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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.

The Impending Rise of The Phoenix

phoenix_014Yes, yes, I know.  I haven’t posted in a while.  Again.

I have been busy.  I just got back from a weekend in Caid.  Every weekend has been booked up with one thing or another for a long time and I’ve been pushing towards the final goal of getting the Carnival up and running.

This is it.  It’s time.  This coming weekend is Kingdom A&S and we’ll be putting on the first show.  Gods what a lot of work this has been.

As with anything the grand and glorious plans one has up front have to be altered along the way to accommodate what we can do.  People are all volunteering their time and their efforts.  You have to be grateful for that.

So for this first outing I was hoping to have a new sunshade.  That didn’t happen.  I had started putting together a Kickstarter Campaign but after being distracted by something else when I came back to it I realized I wouldn’t get it done and back before the deadline of when I’d need to order the new sunshade and have it in hand for the event.

Nevertheless there will be a new sunshade eventually.  Just not for this event.

I was also hoping to have a couple of carnival games ready to go for the first outing but that didn’t happen either.  This to is okay, I was trying to schedule time with my game builder to help and I just never got organized enough to do it.

I’m a pretty busy guy and didn’t have as much bandwidth and just plain old steam to add the extra time into my schedule.  Work had been a particular problematic blocker, so that pretty well took the wind out of my sails.

But we will have some great stuff!  Absolutely.

We’ll have three acts (The Dancing Bear cancelled), a bardic circle and a fortune teller.

I will be performing a small magic show.  There will be a story performed by one of our wonderful storytellers and there will be a puppet show.  Of course some fun is being had with the program.

Santiago would like you to know that all the magic you are about to see has been achieved using camera tricks and video effects.  What you are seeing live is nothing like what you see on the screen.  He has achieved this by years of study into the history of magic and then he messed with it because really, who was going to stop him?

Yes, magic of this type is historical.  Yes, Santiago achieved his Laurel for the study and practice of this type of magic.  Yes, Santiago has real powers too, he just doesn’t like to use them.

You’ll have to come to the show to get the rest.

So here we are.  The first performance of The Carnival of The Phoenix.  Not a bad little showing for our first time out.
Afterwards, we’ll debrief, discuss what worked, what didn’t and decide where to go next.  I’m considering the idea of offering up a performance of some kind for The Baroness’ Masked Ball in November.

Onward, ever onward.

The Biggest Hurdle

Here, I thought I would be a lot more productive in writing these posts now that I knew I had buy-in for my whole Carnival project.  Instead I’ve been reluctant to write because I wasn’t sure what I had to say.

Today brings good news though.  I have held all along that various kinds of acts need to have a certain kind of balance to them.  And that balance is generally things arranged in odd numbers.

For example any magic act I do will always have an odd number of routines in it.  3, 5, 7, 9.  This is because it allows for a kind of collection of ‘beginning, middle, and end.’  Even numbers don’t divide an act structure right.

For the Carnival I have wanted to make absolutely certain that I had at least three acts to present.  And getting the buy-in for that has kept me on pins and needles for a while.  Today we now have confirmed three acts for Kingdom A&S!

Whew.

Now begins the process of building and rehearsing those acts along with the wonderful other things we will be doing.  Carnival games that need to be built.  “Stage” dressing and lighting that we need to work on.  Things of that nature.  Every time I turn around I find layers of structure that need to be thought about and addressed.

That’s okay though.  I think that is really a big part of the overall fun.

So, for the moment at least, here is what The Carnival of The Phoenix will be opening with:

  • Song and Storytelling from the lovely Vittoria
  • An original Puppet Show from the lovely Yukiko and company
  • A Magic Show by the not as lovely yours truly

In addition we’ll be following with an open Bardic Circle, some carnival games and a fortune teller.  I believe we are also looking to have “stick horse” races earlier in the day and a parade to lead people to the show in the evening.

Every level of this is a challenge as we build from the ground up.  What surprises me though, as I look back, is that I started this idea back in about September/October of 2011!  I know I’d played with it a time or two prior to that, but that was about when I went fully into ‘production’ of this idea, talking to people and seeing if I could get their support.

Approximately seventeen months to date.

I’m stunned.

But, as always, Onward!

ps  I have an obvious interest in images of The Phoenix.  The above image is from a tattoo design website.  Click on the image to go check out their other stuff.  Its pretty cool!

And The Carnival is A Go!

Well, we had our first “Face to Face” meeting with as many people as I could manage this past weekend.  It was very productive and the end result is that the Carnival project is a go for Kingdom A&S and events moving forward.

I admit that I was extremely worried about this.  Having an idea is one thing.  Having enthusiasm for that idea is another.  Getting people excited about it is yet another thing.  Getting people to commit to supporting your idea is a massively complicated thing.

It’s been more than a year since I started brainstorming this idea.  I know, I checked.  Notes that I have date back to last January.  It’s hard to imagine that I’ve been on this concept for that long, but there it is.

But now others have ‘officially’ bought in and we have a project plan and a target date and commitments and everything.

Now the real work begins.

Up until now everything has been planning, researching, gathering ideas and building interest.

I have high hopes.

In other news I have begun working on a project which has brought me a great deal of amusement.  A friend of mine is a writer.  He has been writing a very funny story about a character who is very definitely a bad person.  To use a term, he engages in a great deal of ‘douchebaggery.’  Which means, if you are in the right circles, you know what I’m talking about.

I have been recording the story for him.  Putting my voice talents to work making his story into an audio book.  I’ve never particularly done this before, so it is a learning experience.  But I have my many years on stage and my technical knowledge to make the digital recordings, so there you have it.

It’s possible we might make the ‘audio book’ available at some point in the future but for now it’s just a fun project to play with.  I’m enjoying it a great deal.

So there we are.  It’s been a bit quiet here on the blog but there is plenty of sound and fury hiding behind the scenes and now that we are on a countdown clock to Kingdom A&S I hope to have more frequent updates on The Carnival of The Phoenix.

Carnival Project & Flight Time

fireeatingI know I haven’t talked much about my SCA Carnival project lately.  Simply put this is because I have not done much with it over the past couple of months.  When we get to the end of the year all of our SCA thoughts turn towards 12th Night which tends to be all consuming.  I have other 12th Night specific plans and projects that I must engage in.

That being said, 12th Night makes for a good milestone marker as well.  Once it’s over I will have much greater bandwidth to focus on the things I want to focus on such as the Carnival project.  So for the past couple of months I’ve been saying “when 12th Night is done the next thing I’ll focus on is……”  A common refrain for many of us.

This, of course, coincides with “New Year’s Resolution” time, but I am generally not happy about making resolutions.  Mainly because they are notorious for being broken.  Usually they are things like “exercise more”,  “eat better”, “lose weight” and other self-improvement projects.  So when they get broken we end up feeling worse about ourselves and thus the cycle repeats.

No thanks.

Interestingly enough though, I am finding myself very willing and even eager to “set goals” for the coming year, such as getting my Carnival project off the ground.  I have a clear deadline set, and a plan of attack, and other people who are willing to be involved so by implication people who are counting on me.

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it’s going to take for me to do the variety of things I want to do, that I am setting as goals, for the coming year.

This brings me to the concept of “flight time.”

A while back I wrote about the book I’ve been marking up and it is from there that I am taking my current concept of “flight time” though in truth I have known about it a great deal longer than that.  Simply put “flight time” is all about getting experience doing the thing you want to do.

There are many articles and studies which have been done focusing on the idea that in order to “master” any particular skill you need about 10,000 hours of actually doing it.  One excellent introduction article can be found here:  Gaining Mastery – The Three Vital Steps of The Apprenticeship Phase.  There simply is no substitute for flat out experience no matter how much you practice, train or rehearse.

Any performer will tell you that there is no amount of practice or rehearsal you can go through that will fully prepare you for actually performing.  You can hit a point where you are as ready as you will ever be, but crossing the threshold between rehearsal and performance still means stepping into the unknown.

But this is where the lessons are.  Live audiences will throw things at you (sometimes literally) that you will not really be prepared for.  If you are as rehearsed as you can be, if you are as comfortable as you can be with your material then you will be in a position where you will at least have the tools you need to try and handle what the audience has created for you in terms of a new situation.

This is “flight time.”  Performances.  Time in front of an audience doing the things you need to do in order to build your repertoire, build you confidence and build your skills.

Confidence building is the biggest part.  Getting in front of people so that you get comfortable with who you are on stage and who they are as your audience.  This is the part that scares everyone and it’s the make or break part of being an entertainer.  Far more fail than succeed because of this step.

I’ve done some flight time.  I’ve got a life time of stage experience and I did get to the point of doing magic as a profession for several years.  But without sitting down and doing the calculations I can still say that it’s extremely likely I haven’t achieved the 10,000 hour boundary line.  Even having been called a “pro” by my mentors I think I don’t have that “magical” amount of flight time.

So this year I’m going to seek it out when and where I can.  I need to get that going so that when the time comes for the Carnival project to really get off the ground I will be better prepared.  I will begin by entertaining at 12th Night this year.  And after that just look for that black leather bag hanging at my side.  If all goes according to plan this will be my “Commando Act” (the magic I am prepared to entertain with anywhere anytime) and I will be pushing myself to log the “flight time” I need.

On the Treatment of Books

I have chosen to commit a sin.

Okay, stop laughing.  Yes, I commit sins all the time.  Can we move on now?  At least keep the giggling to a minimum.

The sin I’m speaking of has to do with books.  For me books have always been sacred no matter the content.  The concept of a book is sacred and as such I am always careful with my books.  I do my best to minimize damage to the spine of the book.  I don’t fold over or dog ear pages.  I don’t curl over paperback covers.

And I absolutely positively *DO NOT WRITE* inside a book unless it is a workbook or technical manual where highlighting and note taking are expected.

I recently picked up a book from one of my magic mentors, Jeff McBride, called “The Show Doctor.”  This book is written mostly as a sort of philosophical and practical advice column for magicians and would-be magicians, providing information and advice on a lot of different issues that come up for us.  On my recent trip to Virginia (yes, I was caught in Hurricane Sandy during my stay) I read most of “The Show Doctor” and I can say that I have really been learning a hell of a lot from it.

One of the things that Jeff talks about is his bookshelf and his books.  And he points out that you can tell the ones he loves the most by how “loved” they are.  Broken spines.  Dog eared pages.   Worn out covers.

And the writing.  Oh the humanity, scrawls on the pages.

It got me to thinking.  The truth is most magic books are “workbooks and technical manuals.”  The very books I have not hesitated to highlight and write comments inside of in the past.

So why have I hesitated to treat my magic books the same way?  I suppose the easiest explanation is that I wasn’t viewing them the same way.  I was viewing them as “research” books and I’d be damned if I would ever scrawl notes inside a book like that from the public library.  I’m pretty sure the library cops would hunt me down for such a crime.

That and returning a book a day late.

On the plane as I read those words I had a kind of revelation about how I was treating my magic books.  Yes, there are definitely some which will never be blemished by the stroke of a pencil or pen.  But others could be.  The more technical manual type of book seems open to such things just as the technical manuals of my computer industry experience are.

In fact “The Show Doctor” was all but begging for it.  Advice, practical solutions to problems of performance, new routines to play with.  “The Show Doctor” is the book for being written in.

I read Jeff’s words about his library and I moved on.  I read several more pages but his comments kept haunting me.  I looked at the notebook I had with me that I had been jotting down notes from the book about things I wanted to check on.

Forgive me Publisher for I have sinned.

I made a decision and I went back, took up a pencil (I still couldn’t use a pen) and began noting things directly in the book.  I began to underline the phrases that were jumping out at me and smacking me upside the head.  I drew brackets around paragraphs.  I put asterisks and exclamations in the margins for particularly important things.

I have become a book sinner.

But I guess I’m alright with that.  I don’t believe in a great publisher in the sky and besides, Jeff said it was okay.

Smile and Say “Boo!”

A number of years back I discovered that in my family history I have a spiritualist minister.  My great grandfather on my father’s side was an ordained minister and used to engage, apparently, in talking to spirits.  Since then I’ve tried to get my hands on his ordination papers, but no luck at this point.

I have been interested in charlatanism for a very long time.  In fact, back in High School I actually took the opportunity provided by my photography class and my sci-fi lit class to provide a sort of hoax that I showed to everyone just for the fun of it.

The hoax was a photograph of a ghost.  A little spirit photography.  The picture is long since gone but I remember it very well.  The camera I had back then was an old SLR and I was using a lot of black and white film back then because it was cheaper and what the class generally supplied.

Using a tripod and really long exposure time I simply set the camera up, opened the shutter, walked into the field of view, stood there for a few seconds and then walked out again.  Total exposure time about 20 seconds.

As the Teacher’s Assistant for the photography class it was my job every morning to set up the darkroom including mixing all chemistry for that day and putting out the supplies.  But once that was done I had my own little empire and I could do anything I wanted.

I developed the film, made some prints and “BOOM!”  Spooky evidence of a ghost in my backyard.

I showed the picture to my teachers and to other students to a wide variety of reactions.  I never said it was real but I didn’t deny it for a long time either.  You see my sci-fi lit teacher Mr. Gutierrez was kind of in on it.  I did the whole thing on my own but he saw the value of it as a way to make his students think a little harder about irrational things.

Eventually we revealed the hoax.  The people who were skeptics all along were not surprised.  The students who also had photography classes and experience were not particularly surprised.  The people who knew me well enough to know that I was probably up to something were not surprised either.

The believers were in total denial.  Surprise.

Obviously the experience stuck with me and one of the things that I have always found the most interesting from the realm of spiritualism is ghost photography.

In the early 1900’s a guy named William Hope was one of the best known spirit photographers around.  He made tons of money scamming people by taking spirit photos of their dead relatives and loved ones.  He had a rather large following including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who was an ardent follower of all things spiritualist and was responsible for the fame of the Cottingley fairies.

It was definitely a time when some amazing things seemed to be caught on film.  Of course today we are jaded by Photoshop and movie special effects.  But it’s not that hard to imagine the impact seeing spirit photos must have had.

Well, recently a new collection of spirit photos taken by William Hope has been uncovered.  Take a look and imagine what it might have been like to sit for a photo and find later on that your dead relative really is watching over you.

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