diciembre 3, 2008

Probamdo de nuevo Ping.fm

The Why Of It

octubre 11, 2007

Long experience has taught me that the crux of my fortunes is whether I can radiate good will toward my audience. There is only one way to do it and that is to feel it. You can fool the eyes and minds of an audience, but you cannot fool their hearts.
–Howard Thurston–

I’ve talked a little about how some professional magicians dump on amateurs and otherwise seem to think their title earns them king shit status online. What I’d like to do this time around is examine why someone might behave in such a fashion and what it really signifies.

First I want to make it clear that the majority of professional magicians I’ve known have been the friendliest people in the world. It’s pretty clear that they feel blessed to be in a position to do what they love and actually get paid for it – even when times are tough, which they can sometimes be. They aren’t worried about going to a magic forum or doing a blog and impressing everyone with their professional status; they don’t care about impressing other magicians. They care about impressing their audiences with their magic.

I think some people become performers for all the wrong reasons. While it’s probably true that most magicians crave recognition and acceptance, some few are absolutely consumed by such desires. They’re attempting to compensate for shortcomings in themselves, real or imagined, and are using magic to show the world that they’re worthy of love and adoration. Again, I think most of us want to be recognized and accepted. But those desires are but a component of the larger whole of sharing the art we love. Some few don’t really care anything about magic; they perform because it affords them a means to prove their worth.

The real problem is performing isn’t a substitute for therapy. It might even aggravate the problem. If you’re unable to connect with others in a meaningful way and get the love you’re missing, standing before them and doing tricks isn’t going to change that. They might laugh and applaud, but if you can’t connect the experience will ultimately feel hollow and superficial. Consequently resentment forms. You want to be a part of something and you’ve tried so hard but nothing has changed. Resentment ferments into anger. And hate.

What I’ve noticed about the people who come online and flaunt their professional title is that they’re almost invariably low level performers who’ve had limited success. This makes perfect sense to me, as you’re never going to succeed as a magician unless you can connect with people, unless you genuinely like people and they like you. You’ve tried and failed to show the world at large that you’re worthy of love and you’ve failed. The solution then is to show your fellow magicians what an expert you are.

I’ll admit that this is a lot of conjecture on my part founded on nothing more than personal observation. However, I sincerely believe I’m on the right track. It might very well be that those loud mouth know it alls who drive some of us crazy are crying out for help in the only way they know how. All I can say is that you’ll never get the kind of help you need online, and even when you succeed in proclaiming your status loudly enough that some of your ilk actually listen to your drivel it’s ultimately going to lead to another let down. I wish there were some easy answers, but there aren’t. A very good start can be made when you stop trying to belittle and demean and offer kindness instead. Just a thought. See you next time.

The Purse Frame

octubre 9, 2007

In my posts about disliking props that don’t exist in the real world, I neglected to mention a prop I use that makes no sense but that I don’t try to justify. Such props form a category of their own and might be called magic objects.

The purse frame, invisible purse, or bagless purse has become a standard in close up magic for good reason – audiences invariably find it entertaining almost in and of itself. I really don’t know why this is so. I remember the first time I noticed this reaction. I was a teenager and had a purse frame but didn’t have any tricks to do with it. Some friends were over and we were in my room and I was showing them some of my props – in those days I had a LOT of props, which might help explain why my approach became more minimalist as time went on. I picked up the purse frame, just to move it out of the way, and they all started laughing. “What’s that?” they wanted to know. I knew from that moment that it was something special.

All these years later and the reaction is usually the same. People see a purse frame and start laughing. I guess the idea of a purse with no bag is so ridiculous that it strikes folks funny. Or it really engages their imagination and sense of fantasy. I’ve never tried to analyze it too closely, so I don’t know. I do know that if you couple the thing with some very simple magic – like pulling a silver dollar from it – it blows people away.

I’ve never tried to justify the purse frame because there’s really no justification for it. In the real world such an object would be utterly useless. As a magic object it makes a weird kind of sense. I never really say anything about it. When I use it I take it out and remove a coin or ball or whatever from it as if it’s the most natural thing in the world.

A couple of things: I’ve found it retains its appeal more if it’s used sparingly. Remove a coin or two from it, do your stuff, and put them back in, to seemingly vanish, when you’re done. In a sense it’s just a sight gag, so less is more.

If you want to see how magical it can really be, check out Shoot Ogawa’s routine which is on the Cultural Exchange DVD. It looks very nice. See you next time.


octubre 7, 2007

A friend sent me the link to this video yesterday and I thought I’d post it here. A very nice performance — smooth, graceful, and polished. I don’t know who this young lady is, but her skills are surpassed only by the charming quality she projects. Outstanding.

The Obligatory Awkward First Post — Again

octubre 7, 2007

As I’ve said before, I started blogging with Word Press but was too stupid to get the plugins to function correctly. Even though I’ve built a few websites, I’m not really a tech kind of guy – mainly I just keep trying until I get something to work. When I set out this summer to build the Unexpected Wonders site, my first attempt was less than successful

Anyway, when I switched over to this blogging platform, I didn’t know how to get those first posts from there to here. I thought I’d reproduce my first post from the old blog here as I don’t think many people ever saw it, and I don’t really have much else to say at the moment. I don’t believe I’ve come close to producing a sort of online magic magazine, but that’s still the direction in which I’d like to go.

Well, here we are meeting for the first time. I hate introductions, and especially in the sterile environment of cyber space, where human interaction is mostly rendered a parody represented by a lot of arbitrary symbols, but there’s no avoiding this initial posting, no matter how awkward it might be. I guess it’s like my dad used to say during one of our frequent late night talks: “Shut the hell up and grab me another beer.” Which was followed by a lot of indecipherable slurring and cursing… Man, kind of makes me miss the old guy.

Maybe what my dad was trying to say, in his own highly medicated, abstract way, was: “Sometimes a man’s just got to do what a man’s got to do.” Which…kind of sucks. Thanks for the cliché, Dad. What, you think I’m being sarcastic? Now why would you think that? I think you’re the most wonderful father in the world. You touch mom again and I’ll break your arm, dude!

Sorry, flashback. Ah, those warm family memories. Sort of bring a mist to your eyes and a primal scream of rage from the depths of your soul. Sorry again, I’m being silly. And I digress. Let’s get back to this initial post business and square things away, shall we?

Now, I know you’re sitting there thinking that the world needs another magic blog about as much as you need some more of that really cheap flash paper that turned out to be old newsprint soaked in a solution of gasoline and gun powder — on the bright side it was an old suit and, when you get right down to it, who needs eyebrows anyway? Listen, I feel your pain. As a long time reader of magic blogs I know that, with a few notable exceptions, what started as a form of communication with the potential for greatness has too often slumped into a quagmire of mediocrity and imitation. Which kind of sums up the state of magic, all too often.

When you get down to it, magic blogs usually fall into one of two distinct categories. First, you have the lone nut bloggers who are pissed off about something, or just as likely everything. They rant and rave and call people names and usually burn out in a matter of months. A typical post from this kind of blogger might look something like this:

That’s NOT street magic %$@#ing Blaine ruined my art! Criss Angel??? @!$%# &^%$* *&^%$#! Steve Brooks #$%#@ *&^%* Vernon, Vernon, Vernon!

And along in that vein. Good for a bit of distraction, I suppose, but after awhile it’s sort of…uncomfortable. Like when you had that friend when you were a kid who was crazy – we all had that friend, didn’t we — who would do anything. The kid nobody would dare to do something outlandish because he always would. And even when you were hanging with that kid, laughing and having a reasonably normal time, you always found yourself secretly wondering, Is he going to kill me now? Which gets old after awhile. I wonder if they ever let ol’ Greg out of solitary?

Then you have the advertising blogs. These are the blogs run by magic dealers and the like and every single post is about how you can’t live without their latest release. Reading these blogs is like being tied in the basement and forced to watch reruns of Gilligan’s Island with the volume turned down and Carpenters records playing — don’t try that, by the way. It’s a miserable way to spend five minutes. A typical advertising blog post might look like this:

Buy buy buy buy BUY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Or something like that.

So where does your humble writer come in? Well, as you might have noticed this blog is part of site that’s selling magic. So let me give you a sample of what you can expect:

Buy buy buy buy BUY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wait a second, come back. I was kidding. I wouldn’t be cruel enough to subject you to something I can’t stand myself. Besides, when it comes to salesmanship I’m more of the soft sell type. I will tell you about the things I’m selling, yes, but I won’t do so constantly. And I wouldn’t sell anything I didn’t believe in.

Does that mean you’re going to get angry man? Well, maybe from time to time. I do occasionally get passionate about a subject, but I promise not to do too much of that kind of thing. There are things that I dislike, but running through the list relentlessly really isn’t going to do either of us a damn bit of good.

So what can you expect?

I’d like to find the middle ground and bring you something that’s fun and interesting to read and hopefully sometimes informative and helpful. When I first got online I had the bright idea of doing an online magazine – which lasted for all of one glorious doomed issue — and I guess that desire has never entirely died. I suppose that’s the kind of blog I’ll be striving for. And if I fail miserably what the hell. At least I tried. Right, Dad? What, you can’t even acknowledge me? Why can’t you ever just be proud of me!

Anyway, that’s the direction I’ll be trying to take this thing in – more like an online magazine than the typical blog. I hope you’ll give me a chance and bear with me as I’ve never done a blog before. Not that I’m completely without experience addressing an audience via the written word. I used to be employed by one of the bigger magic sites out there and for a good while did a weekly newsletter that was popular. And for a few years I had a site called The Magic Anarchist, and my erratic newsletters there were always well received. Actually they were the part of the site best received. I couldn’t get anybody to post in the forums, but they always wanted to make sure they were on the mailing list — which means you aren’t going to see forums here.

Okay, I’ll do my best to post things of interest. Stay tuned, take care, and thanks for staying with me through this awkward introductory phase. See you again soon.

Opinion Central

octubre 7, 2007

I’m guessing Glenn Bishop took exception to my last post – the fact that he dropped my link from his blog roll is certainly indicative of that. I’d like for him to know that it wasn’t my intention to offend him, and I actually restrained myself in what I was writing.

The things I write here are colored significantly by my beliefs and opinions. I make no apology for that. I’m not trying to crank out newspaper articles and give a dry reporting of the facts. It’s more like I’m just talking about what interests me and hoping it interests someone else as well.

I can be pretty passionate about certain beliefs. You see I think magic is a wonderful thing that’s too often crippled by thoughtless allegiance to what’s come before. Magicians have a habit of justifying what they want to do by saying that so and so did it so it must be good. Well, what worked then isn’t necessarily going to work now. Things are constantly changing, and I think magic has to evolve to maintain, or regain, its stature in the entertainment world.

When I perceive something to be detrimental to magic – like the use of goofy props that make no sense outside a magician’s performance – I can get pretty wound up. But that doesn’t mean I’m right. It’s my perception, my opinion. I try to outline a reasonable argument for why I’m taking a position, but ultimately it’s just the way I see things. I’m old enough to know that thinking you’re right and being right can be vastly different things.

I try to live by the golden rule online and off. It doesn’t matter if you’re David Copperfield or a fourteen year old beginner; I’m going to do my level best to treat you the way I would want to be treated. When people are dismissive of “amateurs” or “hobbyists” it really sticks in my craw. They forget that some of the most legendary names in magic fall into that category. Being a professional doesn’t mean you’re any good. And it’s not a license to tell everybody else to shut up because your opinions are the last word. I’ve done magic for over thirty years as an amateur, professional, and semi-professional, and such labels don’t mean much to me. The only label that does matter is magician.

I guess I took a couple of little digs at Glenn in the last post because I felt he was being condescending about amateurs, and that’s an attitude I hate. Couple that with my dislike of strange magic props and I no doubt was somewhat snarky. I’m sorry he apparently took it to heart as there was no genuine malice intended. I think Glenn’s basically a good guy who has trouble expressing himself in a beneficial way. I wish him the best of luck.

Thoughts On Motivation

octubre 6, 2007

Some magicians think too much. That’s how Glenn Bishop ends a post he made which was in response to my post about justifying the Okito box. While I would agree that some magicians think too much about the mechanics of a trick and work themselves into a corner so doing, I find the notion of thinking too much about the underlying motivation of a trick ludicrous. In my opinion some magicians think far too little.

Glenn seems to feel that you can use any kind of prop in your performances, without justification, as long as the audience is entertained. I suppose that’s true enough. Clowns tend to use colorful and outrageous props in their performances and they can be quite entertaining. I guess it really comes down to what kind of magician you want to be.

Personally, I want to create a realistic experience of the impossible, I don’t want to be the magician equivalent of a clown. Because I want to create a realistic experience of the impossible, I try to use props that make sense in the real world, props that the people I’m performing for can understand. On the rare occasions when I deviate from this protocol and employ an unusual prop, I want to have sound motivation for doing so, a reason that makes sense, if only in the context of the effect.

When we use a prop that makes no objective sense it detracts from the effect created. If it really didn’t matter, you could use one of these babies to produce something instead of doing a bare handed production. Which would an audience find more magical?

Glenn argues that in the case of the Okito if you go to the trouble of justifying it you have to also justify the use of half dollars and English pennies. I would point out that coins, even rare coins, exist in the real world – they make sense in and of themselves. A little round metal box you carry the coins in doesn’t. There’s no sound reason to carry the coins in the box, as I pointed out in the original post, especially if they’re rare coins which you don’t want damaged. I don’t know this just seems like common sense to me. Christ, if this constitutes over thinking I’m in serious trouble.

As I thought I made clear in the original post, coming up with a motivation for using an unusual object isn’t all that hard – it wasn’t like I was racking my brain to come up with the pick pocket scenario, I just exercised my imagination a little and tried to come up with a viable justification for using the thing. It worked and worked well. I was using it in my stand up act and it was always well received. So why would some magicians be resistant to searching out motivation when it’s not all that hard?

First, I think some magicians are simply lazy. No doubt it’s easier to say, “Well it’s all magic anyway,” and just use whatever props you want without coming up with any reasons. Then again, I guess some are simply incapable of exercising the limited bit of intellect needed to fashion a reasonable motivation. They tell themselves that as long as it’s entertaining it doesn’t matter. But again, clowns are entertaining, a monkey riding a little bicycle is entertaining, prop comics can be entertaining. Magic without motivation might be entertaining, but it’s a superficial species of entertainment at best, a series of empty tricks that do little more than pass the time. There’s no broader meaning imparted, no deeper engagement of minds. It is in a word empty.

I think the other reason some magicians take the easy way and ignore motivation is the mistaken assumption that laymen are idiots. Laymen are doctors and lawyers and teachers and scientists and on and on. Most laymen, when watching a trick that involves a strange prop, are going to immediately cop to the fact that the prop is somehow responsible. That’s fine if your intent is to trick people. Not worth a shit if you want to leave them with no explanation.

My two cents. See you next time.

Arcade Fire

octubre 5, 2007

One of the worst things about getting older is feeling as if your tastes have become irrelevant. Take music. I listen to most current music and wonder, «What the hell is that?» In the car I always have the tuner set to the classic rock station…hard to believe that the music of the eighties is now classic. I imagine someday my contemporaries and I will be sitting around in a rest home reminiscing about Van Halen – shaking our fists impotently and proclaiming, “We can dance if we want to!”

I turned forty-four in May, which isn’t all that old in a society where Brad Pitt is about the same age. Then again, I didn’t look as good as Brad Pitt when I was twenty-three. For us mere mortals getting older just sucks. On the one hand you feel more sure of yourself than you’ve ever felt – after four decades you pretty much know who you are. On the other hand you’re experiencing the subtle diminishment of your faculties and knowing that the process will only become more pronounced as the days march relentlessly on, inexorably propelling you toward the abyss.

Hey, what a cheerful thought, huh? Aren’t you glad you dropped by? Maybe next post I can talk about mortuaries or picking out a tombstone or something equally uplifting. Coming soon: Autopsies, A to Z.

Sorry, my mind is straying – what do you want, I’m an old man! Back to the topic, such as it is. Um…what was it again? Ah, yes, getting old sucks. Where once you’re tastes were current, they’re now passé. That’s why it pleases me when I discover something new that I like, especially in music. It happens so infrequently that it always makes an impact.

When I first saw the video below on Saturday Night Live it certainly made an impact. I’d never heard of Arcade Fire and had no expectation that they’d do anything but bore me. Man, was I ever wrong. A great performance by one hell of a talented band – definitely something new I like. Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go shuffle off and take me heart pill. Maybe eat a peach. Shake my fist at the kids walking across my yard. I’ll be back soon with something magic related…if the old ticker keeps ticking till then.

Okito Box Justification

octubre 4, 2007

I don’t use the Okito box much these days. It’s not that I don’t think it’s a great little prop which can be used to create some extremely convincing magic, only that it doesn’t mesh well with the kind of stuff I’m doing now. One of the things that always bothered me about magicians who use the Okito is their failure to justify its existence.

What am I talking about? Well, the Okito box has no reason for being in the real world – sort of like those little plastic paddles which magicians wave around. The times I’ve seen someone use an Okito, they either say nothing about it, as if everyone carries a little round brass box in his pocket, or try to pass it off as a coin box.

I don’t think you have to be a numismatist to realize the idea of a coin box is pretty lame. Most people know that coin collectors keep their coins in little plastic sleeves and the like so they don’t get scratched – not in a metal box where they’ll be clacking against each other. There’s no logical reason for carrying coins around in a box other than that it’ll aid you in doing a trick. So saying it’s a coin box is going to ring false.

What does it matter? It can be argued that as you’re showing them a trick they know up front they’re being deceived so they’ll just accept the thing as part of the deception. The problem is they’ll look at this thing with no reason for being and determine – quite rightly – that it’s responsible for the deception. They’ll reason that if they had one of those nifty little brass boxes they could do the deception quite as well as you – and it doesn’t matter that they can examine the thing. The impact of the magic is lost by introducing an object without providing any justification for doing so.

When I was using the Okito fairly regularly I was doing a handling of David Roth’s Out With Four. The justification I used was that the Okito was something pickpockets used to sharpen their skills – the idea being to get the coins from the box one by one without making any noise. I was showing how you could reach a degree of proficiency where you didn’t even appear to come near the box, playing it as a display of preternatural skill.

Now you may be saying that calling an Okito box a pickpocket’s practice device is no better than saying it’s a coin box. The spectators will still discount the thing as being an aid to do the trick. The difference is the majority of people are going to have no idea if pickpockets really use such things for practice. Plus, it made sense in the context of what I was doing – in fact it was an integral component in the proceedings. It wasn’t just a thing I was using to do a trick, it was an arcane little device I was demonstrating the use of. It was accepted because I was providing a justification for it, even if that justification made little sense outside the performance.

I think it’s vital that we always find ways of justifying the props we use and reasons for why we’re using them. Even if the reasoning is implied rather than stated that justification needs to always be there. See you next time.

The Pressure To Be Better

octubre 4, 2007

I’ve mentioned in a couple of previous posts that working for tough audiences will teach you the most. I wanted to elaborate on that idea this time around to try and show why.

I’ve lifted weights off and on for more than twenty years now, and one thing you find out from working with weights is that to gain muscle mass you have to overload. Say you’re doing x number of sets every time you go to the gym. If you keep doing the same number of sets without variation nothing changes. All you’ll really be doing is maintaining your current physique. To see some results you have to either do your sets faster or add more weight. Put simply, to get results you have to make it harder on yourself, and the harder you make it the better the results you’ll see.

The same is true of doing magic. Let’s say you do magic only for family and friends. If you continue doing magic only for family and friends you aren’t going to see any significant changes. Your sleights might improve, but you won’t grow as a performer. To make that happen you have to make things harder on yourself. You have to leave your comfort zone and take on new challenges.

I experienced this first hand starting out. Like many new magicians I took the advice given in books and gave free shows at rest homes, hospitals, VFW meetings, etc. Eventually I got pretty good at doing my twenty minute act in these kinds of venues. But after a while I realized I wasn’t really improving any; there was no real pressure to be any better.

The solution was fairly simple. I took out an ad in the paper and started doing birthday parties for a nominal fee. Suddenly I got better simply because I had to get better. The dynamic had been changed when I started charging for my services. To keep getting the work consistently I had to be better than the other guy.

As you can see, if you want to achieve a higher level you have to make things tougher on yourself. It’s not always as easy as charging for your services or charging more than the other guy. It’s much easier to approach a family when working in a restaurant than a group of loud, obviously drunk teens. Which group will test you as a performer? Which group will demand the best of your abilities to entertain?

Seek out challenges that will force you to improve. Take the tough gigs, the ones no one else will touch. Be fearless in this. The rewards aren’t just financial.

Would Malini have been the performer he was if he hadn’t plied his trade as a busker and saloon performer? Would Houdini be the legend he is if he hadn’t spent years working in dime museums and side shows? Leave your comfort zone and put yourself in positions where you have no choice but to be better. Do so and you might just surprise yourself. See you next time.