Zoom Stagecraft…

One thing that I’ve been paying attention to at magic meetings and magic conventions is how magicians are using Zoom. Not from a magic method standpoint, but from using it as their stage. How are thing framing their magic, how are they bringing people from the audience onstage.

Paul Gertner has a really great way of using people from the audience. He has them on a physical screen in his space, and it really gives a feel of the person standing next time. If you get a chance to see him perform, it’s worth it to see what he’s doing. It’s great!

One of the big things that I noticed at the PCAM was the difference in how people performed if they were “Instagram” performers and weren’t doing live virtual shows. The clunky transitions between tricks, and tech transitions (like moving a camera from their face to hands) really highlighted this difference. The people that were live performers really eliminated this dead time, or made it interesting. This isn’t a knock on people that perform on Instagram, it really just highlighted how live performing is a very different skill set.

Just like many live performers have made the switch to Instragram or TikTok, I think people who perform on those venues need to start looking at how to perform live. It’s the logical extension of what they’re doing. Someone sees a video and wants to book you for a virtual show. I understand that live performing is something some Instagram performer have no interest in, and I respect that. However I also think that’s if Ellen asked them to be on her TV show, they’d want to do it.

It’s good to build the skill before you need it!

Thanksgiving Creativity…

Well, today is Thanksgiving in the United States, and I’m going to remind you that holidays are a great way to be creative. Here’s a trick that I made for Thanksgiving 4 or 5 years ago:

It’s an easy way to take an existing trick, theme the prop and you’ve got a unique feeling routine. Every now and then I take a look at the list of “National Day’s” and use that as my starting point to work on new routines. Usually these routines aren’t for my show, they are a creative exercise.

PCAM Magic Convention…

Last weekend I attended the PCAM magic convention. It was a lot of fun, and they did a good job of keeping the day moving, it went from 10am to 8pm, then unofficially till about midnight.

When the booker approached me to perform at the convention, I decided to pitch something a little different from an act or lectures. I mentioned the little cooking demos I’ve done, and could do a cocktail for them. They like the idea and I got to do one of little mixology video for them!

It went over well! One of the fun things performing for magicians is when you do unexpected things. In that routine there are a couple of interest to magicians. There’s a production of two rats, which is interesting and the flaming jalapeno pepper. The pepper always surprises me that magicians get excited about that. there have been “flaming” objects around for years, not sure why this one makes an impression…unless it’s that it makes sense as a prop.

I’m glad that my whacky little presentation went well. I’d love to do more and more of these over zoom. It’s a different style of performing magic and I’m really enjoying it.

Finished Teleprompter

Designing and assembling a working teleprompter was a lot easier than I thought! Yesterday I rode my bike over to the Dollar Store and picked up a picture frame to use for the glass.

If I ever dis this again, the big change I would make is try to find glass that’s the exact size of the part it’s attached to. I’d also make a slot for the glass to slide into. Right now the camera’s screen is obscured, so I can’t see where I am in real time in the frame. This isn’t a huge deal, as I plan on using this for things where I’m not that active and moving around.

I’ve always said that getting better at magic is a lot of solving problems. This solved a problem. If I use it and like it, I may end up investing in a more professional setup…but maybe not.

Stopping Looking Off Camera…

Lately I’ve had a bunch of virtual MC work I’ve been doing. I feel like people’s introductions are getting longer and longer. Gone are the days of three bullet points and a name. I’m having a need for a teleprompter, so that I’m not reading off of a sheet of paper. Someone suggested I look into Padcaster:

Padcaster

This goes onto the front of your camera which looks through the hole in the back. Then you use your smartphone to make the text on the glass. The idea is you can read off the teleprompter while you look directly into the camera.

The camera I use is a Sony Handycam and it’s got a big front around the lens. I was worried I’d spend $100 and have a teleprompter that didn’t fit. I decided to give making my own a try. A quick google search led me to some premade 3d templates for teleprompters, but none was quite want I wanted. I custom designed the one below for my specific camera and cellphone:

3d print teleprompter

The top part that goes on the camera has printed and it fits great! The tray to hold the phone is printing right now, and I need to go to the store to get some glass. I’m hoping this will work!!!

New Shell Game Set…

Shell game sets are the one thing in magic that I collect. Recently TCC put out a shell game set as part of their 10th anniversary releases. They were only $29 with free shipping, so I picked up a set.

The picture above is the set was sent to me. Here’s the TCC video:

My review is pretty much, for $29 and if you can get them shipped free, they are fine. They aren’t breaking any new ground. They are brass walnut shells, with no added features aside from the weight of them being brass. They are completely workable and do what they are supposed to do.

If I had to choose between the Magic Maker’s gold shells and the TCC ones, I’d go with the TCC shells. However, a better choice would be to save a few more bucks and get a better made shell game set.

The Harvard Crimson…

Got a fun surprise today. A while ago I was interviewed by The Harvard Crimson, and the article came out!

Magicians and audiences from Boston and around the world gathered together virtually for the Boston Magic Lab’s final show of 2020. With backdrops varying from simple bedrooms and offices to more elaborate studio setups, six performers presented the audience with impossible effects ranging from a perfect prediction of a spectator’s thoughts to a chosen playing card emerging from a jar of vegemite. In the show’s unique digital format, viewers spammed “1”s into the chat in lieu of applause, and volunteers were toggled from viewers to panelists when they interacted with the performers.

Now a year old, the Boston Magic Lab is one of the latest additions to the Boston arts scene. The group hosts a monthly open-mic for magicians to test out new material. The show is entirely free for audiences, who are instead encouraged to contribute to local charitable organizations. The magicians aren’t paid to perform — rather, they receive in-depth feedback for their routines.

The Boston Magic Lab was founded by Felice T. Ling, a social anthropologist and street magician who is a regular performer at Faneuil Hall. After having a chance to test some new cabaret material at the Toronto Magic Company, she was inspired. A few years later, Ling’s magician friends from Toronto visited Boston, and they sent out a call for local magicians to come hang out. It was then that Ling met many of the magicians who would join the Boston Magic Lab crew. “[I] realized that there’s a lot of little tribes of magicians in the area who were also craving the same thing that I was looking for,” Ling said, “which was community and a place to perform and try out new stuff.”

While open mics exist in stand-up comedy, the concept of a magic open mic is a relatively new idea. “I think part of the challenge of magic is a lot of people do it as a hobby, which is great, but then it’s always tough to find places to perform live, where you can test new material and you can be, quote unquote, you can be bad to get better,” said magician Adrian Saw, an Australian financial trader based in Singapore who has performed magic in comedy clubs throughout Asia. An open mic platform gives new magicians an opportunity to practice and seasoned professionals a chance to take risks.

One of Ling’s goals for the organization is to spotlight local magicians. In pre-pandemic times, the Boston Magic Lab was housed in the Rozzie Square Theater. “Feeling like Boston is very important to us,” said Ling. “The goal is still to try and keep three slots for Boston area or New England area magicians.” Another of Ling’s goals is to showcase marginalized peoples. “There are so few magicians who aren’t white men, just to be blunt,” she said. “I think [representation]’s really important because for me, the first time I saw a magician on stage who looked kind of like me, that was huge.”

Like all the performing arts, magic has been struck a terrible blow by the pandemic and the subsequent closure of nearly all in-person venues. Magic carries a physicality that is distinctly lost in this virtual world. Viewing tricks through a screen is a significant change in the experience, not just for audiences, but for the magicians themselves.

“If I, for example, turned a coin into a solid steel ball, you just have to believe that what you’re seeing is a solid steel ball, you can’t actually feel it. You can’t actually see that this is a solid steel ball, no longer a coin, and that’s the most difficult part, because everything is visual, is no longer tangible,” said Jay S. Chun, an Edmonton based street performer known for her circus skills. “And as a street performer who works with a lot of, ‘Come close, feel my props, these are regular props, let’s do magic with them,’ is entirely out the window.”

Similar to stand-up comedy, magic relies heavily on feeding off of an audience’s energy — interpreting reactions and altering one’s performance in real time to create a unique and engaging show. Performing for a screen is very different from performing on the street, in a club, or on a stage. “For me, what this is is just a great big game of pretend,” said Benjamin L. Barnes, the current Entertainment Director at the Chicago Magic Lounge. “I am imagining what [people in the audience] look like, I am imagining that they’re having fun and so I’m having fun with them, never seeing them. It’s all just make believe. And I imagine things are going great … There was one point in the show where I said to everyone, ‘I can see some of you are clapping, thank you so much.’ I saw none of that, it’s just in my imagination.”

A virtual format does come with some benefits. “It’s been some of the most creative times of my life because I’m able to pursue stuff that I wouldn’t normally do,” said Louie M. Foxx, a Seattle based magician and two-time Guinness World Record holder, who has been experimenting with creating short pieces of pre recorded content.ADVERTISEMENT

Saw agreed, referencing a trick he did with a coin during the recent Boston Magic Lab performance — something that would usually be considered close-up magic. “I couldn’t really do that in a live environment, in a stand-up or comedy room because no one past the first row could see that coin, but in a Zoom environment where you’ve got the camera right there and the audience can see a tight frame, you can start using different things that you wouldn’t otherwise use in a live show.”

For now, virtual shows are the only option for most magicians. All of the Boston Magic Lab performers emphasized the importance of pivoting and taking advantage of this new opportunity. “Every single platform: TV magic, close-up magic, parlor, stage, they each have their own beauty to it, and you just have to try to find that beauty in every single one,” said Linda Hung, a recent graduate of Pace University currently based in NYC. “And virtual shows [are] just a new platform that people need to find the beauty [in].”

Barnes said that, if anything, magicians will be better performers after working in the virtual realm. “I think this situation has forced us to learn to connect with people more because of the obstacles of not being there with them physically … If you can connect with people through a camera, that’s a great skill to have.”

For the Boston Magic Lab, moving beyond physical space means reaching a larger circle of magicians. “I think switching online has helped me find people in the New England area, actually, that I did not know of here,” said Ling.

The performing arts scene is bound to emerge from the pandemic as a changed industry. Much of in-person magic involves working with volunteers, passing around props, and choosing cards, but in a post-pandemic world concerned about hygiene, this is unlikely to come back any time soon. All of the performers agreed that the virtual magic show is here to stay, even after a return to in-person venues is possible. “It’s inexpensive, you can connect people in different geographic locations, and it’s a lot of fun, and I don’t think it’s going to go away just because we can be together in person again … honestly, I think it’s good. It’s another avenue through which magicians can make a living, which is fantastic,” Barnes said.

Audiences may be Zoom-fatigued, but there are still reasons to seek out virtual magic shows, even more so than other virtual entertainment. “[In] most of those other art forms it’s a fixed performance and an audience member would see that same show if they watched that virtual performance five times,”Saw said. “But in a magic show, you’re going to have audience members making different decisions … I think people have been so isolated that just sitting, watching passively a Zoom show is not really what people want in this kind of environment — they want to be involved. They want to have their camera on. They want to talk, they want to make decisions, and I would say magic is probably one of the only art forms in a virtual medium where people can do that.”

As for the Boston Magic Lab, they intend to resume performances in January 2021 after a two-month hiatus, during which they plan to rework and improve their show and continue to build an unpretentious and inclusive community.

We’re not a nonprofit, we’re not an official organization,” said Ling. “We’re just a group of friends who want to put together a good show.”

By Sam F. Dvorak, Contributing Writer

Side Steal…

At night when I’m hanging out with the family watching TV, usually I’m dinking around with a deck of cards. Frequently I’m working on a fancy cut, I try to be able to do a little bit of the cardistry so the kids at magic conventions think I’m less of a dinosaur. Sometimes I work on new card sleights, or just try to keep the rust off of old ones.

The last week or so I’ve been playing with the side steal. It’s a move I’ve done for a long time and can do it, but I don’t do it exceptionally. When I do it in a live performance, it’s an attitude thing, versus a technique thing. Usually when I do it, I use Scotty York‘s method for the side jog, which automatically side jogs the card.

Sometimes I do the proper side steal technique where you push the card into a squared deck, steal the card and either palm it, or move it to the top. I’ve been working on my technique to get it into full palm using proper technique the last week. It’s starting to look a lot better, I still have a studder between the side jog and full palm. I’m working to smooth that out. It’ll take time…

Magical Mixology…

In a few days I’ll be performing at the Pacific Coast Association of Magicians annual convention which will take place online. When they contacted me,I wanted to do something a little bit different. I pitched them having me teach how to make a cocktail. Basically it’s a magical mixology class.

When I sat down to write up the ingredient list and recipe for the cocktail, I decided I wanted to create that like an old magic magazine ad for a magic trick.

I think it turned out well. I worked way too hard on making this, however I think it adds some fun to the whole thing. My starting point was visiting Ask Alexander going through old magic magazines and looking at the ads. I kinda had an idea in my head as to what I was looking for, it was just a matter of finding an ad to use as a template.


Here’s the ad that was my starting point:


Sometimes the little bit extra is what makes the trick work. I’m hoping the ad gets people excited about the mixology.

See This Show…

A while ago I almost flew to New York on a day I had off between a couple of contracts to see In & Of Itself. Unfortunately, with the flights and the show that I could get tickets to, if my plane was a little bit late, I would have missed the show. I didn’t go.


The show is streaming right now at the IFC Center’s website. You save $3 with the coupon code: ROADTRIP

After watching it, I’m regretting not taking the chance on seeing it in person. The show was AMAZING! That’s just seeing it streamed, I can’t imagine the energy seeing it live.

There’s a lot that makes the show work. First of all it’s now a “magic show” but a show that has magic elements. I think about five tricks in 90 minutes, so not a lot of magic, but what’s there is great!

One of the things that makes the show work is that Derek Delgaudio is a normal guy. He doesn’t have shellac’d hair, dancers, or exaggerated applause poses. He’s an honest guy sharing his life. Sure there are theatrical things that happen, like lighting, or music, but they aren’t overbearing like the how a 1990’s Las Vegas illusionist finishes a trick.

Watching the show, I cried twice. Derek knows how to connect with people in a way I don’t think I’ve ever seen in another show. This style of show is something that other magicians are going to be chasing for years. Derek is soo far ahead of the pack, and it’s such a unique show and venue. You can’t really break in this sort of material at the gravel company’s holiday party.

Do yourself a favor and watch the show. It will inspire you to be better!