Pre-Adapting…

Lately I’ve been thinking about what live, in person magic shows will look like in 2021. I’m fairly optimistic that in person shows will happen, however they will look different. I think the majority of them will be no contact magic shows. That means you can’t have people from the audience come up on stage to help with the show.

I’m trying to plan for that now, and not have to adapt a week before a show. One thing I’m doing today is making a display holder for the front of my case. This is simply a tray that I can set flat props into so that they are upright and visible to the audience.

Here’s what the frontside looks like:

It’s currently being 3d printed in black. It is about 4.5 inches wide and 3 inches tall.

There’s a cut out in the back that I’m going to glue a magnet into. There’s already a magnet inside my case that I can stick this to. This is a simple solution as I don’t use a table to hold props I’m actively using.

Planning for the reality of what’s coming is probably better than hoping everything will be back to where it was a year ago. Even if all restrictions are lifted, the bonus is that I’m developing some new material!

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!

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.

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

Virtual Hosting…

Last night I picked up a last minute gig hosting a showcase. This is for a conference where people go to book acts, I showcased last year and can’t this year. However when I was asked to host their virtual showcase, I agreed as getting face time is always good!

Hosting these is more complex than simply doing material and then announcing acts. The host isn’t supposed to showcase their act. That said, when I accepted the gig, I immediately got started writing down ideas that were fun magical moments. I have seven acts to introduce, which is a lot of material to figure!

How I did this was write down a lot of ideas. Basically I’m just looking for a way to produce the acts name. These have to be quick, and not too involved. After the initial brainstorming, I started to make one of the ideas. One of the acts had a really long introduction. The idea was to have all the text written out, then have all the words change to his name. My first thought was to use black art on the table, but didn’t like that as it’s harder to frame my face. Then I thought about making a flap card. When I first learned to make more modern flap cards, I made an index card that was a flap card. It looks like Blake Vogt is currently selling one called Acro-Index, check his out if you like the idea, and don’t know how to make one.

Once I had the index card trick, I looked at all of my other ideas and started to look at all of the ones that could be adjusted to an index card. I got about 4 of the ideas to work with an index card, and then brainstormed three more.

That gave some options, not every act needs an trick with the introduction. I’m going to record all of them two ways. One as just the introduction and one with the trick. I’ll pick the one that flows better. I’m recording these today, even if they don’t work out, at least it was a fun creative exercise!

Interactive Coin Vanish…

One of the things that’s huge in magic right now are the tricks where the spectators at home follow along with what you do and you end up knowing what they are thinking of. I wrote about my thoughts on this recently, and you can read that blog post here. Basically I want to use add magic to the puzzle to make it more magical.

After the blog post, I wanted to come up with an original trick, with an original puzzle. The trick was going to use coins, so I went out a bought a 21 Cent Trick and a $1.35 Trick at my local magic shop. With these two sets added to the array of trick coins I already had at home, it would allow me a lot of options for the routine.

The premise I was going with was a coin would be selected and all of the coins would disappear. The problem I was having was with the sequence of the counting. There was too much of it.

I finally settled on using two pairs of coins, two pennies and two nickels. In the end they pick a nickel, and the other three coins disappear and there’s just a nickel left.

No Names…

Many years ago I started adding rules to what I do in my show. Sometimes I break these rule, but when I do it’s intentional. Usually these come about by me seeing something I don’t like in someone else’s show and want to make sure I don’t do it in my show.

One of the rules I have is that I don’t use the names of other magicians in my show. There’s a simple reason for that, I don’t want people thinking of other shows they could be seeing. Why would I talk about David Blaine in my show, the audience will immediately compare me to him.

Also when you mention another magician, you run the risk of people not knowing who the person is. I recently watched a show where someone mentioned Jeff McBride and I’m guessing most of the people had no idea who Jeff is. That just confuses people, unless you then explain who the person is, which in most cases.

Not too long ago I was in a variety show and provided an introduction to an MC. They didn’t use what I provided and used a “stock joke” intro that went something like, “you’ve heard of David Copperfield, David Blaine, Doug Henning…well so has he…” This is a bad intro. First of all it’s selfish for the MC to not use the provided intro without asking me. Second, that joke doesn’t move the show forward or provide any info on the act they are about to see. The intro I provided does.

What you do in your show is up to you, but is it really necessary to mention Houdini’s name or are you just being lazy?

Boston Magic Lab…

Tomorrow night I’ll be working on some new material at a virtual magic open mic. This is a free show, but it’s ticketed, so to watch you’ll need to go to:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-magic-lab-a-virtual-open-mic-magic-show-tickets-122881659351

boston magic lab

We did a quick run through and it’ll be a fun show worth checking out!

Small Things…

In May I started worked on a trick that was my version of Albert Goshman’s Cards Thru Newspaper. You can search for those blog posts, but it shows how the trick progressed from the original Goshman trick to what I’d now consider an original magic trick/routine.

Essentially the original trick is that four cards appear one at a time and reappear under a folded up piece of newspaper. I took out what I didn’t like, the cards and newspaper and ended up using an envelope and four polaroid pictures. The pictures disappear and reappear under the newspaper.

It’s been five months since I started working on it, and really, it should have progressed further, it’s been slow going, mostly because of laziness on my part and not putting in as much work on it as I should be. I’ve been doing it as “preshow” for some virtual shows, but really I should be out at virtual open mics doing it and working it in.

polaroid magic trick

I did recently make a change. I’ve been using this trick in pre-recorded virtual shows lately and a problem the trick had was the problems is that the Polaroid pictures are soo glossy, that they are hard to see on camera. They reflect too much light, and you can’t see them clearly. I took some brochure paper and printed the Polaroid pictures onto that paper. It’s a semi-gloss paper, so while it’s shiny, it doesn’t reflect nearly as much as the actual Polaroid picture.

The row on the left are the real Polaroids and the right are the copies. When they are side by side you can see the copies are a little less vibrant than the originals. However without a side by side comparison, you really can’t tell.

Keep working on your magic, even if you’ve been doing a trick for years and it’s a polished routine. There’s usually still improvements that can be made. Sometimes these are small improvements that no one will really notice, but these little things add up!

Torn & Restored…

In yesterday’s blog post, I wrote about a torn and restored card I was playing with based on a method by Harry Anderson. I think Harry’s method is really clever, and his full routine takes the trick from a simple torn and restored card to an amazing finish!

Here’s me trying out my version for some magicians the other night:

What’s neat about the tweak I made to the Anderson version is that you are actually tearing up their card, but the restored card you give back is the original card! It would make a fun magic dealers ad:

  • No Duplicate Names
  • No Double Writing
  • You Actually Tear Up Their Card
  • The Card Can Be Given Away
  • Self Contained Gimmicked Card
  • No Latex Flaps
  • No Elastic
  • No Invisible Thread

I’m having a lot of fun with this torn and restored card. I wonder how it will play once we get back to live, in person shows.