Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Scripting Part 1.

I have to admit, somewhat reluctantly, that in the twelve years I have been in magic I have only scripted a small amount of my effects. In fact, up to last August I could count the amount of scripted material I had on one hand. This fact shows you a few things about my take on magic. You could say I was immature about it, not really taking magic seriously.
You would be right.
It’s not that I had bad routines, just unscripted one’s. Let’s take a gander at a routine I developed for Lee Asher’s brilliant “Deuce Bag.”
The trick, besides having a brilliant name, is a knockout.
Here is it’s description direct from Lee’s lecture notes “Thinking Out Loud: Mental Noise From Lee Asher.”
“A card is selected and placed back I the pack by the spectator. A zip-lock bag is removed from your pocket. Inside the zip-lock is a wild card. The whole bag and wild card are placed in the spectator’s hand. A moment of magic occurs and the wild card transforms into their selection between their palms.”
I have been performing this trick for many years, and used it frequently when I was doing walk around/restaurant magic. My routine was simply that this was the most dangerous trick in the world. That the card in the bag was made out of a compound found on the moon and that it was very volatile and could explode any minute. I then place it on the spectator’s hand and wave the deck, with the chosen card in it, under the spectator’s hands. I ask, “Did you feel a tingling feeling?” If they say yes I act all scared and recommend they get the hand checked out before it falls off. Then I tell them, ever so slowly, to turn their hand around and voila, the chosen card is inside the bag.
I play it up for laughs. Of course the card isn’t dangerous, no, their hand is not going to fall off, but it plays very well. The only drawback I could find was that I had not scripted it. I just thought up the words one day and out they came.
So, you may be asking, if you’ve got the words already why script?
The answer is because when you script you think about what you are doing. I mean, really think.
When I sat down last week to put my version of “Deuce Bag” onto paper, I had to think very hard about why I was saying what I was saying, why I was doing what I was doing and where I should do what I must do.
I discovered that even though the trick had played strong in the past, it really didn’t have any build up. If I started small then built to a climax the trick would be much funnier and, more importantly, more amazing.
Also, I realized that the tricky part where the “magic” happens was being done in the wrong place. I had to distance myself from the tricky move and the actual reveal at the end. Something I probably would never think about if I hadn’t decided to script the routine as opposed to just playing it by ear.
So, how will the new routine work? I’m not sure and will never be sure until I perform it, but I know that the original routine worked so I can easily determine that the new routine will be just as good if not better.
Let’s put it this way. Scripting makes you THINK about your magic, that makes your magic better, better magic equals better response and a better response means more and better work for the magician.
With that in mind, how could you not decide to script?

I will post more on scripting in later posts.

Next Post: The Invisible Deck. Why can I see it?

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Mail Bag #1.

I was going to post about scripting your magic, but a reply to my post titled “Bad news for magic beginners” (In which I told you that when you begin you will suck) prompted me to write the following.
But first, the reply:
Anonymous said, “You will NOT suck.Card tricks are very easy to learn.Check out card-trick.net to learn free easy magic card tricks using a normal deck of cards. The tricks are not hard to learn, explained with photos and videos.http://www.card-trick.net/

OK, first of all yes you will suck. In the beginning of magic you will not know anything or be able to do anything well, therefore you will suck. QED.
Apparently our anonymous (if that is his real name) was the rare type of person who, after picking up a deck of cards for the first time and learned his first card trick was able to perform it perfectly right off the top. No worries about mis-direction, sight lines or presentation for him. The rest of us had to sludge through our first tricks and learn these technical aspects through trial and error, but not so Mr. Anonymous.
I imagine he was able to pick up a guitar for the first time and, instead of learning notes and chords and 4/4 time, instantly put Jimmy Hendrix to shame.
I can only imagine the breakthroughs that Mr. Anonymous could have if he took up medicine. No learning beginners science for him, nope, expect a cure for cancer or AIDS right away.
Nope, Anonymous didn’t suck right away. He was a world-class magician right off the top, which doesn’t explain why he didn’t leave his real name. If I were able to be that good that quick I would proclaim it to the world and go out and win me some awards.

Secondly, card tricks are not easy to learn. It doesn’t matter if your first card trick needs a card on the bottom of the pack turned over, or noted, or given a little bend the fact of the matter is that there is so much that goes into even the most beginner tricks.
Misdirection, the ability to make someone look at one hand while the other is doing the tricky work.
Sight lines, making sure you don’t give away the turned over bottom card to that person who is sitting down while entertaining someone who is standing up. (I learned this lesson the hard way.)
Audience management. How do you grab their attention then keep it, and I mean all of your audience, not just the pretty girl you want to impress?
Performance. How do you present the trick? Is it a gambling demonstration? Is it a mind reading demonstration? Well, your first trick will go something like this, “Ok, pick a card, remember it, put it back into the deck. I am going to shuffle the deck. Now watch as I wave my hand and you can see you card is at the top of the deck. Now watch as I put it back into the center of the deck and …..” In other words you will more likely describe what is going on rather than actually have a presentation.
These four subjects, and the many more that I haven’t mentioned, need to be taken into account for even the most basic beginners trick. Of course you are not going to know this right away, but you will learn.
Again, our anonymous friend apparently never had to take this into account. He was Jamy Ian Swiss caliber right off the mark. (Jamy Ian Swiss is one of the world’s best magicians and theoretical thinkers on magic. More on him in another post.)

Lastly, let’s take a look at the web site anonymous recommended. http://www.card-trick.net/ .
I quote “Allways (sic) wanted to amaze your friends with magic card tricks? Here you can learn some of the best tricks: it's EASY and it's totally FREE!”
Ok, first of all, a spelling mistake. Apparently Mr. Anonymous has found something he isn’t so good at. Secondly, the part about it being “EASY and it’s totally FREE!” (Caps and bold his) I have already put that whole “card tricks are easy” bit to rest, but just an example let’s check out the Three Card Monte part. Oh look, a video showing the first phase of a Three Card Monte. Look how fast his hands move. Are you telling me that this is easy? The HELL it is!
The Three Card Monte is one of the most difficult magic tricks to master. Some of the top magicians have studied it for years before daring to present it. But hey, at card-trick.net it’s easy. Man, I bet those other magicians feel the right ass round about now.
As for the "totally FREE" part. Well, he's right, it is free except for the parts that are not. It's not a lie, it's an omission. Hell, we bought it when Former President Clinton said it, so it must be true.
But there is more, I refer you to “Find the chosen card.” Here are a few fun phrases that are used. “People want to be conned anyway”, and “You ask the VICTIM to pick any card out of the deck (emphasis mine)”, in fact the writer uses the word “Victim” SIX times.
So apparently magic is easy, you will instantly be great right off the top, spelling doesn’t count and it’s ok to refer to your volunteer as a victim.
Dear Mr. Anonymous. You are an idiot. Please, for the love of all that is holy, stop doing magic and take up some other “easy” hobby, like brain surgery or nuclear physics.
Meanwhile, I will go back to practising my pass. It’s been about a year and a half and I think I may be close to getting ok with it.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

I Love A Challenge!

On October 19, 2005, The Bill Pages posted the following Blog.
“Abra Cadabra, Baby
I don't know about you, but I can't wait to hear what Gord has to say about this.My guess is it won't be this girl.”

Right, a challenge. I can’t ignore this, even if I wanted to.
So, what do I think about this? Well, to tell the truth, I think it’s a joke.
This is not the first time Copperfield has claimed that he will magically impregnate a woman on stage, and it probably won’t be the last. The fact is that the whole trick would probably be boring as hell.
“Look, here is a test tube filled with semen. Now watch as I wave this hanky over it and, look, it’s gone! But where is it? Well maam, it’s in your ovaries and you are now pregnant. Wait, don’t believe me? Well here is a sonogram machine, let’s just take five or ten minutes to prove you are pregnant!”
Nope, can’t work. So it’s a joke, something to get his name in the papers. Some may say it’s desperate, I think it’s funny. Funny because now, all over the world, magical hacks are trying to figure out how to steal this trick.
That’ll show ‘em!
Next post: Unless there are any other challenges, I think I’ll talk about scripting. Like how to script a trick on magically making a woman pregnant and make it good.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Good News For Magic Beginners

In my last post I told you that when you start in magic you will suck. At the end of that post I promised that there is good news, and here it is.

I am sure after my last post you probably thought I was a bit mean, but I’m afraid I was just telling you what I wish someone had told me. When you begin you will suck. Not exactly ego boosting but it needs to be said.
Fortunately there is some good news.
You are not going to suck forever.
In fact, eventually you will get good, possibly very good. How good is up to you. If you take the time to practice you can become one of the top magicians in the world.
Unfortunately this will take some time.
A lot of time.
I mean years.
When I say years I mean years and years and years.
How many years? Well, some of the top magicians in the world believe that they may never perfect their craft. That it is a constant learning process that will only end when they die.
But for the sake of this post, let’s just leave it at “Years and years.” That’s daily practice.

But how will you know when you pass out of the part about sucking and become good?
Good question, and I cannot give you a decent answer. All I can say is, you’ll know.
You see, one day, after some years of practice and bad to sub-bad performances something will go “click” in your head and suddenly, almost like magic, you’ll be good.
Yes, just like that.
Here is a few quotes from Penn & Teller from Genii Magazine, Vol. 58, No. 7, May 1995.

“… What I believe strongly about show business is that talent and hard work don’t matter nearly as much as flight time. The amount of time that you’re in front of the audience doing some thing is really all that matters. By all reports, George Burns sucked for the first thirty years of his career. But he kept plugging at it, and all of a sudden he knows stuff. … And with Eddie Fechter, it was one of the clearest cases I’d ever seen. I didn’t think that he’d ever been inspired to do the brilliant art he was doing. All of a sudden, just around the time he turned fifty, he was just kind of doing it.”

So you see, the hard work will one day pay off. One day, and you may not notice this, you will get it right. It may not take thirty years, but it will take time, and practice and patience. You may want to take some short cuts, but please don’t. You will be doing yourself and this art we love so much a grave disservice.
Do it right, do it well and at the end you will be rewarded.

Here ends the lesson.

Next Post: When they put one of your men in the hospital, you put one of theirs in the morgue! NOW here ends the lesson.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Bad News For Magic Beginners

There you are, at the start of an exciting journey. You have your first magic set, or magic book or video and you are learning your first tricks. Congratulations, you are starting along a path filled with discovery and wonder.
Unfortunately, I have some bad news for you. Please do not take it personally since I don’t know you, but I have been where you are now and I have the need to let you know something that I was never told. I apologize in advance for being so blunt, but I have to be. I’m sure you will understand in time.

Dear beginner in magic.
You are going to suck!
There, I said it. It’s out there and I cannot take it back.
You are going to suck.

I tell you this so that you may avoid the pitfalls and problems that I and a majority of other magicians have faced in our careers. You see, when you start out, you really don’t know anything about magic or performance. I know that the first magic tricks you learn will fill you with excitement that you desperately want to show someone, anyone. I know because I was there also. The first real magic trick I learned with the disappearing hanky and I showed it to my good friend Bill. I thought he would see what I was doing; he didn’t and was somewhat impressed. I thought “Hey, that went great! Now I can show EVERYONE!”
Oh yes, that false sense of confidence. You’ll feel it too, and you will probably act on it, showing everyone and their brother those first few tricks before you are ready to show them. People will be polite. They will say you are good, but your not. You suck!

You see, magic, much like other arts or even trades, requires dedication, practice, study and time. You cannot read a card trick, learn it, practice it and perform it within a five-minute period and expect it to be any good. But you will, we all did it so don’t feel bad.

There are so many problems associated with starting out in something, but there is a problem unique in magic. That problem is, “Where can I go to get good?”
You see, comediennes have a place to be bad. An open mike night at a local comedy club. You get about five minutes to try out your first pieces of material in front of a forgiving audience. If you bomb well, you are supposed to bomb those first few times; it’s part of the learning process. Also, some comedy clubs offer lectures for new timers on how to write material, how to present it and the business of comedy.
What about musicians? Most musicians learn in a class type setting, as either part of a school band on in private lessons with a teacher. In those cases, you have a person or persons available to tell you when you suck, why you suck and how to stop sucking. They can also track your progress so that they can tell you when you stopped sucking.
Even skilled trades have a learning plan in place. In the mid 90’s I was an apprentice electrician. My job was to do the crappy jobs and learn from a licensed electrician. Over time I would be given small jobs that were aimed at teaching me something. Over time, and with guidance I was supposed to stop sucking and learn about how to be an electrician. It would take years of study, but in the end I would no longer suck and would be a full-fledged electrician.

Unfortunately magic seems to no longer have a mentor/student mindset of days past. As well, these days many of us learn on our own through books, magazines and video’s meaning there is no teacher to help with the learning process. As well, there is no place for us to publicly suck, like at a comedy club. Many of us will start performing magic for kids birthdays, which will turn out bad. You will suck, the show will suck, and the parent who booked you will think all magicians suck and never hire one again. Don’t feel that bad, though, we all did it. We all felt bad after and we all vowed to get better as fast as possible.

So yes, when you begin magic you will suck and suck bad, but there is light at the end of the tunnel, which I will address in my next post.

Next Post: Sorry, no light. I lied, my bad. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

Monday, October 10, 2005

So, What Do You Think About ... Part 1. Chris Angel.

I don't know if this happens in other performing arts, but whenever a magician let out the fact that he is a magician, be it at a restaurant, party or work place, those around him want his opinion of the latest magic wonder boy. For years it was David Copperfield because, let's face it, for a long time Copperfield was the only show in town. Yearly specials followed by around the world tours, he was the big guy without challengers for a long time.
These days two other names enter the conversation. David Blaine and Chris Angel.
While I will attack the David Blaine phenomena at a later time, I think this is a good time to take a look at Chris Angel from an insiders perspective.

Chris Angel is a relatively new name in the magic firmament. In the last five years he has performed over six hundred shows in New York, had three international TV specials and now the first magic television series in forty years. He is, right now, about as big as any magician in recent memory has gotten, and he did it with a unique vision and performance style that few try and even fewer master.
Chris Angel can easily be called a "Goth Magician", but the words "Cyperpunk" and "Really Weird" can be used as well. His show on the A&E channel are misleading, his style is less street magician as it is gothic horror. If you only see the television show you should pay attention to the vignettes that take place in the desert, these small scenes give a glimpse into the real Chris Angel style.
As an example take a look at the picture to the right. Dark, Goth, spooky, punk, almost medieval. This was the Chris Angel look.
I have to admit, I have a great respect for Angel. He has done things his way. He has had a vision and dammit if he didn't follow through. Any magician who has been around for a certain amount of years knows someone who would yell loudly about THEIR plan for the future of magic, (A guy who went by the moniker "EVM" on alt.magic a few years back springs to mind) but Angel didn't just talk, he did it. That is why I respect him. (And don't give a rats ass about "EVM".)
Unfortunately, I don't like this kind of magic. Yes, it has a certain amount of wonder to it, but it just isn't my cup of tea. So respect, yes, but enjoyment, no.

This brings us to the Chris Angel show "Mindfreak" on the A&E network. A lot of people don't know this but this program is the first American magic series in 40 years. So some props to Angel for that. Unfortunately, it seems Angel had to give up what made him unique to make this show. The first episode I watched contained a lot of street magic and a bizarre and scary stunt at the end, which prompted me to say, "Man, it didn't take long for him to go Blaine on us."
Of course, like most knee jerk reactions it was very wrong. Chris Angel didn't turn Blaine, he took what Blaine did and then pumped it up a few thousand knotches to such extremes that Blaine's next stunt is going to have to include a field trip through the gates of hell just to catch up.
Of course, to get the show Angel was probably told by A&E that it had to have street magic. Fair enough. So Angel takes street magic and blows it up (along with himself) making it that much more difficult for anyone following him to even come close.
I'm sorry, I'm gushing.
There is one other thing I think is important here. Angel claims that most of what he does in the show can be done on stage if he decided to tour. Again, this is something that Blaine or even the group from T.H.E.M. (Totally Hidden Extreme Magic) can claim.
Unfortunately there is one thing that Angel has that makes the rest of us look very bad. Have you seen him with his shirt off? (Left) Man oh man, now those of us who are a bit chubby (which is a lot of other magicians) have something else we have to work on. After watching Angel and his buff body, who in their right mind would want some chubby guy with sponge balls come up to their table? DAMN YOU ANGEL!!!!!!

In the end, I still respect Angel. He's still doing things his way, and becoming quite the success doing it. Good for him and in the end, good for magic.

Next post: I've just come back from the gym and can't move my arms. DAMN YOU CHRIS ANGEL!!!!!!

Thursday, October 06, 2005

I Just Want To Clear The Air A Bit Here!

     It has been pointed out to me that I did, at one time, say “DAVID BLAINE SUCKS!”  It has also been pointed out that I said that David Blaine “… is a hack, disgraces "real" magicians, etc.”
     Now, first of all yes I said the former, but I did not say he was a hack etc.
     Don’t believe me?  Re-check the post.  There it is in big white letters.  Three words, “DAVID BLAINE SUCKS!”
     I am capable of saying what I want to say without people (Tom!) putting words in my mouth.  It turns out I was going to to a bit of an opinion piece on Blaine later this week but now I’m holding back because I don’t want to be mis-quoted again!  (TOM!)

     And, I cannot stress this enough, the part aboout him sucking WAS A JOKE!  I even said right before that it was a JOKE!
     But it brings up a problem that is vexing me.  Can I, in good conscience, say bad things about other magicians?  Especially successful, world class magicians who I think are vastly overrated.
     I have an example.  There is an illusion duo who are working professionals, have toured the world, are highly respected in their field and who suck big time,  They are terrible.  I mean when I see them perform all I can think is “You left a career ar Kinko’s for this?”
     It’s not just that they are terrible performers.  It’s not just that they look like they need to rehearse a lot … A LOT.  It’s that whenever one of them writes something for the magic journals it’s always some sort of deep phylisophical piece about art and magic and the art of magic.  They lay on the deepness of their souls for this art form, but then I see them perform and it’s bloody obvious that they haven’t read their own articles.
     Here is an example.  One of them wrote an article on using humor in an act.  He had a big example and described how he came up with this wonderful joke.  And yes, I’ll admit it was funny on paper, but then I saw the act live.  There are now two good reasons that this man should never talk about humor again.  1:  His big joke, was his only joke.  And 2:  HE SCREWED IT UP!
     Seriously, these people are well reguarded in magic circles.  I don’t get it.
     So, what is a boy to do?  Do I out them?  Do I say “Yes well the Hocuspocus’s are terrible!”  And if I don’t does that mean I can’t bash Blaine either?  Or is Blaine a more open target because of his fame?
     Then there is the important question “Do I have a right to criticize since I am not a professional myself?  Do I have to walk a few miles in their shoes before I am allowed to express a negative opinion like this?”
     I am dealing with eternal questions here!

     And if you are wondering who I am talking about go to http://www.cabbages-kings.blogspot.com/ That damn Tom will probably blab it.
     This post is brought to you by Chris Angel, who really sucks! ……. Crap!

Monday, October 03, 2005

"Bernie's Show" Post Mortem. (Part 3.)

Finishing the post mortem of my act at the “Bernie’s Day” magic show at the Browsers Den of Magic on Sunday September 25th.

     The deck of cards is cut into three or four piles and then I mix them up into a big mess.  While doing this I chant “Mixie, mixie, mixie.”  I decided to do this because I don’t like large gaps of nothing being said, it makes me uncomfortable, so I say this.  It also re-enforces the fact that I am, indeed, mixing the cards.
     Lesson Thirteen:  Silence is boring.

     Now I’m not going to go into detail about how the trick works.  If you have been into magic long enough then odds are you already have this effect in an old book you don’t look at any more.  I will say this, I take a paper from the young lady, and I say “You do that well” while holding the un-folded paper open for a brief shiny moment.  This eliminates the possibility of there being a gimmick in the newspaper itself.  I do this all three times I take a paper.
     Lesson Fourteen:  Eliminate the possibilities before they become possibilities.

     The cards are mixed, the paper is covering the cards so I can’t possibly see which card is where, and the paper has been showed to be un-gimmicked.  I now take the knife, tell the audience that I will stab blindly and hopefully stab one of the chosen cards, and make another funny noise.  Do you remember the noise “The Six Million Dollar Man” made when he ran?  I do that as I hold and move the knife over the paper.  Again, I hate times where there is no noise.  Fortunately this time it always gets a laugh.  Then I stab, hard, into the corkboard on the table and rip the paper from around the knife.
     I say to the first person who selected a card, “What was the name of the card you selected?”  And he replies.  I then lift up the knife that is through the card, and ask the young lady holding the papers what card I stabbed. (I do this so it doesn’t look like she was brought up just to hold papers.  It keeps her interested.)  She replies, the cards match, and there is much rejoicing.
     Lesson Fifteen:  Keep your helpers interested.

     I repeat the procedure two more times.  The third time I hit the wrong card.  I try to bluff my way out of it but to no avail.  Finally I ask what the third helper’s card was?  Oh look, there are two cards together here, if I take off the top card then that leaves us with … your card!  (Yeah!)
     Unfortunately this time I affixed the two cards together a different way than before.  Instead of affixing them in the centre I did it on two corners, which meant when I picked up the knife with the two cards it looked like two cards, as opposed to one card like it was supped to look like.  Of course the kids on the floor noticed this and kept yelling it out the whole time I was trying to act as if there was only one card.
     Lesson Sixteen:  If it works, don’t change a thing!

     The last card is revealed, the helpers are thanked, and there is applause.  Jeff comes out and thanks me.  I take my bows and remove my things from the stage area so that the next act can go on.
     Those first moments after your act is over are nice.  People are applauding; the other acts are shaking your hand and saying nice things.  You take a deep breath and thank God you didn’t knife your hand.  (It happened to a guy I know.  Really, it did, during a show at an engagement party.  Apparently there was blood everywhere.)
     After all the acts are done you come out with everyone and take another bow.  Because it’s a show in a magic shop after people can come up to you.  They all say nice things.  A couple of times some kids ask what books they should read to start in magic.  I am aghast that kids still read books and offer a few good choices.
     Finally, the audience has left.  You still hear applause and good wishes in your head.  It can make your ego rise.  I try not to think too much about the show at this point because I am too close to it.  I’ll take a few days, think about it in detail and do a “Post Mortem”  (In this case online) This is important because it helps you focus on area’s you need help.
     In my case I need help with silences.  Because no one is talking doesn’t make it bad.  Also those pesky names.  Yes, I got three out of four, but I should have remembered them all.
     This Post Mortem was for me.  Even though I hope you learned a few things about how to take apart your show and examine the flaws in it.  Also, do not forget to think about the applause and the gasp of surprise.  They are good noises and they mean you are doing something right.
     Lesson Seventeen:  Do not short change yourself.

     Next Post:  I think I can now perform a post mortem on a real body.  Sam, get me those medical type instruments STAT!!!!!