Archive for February, 2009

The Next Big Thing

Last Sunday, after my big dance performance, I awoke Sunday morning with a strange feeling of emptiness.  For you see, I had been working on that performance for so long that after it was over, I felt I had nothing to look forward to or work on.  There was a big void in me, because I am always working on something (or at least I have been for the past few years).

I would like to announce that I have my next project and it is on that I am very excited about.  After I performed my Superbowl effect where I predicted the outcome many hours in advance, I have gotten all sorts of positive feedback.  I have never had an effect where people will still try to theorize about it several days, even weeks, after I have done it.

Mentalism is the branch of magic that deals with magic of the mind.  It is encompasses things like mind-reading and prediction.  I have always been a sleight-of-hand guy, it’s my specialty.  I am fantastic at sleight-of-hand.  However, I have a couple of mentalist tricks in my repertoire.  Any Card is one such trick, The Invisible Deck is another.  I have generally mixed those ones in with other sleight-of-hand routines.

But I have decided to split my act into two components.  I am going to have one routine based purely on sleight-of-hand (cards, coins, etc) and another based solely on mentalism.  I discovered that the reactions to mentalist routines are so powerful that I am drawn to that discipline.  I cannot break away from it.  So, over the next little while I am going to develop a mentalist routine that I can perform at any time, from close-up with friends to larger stand-up effects (on TV?).  A mentalist routine also allows me to create a theme around which to revolve my show.

This makes me a little bit giddy.  It has been years since I have ever revamped my show; in fact, not since I street performed on the streets of England in 2001 have I undergone such a transformation.  I’m looking forward to it.

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Today, I have to confess that I messed up doing a magic trick.  But luckily, I don’t think anyone noticed.

I was starting off performing the trick "Any Card" wherein the spectator names a card and then a number.  They deal off that many cards down in the deck and the card appears at that number.  I started off the performance the same way I always do.  I asked the spectator to name a card.  She said "the King of Clubs."  And right then, I blanked.

I could not remember the next step in the routine.  I don’t mean that I couldn’t remember how to do the trick, what I mean is that I couldn’t remember how the rest of the trick went.  My lines, the moves, and so forth.  My memory just went blank.  So I improvised.

I went straight into my Ambitious Card routine.  This is a card routine where a selected card is lost in the deck and then appears over and over again on top of the deck.  I simply went back into the deck, picked the King of Clubs and said "Okay, let’s bury it in the deck."  I then performed the Ambitious Card routine.

And then I blanked again!  I did the first five phases of the routine flawlessly and then couldn’t remember phase 6, 7, 8 and 9.  Argh!  So I cut to the finale, which is a very strong finish.  Luckily, the Ambitious Card is a phased routine so whether I extend it or cut it (which I frequently do) depends on the audience.  This routine doesn’t look any different going straight from phase 5 to phase 10. 

I caught a break tonight.  I think I have reached the stage where I can cover mistakes.  I just hate having to do it.

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Dance performance

Well, I practiced every day for an hour for 6 weeks.  I got to work with a great instructor.  And when I practiced at home on carpet doing some of the turns, I experienced pain in my hip (one, ah-two — ow — one, ah-two — ow).  But in the end, it turned out well.  Here it is, my Samba dance performance.

I am now retiring the music from my dancing videos forever.

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Motifs in my magic

The other day I was remarking about themes and motifs in my magic performance.  A theme is a general principle around which the entire show revolves, such as a gambling theme.  A motif is something that recurs over and over, such as the magician offering a spectator $50 if he catches him in a trick.  Then a $100 two tricks later, and then finally $1000 after that. 

I have never really had a theme to my shows, but I have had plenty of motifs.  Let me describe them here.

  • Color

    The color red is one of my motifs.  My cards are red, the close-up mat is red, my sponge ball routine uses red props, I have a red handkerchief that changes into a cane.  The other minor color motif is white; a magic wand I made a few years ago is black with white tips.  I have a white-colored blank deck.  The other motif is black in that all of my background props are black, like a black sheet covering a table, or black trousers when I perform.  If you see me doing a show and see colors that aren’t one of those three, then it means that I acquired them before I started to consciously think about my color motifs.  The one exception is when I use blue cards.  Those are for fun.

  • My hands

    Historically, I have always been a big proponent of sleight-of-hand and I always like to emphasize the emptiness of my hands.  Coins will appear from no where, cards will change places magically.  But it’s not just empty hands, it is also smooth, deliberate movements.  I try to do things in slow motion and everything looks as natural as possible.  The fact is that my hands are such an important motif in everything I do that you could almost classify it as a theme except that it is implicit, not explicit.

  • Simplicity

    As a close-up performer, I tend to use very simple props.  Coins, cards, pencils, pens, rubber bands and that’s pretty much it.  Even when I do larger shows, my props are very simple.  I don’t do a large show with big components, instead, I like things that pack small and play big.  I do a cut-and-restored rope that uses a rope… and some scissors.  I do a coin-in-the-bottle routine that uses a coin and a bottle and that’s all.

    Some magicians use unique props to do their tricks.  I prefer props that look relatively plain but have a magical "feel" to them.  It’s hard to explain this other than they don’t look like cheesy magic props.

  • Stories

    I am a big fan of tricks that frame things in stories.  Sam the Bellhop is one such effect, Once Upon a Time is another.  I don’t do these types of effects that often because these ones tend to work better as a closer to an extended routine rather than by themselves.  But if you see one of my longer shows, chances are you’ll see a story.

  • Vanishes and Productions

    The last thing that runs through my show when I do stuff other than cards are productions and vanishes.  When I do coins, you’ll always see me do vanishes.  Coins are then produced elsewhere.  When people think of magicians, they often associate them with making things disappear.  I play the part of the magician so I oblige: things will disappear and then they will come back.  That’s part of my classic sleight-of-hand stuff and I have always enjoyed performing sleight-of-hand.

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As I browse around discussion boards, I am amused at the (lack of) level of dialogue going around.  "Obama’s stimulus package won’t work," claim the right, "because it has too much pork barrel spending!"

"Well," claims the left, "Bush left the economy in such a mess with all of his policies during the last 8 years that Obama has to do something big!" Never mind that the Democrats controlled both the House and the Senate the last two years when the deterioration in the economy accelerated… But the point is that both sides miss the point.  There’s more than enough blame to go around; unfortunately, both sides don’t understand that booms and busts are built into the system.  It doesn’t matter which party is in office because both sides use the exact same formula to kick start the economy.  It is repeated attempts again and again to expand the supply of money and credit.

The basics of money and economics

Money is a medium of exchange of goods and services.  Rather than trading cows for horses back in the olden days, people would instead exchange something else instead as a medium.  That medium was gold or silver or dollars.  By recognizing a universally accepted medium of exchange, it creates a market of exchange.  But money is no less a commodity than anything else.

We all know that when demand for a good goes up, so does its value. When demand drops, its value does as well.  When the economy was humming along, oil went to $147 a barrel.  When the recession hit, it dropped to $40 a barrel.  Money is the same and it, too, is a commodity.  While we use it to exchange goods and services, the value of money can be influenced by its supply.

Consider the case of gold as a universal currency.  Let’s assume that there are 10,000 gold nuggets in circulation and those 10,000 gold nuggets can only purchase a certain amount of goods.  How much goods?  I don’t know because the market sets those prices and it is always in motion.  As more and more goods come to the market, the value of money adjusts.  Gold becomes more valuable and therefore its buying power increases.  There is the same amount of gold, yet more demand for it, and therefore its value increases. 

But if somebody opens up a gold mine and more gold comes onto the market, there is more of it in circulation.  Because there is more gold in the market, the general demand for gold adjusts and it becomes less valuable if the same amount of goods exist.  So you see, when you inject more money into circulation, if the total output of goods is not enough to offset the increase in the money supply, the value of money drops.  An increase in supply without and increase in demand reduces its value.  It is a commodity like anything else.  It is subject to the same forces of supply and demand.

The advantage of gold as a hard currency

With gold as a currency of choice, it makes there are built-in mechanisms to control its supply and demand on the market.  Since it is a physical good, it cannot be expanded without bound.  There is a fixed supply and unless somebody goes to the trouble of exploring and mining it out of the ground, it cannot be artificially inserted into the market.

When banks were invented, they would loan out the actual coins to someone and the borrower would promise to pay back the coins with interest.  But then came along another invention – the bank note.  These were notes that were given out as a kind of IOU.  If a bank had $10 in the vault, it would loan out paper bills worth $10.  The only amount of paper money in circulation was guaranteed to be the same amount of money the bank had in its actual reserves, but the notes were all tied back to an actual physical currency.

Lenders eventually discovered they didn’t have to loan out money 1:1.  They were on the hook to redeem in actual currency the amount of money that their notes said.  So if someone came into the bank holding bank notes worth $5 and the redeemer wanted his actual cash, the bank had to give him $5 in gold. This is where we get the term "As good as gold."  But lenders discovered that people didn’t come in to redeem money for actual currency very often so they decided to loan out more money than what they actually had in the vault.  That is to say, if they had $10 of gold in the vault, they could loan out $20 to borrowers.  If the borrowers paid back the loan with interest, being a bank was a very lucrative business to be in so long as the total amount of redeemers never came in at the same time to redeem the total amount of actual currency such that it exceeded the bank’s actual reserves.  If the bank had $10 and people wanted to redeem $20, the bank was in trouble.  Luckily, that never happened.

Some banks prospered and other banks failed.  But ultimately the growth of money was regulated by market factors.  Because it was all tied to gold, the expansion of credit (loaning out money) led to a general increase in wealth.

More to come in a future post.

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Superbowl 43

A couple of weeks ago, I performed a magic effect wherein I predict the outcome of the Superbowl, played between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals.  Everything in the video is legitimate; nobody is in on the effect and it plays out exactly the way it does in the video.

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Crunch time

So, it is currently the day before my big dance performance, the one I have been working on for the past six weeks.  Myself and my instructor went through the dress rehearsal today and ran through the routine around a half dozen times.  For the most part, everything went well.  There are still two moves that I have quite a bit of difficulty with.  I’m banking on the fact that nobody knows how it is supposed to look so no one will be able to tell that maybe it isn’t as good as it could be.

I do have one story, though.  The introduction to the song is about 30 seconds.  Openers are very important from my point of view.  That’s where character is established and where you can tell a story.  Now keep in mind that I like everything about the dance that my instructor had come up with except for the original open that she proposed.  In it, we both stand with our backs to the audience next to each other.  The music begins to play and I start by extending my arms upwards in a circle such that they touch at the top.  I slowly move to turn around and do some more arm action, almost in yoga/lotus position.  At the end, I turn to point towards my follow.  It’s a very flourishy move.

The problem is I didn’t like it, so I pushed back.  I really didn’t like it.  Worse still, I had serious trouble expressing why.  I think I am a pretty good writer but I am not quick at my speech.  I have to think about what I am going to say and I am fairly certain I didn’t make my point very well about why I didn’t like the move.  So I’ll try it here.

I thought that it was too much of an opener and there was no time to build suspense, no way to build the anticipation of the "story."  In magic, the way to build suspense is to make the audience care and then make them wait.  With this opener, I felt like we were giving away the ending right at the beginning.  The music begins to play and then right off the hop I start into a pseudo-dance routine.  The audience knows right there and then that we are doing a dance.  Where’s the suspense?  We haven’t had time to build any, there’s no tension or anticipation.

We reworked it.  It now starts differently; my follow waits in the center of the floor and I come on walking.  I circle around her and wave my hands magically the way I do in all of my magic acts.  Waving my hands/fingers is another one of my motifs and it was important to me to include that.  I then awaken my follow with a wave of my hand.

I like this opener much better, though I doubt she does.  The reason I like it better is because the music starts to play but we’re not going into the routine right away.  The audience has a chance to think "Okay, I know they are supposed to dance, but they’re not.  They sure are taking their time…"  They definitely care that we are going to dance, they certainly anticipate that we are.  But, we do not go into it right away.  The audience has to wait.  We finally break the tension and move into our routine (keeping the intro "low" and build throughout).  It is classic storytelling by introducing an early conflict (why are they not dancing yet?) and then resolving it (oh, there they go).

I like this opener much better.  It contains the dramatic element that I was looking for.

But back to what I was talking about in the beginning.  It’s now crunch time, and people have been asking me if I am nervous.  The answer is no, not yet.  Typically when I perform, I don’t get nervous until shortly beforehand.  It doesn’t matter how much I have practiced, I still get nervous.  This is true even for magic tricks that I have been doing for years.

Yet, while I may be nervous, I am not worried.  In recent years I have a long and treasured history of coming through under pressure.  In sponge hockey, I’d have a mediocre season but come playoff time I’d turn it up and score goals at critical times (other than the time I missed two breakaways in a playoff game… but that doesn’t count because I could never score on those anyhow).  I used to perform magic with a bunch of magicians in a stage show.  They would screw up, miss cues and go over time.  I would then come up and salvage the show with a flawlessly executed finale.  That pressure never got to me.

What I do is I go up there and say to myself "Do it just like you practiced."  And that works.  And so it is for this performance; we’ve practiced it over and over again so all we need to do is go out there and execute — just like we practiced.

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