Tag: The Magic Castle

Do Magicians Need Manicures?

We got our first manicure ever the other day.  It will be our last – at least our last voluntarily received.

It was inevitable, we presume.  We were in Hollywood, performing on the weekends in the amateur rooms at The Magic Castle and all the other guys had manicures and, well, we just gave into it.

We have been performing magic since we were seven and have tried to take good care of our hands and fingernails ever since we started working as a demonstrator at Paul Diamonds Magic and Fun Wagon at the Palm Beach Mall.  Barry Gibbs – our mentor and boss – explained the need to have clean hands and neat fingernails.  He never mentioned getting a manicure.

When big-time magicians would tour through our local clubs, we noticed that some of them would have shiny fingernails but assumed it was a Hollywood or New York City thing.  We did not recall seeing any of the Chicago pros with shiny, smooth fingernails.  Maybe they had them and we just did not notice.

But then we hit Hollywood.  Everyone had manicures.

In fact, even our taxi driver from the airport to our beautiful studio apartment next to the store that bakes dog food on Santa Monica Boulevard had shiny nails.

He was otherwise a gruff looking man with a very short fuse when it came to people driving slower, faster or different than he would like.  Nevertheless, if you were to examine only his nails, you would assume he was a member of a royal family.  We were going to ask him about his decision to get a manicure but he was very focused on driving very quickly and using his well-maintained middle finger to express his constant displeasure with our fellow travelers.

We debated taking the plunge.  What if someone saw us going into one of the hundreds of “manicure parlors” that line the boulevards crisscrossing Hollywood?  Fortunately, we don’t know many people out here yet and so the chances were low that we would be spotted.  Perhaps, even if we were spotted, the spotter would not care.  Maybe manicures are okay in this realm.

We tried a couple of sample runs; walking in to parlors with their specialized chairs and tables and tools with what must have appeared to be an awkward sense of nonchalance.  On the other hand, maybe we just looked addled, confused or weird.

Several times the kind Asian women attempted to get us seated to begin the process right away.  Several times we pulled away like a weirdo possessed by an infantile fear of having his nails cut.

We wanted to discuss the topic with friends in a safe environment.  One night, after performing a couple of sets in Hat & Hare room at The Magic Castle, we asked some of the other performers if they got manicures.  It took us a while to get to the point and we may have actually stammered.

We must have sounded self-conscious and/or creepy because we received no response.  The conversation broke shortly after we asked the question.  It was likely our paranoia but it seemed like they were avoiding having eye-contact with us for the rest of the night.

We read up on how to give oneself a manicure and immediately deleted our search history after determining that it was a specialty we did not possess.  We needed a pro.  We needed a non-judgmental pro who could keep secrets.

We found just such a pro just a few blocks from our apartment.  Hong Kong Nails and Spa was open until 11:00 pm and staffed with very friendly, caring people who did not view us as abnormal or deviant.  Or maybe they did but they did not let on.

Lisa – not her real name – was the manager on duty and ushered us into the big, elevated and comfortable chair.  She did not even ask why we were there.  It was as if she just knew.  Of course, there are probably few non-manicure related reasons a person walks into a nail parlor at 9:00 pm so maybe she did not need to have the deductive reasoning skills of Sherlock Holmes.

We say that “Lisa” was not her real name because it was not.  It was the name she gave us but said it was her “American” name.  Her real name was too difficult for most customers and so she adopted “Lisa” after seeing the Simpson’s cartoon show.  We told her our real name.  We were coming to terms with our trust issues in her caring hands and warm, soapy water.

Apparently, we have been blithely ignorant of just how repulsive cuticles can be.  We had no idea.  Lisa explained that part of the reason people come for manicures is to have their cuticles removed or pushed back.  The cuticles keep growing back and trained professionals like Lisa are on the front lines, cutting and pushing against their incessant creeping.

Who knew?

Even now that we know about cuticles, we still have a hard time seeing cuticles on others.  One’s observation skills must develop in this area.  Lisa could spot our cuticles from the moment we walked into the parlor.  Hers must be a tortured life: seeing so many cuticles every day.  If they are truly as disgusting as she described, we have no idea how she could ever eat from a fast-food counter.

We watched as she applied a special gel to the base of our fingernails and then used a cutting implement from the late 14th Century to carve away more than 50 years of cuticle growth.  We expected to feel lighter and more mobile after the process but the difference was not immediately evident.

The good news was there very little in the way of blood.  We bleed easily and once we start, we do not stop for hours.  It is not an attractive trait and seems to have very little benefit to us or our progeny in an evolutionary sense.

Lisa asked if we wanted to have clear polish put on our fingernails now that they were free of the unsightly (but to us, practically invisible) cuticles and all ridges were buffed away.

We thought about it but because we are so insecure in our masculinity and have a lot issues, we demurred.  We immediately regretted declining the offer and tried to explain our “issues” to Lisa but surprisingly, it was not that big a deal to her.  She was a total pro or she didn’t care.

We tried out our new fingers at the Castle last weekend.  We discerned no improvement in our audiences’ enjoyment or appreciation for our practiced efforts.  None.  We thought about drawing attention to the manicure by saying things about cuticles and ridges but could not work those words into our multi-reveal card routine.  We even intentionally rocked our hands in the spotlight to pick up the maximum glint and sparkle but to no avail.

Perhaps having a manicure is unnecessary to succeed at performing magic.  Perhaps it is not the lack of ridges or unsightly cuticles that brings audiences to their feet, wild with enthusiastic applause and demands for an encore.  Maybe we wasted $20.00.

Maybe we should look into getting our nose hair trimmed.

Advertisements

Meeting Our Old Friend Murray Hatfield for the First Time

We finally had a chance to meet our friend and big-time illusionist Murray Hatfield this weekend at the Magic Castle.  He and his better half, Teresa were wrapping up their sell-out week in the Palace of Mystery and he went from his last show on Sunday directly into his lecture in the Parlor of Prestidigitation.

When we say ‘directly’ we mean, immediately.  The applause was literally still going as he entered the Parlor to begin his session with us.

We have written about Mr. and Mrs. Hatfield for nearly a decade; chronicling their tours of Canada with Illusions: Magic ‘n Miracles.  They have brought the full-evening magic show to lucky cities across our neighbor to the north on a yearly basis – each year with new illusions and a new featured performers.

Even though they stopped each year in our former neighborhood of Windsor, we never had a chance to see them perform or to take Mr. Hatfield’s kind invitation to see the show and meet afterwards.

It only makes sense, then, that we would finally meet in Hollywood, California.

Mr. Hatfield and Teresa put on an incredible show.  We have seen approximately a million illusion acts in our short time on this earth, but few can compare with the staging and presentation we witnessed.  They are fast, charming and mystifying – even to jaundiced magicians who have seen millions of illusions.

The audience loved the show and the performers.  They truly connected with the crowd from their opening and all the way to their incredible finale.

Mr. Hatfield comes across as a very modest but capable person who is fully in control of the illusions he and his lovely wife present.  He knows what is about to happen and cannot wait to share it with his new found friends.

That’s either a great act and tough to pull off year after year, show after show; or, he is sharing his genuine nature.

As we learned at his lecture, it is no act.  He is someone who has wanted to be a magician since he was a child.  He loves the art and enjoys people.  That’s a pretty good combination for someone who wants to do what he does for a living.

His lecture was a great chance to learn from someone who has created a new touring show every year for the last 25 years.  Yes, he taught us some tricks – good ones – but more importantly, he told us his secret of staging any performance for maximum audience engagement and enjoyment.

Mr. Hatfield taught the lecture attendees a special five step mnemonic device arrange a performance. Achieve all five and the show will succeed, he promised.  It does not matter if one is performing close-up or a big-time illusion show.

His stage show follows that formula to great success.

It was an honor to finally shake hands with Mr. Hatfield and a real education in how a true professional works.

It’s Magical – We Enjoy Our Membership at Magic Castle

The Magic Castle bestowed on us a kindness that we will not soon forget.  The greatest magic club in the world, overlooked our nervous, shaking hand and sweat-covered brow to grant admission as a Magician Member Monday night.

It has been such a whirlwind since Monday night when we auditioned before the likes of Shoot Ogawa and Gay Blackstone that we have not had time to update this humble news outlet.  In the past few days, we have seen great magic performed by the best in our business like Whit “Pop” Haydn and Nick Lewin at the Magic Junkyard in Simi Valley Wednesday night and so many of the performers at the Magic Castle this weekend.  We are tuckered-out but it is a good kind of tuckered-out.

We anticipated the audition process for the Magic Castle would be difficult and it was.  The judges were kind and compassionate and tried to set an atmosphere to allow the performers to do their best.  Still, it is an unnerving process performing for such esteemed peers.

We were on cloud nine (or its Metric equivalent) all week and visited The Magic Castle Friday night – our first visit as a Magician Member.  There was a lot to take in.  We visited The William W. Larsen Memorial Library and met the very helpful and knowledgeable Lisa Cousins, our guide for all that the center had to offer – and it offers so much.

From instruction sheets to videos and recorded material, lecture notes to rare magic tomes, and just about every essential magic resource a studious magician could need populate the well-adorned library shelves and reading areas.   We camped out in the stacks, listened to the more experienced members discuss topics of interest and picked the brain of Ms. Cousins about The Magic Castle.

Tonight (Saturday), we decided to perform.  Magician members can show their stuff  in The Hat and Hare Pub and The Gallery by coordinating with the Host.  We performed the same card routine we used for the audition and the first show went well.  We were nervous but excited in equal parts.  The nerves got under control for the next two sets in The Hat and Hare and held together for our last set in the larger Gallery.  The audiences were enthusiastic and kind and we had a great time.

Our routine depends on our second deal, two false shuffles and a successful breather crimp.  We figured out just about half-way into our second set, the crimp had stopped breathing.  We lost control of the selected card but somehow managed to find it without too much embarrassment.  We tried to rehabilitate the breather but nothing was working.  Our last set was breather-less.  We kept the same routine but had to figure out a different method of control.

It is late at night as we type this on our old Remington portable typewriter here in the West Hollywood editorial office of Inside Magic.  The Olympic® Games are being broadcast silently on a television set we can see across the alley.  Life goes on around us and we feel fully alive having lived a dream harbored since our youth.

Our Try-Out for the Magic Castle

Our big night is Monday evening at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, California.  The former home of The Magician, Tony Blake and real, non-fictional magicians is where we are heading this evening  to audition with the hope of becoming a Magician Member of The Academy of Magical Arts.  We are anxious, nervous, excited and hopefully prepared.

As part of the evaluation, candidates are asked to demonstrate their magical abilities.  We fretted over what to perform and ruled out anything involving animals, huge props, lovely assistants, fire or the classic Pea Can.  We are honored that Pop Haydn has sponsored us for consideration and do not want to let him down or embarrass him.

After much consideration and thought, we decided to go in with a deck of cards and do our best to wow the judges with the few sleights we can do.  Like a great Olympic figure skater, we will start out strong and do the hard stuff right off the bat.  If we screw up our second deal and false shuffles, it will set a bad tone for the rest of the eight minute routine.  But, if we land the tough tricks first, the rest of the routine should go fine.  For those keeping score, the sleights will be: false shuffle, Charlier pass, false shuffle, second deal, buckle, flustration count and second deal.  Plus we’ll be talking and stuff at the same time.

We have kept our hands moist using the most expensive emollients available to the common man.  We have practiced our patter whilst walking in our neighborhood in West Hollywood and have been largely ignored by passers-by.  We will get our shoes shined and fully intend to brush our teeth and eat a medium-sized meal before heading to the Castle.

We will let everyone know how it comes out.

Magic Castle Celebrates New Houdini Star

Halloween means different things to different people.

To kids, it means costumes and candy.  To adults, it means candy without the need for costumes.  To magicians — half-way between kids and adults on the maturity scale — it means increased bookings and Houdini.

The Magic Castle sends news of their good work on the streets of Hollywood; where adults of all callings can wear festive and mysterious costumes year-round.

The Magic Castle’s Founder, Milt Larsen received a call on November 1, 2000 from a concerned visitor to the Walk of Fame, that the Houdini star, located just one block south of The Magic Castle, was cracked.

Interestingly, the manifestation happened exactly 25 years to the day of its placement at Hollywood and Orange.

Thanks to the efforts and donations of David Copperfield, Penn and Teller, Lance Burton, Tihany, Marvyn Roy (Mr. Electric), Siegfried and Roy, and the Larsens, Houdini’s star has been refurbished.  The Magic Castle and some of its Hollywood friends unveiled the new star on October 24, 2008 — the 84th anniversary of Houdini’s last performance. Continue reading “Magic Castle Celebrates New Houdini Star”

Inside Magic Review: Mark Kalin & Jinger

Introduction:

We were tempted to be witty and clever when reviewing Mark Kalin and Jinger's show at the Magic Castle. 

But the fact that we resisted the easy and innuendo-laden path for the more noble and professional approach does not mean we have matured.  It simply means we are writing this while on public transportation and afraid the person to our right will find it more titillating and deserving of his attention than his less than furtive glances already indicate.

In a word, Mark Kalin and Jinger perform real magic really well. 

Sit back, relax, and keep reading: this may be a long review.  It has already taken longer to write and edit than the act itself.

We have separated the review into its constituent parts only to ensure we do not leave anything out.  But Mark Kalin and Jinger's act is greater than the sum of its parts.  We have never witnessed a tighter 45 minutes of magic ever or anywhere.

The Venue:

In our humble and poorly informed opinion, The Magic Castle's Palace of Mystery is a tough room to play well.  We have seen big illusions squeezed on to the platform and performers work through their best approximation of a scaled version of their regular stage show.  While traveling illusionists must constantly adjust to the venue du jour, this stage makes for tight fits and, consequently, less than optimal performances.

On the other hand, the Palace of Mystery is perfect for magic-loving audiences.  Every seat is perfect, no obstructions or awkward tier structure to block views.  The sound system is perfect and the lighting is always professionally done. 

We have a chance to see the very best in our business from the moral equivalent of a front-row seat — even if that means they must perform in tight quarters.

Mr. Kalin and Jinger are known for their full-scale illusions and we wondered how they would cope with the restrictions posed by The Palace.

In a word, they owned the joint.

We have longed to see their Magic Underground theater in Reno, Nevada.  The couple built the showplace to serve as the perfect forum to perform and watch magic.

They note on their beautiful web site:

Real magic only happens when all the elements are perfect, the setting, the audience, the stage and the pace of the show. Over the years, we've had a chance to present our magic in many different settings, but it has only served to convince us of the perfect opportunity, the perfect showplace. We've finally found that home at Magic Underground.

We thought there could be no better place to see their show than in the theater they built.  We also worried we would never have a chance to see the couple live unless we traveled to Reno.

The Performers:

Mr. Kalin and Jinger are wonderful to watch — a plus for performers.  We admit our infatuation and schoolboy crush could bias our opinion but it does not. (The crush, by the way is on Jinger — although Mr. Kalin is no slouch). 

Mr. Kalin either truly enjoys what he does or he is the best of all possible actors.  His energy-level is high but not contrived or over-the-top.  We saw the second show of the evening and yet he bounded onto the stage as if it was the first — not just of the evening but ever

Recall the enthusiasm you felt when first performing a new, well-practiced routine for family or close friends? You could not wait to get started and share the reason for your excitement. 

Mr. Kalin was that excited. 

There was no question he was well-prepared and what we were about to see had been rehearsed, blocked, and practiced; but tonight was different.  This show would be different than any they ever put on.  Mr. Kalin's body-language and persona said, "all of our practice and development was to prepare for this very show." 

The Production of Jinger

Mr. Kalin's first illusion ended with the incredible production of Jinger.

Jinger's appearance was magical on so many levels.

First, we had not previously seen this production and enjoyed the impossible vanish of a tall male assistant, and the appearance of Jinger.  Note this was not a transformation of the assistant into Jinger.  The assistant vanished, the apparatus was freely shown to be empty, and then Jinger appeared.

But the production of a magician's assistant — even as lovely as Jinger — is not enough to warrant our high praise.  When Mr. Kalin saw Jinger appear, he seemed genuinely delighted, surprised.  He must have known Jinger would appear at the end of the illusion.  After all, that is what rehearsal is for.  But the couple seemed genuinely happy to be reunited on stage for this all important show. 

Finally, Jinger's smile, poise, beauty, and complete ease on stage brought what appeared to be a natural and involuntary smile to Mr. Kalin's face.  His admiration for her was clearly shared by the audience. 

We have seen many husband and wife magic acts. We have seen very few with the natural charisma and ineffable quality to be endearing rather than annoying or cloying. Mr. Kalin and Jinger have wonderful chemistry.  They share what appear to be spontaneous asides and inside jokes as any would any good friends.   

Wakeling's Sawing

The late Alan Wakeling's version of Sawing a Woman in Half is one of the most amazing effects we have ever witnessed.  We first saw Mr. Kalin and Jinger perform the seemingly impossible illusion on a television special, and then at the last Magic Live convention in Las Vegas.  Jinger is held to a steel surgical table developed by "Dr. Alan Wakeling" during the Civil War.  The straps holding her neck and feet to the very thin steel platform are threaded through holes and held firmly in place by volunteers from the audience. 

So let's review: Jinger lies down on a surgical table. Her neck is bound with a leather collar and attached to a strap (or "leash" according to Mr. Kalin). The strap is passed through a hole in the table and held tightly by a committeeman from the audience.  Is that fair enough? There are no boxes covering any part of her yet and as the volunteer pulls on the strap, Jinger is pulled to the surface of the cold steel table. 

At the other end, Jinger's ankles are fixed within another leather device, the attached strap is threaded through a hole in the table and pulled taut by another volunteer.  In the course of the next five minutes, Jinger's body is covered by two wooden cabinets no taller than necessary to accommodate her body.  The cabinets' side-doors are opened immediately after she is covered, the committeemen verify she is within the cabinets and that they have not allowed any slack in their respective straps. 

Immediately, Mr. Kalin pushes steel blades through Jinger's torso and the boxes are separated.  The effect is like nothing we have ever witnessed. 

From the first time we saw the couple perform this effect, we were baffled.  We had no idea how the effect could be accomplished and that was fine with us. We like to be fooled and were very happy knowing Mr. Kalin and Jinger were one of the few in the world performing this miracle and that we had a chance to witness it live.

Unfortunately, in perusing our neighborhood bookstore, we found a book exposing the effect's secret method to anyone browsing the shelves. We will not identify the title of the book or the author.  The author says Mr. Wakeling approved of the exposure.  We do not doubt the author's representation; we just were disappointed it was in such wide release.

Consequently, when we saw Mr. Kalin and Jinger perform the effect at The Magic Castle, we knew the method.  We were impressed by the incredible skill necessary to accomplish the effect and certainly the showmanship employed in its presentation; but it did not bring the same sense of amazement.  We were no longer mystified; only impressed by Mr. Kalin and Jinger's abilities.

The Spirit Cabinet

Next to "Dr. Wakeling's" sawing illusion, The Spirit Cabinet is our all-time favorite effect.  We were looking forward to seeing Mr. Kalin and Jinger perform the effect live but had no idea we would be sitting within the spirit cabinet next to Jinger during a final manifestation of the spirits.

As one of the two volunteers from the audience, we had the honor of tying Jinger's ankles together and her wrists to each other and through a wooden post.  We have rarely been as nervous.  There was no intent to tie to tightly but we also had no desire to make it too easy.

Mr. Kalin and Jinger perform The Spirit Cabinet superbly; on par with Glenn Falkenstein and Frances Willard — our gold standard.  Ms. Willard and Jinger are authentic, compelling, and sensual figures within the cabinet. 

We were delighted but nervous when asked to sit in the cabinet with Jinger.  Fortunately, our eyes were covered with a very effective blindfold before the curtains were closed.  Almost immediately after the curtain could be heard closing, we were aware of spirit activity near us. 

Even without a blindfold, we doubt we would have discerned the method for this illusion. When the blindfold was untied, we found a bucket on our head and our pant legs pulled up to past our knees. 

We were asked by another audience member if we knew how the spirit demonstration worked.  We told her honestly that we had not a clue.

Conclusion

We did not expect Mr. Kalin and Jinger to disappoint. Chances are, we would have written a positive review even if their performance was average or even better than average.  But we doubt we would have written a review of more than 1200 words.

Mr. Kalin and Jinger performed the finest magic show we have ever seen.  Their dedication, enthusiasm, choice of effects, and unique charisma are just some of the reasons we feel secure making such an unequivocal statement.  How fortunate to see their performance in such a perfect venue.

As we drove back to downtown Los Angeles from Hollywood later that evening, we felt a pain in our jaw from smiling so much. 

It hurt but it was a good kind of hurt. 

Some pain is worth enduring.  Do not miss Mr. Kalin and Jinger — in fact, affirmatively seek out their next live performance.  Life is so uncertain and there is no sense putting off such a wonderful experience.

Inside Magic Review:  Five out of Five – Our Highest!