How To Crush An Artist

Art is hard. All of it.

It takes years of dedication and passion. It takes countless hours of practice, wasted materials, and occasionally some true heartache.

But all of it is worth it for the joy it can create. Real art generates an emotional reaction, and when you are striving in your art to create that you might very well be at your most intense, your most enthusiastic, but also your most vulnerable.

One of the measures of art is often set as the artist being so accomplished that they make the difficult look effortless. But the effort is there. It stretches backwards in time through all those countless hours of practice. It’s in every penny saved and scraped and carefully spent to acquire just the right tool, just the right resource, just the right material.

However, no matter what you do, there is still in some means by which the audience for that art can discern the incredible level of work and dedication it took to produce it.

No so with magic. With magic the goal of practice is not to display the skill, but to hide it. To make it invisible to detection, because in that invisibility the art comes out.

Imagine dedicating your life to an art whose very nature is that it can not be shared with it’s audience. Imagine the years of practice and developing skills one must go through in order to present mystery in a manner so apparently effortless that it defies detection.

Then, because what you are doing is still nothing without the theatrical experience that surrounds it, you take all of that skill and you hide it inside a whole other craft that you have spent as much time developing. You can show your theatrical skills, but your magical ones, the ones you are most in love with, most passionate about, must remain hidden from the intended audience.

Most of the time magicians revel in their secrecy. But on occasion the desire to show just how clever, or how complex some particular technique is can be hugely tempting and as a result hugely frustrating. The desire to revel in a particularly well developed routine might make a magician proud enough to want to crow about it.

And that is the moment. The moment when we are at our most vulnerable.

Because all it takes is one off hand comment, one joke at the expense of our art, to turn exhilaration in to frustration. This is true for every art. No matter how unintentionally hurtful the comment or joke might have been meant, if the artist is unready for such a thing then they are going to be hurt. They were putting the full expression of their joy out into the world and what they got back was mockery.

Most other artists are able to point back to everything they’ve done and express their feelings by saying “Wait! Look at everything it took for me to do this!” Magicians are not afforded that response. Not to the public at large. If we say “this is what it took to make this happen” they are giving away the very tools and secrets of their art. They are destroying it in the process of trying to protect it and their fragile artistic wonder.

This is how artists are crushed; having people they respect and admire treat their art in an offhand manner. This is what makes dancers less likely to take that next step. This is what makes a painter look with sadness at their brushes. One more rejection letter makes an author question their words, but an unkind comment from a friend might make them never write another word again.

And for a magician, being relegated to nothing more than mere ‘tricks’ and being worth hardly any world beyond ‘kids birthday parties’ despite years of effort makes them not want to put on the show at all.

There is a difference between being critical and being disdainful. A good critic, a truly rare creature indeed, will provide useful feedback that an artist can take and use to further develop their skills and craft. But a wise ass, a jerk thinking they are funny with some supposedly funny comment, is not showing anything but disdain.

Sometimes it’s the mentality of the heckler. Being unable to stand the fact that they aren’t getting attention, or feeling inferior they need to some how tear down the source of of their own discomfort.

Sometimes it’s pure thoughtlessness. The path that stems from “familiarity” breeding contempt. Instead of evaluating the moment for what it really is the thoughtless “friend” goes for what they think is a funny joke never realizing that the moment they have intruded on is just not the right time for humor.

Regardless of the motivations, it’s nothing but painful for any artist no matter the art in question.

This is why artists seek out the inner circle; friends, family, loved ones, who will be honest, who will be critical, but who will also be supportive and who do understand what you’ve done to get to where you are in your skills.

For most magicians there are magic clubs. For me personally these clubs are useless. Not because there aren’t talented people in them. But rather because in all the years that I went to any of them I found that they weren’t interested in what I was interested in, often not even being able to understand what I was trying to get from them or share with them.

But this is why I love going to the magic school I go to in Vegas. There everyone comes in understanding what they are there for, why they need each other, and most importantly how to be creative, supportive, and critical without being the idiot who crushes another artist.

And so dear reader, there is your lesson. If you want to crush an artist all you need to do is be disdainful of their art. Because nothing crushes an artist faster than showing that what they’ve devoted their passion to is utterly unimportant to you, the audience they want to give some measure of joy to.

But then, why would you want to crush the people who make your world more beautiful, more wonderful, and more magical?  We live in a world where we crave art, but far to frequently we crush the artist right in front of us.

No wonder the world steadily becomes more and more sterile.

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Could “The Eye” Be Real?

In the movies “Now You See Me” and “Now You See Me 2” the central plot is encompassed by a secret society of magicians known as “The Eye”. This organization has supposedly existed since ancient Egypt as a group who has used their skills to right social injustices.

Now, before you start worrying about me becoming a conspiracy theorist, let me reassure you that I don’t think “The Eye” as portrayed in the movies actually exists, or even could exist. However I do have an interesting social idea lurking around in my head about this, and I think that it could be a thing in and of itself.

In the interest of full disclosure I need to make it clear that I have very strong visceral reactions to both of these films. Not just because I am a magician but because there is a form of idealism and justice in these movies that I react to. These movies are very “Robin Hood” in nature; taking from the rich and giving to the poor. And by way of a slight digression, “Robin Hood” historically was believed to be based on a number of different people, one of whom is in my own family tree according to the genealogy that has been done by my family. I have a certain level of identification with idealism and justice.

I certainly identify with wanting to make the world a better place and with using magic as a way of touching people’s lives.

Now there are tons of logistical reasons why many of the things portrayed couldn’t actually work, but that isn’t the point. No heist movie, based on magicians or anything else, actually would have enough ways to beat the reality they are up against.

But what if magicians took a real lesson from these movies, from what is really underlying them, the idea that magic can bring about change for the better, and embraced that as a part of their characters and presentations?

I am lucky in that the magic community that I am most a part of actually does believe that magic is real in a very special way. We know that what we do is trickery, gimmickry, artistry. We also know that magic happens in the minds and hearts of the people we entertain. That all our skills and tools are meant to accomplish only one thing – an emotional response.

Most of the time, 99% of the time, that emotional response is astonishment.

Unfortunately far to large a percentage of that is mixed in with a certain amount of disgust at how badly audiences and volunteers are treated. And certainly there is a real level of confrontation because of magicians who come out with the attitude of “I’m going to fool you and you can’t catch me.”

But the community that I am attached to looks back to the lessons learned from ancient cultures and what their magic was. Not necessarily the slight of hand trickery, but the implications of contacting spiritual realms and learning lessons from “gods, ghosts, and the spiritual realm”.

It’s not that far a leap really. Those lessons were, as a general rule, the same kind of socially just and responsible messages we want to share today. Everyone can dream, everyone can become something special, everyone has greatness in them, be kind to one another.

Some of the best magic I have ever done has helped people feel better about themselves, helped them heal, helped them release stress in their lives. It can be done.

By way of example I was sitting with a friend a number of years ago who was experiencing a very high level of stress over a class they were taking. So much so that they were having trouble sleeping and where on the verge of tears at any given time. I performed a piece of magic just for them which was all about helping them get passed things that hold us back and stress us out. When I was done they were in tears. The best kind of tears, tears of release that helped them let go of the things that were upsetting them.

That was years ago and I still remember how much good I felt I was doing for them. Occasionally it comes up in conversation and they tell me how much it helped them. Clearly this is magic that had a lasting impact and that is what all magicians who really care about what they are doing are striving for; to create magic that makes a difference.

What if “The Eye” was not so much an organization, but instead a choice? A goal for magicians to strive for?

What if being a part of “The Eye” meant that magicians decided to be dedicated to creating magic that was all geared towards building people up, teaching moral and ethical lessons, inspiring people to do great things and strive to be what they dream themselves to be? Wouldn’t that be a way to impact society, to provide a kind of social justice? Wouldn’t that be a way to help people, heal people, and inspire them?

I know of magicians who incorporate inspirational stories and themes in to parts of their act. I know some who tell stories of healing and wisdom.

When I got started doing this stuff I was trying to find my way and I had no role models. When I went to my first Mystery School I found role models; magicians who cared so much about their art and it’s origins and it’s underlying meanings. They were teachers and they created in me a desire to create something great.

They talk about the responsibility of our art and the possibilities of the things we can create.

And so I wonder, in a way could “The Eye” be real?

Not A Source of Wisdom

13406845_1241316559236376_4997696774791406979_nOkay, it’s no secret that I am an atheist. And a fairly vocal one at that. But just so you have some background here before I go on to something challenging, you should know that for years I was Christian, grew up going to Church every Sunday, and even attended a Christian school for most of my middle school and junior high years.

So why the change? There are a lot of reason, but the things I’m about to go in to now really do sort of drill down into the heart of it all.

And why am I doing this now? Because the recent tragedies pretty clearly have a motivating factor that I think is core to the whole problem, and this meme ties in to it in such a way that it made my teeth itch.

Yesterday something went past me that talked about the source of the recent mass shootings as being “toxic and violent masculinity.” This really made me mad. It made me mad on two levels; the first being the broad brush misuse of the terms (which I addressed with some people on Facebook and won’t rehash here), the second being what I consider to be the real source of these problems that underly the motivations and education of the people who do commit these mass shootings; bigotry, intolerance, and ignorance.

But what does any of that have to do with this meme?

I think that the source of all of this crap is religious. The point that I have made time and time again is that we are not born with hate. We are taught to hate. We learn hate from authorities in our lives; our parents, our teachers, and our religious leaders.

Where do parents and teachers get their prejudices from? From theirs or from their beliefs. Where do those beliefs come from? Religious leaders and their interpretations of scriptures. And whatever prejudices came along for the ride for them as well.

But we’re afraid to criticize religion in this country. We’re not allowed to. Because to do so automatically condemns us to hell. We’re automatically immoral if we stop and say “hey, this doesn’t make sense.”

And always there is the “God is love” set and the “not all Christians” set and plenty of other apologetics. And that’s why this meme is bugging me.

It’s the perfect example….

Jesus did, in fact, tell people to hate. Luke 14:26. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters–yes, even their own life–such a person cannot be my disciple.”

He wasn’t the most all inclusive guy either. Luke 12:51. “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.”

And fairly warlike. Matthew 10: 33-35. “But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father in heaven. Do not assume that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘A man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.…”

If you were raised in a religious tradition that promotes the idea of “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” as all the same entity then I simply need to point you to the *ENTIRE* Old Testament for examples of God/Jesus/Spirit demanding that his “chosen people” commit the slaughter of others who look different, who love different, who worship different. Even if you don’t follow that whole “Holy Trinity” bit I still refer you to the Old Testament.

And before anyone says “You’re cherry picking” or “not all Christians” I want you think about something.

My point here is exactly “cherry picking”.

It takes about five minutes of effort to find anything you want in the Bible to support either love or hate which is precisely what “all Christians” have been doing for centuries. The doctrinal differences of say, Catholics and Protestants are the results of cherry picking the parts that support the prejudices of the group in question. The Bible has been used to both justify AND condemn war, slavery, abuse, and a host of other crimes equally.

Here is the real challenging part of the thought….

If you are sitting there and reading this and thinking any thought that is even remotely related to “well I would never do those bad things in the Bible” then you and I are much closer than you might realize because you have a moral sense that supersedes the so called moral lessons of the Bible. You can sit there in judgement of GOD and say “this was right and this was wrong.”

If you can do that then you can open yourself to the thought that maybe, just maybe, all that stuff you were taught might not be inspired by the divine, but instead it might be the ramblings of people who had agendas. Or who were taught that “gays are bad” and “women are property” and “slavery is good” and “kill the evil ones in the name of God.”

You might even start to think, like I think, that as long as this kind of toxicity exists in our culture then there will always be people who will think that they are perfectly justified in picking up a gun and slaughtering people who don’t conform to their beliefs. As long as people can justify their actions through the teachings of a “loving God” as merciful killings than these killings will continue.

And let me just add that if you are thinking “well my religion isn’t like this” then you’ve missed the point. Any religion that creates an “us versus them” divide contains the seed that leads to tragedies like these. Any belief system that promotes a “chosen people” automatically sets one group over all the rest, the “haves vs have nots”. That is what radicalization actually is; taking that seed of destruction and growing it in to something powerful enough that it seems reasonable to pick up a gun or strap on a bomb and start killing people.

Now that I’ve said all of these things let me say what is on the other side as I see it.

Yes, there are many perfectly acceptable and even beautiful lessons to be learned from the Bible, or the Koran, or virtually any religious text you care to name. In fact many of them share variations on exactly the same beautiful lessons of love and tolerance and acceptance. If you want to draw your inspiration from those lessons feel free to do so. Much can be learned.

So in a way this meme is actually right even as wrong as it is.  Jesus (if he existed at all, but that’s an entirely different discussion!)  also said that we were supposed to love one another.  That’s a pretty simple lesson.

Just don’t let these lessons supersede your own intelligence. Learn all the lessons together as a cohesive whole. Judge them by your own standards and by the most simple of all lessons –

We’re all humans and we’re all in this together.

Or as so many of my friends have been known to say –

Don’t be a dick.

Magic School Day 2 – Focus on Parlor Magic

LEVITATE ALL THE THINGS!!!!

Today was really wonderful. Yeah, yeah, Santiago, we’ve heard that.

Shut up. This is my blog.  **smile**

Today was really wonderful. I say that as a joke aimed at magicians who might understand that one of the masters of a specific kind of levitation technique is Tommy Wonder and we spent some really good time working on material of his and related stuff. So yeah…. WONDER-FULL…..

heh – I’m a comic genius…..

But we worked on a variety of other levitation types of things, including the prop I brought special to get help with. And I got help, definitely. There are several levitations that I now feel a lot better about that I will be bringing in to my act.

When I was a kid I saw one of the earliest David Copperfield specials on TV and there were two things he did that have literally stayed with me the entire time. One of those things is The Dancing Cane. When I first got in to magic it was one of the first things I wanted to learn and I was actually actively discouraged by magicians and magic dealers who all claimed it was to hard an effect to do.

Several years ago I acquired a custom made Dancing Cane and played with it, and it was pretty difficult but not impossible. I eventually got pretty decent with it, but I never had a really good opportunity to use it either, largely because I just never found a way to fit it in with the rest of my general performance style.

Now I have a way, and it is awesome. And I will say this much – in order to perfect it I will need to be using a cane, fire, and the new sword I had made. Yup, a sword.

***insert maniacal laughter here***

But beyond that I got a lot of great work on The Dancing Cane. Things that I didn’t know even with all the effort I’d put in to it years before, and I will probably be finding a whole variety of ways to work it in now.

But as I said, today was very definitely about levitating all the things, so don’t be to surprised if you start seeing a few other things floating around that you didn’t expect.

I also learned some great things to do to a scroll….the kinds of things that should make some scribes I know cringe. And really, isn’t that worth while? Making scribes freak out when you do evil things to a scroll is funny! You know, folding it up, pouring water in it, generally messing it up….and maybe, if they are nice to me I’ll fix it all in the end….

Or I’ll never get another scroll again.

Maybe not the best plan. We’ll see.

Tomorrow is going to be an early day. I have to head off to the airport early enough to catch a morning flight. I’ll be home by early afternoon. But as they say, no rest for the wicked. I’ll be getting ready to turn right around to head out to an SCA event. Which means not any real time to get anything ready to perform. Or practiced.

But a head full of ideas.

So, signing off for now from this round of Magic School.

20160609_163058LEVITATE ALL THE THINGS!!!!!

Magic School Day 1 – Focus on Parlor Magic

timthumbWow, what a day crammed top full of things!

I know I’ve said this many times before, but today really was. And in this instance it’s only been the first day and I’ve come away with six “new” pieces of magic to add to my act. I say “new” in quotes because like many things in magic, these are not necessarily new creations, but revelations about things that I have long been familiar with but given new life.

Although some of the things are indeed “new” in the sense of totally new to me as well! So I’m very happy about that.

I should back up a bit though. Just so damn excited!

As I mentioned previously, Parlor Magic is really my default venue. I do my best work with this level of show. So when we started today we were told that these two days were going to be much more “practicum” than theory and we were handed a list of classics of Parlor Magic. We were told “pick three” and for the next two days the group would go over them together.

So I managed to narrow the list down to six items…. Yeah, I know, “pick three”, but I also damn well know that we were all doing the same thing; picking a longer list and then listening to each other to see if someone else mentioned something we had on our list so we could mention something else!

Few things are harder to do than to try and be “sneaky” in a group of magicians….

Well, there are only eight of us in the class, and when we were done we ended up with a list of about 10 things we all wanted to cover. This is a pretty damn good balance. And everything I wanted on that list is there! So, to use a phrase, “AWESOME SAUCE!”

Another cool thing is that there are only eight of us! Lots of individual attention. Although we’re having a small problem with that with one student. I’ll get there in a moment.

Also, there are almost as many women as there are men in the class. 3 women, 5 men. Given the usual kinds of percentages I see that is actually remarkable. I like having female students in the same class because female magicians bring a different angle and perspective that is always worthwhile.

As an example, one of the things I brought up earlier in the day was my desire to figure out how to really narrow down the material I use to the kinds of things that fit the direction I’ve been building for myself. However, before we began we did the usual “let us all introduce ourselves and tell everyone a little bit” sort of thing and as I explained all the various things I do (basically the results of everything I’ve learned in the SCA) it seemed to have left an impression on one of the ladies. As we sat at lunch she suggested that rather than try to limit what I do I should embrace as much as I can and use the fact that my life is filled with so much as the inspiration for that.

While I’m not sure that is the best idea for myself, it is an idea worth considering, and it is very clearly a good example of how a female magician looks differently at developing an act. Certainly she left me with much to ponder.

So anyway, yeah, there is a kind of “problem child”.

We have one student in the class who is very enthusiastic. So much so that he has to be constantly reminded to not blurt out. So much so that he has to be constantly reminded that there are other students who spent just as much money as he did to get their time in the school as well.

Now Jeff has spent many years teaching, has taken and certified in management courses, knows and understand group dynamics, and generally is exceptionally skilled in handling situations just like this.

This kid is pushing the limits. I’ve seen Jeff get frustrated on rare occasions, and this one is included.

Still, I can’t fault this kid. I completely understand his enthusiasm. I feel it every time as well. I want to get all the attention and explore the possibilities and the theory and the practical applications with Jeff’s full attention.

There are ways for me to do that. But they are hugely expensive.  Well, more like, expensive enough that I would have to plan for it well in advance.

I still am getting some amazing training, just like usual. And tomorrow is going to be extra awesome because while everything I got today was fantastic, tomorrow will actually be focused on the main items I selected on the list including an opportunity to work with a prop I brought out special just to get some quality brainstorming in.

I’m not sure I could ask for a better group to brainstorm with. Jeff, several female magicians, some long time workers, and even Mr. OverEnthusiastic will all bring some great stuff to the table when we work on developing something for this new prop of mine.

So, that’s day one in a nutshell. Having a great time. Filling my brain with all this wonderful stuff.

I’m looking forward to bring new stuff to my audiences.

Off To Magic School Again

13347019_1226092690736766_424952768965350346_nTime for another in our series “Santiago Learns More Magic Than He Knows What To Do With” in which we find our hero on an airplane heading to Sin City itself, Las Vegas.

Like an idiot I failed to notice that my flight is not direct, but instead is making a stop in Orange County first. Meh. Not a big deal. I don’t have to change planes, and since I was in boarding group “A” this time I’m actually close enough to the front that I’m not even inclined to try and change seats during the stop over. No real point in it.

So, what am I off for this time? A focus seminar on Parlor Magic. What, pray tell, is that? Well I’m glad you asked.

Parlor Magic is what I do. No, really. Probably more than anything else, the magic I do is Parlor Magic, so if you’ve seen me, then you’ve seen it. It’s basically defined by virtue of audience size. My preferred venue is an audience approximately 20 to 40 people. To large to do card tricks for the most part. Not really large enough to be sawing ladies in half.

But Rings, Ropes, Balls (Cups and…), juggling, a wide variety props, the option to do silent or to tell stories, this is a world I like. This is also the world that a lot of magicians refer to as “Packs Small, Plays Big.” This is where we figure out how to take those tiny little things and make them fill a room.

And my mentor, Jeff McBride, well, he’s the expert. This is his thing. This is the guy who packs an act big enough to fill a stage in a case for a pair of sunglasses. I am not exaggerating. His emergency act that he travels with when he is going around the world and there is a chance his bags might get lost (because that never happens, right?) fits in to a case that small and goes with him on the plane. It’s 15 minutes of material.

Now admittedly the guy is so insanely skilled he can pretty much do any damn thing he wants with a couple decks of cards, a handful of coins, a spool of thread, and a stick. But still, that’s packing pretty damn small.

So, can I do that? Well, I’ve gotten pretty good. I have a travel case I can perform out of that is about the size of a decent camera case. I’m not necessarily looking to get smaller either. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a ton more to learn. There always is.

So, off I go. Time to fill the brain with magic. And, as a little bonus, I’ve brought along a little something that I’ve been trying to figure out how I want to use. I like the effect, but there is a variety of staging issues that I am lost on. And who better than Jeff and others in the Las Vegas magic scene to discuss such things with?

Well, I can feel that the plane is making it’s descent, so time to put this away. There will be more my friends. There will be more.

Edited to Add: Yes, if you cough occasionally and looks slightly nauseous people decide to pass the empty seat next to you even though it’s practically right next to the door off the plane.

Heh.

Theft Isn’t Schtick

Let me just state up front for the record that I have zero problems with schtick for SCA events, provided that said schtick is agreed upon by all parties involved. Schtick is a great way to set up rivalries or the usual round of amusing bits leading to a “war”. (Okay, I’ll add the caveat that schtick actually needs to be funny. Far to often it’s boring and uninspired, but I digress.)

But note that I am saying that the schtick has to be agreed upon by ALL parties involved.

Here’s why I say that – a few years back when Rose and I were Baron and Baroness of Darkwood an individual who was returning something precious to Darkwood asked if he could play some schtick in one of our courts as part of the process. I asked what he had in mind and all he said was “trust me”. I took the chance.

It was a seriously big mistake.

His schtick was rude, insulting, humiliating, and made a mockery of things that the entire populace of Darkwood hold very dear to their hearts. Both Rose and I were furious. To this day I will have nothing to do with the jackass who perpetrated the insult. I actually ran in to him the other day and even though this incident was several years ago the moment I saw him my blood started to boil.

So, when it was discovered that the Darkwood Banner (painted by my lady so I have a certain amount of investment in it beyond it being Darkwood) had been stolen out of the Darkwood Castle, a giant wooden structure which boasts among other things a nice lock on the door in order to keep people out of it when no one is around to monitor for safety, and further discovered that not even our current Baron and Baroness had any notion about it, I became extremely angry.

We had already had enough problems with kids climbing up the tower despite the number of times we said “not without an adult”. We found teenagers hiding inside trying to be, well, teenagers. And we discovered that during the week some kids had torn up a part of the castle garden so they would have sticks to play with.

In general there was a certain amount of “taken for granted” attitude towards the work of a great many people.  (To be fair there was also a lot of awe and wonder at how awesome the Castle is and it was deeply appreciated by a lot of people as well.)

Now, it’s not my Barony anymore. Except in a way it is. In exactly the same way as it is for previous Barons, exactly the same way it is for a populace that is fiercely proud of it’s home and it’s people.

One of the people in my household is the primary architect of the castle, a person who is often so relaxed and easy going that one wonders what it takes to get his ire up at all, and he was pretty unamused by this mistreatment as well. He found it in himself to smile and laugh and shrug a lot of it off, but the theft of the banner, the violation of the castle it took to do that was enough to annoy him as well.

We already have enough issues with people stealing at events. Another person in Darkwood had two helms stolen as well. Taken all together these three thefts are three to many. Especially for an organization that places a premium on ideals like Chivalry and Honor.

We in Darkwood spent a solid day guessing and generally feeling a bit violated and insulted. Sure, we pretty much assumed that it was someone thinking they were “funny” and probably trying to find a way to start schtick for a war or something like that, but remember what I said about schtick being agreed upon?

Yeah, that didn’t happen.

We had no real idea until someone, the culprit I assume, dropped the banner off under a Darkwood sunshade on breakdown day, stuffed in to a plastic bag. And then, a pretty pathetic attempt at turning the situation around via an anonymous letter was the only clue left. The banner pole still has not been returned. Sure a pole is a minor detail in the whole scheme of things, but it’s still a theft.

Our current Baron and Baroness, despite their obvious frustrations, have opted to take the high road because they want to believe in the essential good will of others. The simple reality here is that a banner has no real resale value (unlike the stolen helms), and such things have taken place before in other groups for exactly the express purpose of inciting schtick. So for them to be willing to let go of the whole thing and let the game unfold without their express permission/knowledge is probably a safe bet.

Exactly like I thought it was a safe bet.

Though I do feel like they will have an overall better outcome than I did.

Am I over reacting? Entirely possible.

I still think it’s a crappy thing to do, involving someone in something without giving them a chance to, at the very least, participate in the schtick.

There were other banners up there as well, including my own. There was expensive equipment up there being used to light up the top of the castle. Other things could have been stolen. And what I mean by that is not “there were other choices”, but rather what if someone slightly less scrupulous had decided to come back and help themselves to the nice equipment? Someone would have been out some serious money.

And let me reiterate – the Castle was locked. As in a door with a latch and a keyed metal lock. As in a commonly recognized sign for “do not enter.” In the mundane world circumventing a locked door with the intent to steal is “breaking and entering to commit burglary.” If there is no intent to steal it is still illegal trespass. Just because we are all camping together doesn’t mean it’s one big home for everyone. Our individual camps are our homes and those boundaries need to be respected. (See my article “Why Are You In My Camp?”)

This might be the biggest deal to me. I wasn’t comfortable about leaving so much of my camp up and in place because I have been aware of far to many thefts over the past few years. But I decided to go ahead and do it anyway. Yes I took the really vital stuff home and yes there was someone who was in our camp all week long.

But this still disturbed me. Obviously. Still I took a chance and while I didn’t personally lose anything, clearly others did. Truly unfortunate.

One Week Later

Well, here we are a week later and the Mists/Cynagua War has taken place. Only problem is we still have no idea who the culprit was who stole the banner. The content of their note stated that they would reveal themselves at the war but this did not happen.

In the end our Baron and Baroness have elected to let the matter slide but should the culprit reveal themselves they will be told exactly how utterly unfunny this whole situation was. In particular I am disappointed to discover that His Excellency, in a panicked scramble, tried to arrange with the event staff an opportunity for this schtick to be played out so that something could still be recovered from the whole thing.

That didn’t happen.

Schtick isn’t schtick if it leaves one side out of it. In an organization where we generally try to value each other and value honor, this whole thing has left a terrible taste in my mouth. I know that our Baron and Baroness are disappointed, as well they should be.

We’re supposed to be better than this.

At this point all that we can hope is that whoever is responsible will take to heart what they have done and come forward with an apology at least.

I guess we’ll find out.

Those Guys…

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Bjorn and I at the top of The Darkwood Castle.  Waldorf and Statler finally got an SCA Balcony.

I am often struck by how frequently my life in the SCA intersects with my life in Performance Magic. Not just because I perform magic at SCA events, which is obvious, but because of how many of the sort of philosophical considerations that I bring with me from each world to the other end up resonating with others in both of those worlds.

The past 10 days have been the celebration of Golden Beltane, the 50th anniversary of the SCA itself. For me personally I have been playing in the SCA for 29 years…. Hold on a moment, I have to sit here and be shocked because I only just now did the math to write that sentence and I’m a little overwhelmed…..

Okay, enough of that.

So, there is a story I heard from a couple of magicians talking about “those guys.” They were referring to magicians that they looked up to, people who inspired them and made them want to get better as performers and artists. While having that discussion between themselves, a young performer walked up to them and asked for autographs and commented about how much they had influenced his magic and desires to be a better performer. Once this young magician walked away the two looked at each other and realized that they had become “those guys” to the next generation.

And it scared them just a little.

The responsibility of being a sort of custodian of inspiration for someone else, anyone else, was rather daunting.

I have long ago embraced the idea that for someone out there I will be the first Peer that they meet. And lately, several times over the past year actually, I have had some people tell me that I have long been an ideal that they would like to live up to, or that I have inspired them in some fashion. Words which came at me from out of the blue and made me feel pretty good about myself.

But, in a rather appropriate kind of way, I had my “those guys” moment on this 50th anniversary of the SCA.

My encampment was host to a good portion of the members of the College of St. Davids. We took care of them by making sure they got fed and had a place to be. They worked for us by doing chores around the camp. A perfectly equitable exchange and one that we have been more than happy to handle in the past.

But there were two moments in particular that made me realize that I really have become one of “those guys.”

On the first weekend one of the college students who had been doing chores for us tried to hand me a few dollars to help defray the cost of the food. I thanked him for it but insisted that he keep his money. For one thing I know that the college kids need to keep as much of their resources as they can. College isn’t cheap! For another, I am in a very nice job these days and between Rose and I, we can afford some generosity. Especially for something like this.

But it also dawned on me a while later that this gesture was one that was inspired by all the generosity and kindness that this young man was seeing around him. He wanted to be a part of that on some level and so he was ready to make the sacrifice he could make.

I’d like to think that we had some small part in inspiring that gesture. Knowing that he made it reassures me that he is well on the road to understanding the deeper lessons the SCA really has to offer.

The second thing that happened that made me realize I was becoming one of “those guys” was thanks in part to my one of my best friends in the SCA, and truthfully just in life, Bjorn. First you need to understand that Bjorn and I have known each other nearly all of that 29 years I’ve been playing this game. When we miss each other at events it is a serious disappointment. If he and I are both at the same event and I don’t get to spend time hanging out with him I don’t feel like I’ve had a good event. Our humor with each other is fast and furious, and many others pretty much need to be around when we’re going at it just because we become the show. We bond over a lot of things, including The Muppets, which has kind of become the best way to understand us in that we have become the Waldorf and Statler of The West Kingdom.

But with all of that in mind, we also have a significantly serious philosophical side. We care deeply about issues of the SCA, of Chivalry, Fealty, Art, and Education. We are endlessly fascinated by questions with no answers because it means we get to explore them, and when the setting is right, as it often is sitting around a camp fire, this is precisely what we do.

We found ourselves in just exactly that setting, surrounded by many of the college kids who were camping with us and we got on to the topic of Fealty. I’m not going to recount that discussion here, mainly because it would be far to difficult to do so. But I will say this much; it was a wonderful discussion and I think that everyone there got something out of it.

But there we were, and during that conversation I realized that I had become one of “those guys”. I had become someone others were listening to for their first real introduction to some of the deeper ideals of the SCA and what they might mean. And I think that Bjorn and I gave everyone there some things to think about and consider. Most importantly I think we gave everyone there an opportunity to realize that there are some questions in the SCA that will never be resolved entirely and that is, in fact, a good thing because then you will always have something to challenge yourself and others with.

You’ll certainly have something to think about and discuss around those late night camp fires. And someday all of those people we had sitting around listening to us explore these ideas will get to have their own opportunity to become “those guys” for another generation.

Isn’t that the way it should be?

Why Don’t You Smile?

Recently I had a conversation with a person whom I consider a good friend though we don’t typically see each other outside of the context of SCA events. When there the general camaraderie is such that we are all more relaxed and friendly with each other, but even so, there is a level of reservation that I keep with any number of people, and a select list of others who “get passed the walls” as it were.

You know how you can be having a perfectly ordinary conversation and all of the sudden you find yourself talking about something a little more “close to the vest” than you expected to find yourself discussing? Yeah, that happened. This person commented that they liked me but they never really understood why they liked me.

At least not until recently when they realized that more often than not they don’t see a smile on my face but they know that when they come and talk to me that they will get a smile out of me, and one that is genuine. So the question came up; “why don’t you smile?”

I’ve known inside myself most of my life why I don’t tend to smile all that much except around various people, but I never had to verbalize it to anyone before, so I struggled a bit to explain.

And then I got home and this was on my TV:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Se2MiSCTDZM

Now, I’m not going to say that I am nearly as hard assed as Sherlock Holmes or anything like that, but certain things he says in this scene rang true with me.

First, the simple acknowledgement of who and what he is. “I am not a nice man.” I don’t tend to think of myself as a nice man either. I am “acerbic” and cynical. I also have a sense of wonder and joy that I try to use to counter that. Not exactly a Holmesian trait but there you go.

Next, the acknowledgement that it is unlikely to every change. Yeah, I’m very set in my ways and although one of those ways is to try and embrace changes to make myself a better person I also realize that there are things that will probably always be out of my reach.

Then the acknowledgement that there will be fall out from the kind of person that he is. Yeah, I’ve said it all along that if I f*ck up I’ll do my best to accept responsibility for it and to try and make it right. Holmes has that ethic, we just have different sets of priorities for the things that we’ll take responsibility for.

All of this leads to the statement “I consider you to be exceptional. So I make an exceptional effort to accommodate you.”

Wow. What a powerful statement.

Again, I am not professing in any way to be as intense as Sherlock, but this phrase rang very strong with me and put all of these thoughts in to focus.

I am reserved until I am not. When I have let you in that is because I consider you “exceptional” and I am making that “exceptional effort” because I value you.

I have “resting bitchy face” or whatever you want to call it. I’ve been called out on it my whole life. As a kid I’ve gotten yelled at (and worse a time or two) for “giving looks” when all I was actually doing was sitting there thinking, even to the point of being utterly unaware of what was going on around me. My natural state is largely neutral and when I’m in neutral I often look blank, angry, or worse.

For me to show emotion does take an effort. For me to let you in does take an effort. If there is a smile on my face, if I am laughing with you, it’s because I am comfortable enough to be vulnerable, which in the end is what this is all about.

No, I am not as bad assed as Sherlock, but I can and do identify with what he is saying, and not saying in this speech. The implied compliment as well as the dire warning.

I wish this clip went for another few seconds because the next part is what lands the whole thing. Watson says to him “No one can continue to live with someone like that forever” (or words to that effect) and his response is “To thine ownself Watson….”

I Wonderground

wondergroundIn case you didn’t know this, I fancy myself a magician. I know, big secret.

One of my biggest influences is an incredible magician named Jeff McBride. Jeff is a world class entertainer, magician, and teacher. Teaching magic is a passion of his and he does it well. I have seen a great number of his students go on to become well recognized entertainers and magicians.

One of the things that Jeff does so amazingly well is not just create magic but create magical venues. He finds ways to create space for magic to happen. And that is what Wonderground is all about. Wonderground is a kind of hidden treasure in Las Vegas. You can go to the strip and you can see all kinds of shows, and entertainers of all kinds. You can see big names and get in to crowded spaces with entertainment of every kind including, obviously, magic.

But magic as an art is best served in a somewhat more intimate setting. As awesome as big stage illusions can be, you rarely walk out of a big venue show having experienced the truest level of appreciation for magic. Which, by the way, doesn’t mean that I think you shouldn’t go. Far from it. The spectacle of a big stage show is amazing in it’s own right.

But imagine that you and a handful of your closest friends are no more than a couple of feet away from the magic happening right in front of you. Or that magic is happening right in your hands. The shear impossibility becomes that much more spectacular because of it’s intimacy.

That’s what Wonderground provides.

Every third Thursday of the month a little Mediterranean hookah bar and grill gets transformed into a venue where magic and art is all around. Four shows in the evening and every time it’s different because every time there are different performers. Never the same show twice.

So how did I get involved in this?

Well, as you all might remember I went out to Vegas to learn how to do stage hypnosis from Jeff and a professional hypnotist named Richard Nongard. I go out every so often because I need the recharge that being surrounded by these people gives me. It always gets me energized and enthused about my art. Every time I come back I am ready to tackle new challenges. (And yes, I’ve completed the courses in hypnotism. All I have to do is send in my test and get graded to get my certification. Very soon now.)

Well, after I came back from that adventure I got to thinking about Wonderground in general and so I reached out to Jeff and I asked “What caliber of magician are you looking for to be a part of Wonderground?” You see I had it in mind that I could use this opportunity to set the bar for myself. Give myself a training plan to help me get better.

I got a message back from Jeff saying “let’s talk.”

A few days later I’m on the phone with Jeff and 15 minutes later I’m signed up to come out and perform. Basically the conversation with him amounted to “You’re already good enough. When do you want to come out?”

Gulp.

Yeah, okay, I do think I’m pretty good at what I do. I certainly have plenty of people around me who love what I do and are always happy when I perform for them. I perform semi-regularly as part of my SCA activities, and I do take on gigs when I have the time and bandwidth to do it. I consider myself a professional in the sense that paid or not I am going to give the best show I can and always treat every performance as if I was, well, in Vegas.

BUT I’VE NEVER ACTUALLY BEEN A PERFORMER IN VEGAS BEFORE!

So, yeah, insta-nerves. Still, if Jeff thought I was already up to par then surely I was. He would know.

Wonderground works in a very vaudeville style. Multiple acts, every perform gets a set amount of time, and each performer fills their time accordingly. So it was decided that I would be ideally suited to be in the “Parlor” space, which is exactly right. I’m at my best when I can be up in front of an audience of thirty or so people. The material I like to do fills that size space and my voice carries well without the need of amplification thanks to a life time of theater experience. I was told to prepare material for a ten minute slot as the first act in that room.

The first thing I decided was how did I want to present myself. This is always my first consideration because depending on the venue I might be in medieval garb or I might be in modern dress. And lately I’ve been focused on recreating my modern look so it’s been something definitely on my mind.

But I also wanted to stand out from the other magicians and I knew that if I went with my medieval look and material than I would certainly achieve that. So medieval it was.

Next I spent time selecting from the material I do and carefully crafting the stories that I was going to tell. These were stories I already used, but I wanted to revisit them knowing that I was only going to have ten minutes of time. For some reason it never occurred to me that I could simply do less material. I had unconsciously decided that I was going to do three pieces because that was always the case when I knew I would be doing a short set. Usually I allow three to five minutes for each piece so that meant I could be between nine and fifteen minutes. That meant I needed to select carefully and to potentially rewrite my material to meet the ten minute limit.

So that is what I did. Two of the three stories I planned to tell got significant rewrites. The third (which was actually my opening piece) is actually a quote from Edgar Allen Poe, so I really felt that I couldn’t rewrite that, though it was already short enough not to be an issue either.

For months I have been rehearsing the stories in the shower, on my commute, and generally over and over in my head any time I found my thoughts wandering. Eventually I presented to the stories in front of a couple of test audiences and with one or two final tweaks I was ready to go.

Allow me a moment to digress while I wander in to an amusing side note. When I received the contract for this event there was a clause that caught my eye. The clause specified that it was necessary for me to bring a bag of M&M’s to the event. “Even a fun sized bag will do” according to the contract.

Naturally I became curious about this clause. I knew that occasionally some entertainers would slip things like this in their contracts in order to know that it had been read. So I assumed that this was the case and when I asked I was told that was precisely the reason and congratulations for spotting that, not everyone does.

Huh. Maybe it’s because I’m a software engineer in my regular life, or maybe it’s because my wife is a para-legal, but regardless from my perspective you read the contract.

But more amusing for me was to discover that when I arrived at Wonderground for my six o’clock call and handed over the bag of M&M’s to the wonderful young lady who was running things, she was actually startled and commented that no one had every actually done that before in the seven years Wonderground had been running!

Really? A bunch of entertainers, theater people, magicians, comedians, etc, and no one had ever brought the M&M’s? Well, happy to be the first!

From that point on the evening went very much as expected. There was some confusion about when and where I would be performing. There was a lot of energy and creativity and excitement. I got to meet some cool people and see some pretty great stuff.

Each of the two stage sessions were opened by belly dancers who were pretty fun. Belly dancing to some modern rock and roll was amusing. Belly dancing to The Monster Mash and the theme from The Munsters was hilarious.

Unfortunately I didn’t get to see the close up magic as it was happening at exactly the same time as I was performing in the parlor but I am told it was excellent.

As to the parlor, there were three of us, two of which were new comers to Wonderground. I opened with my stories and magic (video clip below), and was then followed by a young man named James who did some interesting stuff though to me at least I could see his nerves. Wonderground is a very welcoming crowd though and he was received well. Then a very definite pro named Chris Randel came in and he did some really wonderful and funny stuff.

I was complimented on my material. I was told that it was wonderful to see some classics of magic (read: stuff most magicians know how to do) done with an entirely new twist and very creative stories. I was appreciated for adding my own unique flair and style to the material. I was also complimented on the character I brought to the stage. One gentleman in particular commented that I surprised him quite a bit since he had met me earlier and didn’t expect such a complete transformation.

Jeff tells me that he too heard some great feedback regarding my act (he wasn’t there unfortunately, though being at The Magic Castle is a pretty damn good excuse, right? * smile *).

It was an amazing experience. How could it not be?

Will I do it again?

Yup.

After all –

Now, I’ve played Vegas.

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