Posts in review
Get Outside / Magic for Young Lovers, The Jerx, Andy

Magic for Young Lovers by Andy “The Jerx” just arrived at my house last week.

I’ve been sick for the past few days, so I read it completely through in just two days.

Absolute work of art. The way they think about creating experiences for people, the amount of detailed attention Andy puts into his presentations. It’s mindblowing. All of those cliche “Uncles” who showed you magic at family gatherings should’ve been doing this style of performance all along because so much of the performance is meant for the casual social realm. I digress, get the book, or get on that site if you haven’t already.

Related:

There’s been a lot disturbing my life lately. I’ve been working with an external team on a very ambitious theatrical production of magic, been working w/ Four Suits members on creating a live experience/tour show, and always trying to continue the momentum forward amongst the other standard magic noise. I’ve gotten myself stressed out about it. That is the lifestyle that I chose, I thought. However, even doing the same things in my lifestyle, I realize I don’t have to stress myself out so much.

You ever know that feeling when you’re disgustingly sick, and then you just start to get better? That happened to me today. I took a walk outside. Just put on some shoes and walked outside. No phone. No connection to anything. Just walked outside about an hour before sunset. It made me feel like a kid again.

It had just rained here in LA. Everything was gorgeous, and everything was so much bigger than me. I grabbed a tangerine off a tree. I picked one of those little, damn, I don’t even know the name... One of those little thin stalks of plant, with tiny yellow tube shaped flowers, ones that I used to chew for their tart taste when I was a kid, I did that again probably for the first time since I’ve been a kid.

There was something magical about today. And it was incredibly freeing, and definitely widened my perspective, relaxed me. This is magic. Not in the way that Magic with a capital “M” frames it, but something truly magical, and I think that’s a bit where Andy comes from. And where I hope to come from too.

— J.R.

The State of Magic -- Pushing the Vision

 

Weirdest thing when you think you’ve written a blog post called “Pushing the Vision” and are searching for it to link to it but you actually haven’t written it yet.

Here’s the thing: in 2018 FISM, there are 31 performance awards. 8 magicians from Spain placed top 3 for these awards. South Korea fielded 7 magicians who placed. USA fielded 0. Zero.

2015 FISM sees similar numbers: 7 from Spain, 7 from South Korea, USA 0.

2012 FISM -- 8 South Korea, 1 Spain, USA 1.

What the actual fuck is going on here? What are we doing so very wrong here that they’re doing so very right in Spain and South Korea?

I don’t have an answer, but I do know how these contests are judged, and they’re judged based around the progression and pushing of a certain vision. Now, this vision can be how an item is produced or conjured, or it can be about an application of an idea. But one thing is for sure, based on the people who I’ve talked with who attended FISM 2018, USA is behind, far behind. Yes, we’re amazing at branding and taking things into a commercial level, but as far as actual content goes, we’re horrible. I mean, take a look around, this exists in the US in more places than just magic. Granted, this exists in many places, but I’m not here to say excuses for ourselves, we’re a great place, and I’m blessed to be here. And I fucking love my country, but god damn are we horrible innovators in any remotely creative realm in magic right now.

I just got off the phone with H.A., who quoted a business owner saying “We don’t hire magicians, they kind of just come here and do it for free.”

First of all: if you’re that magician (or just that performer in general), please just stop. Not because you’re ruining it for the rest of us, but because you’re ruining it for yourself. If you want practice, join a mutual interest group, do it for your friends. If you’re doing it out in the world, at someone else’s place of business (enhancing their environment), you should be getting paid, it’s that simple.

But, this brings us to mutual interest groups now, magic clubs, etc. Honestly, some magic clubs absolutely kill magic. I sometimes go to these gatherings and end up hating magic more coming away from it than I did going into it. It’s a marvel how creativity can die in a place where it’s supposed to be generated.

I asked magicians a while ago if they’d pay to be critiqued. Some of them said they get it for free whenever they perform. I’ve got news for you who think this: no one is critiquing you like you deserve to be critiqued. Other magicians critique you in a way that benefits them, and most audiences aren’t critiquing you unless you only perform for sociopaths. Here’s an example that might make it a bit more understandable: You ever hear a comedian make a shitty joke at a comedy mic? Yes, you definitely have. Have you gone up to every bad joke telling comedian and critiqued them on their jokes? No, you definitely haven’t.

I’m starting a focus group dinner session in LA. If you’re around, and give any shits about magic, you’re invited. Let’s Push the Vision together.

-- J.R.

Future Stars of Magic Week @ The Magic Castle

This week is “Future Stars of Magic” week at the Magic Castle in Hollywood. First of all, amazing branding. Can’t wait for the day I become a star myself. They guaranteed that as part of the performance agreement back when I was doing those shows. Second of all, holy crap. The talent that’s here this week is actually incredible. I say this with complete sincerity, but honestly every single performance I’ve seen this week has been at the level or beyond (mostly beyond) what I’d find at legitimate magic performances, performed by adults who have been doing it for years -- yet all these kids are under 21.

Highlighting a few specific instances of performances I myself enjoyed (keeping in mind I still need to see more this weekend) --

Rabby Yang

First off, can I just say that RABBY YANG has a fucking GOD TIER manipulation act (various objects changing and appearing at his fingertips)!!???!? Where the hell has this kid been all this time? First time I’ve heard of him, but you bet your ass I’m following his ascent into some ridiculously absurd magic championships in the future. He has one of the most elegant, refined, visually astonishing, and technically skilled stage acts I’ve seen. Congrats Rabby, you killed us all.

Anna DeGuzman

Anna DeGuzman is, notably, a friend of the site (read her blog post on cardistry here) so you may say we’re biased, but there’s a REASON why she’s a friend of the site in the first place (because all of us are awesome), her routine is polished, and her unique closer is a killer. Also, seeing middle-aged folks react to Anna’s cardistry was an extremely special moment. And I’ll say it now for all the magicians who shit on cardistry: PEOPLE FUCKING LOVE IT. When they saw Anna’s cardistry, it’s like they were watching magic happen right in front of them. The audience doesn’t see a difference. And because it’s so extremely visually compelling, it always gets genuine positive reactions. Now, can an entire act be based around “cardistry” without involving any “magic”? I’m not sure. As of now, with the current state of things, I don’t think that’s possible yet. However, is it kick ass as its own separate segment within a larger routine? Hell yes, and Anna owns it. Look out for more "Big Moves" from her in the future. 

Aaron O'Brien

Aaron O’Brien, you sly bastard. Somehow, Aaron managed to perform in all four showrooms before he was under 21, which means that he started doing this when he was a tween, reading YA novels and crying during Twilight. The time he’s put into magic, and especially, performance, really comes through in his set, and in his AP Chem Problem-Sets. Aaron is one of the two magicians this week working the “Parlour” magic stage (a medium-sized room between close-up and stage seating capacity, usually resulting in magic right between those two styles as well) and in my opinion, it’s the best room to work in the Castle, and the most difficult one as well, yet Aaron takes the challenge on with ease. There are usually more instances of the crowd getting out of hand in this setting than any other, and true to form, before the show began, one man ordered 20 shots for random audience members (thank you, Tequila Rob), and then literally half the audience took shots, thereafter Aaron began the show. His magic was solid, yes, but Aaron shines with his experience as a well-polished performer, simultaneously delighting the crowd and keeping the stray (read: drunk) audience members engaged and on board with sly humor and charming wit — He'll go far with these skills.

Everyone I saw was an exemplary performer for magic, and I’ll still see more, but these are some of the highlights so far for me. If you’re in LA, I highly recommend checking out this week’s lineup, or at least keeping track of some of these names. Congrats to all of you performing this week.

-- J.R.

 

Gifts & Sacrifice​​​​​​​: A Review of David Blaine Live

This is about my first time seeing David Blaine live.

I saw Blaine’s first live show in Arizona with J.R. We drove overnight and endured blistering heat and monsoon downpours to get to Fox Theatre in Tucson. And I have to say, it was definitely worth it.

To my bewilderment, that event was was the most emotional I’ve ever been in a magic show – ever. Not like that’s hard for me, I can get emotional about toast but still, this was different. 

If he didn’t already make sense to me on T.V. – he finally made so much more sense in person. Since that show, I haven’t seen him or magic the same way since. Here’s what prompted the thought.

I remember a friend of mine talking about being offended by the physical stunts he was pulling off in Real or Magic and his new special Beyond Magic.

From our conversation, what I gathered was: it seems selfish, to some people, to have the world watch a man put himself in impossible situations where he should’ve surely died or gotten hurt very badly. “How could he put people through that and call it magic?”, she asked in palpable distress waving here wine glass at the screen. “How could he put people, and himself, through so much pain. What is he trying to prove?”

I didn’t really know what to say to her, or how I could explain it in a way that doesn't sound nuts and so clearly biased. I new I got what he was doing in a deep unspoken sense, but I didn’t understand it well enough to explain it back to her. The only thing I could get out of me was that, “I don’t think it’s that simple”.

Fundamentally, I couldn’t deny that this is a common reaction to Blaine’s magic that can’t be ignored. People are captivated, yet also very polarized by his performances and I think his best answer to them was in his first tour.

It's clear when you first see his show that he, indeed, is inexplicably doing everything he is claiming to do. Which is the best and worst part for some people looking to debunk what his magic is about.

Is that magic though?

I don’t know that answer for everyone, but from what I did experience live: yes, wholeheartedly to me, it was.

“This is not a ‘Trick’”

What do you have to hold on to if you know it’s not a trick?

He demonstrated that magic doesn’t exist just in clever sleights but believing for a moment that something impossible – that everything in life has proven to you should not happen without severe consequence – is happening right in front of you. He shows you exactly how he’s doing it but not in a magician-y way, he’s showing the actual way he did it.

And it doesn’t always go right, some of it is very unscripted. People can tell the difference between things going as planned and improv and that’s the thing that makes it real. He shows it go wrong too, even slightly, even if it is embarrassing, to show you that it’s happening and he commits to it.

Being physically present to see this show without editing, you feel what he goes through, you see him adapt and improvise to make it work. You empathize.

It forces you to ask the question what does it mean to me if it is real?

In his own way, his sacrifice and commitment is his gift to show children, adults and any human that he will put himself through these tests of the human condition so his audience can experience something impossible and show you that magic can be in the reality that you embody.

He shows that the distinction between magic and reality doesn’t even matter in the first place.

It’s our choice to deny reality or magic that comes into our life, but when that needle is definitely coming through his arm and when you see him definitely put his plain self into a water tank and you try to hold your breath with him as long as you can... you feel the commitment, the work, the sacrifice all for this rare and beautiful moment you’re never going to see again – not quite like this.

It all hits you as you sit at the edge of your velvet seat, you want to scream,

“I believe in your sacrifice, I believe your art. The will of people is magic in itself. Please come out. Please.

I believe you.”

– H.A.

 

Performing High

Sorry for the lateness on this one, but you'll understand why when you get through it...

Some of you may have clicked on this title thinking about the lovely interplay of energy and circumstance during a performance which provides both the performer and the audience a “rush” of sorts which could be considered a “high”, but no, this is about the other kind.

THE FOLLOWING POST IS FOR 21+ XXX RATED MATURE HUMANS ONLY.

You might ask, J.R., why would you perform in such a manner? Didn’t you, J.R., perform drunk one time during your hour-long one-man-show and completely bomb that shit? Yes, I would say, I did in fact I did bomb that shit, and why would I perform in an altered state again? Because it’s LEGAL for everybody in Cali now, baby. And “California knows how to party” as Roger Troutman may say. (I knew the lyric, but had to look him up, admittedly.)

I organized some buddies of mine to perform with me, B.A. and A.D., and this post is written hereby as a mini-guide partially for regular people, and partially for magicians, on how to perform high, what works and doesn’t work, and some short snippets of what happened.

Regular Things First:

Y'all, it was lit. Here are some things people said about the show: 

*Clapping* - Everybody

*Coughing* - Most People

The format was exactly what it sounded like. You get high, we get high, we do magic, you see magic. It's amazing. I would show you a clip on here, but then that would ruin the mystique. If you're in the LA area, you should just come to the next one. 

Favourite Moments:

  • Discovering the reality, hilarity, and problem of different tolerances in the same room.

  • Forgetting to start the timer for a set.

  • T.R. sharing a home-made item that was beyond normal.

  • The venue turning into a giant closed-system where water could almost evaporate and turn into rain in a never-ending cycle.

MAGICIAN STUFF

Step 1:

Don’t attempt hypnosis or any “mind” effects. It may seem tempting to you, but unless you find a way to completely work around the fact that people will be forgetting shit they did just five seconds ago just normally, (including you), then you don’t have shit to work with.

Step 2:

Make everything visual as possible. Dumb your set down as much as possible. This is probably the only place where magic with sponges makes any sort of sense (imo). You don’t have to test it out by being high while performing it first (but it probably helps if you have, see Rule #3), just make it real dumb and visual. You know that thing where the fidget spinner sticks to your finger? Yeah, that one would kill (note to self).

Step 3:

Stick to what you know. Stick to routines you can do in your sleep, because you’ll be pretty close to sleeping up there. And it’s only funny for the audience if you can pick yourself up where you left off. One of my favorite moments from my set was when I was in the middle of a very well known routine, forgot my place, and because there were a couple magicians in the crowd, they just yelled out whatever I should be doing next. I paused a moment, and then just did what they said, and it worked. A great moment of magical deconstruction. And being lit AF.

I think that’s pretty much it, but it reminds me of some rules we’ve been establishing within the Four Suits Magic Collective, and I think I might base a future blog post on those, because it’s entertaining, informative, and because I do what I want.

Thank you for coming -- 

More of these events coming in the future.

-- J.R.

P.S. -- House-keeping note, we’re implementing a RSS feed / blog reader system soon with the site revamp coming up for our ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY. Did you get us a present? Thanks to those of you who wrote in telling us about this and waiting patiently for us to almost-never do it.

Review: Xeno by Marc Kerstein
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     I almost feel sad sharing this secret, but let it be known that Marc Kerstein is changing/has changed the game of app magic. The reason why? IT DOESN’T FEEL LIKE APP MAGIC. We all (some of us in reality, but “all” sounds better, and makes you search it if you didn’t know it already) remember the days of having that little folded playing card, or silver dollar bouncing on our home screen, to shake it out and have a physical version land on our hand. Xeno is probably the opposite of this type of an app. It’s pretty much invisible with the correct implementation.

     You can look up the official description of the app on his site, but if I were to describe my use of the app to someone, I’d describe it this way: You’re chilling at a bar/cafe with your friends. They have their phones out (2017, folks, the future is here), you ask to borrow their phone after they open their web browser and navigate away from porn (future, again). You ask them if they’re a big movie person, and then you type in a movie ratings site. You ask them to scroll to their favorite movie and then familiarize themselves with the plot, director, year of release, etc. They put their phone away. Then you have them place their hands on yours, look into your eyes, and while you make out with them, you divine the movie they were thinking of (secret of tongues).

     Isn’t that crazy? Yes. With Xeno, you can too make out with complete strangers (don’t do this). Seriously though, huge fan of this effect. Good on you Marc. You’re crushin’ it. Xeno is simple, direct, and if you hang out with the smartphone crowd, you’re looking for a clever addition into your mentalism repertoire, want an effect that can be performed in a multitude of situations (dope-ass pre-show, anyone?) all for less than $20? Purchase this effect. 

-- J.R.

Pre-Show, Dual Reality, and Careful Scripting

 

    Recently, J.R. and I had the opportunity to see a small theater show by a magician we both respect, and who has created material we both enjoy watching and performing. In the show he had a very strong book test, with a pre showed, dual reality closer. Unfortunately, due to an inattentive spectator, the effect didn’t quite come off, but it, and the memory of the Derren Brown show we mentioned last week, got me think about the importance of really strong scripting, especially in effects like that one.

    Any dual reality effects require you to be very careful in keeping two views or perceptions of an event separate, and pre-show work directly challenges this by forcing you to remind the spectator of the other reality in that very moment without reminding the audience at large. While the specific techniques used will vary effect to effect and performer to performer, one mainstay will be careful scripting, such that the words can (and hopefully must) be interpreted correctly but differently by the two groups. Creating this dual language can be difficult, but definitely pays off in the impact effects that properly employ it can have. (For some excellent examples of this and more ideas in this area, check out almost anything by Luke Jermay.)

     For example, here is a simple script designed to elicit a pre-showed word from a spectator at the end of a book test like the one seen in the show. This script assumes this spectator was handed the book and asked to confirm that the page numbers where on the bottoms of the pages (for another phase of the effect), to make sure the book wasn’t just the same few pages repeating over and over again, and then to immediately pass it off to another spectator. After reading the mind of the spectator they handed the book to you turn to them and say:

     “A moment ago I asked you to confirm the page numbers are on the bottom of the pages, and that the book is normal, correct?” “Yes.” “But I think, even before that, you had seen a word, one that really rooted itself into your head. Is that right? Are you thinking of a word?” “Yes, I am.” “Focus on that word now, the one rooted there, not one that maybe just floated through, or that you skimmed over...”

     Since verifying the page numbers was the first thing the spectator did with the book, being told to think back to before that must mean before they had the book, and thus to the pre-show when you forced or peeked a word they chose. Combine this with the repetition of a specific phrase in both the pre-show work and the moment of recall to jog their memory (“rooted itself,” or whatever fits your presentational style), and asking them not to think of a word that floated through or that they skimmed over (and since you hurry them through checking the book they really only have time to skim it), you ensure they arrive back at the intended word.

     Additionally, none of these instructions to the spectator tip that they are actually thinking of a word not from that book to the rest of the audience. Since most of them wouldn’t be able to see the spectator directly they can certainly believe that they had more time looking through the book, or spent more time really scouring any given page, than you allowed. If additionally you have the book handed back to them just before you begin this phase (but don’t give them a chance to open) and ask them to stand and pass the book back to you after you reveal the word, then you will visually bookend the effect with the image and idea of them holding and looking at the book.

      Seeing this show certainly prompted me to look back over a lot of my scripting choices, and hopefully it will help you as well.

— Z.Y.

The Master of the Script: Derren Brown’s “Secret” Show Review NYC 2017

     This summer, Z.Y. and I were delighted to get to see “Secret”, sitting next to some well-known NYC players such as Dan White and Steve Cohen (hope you’re enjoying your amethyst surprise btw, Steve), which generated a fantastic energy between the audience and Derren. While we could talk about many of the fantastic elements in the show, we’re going to explore perhaps one of the most overlooked, yet important, elements of magic which Derren (and his team) executes perfectly: Scripting.
    Being familiar with his work, this surprised me; but Derren Brown scripted pretty much every single moment of this show. From the opening monologue to his hypnotic inductions even to his seemingly impromptu jokes and ‘responses’ to audience member reactions, it’s all pre-planned and rehearsed. While sticking with this approach allows for less immediate response the night of the performance, it does allow for Derren to dive deeper into the nuance of his language throughout the show, layering numerous presentational ideas and through-lines within the performance, as well as carefully covering several subtle method-moments, and the result is absolutely mind-blowing.
    Knowing the methods for the effects makes it even more fantastic, because his whole performance is steeped in this lovely mixture of sincere charisma and careful attention. He is a living masterclass in all the details that make something go from 90% to 100%, and this is why he is undoubtedly a star of magic. In this show, he doesn’t employ any overwhelmingly mechanically unique or “new” effects (although the effects are very well-crafted and consistent in conception and methodology, and his take on ESPacology is devastating) and remain powerful on their own, yes. However, when these straightforward effects are combined with his excellent showmanship and language, they are taken into a completely separate realm — one of awe.
    Everyone practicing magic has something to learn from Derren; he’s established himself as a critical thinker of magical presentation with his early books such as Absolute Magic and Pure Effect, and the level of skill, commitment, and attention to detail exhibited through the script of “Secret” is something that everyone can draw inspiration from.

— J.R.