Posts Tagged ‘magic’

FOUR POINTS: Snow days are bonus days you can use to better your magic

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

Ellusionist is a worldwide company, so we know about the different weather our customers deal with. For North Americans, snowfall has been a problem, especially in the New England area, where Boston has dealt with record amounts. On the other side of the globe, summer has hit particularly hard in Australia, marked by the second-warmest February on record.

Whether it’s extreme cold or extreme heat, what those two things have in common is that you’ll be stuck inside. And maybe that means you get a day off. Classes canceled? Boss tell you to stay home? It’s a surprise extra day that you can use to veg out or catch up on work or a TV show.

Or you could use it for your magic.

A weather-related vacay day gives you the perfect chance to level up your game, and get ready for when the weather is better. And that shared cabin fever between you and your neighbors means the community is primed for your performance. Here’s four suggestions: (more…)

FOUR POINTS: Reasons why practice is just as addictive as performing

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

Magicians quickly learn that when they dive into magic, they have actually picked up two activites: The art of practicing magic, and the art of performing magic. At Ellusionist, we are musicians, actors, photographers, speakers, athletes, crafters and more. Our staff members do a variety of things that require practice or rehearsal.

But none of those other arts or activities have such a clear separation between practice and performance.

We all know this. It’s why we recognize how the thrill of mastery is completely separate from the thrill of entertaining — but just as addictive. It’s why hobbyists sometimes practice just as hard as pros. It’s why magicians get together in groups and jams more than any other field of art we’ve seen. It’s why we have decks of cards specifically for shows and other decks specifically for practice sessions — and those decks are nicer than the performance ones, aren’t they? (We imagine you’ll keep a healthy stash of Black Kings for yourself, just for that reason.)

Dai Vernon was a relentless rehearser. And even S.W. Erdnase wrote about the thrill of learning:

“The enthusiast will not rest until every sleight in the calendar has been perfectly mastered, so that he may be enabled to nonplus and squelch that particularly obnoxious but ever present individual, who with his smattering of the commoner sleights always knows ‘exactly how it is done.’ Acquiring the art is in itself a most fascinating pastime, and the student will need no further incentive the moment the least progress is made.”

But the WHY behind it is fascinating, and gives us clues about how tightly magic gets tied into our way of life, in such a way that other arts can’t even touch: (more…)

Let the cards do the talking: Flourishes can speak volumes without words

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015

Abraham Lincoln once said, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” In a general sense, he’s right.

But that doesn’t exactly work for us magicians. At some point we have to speak — to introduce ourselves, deliver patter or respond to a spontaneous moment. But there’s ways we can speak less.

Better yet, we can let our cards do the talking for us.

During our recent podcast with Adam Wilber, the creator of Pyro, he proposed trying an experiment: The next time you perform, introduce yourself for one group with a good card spring, then for the next group, introduce yourself without the spring.

The results should be revealing, Wilber said, and skew toward the side of better reactions from the first group.

“The biggest thing for a crowd is to win them over quickly, so that you’re not the corny magician they have seen before. Something as simple as springing the cards from hand to hand can make you a professional in the audience’s eyes.”

We’ve talked about the balance between either showing or hiding proficiency with cards. Some magicians lean more toward Dai Vernon’s Erdnase-inspired philosophy of casual, non-flashy movement, others lean toward Paul LePaul’s idea that expert manipulation could generate magical reactions from spectators. Starting off with a flourish definitely puts you on the LePaul side of that line.

But think about what a flourish says, without speaking a word:

  • • Not everyone can do a flourish. Heck, not everyone gets to SEE flourishes very often. It’s easy for magicians to forget that, because we watch performance videos and cardistry displays like they are Super Bowl commercials. But most people rarely get to see such a thing live. That rarity is compelling, and is a tremendous advantage.
  • • Some magician’s disapproval of flourishes rests in the idea that a spectator, upon seeing a flourish, would instantly recognize it as a display of skill, then go on a Fezzini-inspired rant of logic to deduce that any of the magic they see from you CLEARLY isn’t magic, because you’re capable of such precise manipulations, etc. In our experience, a flourish wakes up an interest in spectators. They make the deduction that you are good at cards, but instead of discounting what’s to come, THEY CAN’T WAIT TO SEE WHAT COMES NEXT. Like Adam said, they recognize you are a professional, and build interest in seeing what you can do.
  • • Flourishes can speak from across a room. We’ve been out in public, just fanning cards, then been approached by people who are curious about what we’re doing. Eight times out of 10, it takes less than a minute for them to ask, “Are you a magician?” In those cases, all the hard work of introducing yourself has been done by them.
  • • Flourishes aren’t limited to just cards. There are rolls and walks you can perform with coins or rings. Or maybe you have a favorite object, such as a lighter, cellphone, money clip, etc. Play with it. Manipulate it. Figure out a trick. Those are basically the same thing as a fan or spring, and can have the same effect.

There are even more ways that a flourish can speak for you, but we’ll let you discover those on your own. Adam and Peter McKinnon teach a series of basic flourishes in How to Do Miracle Card Tricks, and Daniel Madison goes next level with hardcore hand candy in Cardistry.

Magician characters on TV usually let us down, but we believe in NPH

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015

Usually if a TV show features a magician as a charater, it’s a tribute to the old top-hat-and-tails type, ready to saw a lady in half, or a modern interpretation of a David Copperfield style of stage magician. The kinds of magicians we love to watch usually don’t get featured on TV shows: There’s no close-up masters, no deception artists, no guys who do their work just sitting at a table with a deck of cards. (That’ll change in a few weeks on SyFy — more on that soon.)

That’s why when we hear our buddies tell us about magician type of character in a TV show, we just smile politely, while inside, we get filled with dread and make no plans to record it on our DVR.

But “American Horror Story” is not an average TV show. And Neil Patrick Harris is no ordinary actor.

In one of his first TV appearances since “How I Met Your Mother,” NPH will play an illusionist named Chester starting tonight on FX’s “American Horror Story: Freak Show.” His character appears to have a psychotic drive right at home with some of the other murderers in that show, and also appears to have a creepy ventriloquist dummy that “relaxes him,” so in terms of a TV representation of a magician, we’re not that excited.

But Harris has a strong history in magic, and that gives us faith that this upcoming two-episode arc won’t be cringe-worthy (in terms of our non-magic buddies associating us with those kind of magicians, anyway).

His interest in magic is well-known: Harris is a former president of The Magic Castle, one of the finest performance venues for close-up magic in the country. He also was the director of “Nothing to Hide,” a stunning production featuring Derek DelGaudio and Helder Guimaraes — runs in Los Angeles and New York City drew critical acclaim.

Producers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk have been doing incredible storytelling on “American Horror Story,” and Harris is one of the best actors in the biz. He’s gonna fit right in with the freak show, and we’ll enjoy watching.

YOUR TURN: What’s been your favorite portrayal of a magician in a TV show or movie (besides “The Prestige,” because we all know that movie is awesome)? Let us know in the comments below.

Spirit of jam sessions inspired Syfy’s ‘Wizard Wars,’ a show about creation

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

Rick Lax, like any magician, loves jam sessions. Every week he gets together with Justin Flom, Bizzaro and others for a creative crash. Those sessions were so crazy that they inspired him to create a reality TV show concept.

“Sometimes our jam sessions are more entertaining than the magic that comes out of them,” Lax said. “That got me wondering how to get people to care about the magicians’ creative process. And the reality competition format seemed like a perfect fit.”

That competition starts at 10 p.m. EST Tuesday, Aug. 19, with the debut episode of “Wizard Wars.” Featuring Lax, Flom, Penn & Teller, Shimshi, Murray SawChuck, Angela Funovitz, Nathan Burton and other Las Vegas performers, magicians will compete to create the best magic tricks possible.

The show will give a spotlight to the creators of magic, who are unheralded, unsung heroes, he said. Dan Hauss, Ekaterina Dhobrokotova, Blake Vogt, Gregory Wilson and others will be featured on the show, and Dan White and Johnny Thompson work behind the scenes.

Creation, not revelation

The concept of the show might raise questions about trick revelation among magicians. Lax said that’s not the case: The creative process is featured, not the end result of a trick.

Competitors will be featured in a magic workshop, charged with meeting a goal and developing ways to accomplish that goal. While audience members will get a peek behind the curtain, it doesn’t get pulled back completely. The only methods that might get revealed are ones that don’t get used.

“Let’s say the secret item is ‘tennis ball,’ and one magician does a trick where the ball vanishes from one hand and reappears in her other hand,” he said. “If the method she ultimately decides on is a duplicate ball, we’re not going to show the duplicate ball. But let’s say that before she figured out to use the duplicate, she tried to build an elastic contraption that would bring a ball up one sleeve and down the other. That’s something we might show.”

Each episode will feature the creative process — the unique thinking that leads to moments of brillance, resulting in the creation of a beautiful illusion. The competitive format will give creators the spotlight — names that magicians know like others know pop singers.

“(The concept) means so much to me because magic creators never really get the national spotlight,” Lax said. “Guys like Gregory Wilson or Blake Vogt. You see their tricks being performed everywhere, but you so rarely get to see them in front of the cameras. ‘Wizard Wars’ is their chance to shine.”

Best network possible

According to a story on Wired.com, Lax pitched his idea to a bunch of networks. Syfy was the last pitch, and the one that picked up the idea. The pickup was double-sweet, Lax said — all because of a bunch of people who did movie makeup, and the TV viewers who watched them.

“I’m a huge ‘Face Off’ fan. Seen every episode,” Lax said. “And in ‘Face Off,’ Syfy masterfully got people who knew nothing about special effects makeup to care about special effects makeup. So the hope is it can do the same for the magic creative process.”

A magic reality show is different than other talent-based shows, because of the secrecy of methods. Lax said “Wizard Wars” focuses on laymen, but magicians will appreciate incredibly good magic and how challengers are treated with respect. The competition is intense and heated, but the featuring of quality magicians means plenty of respect between each other.

And magicians will find plenty to learn and apply to their own acts, Lax said.

“Note the show’s judging criteria: creativity, originality and deceptiveness. The best magic acts have elements of all three,” Lax said. “Think about how to make the trick your own. And think about how to make it entertaining, not just deceptive. Communication and connection are so important.”

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