally settle down. The adults walked up behind and were smiling and enjoying what I was doing.
But after a few minutes the lady with the smudge stick walked over and asked me to stop because what I was doing was blocking the path. Which was true. The kids were sitting on the chalk path that had been drawn on the ground. So I wrapped up and cleared the path. Makes perfect sense.
So I got up, walked around a little bit and noticed three women sitting on a bench. Still doing what I was brought on to do I approached them and asked if they wanted to see a little magic. They said yes and I began performing one of my favorite card tricks.
When I was finished the woman I have tentatively identified as “Risa” of Risa’s Stars came over and proceeded to chastise me. She literally got in my face and began talking to me like I was a child. She was extremely rude. She tried to tell me I had no right to be there. She told me that I was being rude. She yelled at me that no one told her that I was going to be doing what I was doing.
She also tried to tell me that this was not a personal attack. Yeah, right. Someone gets in your face and tells you that you have no right to be doing what you were actually ‘hired’ to do? Someone who, by the way, has trapped one of the guests (the other two managed to get out) and forced them to sit through this childish tirade instead of trying to be professional and having a calm discussion about the situation.
Her biggest complaint? Apparently what I was doing was taking away from what they were doing. Which, as near as I can tell, was sitting on their asses and doing nothing because, as I mentioned before, no one was actually interacting with the guests who were there. No one was being told what their supposed ‘exhibit’ was even about.
At one point during her incoherent rant she tried to get a rise out of me by accusing me of ‘smirking’ at her while she was yelling at me. What I was doing was controlling myself and keeping my calm and professionalism in place. Many of the things this idiot complained about were so irrationally sad I could have easily taken her apart without even trying.
At another point she asked me “you understand what I’m telling you?” I responded, literally, with the phrase “I see what you are saying” and she actually yelled back at me “NO, DO YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT I AM TELLING YOU?”
Now, here is the beauty part of the fact that since this is my blog and I can therefore say pretty much anything I want on it. What I responded to her with was “yes, I understand.” What I wanted to say was:
I was literally stunned with how incredibly childish, rude and utterly irresponsible this woman was. I was straining to keep my professionalism as much as possible, speaking softly, maintaining my composure and trying to figure out how to get the poor guest who was still trapped there out of the middle of this.
But “Risa” at this point tried to threaten me by saying she was going to go talk to the event coordinator, a threat she attempted a couple of times prior in her rant. I simply responded with “yes, lets go talk to her” and Risa then left.
At this point I turned to the poor woman who had been trapped through this whole thing and apologized profusely to her. She was amazingly gracious, complimented me on my handling or “Risa” and on my skill as a magician. I thanked her and then headed off to find the rest of the magicians who needed to be warned that if they were going to do any strolling as well that they should stay away from the “astrologers exhibit.”
By that point I turned around and the lovely woman who was the event coordinator was standing there and apologizing for the rudeness of “Risa’s Stars.” She told me that this group was a last minute addition to the event and that they had been problematic from the word go.
I told the event coordinator that I was fine, that I wasn’t worried about the whole thing and that I was sorry she had to deal with the whole thing. I stayed away for the rest of the event and had a really great time.
All that being said, let me just say the following things:
- First off, the actual people at Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History are pretty cool.
- From where I stand astrology is a joke, a bag of pseudoscience that can easily be debunked and has been time and time again. If you want to talk to me about this position I am open to debate.
- Go to the Museum.
- Risa’s Stars isn’t worth dealing with even if you are someone who thinks there is value in astrology. Any group of people who would act so irresponsibly in a public venue should not be trusted.
- Go to the Museum.
In all my years of performing I have dealt with a wide variety of people. I’ve been heckled. I’ve had contract problems. I’ve dealt with unappreciative audiences. I’ve dealt with drunk audiences. I’ve competed against bands. I’ve dealt with bad promoters. I’ve dealt with a lot of crazy crap.
I’ve never dealt with anything as bad as “Risa” of Risa’s Stars.
I have never exactly been a fan of Criss Angel. I have been willing to give him his props. I mean, lets face it, the guy is on TV and he has a permanent theater at The Luxor in Las Vegas. Clearly he’s doing something right.
But not for me.
He’s been doing magic all his life, but when he first really rose above the sight line that I am aware of, he was doing very heavy, very dark presentations. He had a really strong “Heavy Metal/Goth” vibe going and he was doing things that had a lot of scary themes and graphic visuals in it. And, again, to give him credit, he was pretty darn good at it.
He just didn’t appeal to me, though I know in those early days of his broader public appeal my apprentice really did seem to enjoy what he was doing.
When he got to his “MindFreak” days on TV, he was doing each episode as a collection of magic effects ending with some really big escape stunt after the last commercial break. Which, of course, was being hyped through the entire show. A reasonable formula, but since I generally am not interested in escapes as magic (I like escapes I just don’t think they are ‘magic’), I was rarely interested in the last part of the show. As the escapes got bigger they didn’t really get better, they just got bigger. And in some cases, stupider. (Surviving inside a crate with some C4. Really?)
This latest television series he is doing is called “BeLIEve”. Yes with the funky caps. Notice that the word “believe” contains the word “lie”. Yes, there is a deeper philosophical and non-performance magic related discussion there, but I’m going to stay away from it for now. You’re welcome.
The point of “BeLIEve” is that he is attempting things which are supposed to be done purely through physical training and skill. I’m not sure what the means exactly since that is just as valid a definition for what we magician’s do as well. The big point is that he’s supposedly doing all this stuff “for real” instead of using any trickery. For example the first episode, called “Blind”, saw Criss walking a suspended beam 30 feet in the air which had a two food wide gap in the middle he would have to traverse while blindfolded.
He kept making a big deal about the idea that “no one had ever done this before” but blindfolded tightrope walkers have been around for a long time. His “gap” in the middle is an interesting twist, but not exactly something I would call spectacularly different. But again, credit where credit is due, this is an interesting spin on classic circus skills and would require some pretty serious training.
In fact we know it took serious training because Criss had help from a friend who does a tightrope act for Cirque Du Soleil. Well, “friend”, sure. Or maybe a guy they hired, I don’t know. And boy did we get to see all the training. His big deal sticking point was that he was absolutely determined to do this stunt without a safety harness. So through the whole episode we heard “no harness! no harness! no harness! wah, they’re going to make me wear a harness” which seemed utterly ingenuous to me because I just can’t imagine any place that would let him do the stunt without safety gear in place, or that The Luxor, which has invested millions of dollars in Criss as a property would let him do something that would truly be that stupid. So the harness thing seemed very trumped up to me.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
There were also all the ‘tricks’ that Criss did while the episode was working it’s way up to it’s big stunt finally (sound like the formula is familiar? Yeah, I noticed it right away too.)
The thing about “street magic” on TV is that it isn’t really street magic. It’s safer to say that it’s impromptu magic. Everyone you see on the TV already knows that they are about to see some magic. They’ve already been approached by a manager, in some cases they’ve taken the time to get some paperwork signed, and generally speaking they have been prepared to see some magic performed. Let’s face it, if suddenly a camera crew appears around you than you probably know something is up.
At best you can say that they may have no advanced knowledge beyond “hey kids! Let’s watch the magician and we’re going to be on TV!”
Watching the stuff I watched however, I find it almost impossible to believe that any of those tricks being done were anything other than staged effects with shills everywhere. The production value of the presentations made me absolutely convinced that these people were on the payroll. And that’s to bad, because much of what we saw during the “MindFreak” episodes was actually much closer to “street magic” then what we are seeing in “BeLIEve.”
So, we get to the end of “Blind”, Criss has walked the I-Beam of Death(TM) and now it’s on to the next episode.
The next episode, “Cement Grave”, is clearly some variation on a buried alive effect. The crappy tricks are still staged crappy tricks. The artificial two week deadline to get the effect ready is over hyped. And Criss engages in “training” himself to be able to do the things he needs to do, one of which is be able to hold his breath for an extended period of time.
And here it is, folks. Here is why I now think Criss Angel is a total Jackass. Every nice thing I said before, every inch of wiggle room I gave with regards to “well, he’s good but just not my taste for entertainment” goes flying out the window.
You see, in order to train himself to be able to hold his breath for extended periods of time Criss gets in contact with an ex-Navy Seal buddy of his and he has himself water boarded.
That’s right, Criss Angel is getting himself water boarded ON F*CKING TV!!!!!
This abhorrent, disturbing, despicable form of TORTURE is being used as a “training” method to get ready for A F*CKING ESCAPE STUNT!!!! How many people across the country were suddenly having to turn away from this horrible site they were suddenly confronted with? Because there was no warning. One minute we’re listening to Criss talk about getting some help to learn how to hold his breath and the next minute we suddenly looking at TORTURE!!!
Okay, maybe, just maybe, there was a reason the could be given to justify this as a method for training oneself to hold their breath. I don’t believe that such a reason is likely to be valid since I know there are plenty of far less violent ways to train yourself to do the same thing. But let’s just say that this was the method that had to be used. Let’s suppose that all other avenues were exhausted and there was a damn good reason to use water boarding.
It doesn’t change the simple fact that water boarding is a terrible thing.
It doesn’t change the fact that you would have to be a blind ass moron to not be aware of the impact it’s had on us in terms of legal questions and psyche questions.
It doesn’t change the fact that the choice to put this on television was a deliberate one.
There is only one reason that someone would stoop so low as to put that on TV as “entertainment.” Shock value. Well, I’m shocked alright.
And for that particular bit of transgression Criss Angel has dropped to the very bottom of the heap for me.
I am done.
Ever have one of those moments where your perception of something changes so drastically that you will never be able to see it the same way again? Yes, you have, whether you realize it or not. A simple example would be if you were to try and go back in your mind to a time before you knew that 1+1=2. There was such a time, but once you learned about numbers and math your fundamental perception changed so completely that you simply can’t imagine going back anymore. You can’t unlearn what you have learned.
Take a look at this picture at the beginning here because I’m going to come back to that perception later on.
Art, really of any kind, will touch on some pretty powerful themes in order to be “art.” Every real artist I know or have read about seems to share that perspective.
Sex and sexuality are very definitely powerful themes to touch on.
My apprentice and I have discussed this on any number of occasions. We’ve considered the idea that magic is sexist or that certain effects in magic may be more masculine and some may be more feminine. We covered the idea that even certain props might be more “masculine” or more “feminine.”
The most obvious, of course, is the magic wand, a very definitely phallic symbol. And in fact, from a historical perspective that is precisely what it is; phallic. Especially when one realizes that it descends from ancient ritual practices in the hands of “wise women” and “priestesses” and was often used in acts of “sexual magic” such as a way to test virginity. (1)
A perhaps less obvious example would be the cups used in The Cups and Balls. However the cup or chalice is recognized in ancient cultures to be representative of the womb.
In modern magic there are many presentations which essentially “victimize” women. Pretty much any “Sawing” illusion for example. Or really any illusion where a woman is seen as a manipulated focus of the magician’s power. But the same focus might be considered sensual more than exploitative.
I give you, as an example, one of my all time favorite David Copperfield illusions.
You decide, is it sensual, is it manipulative, is it something else? (Feel free to respond in the comments below.) I will say that my reasons for calling this one of my favorites is not because of the “sexuality/sensuality” aspects of it, but rather the technological aspect, ie the use of water to provide a kind of “framework” for how the levitation is accomplished. For me it is a visually stunning example and perhaps in that respect does qualify it as “sensual.”
But there are examples out there which take things way to far. The below clip is not for young viewers. It does contain nudity and a certain amount of crudity.
(I apologize but this video doesn’t embed here as it’s not from YouTube. This will open another window instead. Stripper Girl Magic Trick.)
I find this example to be overtly terrible. But necessary to the point I’m working my way up to. (Again, feel free to leave comments below.)
While it seems easy to find examples of sex and sexuality badly portrayed or addressed, examples of a more positive nature seem to be fewer and further between. I am not opposed to the use of sex and sexuality in my art. Let me make that perfectly clear.
As long as that use is done with the kind of respect I think the topic deserves. And I will go even further and say that while I do not like the above video of the female magician, it is entirely possible that she sees this performance as some kind of ironic statement on sex and sexuality. If she does I’m not clear on what it might be, but it is possible.
Regardless she clearly feels perfectly comfortable with her performance.
Now, admittedly “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar” (thank you Dr. Freud) and a wand is just a stick and a cup is just a cup. In fact that’s true most of the time for most magicians in my experience. Certainly it was true some twenty years ago when I took the above picture.
That picture was taken by the same photographer who took the pictures at my wedding. It was studio time that we got as part of the package. The arrangement of the cups and balls on the table in front of me is the final arrangement in the routine that I do. I have always looked at it as a nice display, well balanced, well arranged. And for twenty years it has remained just that and nothing more to me.
Today I can no longer see it that way.
A person who had also been seeing this picture for roughly twenty years, and who had been seeing it that same way all along, had a sudden change in perspective triggered by some errant thought.
So now take a look at that picture again with the filter (or lack of filter?) that the concepts of sex and sexuality bring to mind. Do you see it? If you don’t I envy you.
But for me, I’ll never see that picture the same way again. At first I was deeply annoyed by that, but now I’m just philosophical about it. Clearly it sparked this post considering just the surface of what is ultimately a very interesting topic. There is a lot to be dug up in the midst of this mental minefield of art and sex.
1 – The Magician’s Wand: A History of Mystical Rods of Power, Joe Lantiere
Every magician I truly like all have something in common; they have taken the time to find a way to raise magic to a higher art form. They come to this artistic bar in many ways and frequently they don’t agree on the why’s and why not’s of what it means to make magic a higher art form.
What it seems to be is that they (and I’ll even go so far as to say “we” as I’d like to think I do this as well) spend the time to care about what the message is, what the content is, and what the audience comes away with. We take the time to consider what we are doing within the context of our own morals & ethics.
And care enough about such things that we revisit the concepts on an almost constant basis, always reexamining where we are and whether or not our positions have changed or grown.
Perhaps the best known act that wrestles with these ideas regularly is the brilliant Penn & Teller. It’s no surprise that P&T are heroes of mine. Many times I have watched their shows and watched discussions/lectures from them, and always I come away with something new to think about or reexamine.
Well, they’ve been at this stuff for the last 38+ years, both in their magic shows and in their television shows, especially “Bullshit!”
Here then is a video, about an hour long, of an interview with P&T at last years “Amazing Meeting” where they discuss their performance ethics, thier favorite episodes of “Bullshit” and answer questions from their audience that are very interesting.
And please, watch to the end. James Randi comes on stage at the end for a wonderful statement that is well worth seeing.
As a general rule there really isn’t much magic on television. In a sense this is both a good thing and a bad thing.
It is a bad thing because it starves a lot of magic fans of entertainment that they want to see.
It is a good thing because it doesn’t glut the market or dull the potential audience to possible entertainment options.
So, when something comes on that I wasn’t aware of I try and catch as much of it as I can and “Magic Man” on the Travel Channel is the latest bit of television magic I have found. The magician is guy named J.B. Benn. He is billed as one of the worlds most famous close-up magicians. Which naturally means that I’ve never heard of him.
The general premise of the show is that he goes to some destination spot and he does street and bar magic. I have very mixed feelings about the whole show honestly. I have watched five or six of the half-hour long episodes and it seems like it kind of misses the mark both as a show featuring a destination spot and as a show featuring a magician.
They never really tell you very much about the spot he is in. Not even as much as you would likely find out if you simply did a quick Google search on the location in question.
The magic he does is solid in terms of being entertaining and extremely skillful. But they have virtually nothing to do with the location he’s at. He doesn’t seem to take the time to create presentations that take real advantage of where he is at for story telling or background purposes, except in the most perfunctory ways. In fact, of all the magic I have seen him do so far, about 90% of it is material that I am aware of as being popularly available in the 90’s. I could literally sit there and tell you effect by effect what he was doing and from what magician it was marketed.
Now, the truth is that I myself have been feeling the pinch of my current repertoire becoming stale. And knowing that I have a pretty substantial library and magic collection it makes sense that I should dive into it in order to find “new” things for me to do. Everything old is new again.
But I have to admit to a significant amount of disappointment in seeing things that this “world famous” magician was doing which barely deviated from the store bought directions and “patter.” Yet here he is with his own TV show. So clearly he is doing something right, even if it is just selling himself successfully to The Travel Channel.
I guess the lesson is that while “Everything Old is New Again” seems like a good foundation, it isn’t going to be artistically satisfying without a healthy dose of personalization and personality. And I’m okay with that.
Below is a clip from the show. It is one I selected as being pretty indicative of everything I’ve seen so far. I won’t give anything away, but let me just say that the effect you are going to see is almost exactly as I learned it from one of the magicians who was a very early on formative teacher of mine in the mid 90’s.