Unlike eating an entire pint of ice cream whilst binge watching previously unseen How It’s Made episodes, we are not left feeling too guilty or dotted with chocolate stains when we watch the master perform.
Recently we attended a private party at The Magic Castle and saw the incredible Pop Haydn own the crowds gathered in the Peller Theatre for four performances. We legitimately attended the first show of the evening and then snuck in again for a later show. It was wonderful.
Pop f/k/a Whit Haydn works a room better than anyone we have ever seen. He interacts with the audience effortlessly and handles volunteers so well that each outing was like a lesson in advanced magic techniques.
He performed his iconic The Six Card Trick, Color Changing Silk, Mongolian Pop Knot and finished with his world-famous Four Ring Routine.
Magicians know that Pop has been performing these effects for many years but he brought each alive for his enthusiastic lay crowds last night as if it was the first time. He has a tremendous ability to take what the audience gives him and work it to the further betterment of his routine. He never drops his character or varies from the spirit of his persona.
We checked with our friends who attended the shows last night and to a one, each thought Pop was absolutely incredible, the highlight of the evening. That is saying a lot considering they had the entire Magic Castle filled with performers with whom to compare.
If we could have, we would have watched all four of his performances. Some would say that is obsessive and they would usually be correct but not in this case. Unlike fattening ice cream, excessive watching of Pop Haydn cannot clog one’s arteries, stain clothing or rot teeth. It can lead to bewilderment and disorientation but we are willing to take those risks for the benefits received.
Inside Magic Review: Five Out of Five – Our Highest!
He has, as they say in the NBA, skills. He has moves so amazing that you don’t even see them or know that they have happened. Like neutrinos, his moves are evident only by the change they cause to other visible things.
We watched him perform in the Parlor of Prestidigitation last night at The Magic Castle and reacted like a cartoon character as we rub our eyes and mouthed the word “what?!” His act is a tightly structured presentation of incredible things happening in the general vicinity of his hands. His hands do not seem to take on any unnatural positioning as balls vanish, reappear, change color and transform into impossible things. His hands and fingers move as they would if such things were happening by magic alone, unaided by any secret manipulation.
His approach to the magic happening is a joy to watch.
We love magic and we really love great magic that we cannot begin to figure out. We do not want to know how it is done and Mr. Park accommodates our desires wonderfully.
We love David Copperfield but loathe magicians – young and old – who do their version of Mr. Copperfield’s act.
Some just borrow his music, patter or effects and put some of their own spin into the mix. Others steal the music, patter and effects and add nothing.
We have seen Origami and Twister performed across the country – often to the identical music used by Mr. Copperfield. No matter how good the imitators are, they are still not the real thing. Sometimes they are interesting to watch and other times they are annoying or sad.
We saw Alex Ramon and his lovely assistant Megan Doyle take the Palace of Mystery stage at The Magic Castle Monday night and were surprised and delighted. We assumed the worst, though.
Here is a young illusionist with a good reputation within the magic community. We knew of him but had never seen him. We hoped he would not be a David Copperfield Knock-Off guy. Or, if he was going to knock off Mr. Copperfield, he would do so in a unique way.
Our fears were unfounded. Mr. Ramon and Ms. Doyle are their own people and they have put out a show that is thoroughly their own.
They are a wonderful team and work so well together. Ms. Doyle is not merely a prop but appears to be a full partner in the act. Mr. Ramon’s energy and enthusiasm is evident from the opening levitation, through his card manipulation routine, audience participation bit and big finale. The audience – a good mix of lay and magic folks – loved it.
For the magicians in the audience, Mr. Ramon offered a set of illusions that were certainly not the common Copperfield Knock-Off fare. His opening levitation was tight and powerful and featured several mini-crescendos along the way to the big pay-off. His sawing a woman in half was done without boxes (thin or otherwise) under seemingly impossible conditions. Ms. Doyle was curled within a small metal cage assembled around her tiny frame before a sinister blade was brought down through her. Amazing stuff.
Mr. Ramon stepped way out of the realm of typical with his presentation of a vanishing light bulb. The routine was perfectly scripted and wonderfully done. Magicians and magic history students should see Mr. Ramon perform if only for this one effect. Great principle performed perfectly.
There are times when David Copperfield imitators will end their routine with the question, “Would you like to see one more?” and we think – but do not say out loud because that would be rude and weird and we assume the question is rhetorical – “no, thank you.”
Mr. Ramon asked the question before his sub-trunk finale and we wanted to respond verbally, “heck yes, thank you, please!” But we didn’t because that would still be weird – although not rude.
We had not seen Mr. Ramon perform before but will return to The Magic Castle at least two more times this week to enjoy the show again. It was that good.
Inside Magic Review: Five out of Five – Our Highest!
Yesterday, we attended the 7th Annual Magic Apple Day of Lectures at the beautiful Sportsman’s Lodge in Studio City, California. This is our second year and came away – as we did last year – magically enriched and tired but a good kind of tired.
Mike Caveney took the first spot and presented his lecture on how he develops new effects. He took the 50 magicians in attendance through the development of his Gypsy Thread using toilet paper. We do not know if this is the proper name for the effect but you get the point. Like the Gypsy Thread, the magician separates a length of toilet paper into convenient squares, hands them to members of the audience to prove they are both truly separate and ordinary. They are gathered and then in a straightforward manner, Mr. Caveney restores the length to their former glorious ribbon of two-ply unity.
He took us from the moment inspiration hit – more than 30 years ago and not in a restroom – through the five versions he developed to perform this wonderful piece of theater. It was a great chance to view the working of a magic genius.
Mr. Caveney showed his incredible impromptu linking coat hangers effect and explained the thinking behind his presentation and its development from years or demonstrating it for magicians at conventions around the world. We loved the simplicity of the solution.
We could watch Mr. Caveney all day. But it was time for lunch – part of the Day of Lectures package – and a fine lunch it was. We dined on fresh turkey sandwiches, fresh fruit and a fresh Diet Coke overlooking the sun-drenched pool just outside the lecture hall. We remembered to remove the decorative toothpick before eating the sandwich this year – demonstrating that pain can be an excellent teacher.
Next up was a magician we had never seen perform. That does not make him bad – we haven’t seen many magicians but sometimes, especially after we have eaten and relaxed poolside in a glamorous Los Angeles area, we want comfort. We want to see familiar things. In that way, we are very much like Winnie the Pooh. Different isn’t always bad but when we are dopey from good food and the sun, it can be annoying.
Paul Vigil caught us off guard. His presentation is so direct and so unique that we got suckered into believing him. We do that too often for our own taste. It turns out he lacks any real magical power, cannot predict the future, read minds or rob innocent victims of their ability to exercise free will. It turned out, we learned, he was performing tricks. Using subterfuges and, perhaps ordinary fuges, he was making his miracles look like real magic.
We have not been this fooled since we saw Derek Hughes perform at the Peller Theater at The Magic Castle. Our mind was reeling as we wrote feverishly on the convenient note pad using the free Sportsman’s Lodge pen. We felt our forehead to see if we had a real fever and then we felt the foreheads of those around us – not to compare our body temperature but just to affirm their personhood through prayerful touching (or something like that).
As we looked up from our slobbering, stooped-over position halfway through Mr. Vigil’s lecture, whom did we notice was sitting right in front of us?
Yes, Mr. Hughes.
It was like a David Lynch version of our life. We began to think the mayonnaise we used on our turkey sandwich (graciously provided by the Magic Apple) had turned and was now causing us to lose touch with reality. However, it turned out the mayonnaise was fine, reality remained intact and we were just on the verge of learning effects we had never before considered. Change, usually bad, was actually becoming good – which was a change in itself.
Mr. Vigil’s Sympathetic Cards was outstanding and even though he explained it with patience and professionalism, we did not believe him.
He told us things that could not be true. How could someone mix up the order of a deck of cards and have them spontaneously return to a preset order? We were relieved to see that even Mr. Hughes appeared to disbelieve the claims.
We tried the effect during a later break and it turns out Mr. Vigil was not lying. Even though it looks impossible, the effect can be done using his method. Amazing. Absolutely Amazing. The impact on our little cranium was as dramatic as when we first learned Paul Curry’s Out of this World, The Hofzinser’s Cull or that (spoiler alert!) Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus are the same person.
We will bring a lobster bib the next time we watch Mr. Vigil perform or lecture. Because we were chewing blueberry gum, our slobber ruined one of our favorite dress shirts and there is likely no chance we will again happen upon the exclusive men’s store/fireworks stand from whom we purchased it, some Slim Jims and a pack of Black Cat M-80s.
Last up was Helder Guimaraes‘ lecture. It was not a lecture about tricks per se but more about the theory of magic and presentation. Along the way, Mr. Guimaraes demonstrated a couple of killer effects but only to explain his approach to our art. He has incredible skills and is an accomplished performer – including a FISM win – and yet a very approachable and effective teacher.
Unlike virtually every lecture we have attended ever since we started magic in the late 1920s, there were very few things offered for sale. No over-priced lecture notes, gimmicked cards, one-trick DVDs, CD-ROMs of PDFs of magazine articles or gaffed coins. Only Mr. Caveney had anything to sell after his lecture and that was hardly a collection of typical lecture fare. He had his outstanding Wonders book set and other volumes featuring some of the best magic writing available today.
It was disorienting to not have the last 20 minutes of each lecture consist of a recap of what can be bought and at what discount. Perhaps that was why we walked away feeling magically enriched and wonderfully tired.
Online magazine Salon has posted an article marveling at Houdini’s current cache with the public.
We read it a couple of times because we were not sure what the author hoped to express.
Its hook is the recent Potter and Potter auction of Houdini memorabilia and the History Channel’s miniseries, Houdini.
The author interviewed magician, writer and president of Potter and Potter Gabe Fajuri, Houdini historian extraordinaire and author of Wild About Harry, the definitive Houdini blog, John Cox and Lisa Cousins, Houdini-lover and outstanding librarian The Magic Castle’s William J. Larson Memorial Library, among other super-Houdini fans. She seemed to have an agenda and was seeking quotes to support her thesis that magicians are male, hide their secrets for no good reason and that there exists a “Houdini Industrial Complex.”
She writes, “[b]ut there is one irritating thing about Houdiniana today that also dates back to his life: the code of secrecy mystifying his tricks.”
Irritating? Why Irritating? Irritating to whom?
“It’s time to end the reflex of keeping these tricks secret—perpetrated most forcefully among the small group of magicians and magic collectors that in my darker moments I call the Houdini Industrial Complex.”
She admits that she admires – or at least a part of her admires – the commitment to keep magic’s secrets secret. “But part of me believes that it misses the point entirely. In the twenty-first century, it’s not how Houdini did it that matters. It’s who he was.”
We agree that Houdini’s mystique and staying power is due to his personality and star quality. But he was also someone who kept secrets. Audiences came to see him perform escapes and magic not provide lectures on how to open a pair of handcuffs or the best way to make elephants vanish.
Presumably, if we agreed with the author and would just expose our secrets, people would like us more. We learned long ago this logic does not work. “C’mon tell us how you did it.” None of the relationships we thought we could enhance by exposing our magic secrets actually grew stronger.
But, even if we did publish our secrets, the authors says we would still be outsiders.
“Besides outliers like David Blaine, magicians are no longer part of the mainstream cultural conversation. And unlike burlesque, a twentieth century pop culture fad that has reinvented itself by using the language of gender studies, magic, with its largely male population, doesn’t really appeal to women.”
This is the first time we have heard that magic does not appeal to women. Our recent, very unscientific poling of magic audiences has confirmed that those in attendance were just about equally divided between the two main genders.
Perhaps the author is noting there are few female magicians. That is a valid point but we do not believe it can be attributed to a so-called Houdini Industrial Complex, the tendency of magicians to keep secrets or even the eccentric manner in which one magic library catalogs its volumes.
“The library at the Magic Castle in Los Angeles, archivist Lisa Cousins explains, uses its own ‘eccentric cataloging system—not Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress’—and is closed to non-magicians. (She rushed to say that it allowed researchers.)”
We did study the Dewey Decimal system in the 1970s and agree that it is unfit for effectively cataloging an entire library of magic books. All of the books would have the same number, 793.8. In fact, the author could go to just about any public library and use that secret number to find troves of books that told her secrets to many effects.
It was nice to see Ms. Cousins quoted in the article but wonder if the author bothered to ask her questions about women in magic – a field Ms. Cousins knows well.
Could a magician perform tricks that he or she has exposed before performing? Sure. Would anyone go to see that magician?
A ventriloquist could do his or her routine without a figure and not hide the fact that he or she was speaking in a different voice. We probably wouldn’t pay to see it though.
Part of the essence of magic is mystery. Mystery separates what we do from what one might see on a cooking show or at a craft class.
We are not sure what the author hoped to accomplish by her article. We hope she finds satisfaction in its publication and future success with other articles. And maybe it is us – it probably is – but we did not get her point. We think magic is doing fine and do not see a reason to change what has been working for hundreds of years. Again, that’s just us.
The magical principle of Rough and Smooth occupies a special place in the litany of things that matter to the world. Granted, it is very low on the list and even among magicians, it is still down there with the consistency of Magician’s Wax and the tensile strength of threads.
But, for some reason, likely attributable to the amount of time we have to think of such things, it has become of paramount importance to us.
In the old days, before Twitter, we would do our own roughing and smoothing using a fine liquid we purchased by mail from Tannen’s in New York. It came in a small bottle and had a very special aroma that likely led to our demonstrable brain damage in later life. We would use cotton balls to dab, never wipe the special liquid on to our decks. Wiping would lead to ink smearing and would ruin the deck forever. We had piles of otherwise perfect decks of cards throughout our room that had been marred by improper dabbing.
Sure, we could have bought decks already treated with the special liquid but that cost money – likely less than what we were paying for new decks and the special liquid – and we thought it inhibited our creativity. And what creativity we had!
We made several otherwise commercially available decks and thousands of unworthy packet tricks over the years. In fact, we are pretty sure we never used a deck we prepared in an actual performance, anywhere.
Perhaps, we thought, we were wasting our time. Perhaps we just liked mastering the artistic technique of dabbing. Perhaps we were addicted to the fumes. There is, a wise man once said, a fine line between aroma therapy and huffing.
Then came the revolution wrought by the aerosol spray technology. It worked for processed cheese and string so it made sense that roughing fluid would be the next application. We purchased special cans of roughing fluid and made our own decks and learned that the fumes could now fill a house, a porch (when we were forced out of the house because of the fumes) and finally a garage.
The spray worked wonderfully. We could do entire decks at a time and never worried about smearing the ink. Now we had perfectly produced decks that we still never used in real-world performances.
At a convention, we learned that one could buy commercial products for the lay consumer that did what the roughing spray did and at a tenth of the cost. We bought cans of the product from our hobby store and went to work. Same quality, less cost but we still never used a single deck or packet in real performance.
Recently, the magic world learned of a new substance from Card Shark called Science Friction. It was a roughing fluid applied by aerosol technology. It got rave reviews from critics and chemists weighed in on its likely composition and less expensive alternatives. We almost bought it but balked given our new living situation in a small apartment in West Hollywood next to a bakery for dog treats. We did not want to be evicted because of the odors – the dog treat bakery actually smells wonderful – and had no desire to buy a special, portable spraying booth just for roughing and smoothing.
Standing ovations are not often seen in either venue but were appropriate in each instance.
The Palace show was a treat and of great historical significance. Mr. Caveney and Ms. Lenert performed with their usual charming style: Mr. Caveney working the audience as emcee and Ms. Lenert performing her perfect pantomime routine. We have seen these performers on several occasions over the years and can honestly say this was their best. Ms. Lenert is a master of her craft and brings so much authenticity to her portrayal of a lonely cleaning woman who yearns for love and attention. Mr. Caveney is the perfect counter for the romanticized magic of Ms. Lenert with his easy rapport with the audience and astounding magic.
A woman seated in front of us commented, “They seem like they would be a good couple.”
But the matchmaker audience member was blown away by John Gaughan’s presentation of Astarte or Maid of the Moon. We know that it had precisely that effect on her because she nearly screamed to her friend (over the standing ovation), “Oh my God! That totally blew me away!”
Indeed, she had good reason to “be blown away.” Mr. Gaughan enlisted the assistance of Inside Magic Favorite Mystina to perform the most baffling levitation or flying effect we have ever witnessed.
After a short historical introduction of the Astarte‘s origins, Mr. Gaughan presented the illusion flawlessly with Mystina. She serenaded the moon and flew to a perch on its crescent shape. From there, she pirouetted about the very brightly lit stage, turned 360 degrees both vertically and horizontally.
She glided through a solid steel hoop first while Mr. Gaughan held it, and then, incredibly, while she held it. It was lovely.
It was truly magic.
“How was it done?” The talkative audience member asked after again attesting that she had been “blown away.”
No one offered a solution. That made us very happy.
Mr. Valentine is a master of many skills. He is an actor who plays the part of a magician who is an actor who is really a very funny person with exceptional sleight of hands skills.
A woman seated next to us in the close-up gallery described him (before the show began) as the “best looking magician ever.” That is either damming with faint praise or an earnest compliment if one includes Cary Grant and Tony Curtis in the category against which she is comparing Mr. Valentine.
Mr. Valentine’s routine is anything but routine. He is irreverent and rapid-fire with high energy and higher trick-per-minute ratio than any performer we have witnessed. (We do not know how trick-per-minute is translated into the metric system).
His mastery of cards is outdone only by his mastery of the audience. He is a gutsy performer who uses the Classic Force with the confidence of someone using a one-way forcing deck.
He is funny, charming and completely in control even though at times it seemed impossible that any of what we were seeing was planned.
We intended to provide a description of every effect he performed in the set but that would have taken several days of writing and a new thesaurus – there was too much and it was all too good.
Our favorite effect, though, had to be his barehanded production of a fairy.
We were reluctant to write anything about the shows because we intend to return to see both tonight and this weekend. As it was, the lines for both were lengthy and not everyone made it into the show rooms. We fear our praise of the acts will only exacerbate (not a dirty word, we checked) the problem. Fortunately, we have a very low readership and we are rarely considered an authoritative source for show recommendations.
Richard Turner is an incredible performer with exceptional talents and amazing skills.
He is, in our very humble opinion, one of the best cardsharps we have ever seen – ever. His lecture at The Magic Castle on Sunday was more of an exhibition of amazing card technique that even if we were taught with hours of patient instruction, we would still be unable to perform without his “fifty years of dedicated practice.”
The Second Deal is a personal point of pride for us. We have only been practicing it for about 30 years and of that 30 years, we slept, ate, had a life and worked in our non-magic world so it was not entirely dedicated to perfecting our work.
We saw Mr. Turner’s incredible dealing prowess and later performed our routine in which we rely on Seconds and felt shame. We wanted to stop our presentation and admit to the innocent lay audience that we were showing them the clutching, tightly gripped mechanics of muscle memory when they deserved so much better.
We did not actually stop our performance mid-deal but we felt it would have been warranted. We watched our hands deal Seconds that seemed so apparent that they looked (to us) more like a Glide from the top. We try to be humble (maybe not the most humble but of course if we were the most humble we would not claim to be) but seeing Mr. Turner’s lecture brought us down several rungs on the humble ladder towards humility.
Did we mention that Mr. Turner is blind? He is blind. Not “legally blind” or “partially blind” but really blind. He is demonstrating cardsharping with absolutely no ability to see what he is doing.
He has perfected the perfect Second deal without a visual reference. His Seconds are slowly done as if he were dealing directly from the top of the pack. There are no moves, no tells, no flashing or signs that a Second is in the offing, is occurring or has just happened.
Seeing Mr. Turner perform is like sitting in Plato’s Cave with a periscope for just a few minutes. We saw, briefly, what the real Second Deal looks like rather than the shadows on the wall we have been watching in our own hands or the hands of other performers.
His lecture is a delight to attend. It is not a study in basic sleights or fundamentals. In fact, there were very few sleights actually taught. It is more of an opportunity to watch a true master perform impossible effects using imperceptible skills. He discussed his involvement with the United States Playing Card Company and playing card production methods. We could have listened to that type of inside information for another ten hours. He told us about his interaction with Dai Vernon and Charlie Miller and their collaborative work on cardsharping skills. We would have gladly paid to listen to more of those stories.
The lecture went for about two hours but we had a feeling he was just getting started. We departed humbled but hopeful. It is satisfying to know that there is a perfect Second Deal. While we will likely never achieve it, we at least know our quest is not Quixotic.
Max Maven has probably performed the routine presented last night at the Peller Theatre hundreds, if not thousands, of times. Yet, to watch his interaction with the capacity crowd, he gave the impression he was sharing with them new experiences and unexpected — but amazing — results.
Let’s not kid ourselves, Max Maven is an incredible presence on stage. From his opening to finale, he is firmly in control of all things at all times. He has the look, the voice and the words to cause us to trust him even though our instincts tell us otherwise. He is precisely the type of person we should avoid.
His work with audience volunteers is flawless. He allows them space to identify with their seated brethren and, while never rude, keeps them in line with a well-timed aside or one of his penetrating stares.
But being an imposing and impressive figure is not enough. Can Mr. Maven, author, inventor, historian and larger-than-life figure deliver on the implicit promise of his stage persona?
In a word, yes. In two words, yes siree!
His effects are baffling and so well-presented that one is never sure if we are watching his ability to work with the unexpected turn of events or unanticipated selection by an audience member. One is left to assume that he has either anticipated every contingency or he possesses real magical powers. Because we are famously lazy, we presume no one would ever work as many hours in front of real people to gain the experience necessary to handle every contingency and so we conclude he has special skills that defy explanation.
Mr. Maven will be performing at the Magic Castle’s Peller Theatre tonight (Friday) and tomorrow. If you have a chance to see him perform, take it. We have no doubt he has already anticipated your attendance and will have something special to show you.
Todd Robbins and Teller’s show Play Dead nearly killed us.
We had an opportunity to see the very unique play at the beautiful David Geffen Playhouse (presumably named for someone, likely David Geffen), in Westwood, California. We would like to tell you more about the intricate stories and spectacular effects but Mr. Robbins swore the entire audience to secrecy. As a consequence, this will be a very vague, but enthusiastic review.
We deliberately avoided learning about the show. We wanted to be surprised. We trusted Teller and Mr. Robbins to entertain and likely scare us but had no real understanding of what was planned. And while we did not search out summaries or plot lines before attending, we knew to expect the unexpected thanks to a warning included on our ticket invoice:
The stories and events of this interactive production contains some disturbing images, strobe effect, theatrical haze, interactivity, brief moments of nudity and a great deal of fun. Audiences are surrounded by sights, sounds and touches of the returning dead. Material may be inappropriate for the faint of heart – or those under 18.
Disturbing images, check. Theatrical haze, interactivity and some nudity, check to the third power. Surrounded by “sights, sounds and touches of the returning dead,” yep and then some.
We did not, however, notice any “strobe effects.” It could be there was a strobe effect but our eyes were so tightly shut that we did not notice.
This is a scary experience, expertly presented.
Mr. Robbins has the voice, stature and disarming smile to make the event truly terrifying. He works the audience well and leaves it feeling vulnerable. Unlike a very scary movie or traditional play, there is no sense of safety here. He establishes very quickly that anything could happen and, more disturbingly, could happen to any individual audience member.
The dark is a scary place and total darkness is totally scary – especially with Mr. Robbins’ sonorous instruction and macabre soliloquy. As he points out, his stories are true and the people he discusses actually lived and moved among us. When the lights go out, we are essentially on our own. We are forced to trust someone who has already established he is not trustworthy.
Technically, the play is masterfully done. The set is beautiful, the costuming is perfect, the lighting (when on) is just right. We have no idea how the effects are accomplished and that is fine by us. We love being fooled and amazed. We’re not so crazy about being scared though.
We sat in front of a couple who were having some problems in their relationship. The experience could have brought them closer but it didn’t.
She: I hate this kind of thing.
He: Since when, it’s just like a movie.
She: This is not like a movie. You lied.
He: I didn’t know what was going to happen.
She: B*** s***!
That conversation was just after the first blackout of the evening. Things did not get better for the two. We wanted to help but we also wanted them to stop talking. They did stop talking – about halfway through the show – and she stormed out as soon as the play was complete. We are guessing this spat was probably a symptom of other issues with which they were struggling.
Did we enjoy the show? We think so.
We walked to the nearest well-lit store after congratulating Mr. Robbins in the lobby. As we loitered in the aisles of Target, our concern about the company’s recent privacy breach was greatly diminished. We were just happy to be in a familiar and safer environment.
Play Dead is safe but in the darkened theater, it does not always feel that way. That is quite a trick and well-worth the price of admission.