Archive for August, 2013

Allow us to help, Miss Manners: Magician wants to perform politely

Monday, August 26th, 2013

We realize we’re about rudely butt in on advice that an advice columnist gave to an aspiring magician. And not just any columnist — Miss Manners, the one columnist where you really don’t want to be rude. But, according to a recent column, she left the door open for us, so we’ll barge through and happily help her out.

In her Aug. 12 column, she answered a magic-related question sent by a reader:

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am an aspiring street magician. I have enjoyed the idea of public performance since I was very young. However, I must admit I am a socially awkward individual at times, in part because of being overly cautious of social niceties.

Once I have taken to performing on the streets, how would you recommend I approach potential observers, if at all? I simply must know!

Because we also have some pretty vast journalism experience, we know that people enjoy sending fake letters to advice columnists. The phrase “I simply must know” screams red flag, unless this column is inadvertently from the website of the London Times circa 1900. But we’ll take the writer at their word and offer our two cents. In her answer, Miss Manners recommended talking to a professional, so here you go, “Gentle Reader.”

Miss Manners is right that magic is not a calling for the timid or easily discouraged. We encourage performers to fail — not on purpose, exactly, but we know there are goofs in every magician’s future, so we encourage performers to embrace them, learn from them and learn how to turn a disaster into an advantage.

Worried about social awkwardness? Magic will cure you of that quickly, especially when you consider the payoff. All you have to do is practice your art and fight your fear. Your reward will be watching someone in the throes of amazement. You’ll bring a little magic to their life. For one moment, the world will hold excitement, promise and marvel in a way that they don’t get to see every day. There’s no better addiction.

But excessive caution over social niceties and being polite is no concern. In fact it’s easy to fix, and any magician who wants to perform politely can incorporate manners into their magic easily. All it takes is two short sentences:

“Hello, my name is (blank,) and I’m a magician. Would you like to see some magic?”

In that one sentence, you’ve provided your identity and enough information for a spectator to reduce their uncertainty about you significantly. They now know enough to feel like they have an advantage in the conversation, and can act accordingly. It also sets you up for success, because if they want to see some magic, they will gladly say yes. If they don’t, you’ve given them an out that they can politely use.

There’s a lot more to this subject, GR. If you’re busking, then you’ll wanna brush up on the city’s laws. You’ll want to learn to read people before your performances, so you know the best people you should tell those two sentences. For more reading:

  • Project Manager Adam Wilber has a lot more to say about this, including some advanced-class tips dealing with performance. Adam performs for ANYBODY. You don’t even have to dare him. And he KILLS.
  • Ellusionist Founder and CEO Brad Christian talked about how he handled the fear during his days as a street magician in the Big Apple. Brad went from a guy thrilled to get his first tips from a guy on the street, to big-time busking on Broadway, and eventually… you know how that story turned out.

But for the most part, keep it simple. Politeness is built in to this simple approach, and we’re pretty sure Miss Manners would approve. We hope to approach her one day and show her what we can do with fine silverware.

FOUR POINTS: Beyond-basics advice about video from Peter McKinnon

Monday, August 12th, 2013

You’ve seen the teasers: The latest trailer for Republic No. 02, our newest deck of playing cards, involves a massive, complicated shoot with some of the best gear in the market. But it’s not enough to have good equipment — in fact, the best camera ever created might as well be an iPhone in the hands of someone who doesn’t know how to use it.

Peter McKinnon knows.

The production manager for Ellusionist is also an accomplished cinematographer who has brought a distinct style for product trailers and demonstrations. Inspired from his early days working for StillMotion, an industry giant that has specialized in Olympic coverage, the U.S. military, weddings and small business projects, Pete has transformed the concept of a magic trailer. From simple (and complicated) flourishes such as this video for the LTD deck to full movie-inspired short stories such as the Infinity deck.

He recently answered four beyond-basics questions while boarding a plane to Paris. Here are his thoughts about equipment and how to use it.

E — A lot of videographers overcompensate with fancy equipment, without really understanding how some of the basics work. Of all the things that a cinematographer should learn, what do you think is the most important to master before spending big bucks on equipment?

p:m — Telling a story. I have always said that having expensive and fancy equipment doesn’t matter at all if you don’t have good content. At the end of the day, you need to communicate with your viewers — and it doesn’t cost a fortune to do that. It takes thought.

E — For me, the lens needs to be the first priority when figuring out what to buy, but I come from a journalism background. Agree/disagree?

p:m — Agree and disagree. It’s all relative. Lens choice IS very important. Different focal lengths and speeds will dramatically change and produce various moods for your image. A good standard lens kit is a good place to start. From there, your lens choice will change based on the kind of shots you want.

E — Without getting into a brand battle, what bonus features on a camera have become absolutely critical to your work?

p:m — The C100 has built-in ND filters up to 8 stops of light. For the non-camera savvy users, I can shoot with a wide-open aperture even in extremely bright situations without having to stop down. Also:

  • Peaking: the camera outlines everything in red to tell me what’s in and out of focus.
  • Levels: monitor audio right on screen.

E — You’re no one-trick monkey: You have a variety of projects in your background, from studio shots to live coverage of riot prevention. What remains the same about your style throughout all the different things you shoot?

p:m — I’m not afraid to get into the action. If I want a shot, I go get it. I’m a firm believer of asking for forgiveness rather than permission 😉

Would Paul LePaul be a flourisher?

Sunday, August 4th, 2013

Paul LePaul is a historic figure in magic for many reasons. The creator of the LePaul spread, LePaul bluff pass and author of “The Card Magic of LePaul” is respected and admired for his love of performance and his precision manipulations. When we look for magic quotes to publish on our Facebook and Twitter pages, we visit his work often.

In fact, we printed one of his quotes yesterday on our Facebook page:

“Much of the charm and beauty of card magic lies in the skillful and adroit handling of the pasteboards. Flourishes, therefore, are a very essential part of the stock-in-trade of every manipulator. Do not underestimate their value; they play a very important role in arousing interest and have a terrific appeal to the imagination of an audience.”

A couple of people were quick to point out that LePaul was talking about basic flourishes, such as fans, cascades, spreads. That kind of thing. The point being that LePaul wouldn’t dive into the world of non-magical flourishing, what with all those crazy cuts, throws and such.

That got us thinking: Would he?

If LePaul were alive today, would he be a flourisher?

Man, do we wish there was performance footage available today. We’d love to be able to watch him perform. Judging from research by the Conjuring Arts Research Center, LePaul was a polished performer who prioritized precision and panache, all with an eye on pleasing his audiences. He didn’t talk much, and didn’t use complicated displays.

In “Card Magic,” published in 1949, Robert Parrish writes that he could play to a small room or a large room with equal aplomb, because he had enough showmanship to make a small card trick play big. When writing about LePaul’s version of a Ten Card Trick, he wrote that “…When three cards disappear from a packet held by a spectator and are found among ten cards of differently colored backs, to the accompaniment of fine comedy, the effect is as impressive as that of a major stage illusion.”

LePaul was also known for his manipulations. From the vaudeville circuit to the hotels and nightclubs he filled, his act was based on his manipulation routines.

Whenever we get chances to dive into card magic history, we see two major paths that magicians can follow. One is that of Dai Vernon, who is a self-assigned protege of S.W. Erdnase and who brought casual, non-flashy, efficient yet subdued moves to the card magician. The other is LePaul, who showed that expert manipulation, which clearly pointed to practice and skill, could indeed be magical. (These two paths are very close together, have plenty of spots where they intersect and both lead to the same place, so we don’t advocate choosing one over the other.)

The most revealing passage of Parrish’s preface to “Card Magic” deals with how much importance LePaul gave to practicing:

“LePaul was a successful professional magician from the beginning of his career because he found a medium and style which suited his personality and because he spent a great deal of time practicing his manipulation. He realize that even to layemen who could not appreciate technical accomplishments, his work would appear the most magical if his sleights were executed with absolute precision.”

Parrish also noted that his two main idols were Nate Leipzig and Howard Thurston — Thurston is significant because, like Jim Steinmeyer, we believe that he bested Houdini for the claim of greatest magician in the world.

And that gets us back to the main question: Would LePaul flourish non-magically? What would he do with Sybil, or an Anaconda Dribble, or Daniel Madison’s Cardistry?

We think he would embrace those moves. And perform then magically.

We don’t think LePaul would ever abandon magical presentations. LePaul was a brilliant magician because he was a brilliant performer. His innovations were based on simplicity, and he carefully chose his material for each audience. So if he were alive today, we’d like to think that a handful of flourishing’s modern moves might appear in some of his routines. But never at the expense of his love for precision and performing.

It’s worth your time to research him. The Conjuring Arts Research Society has recently opened up a display of LePaul’s personal notebook. And if you haven’t read “Card Magic” yet, do so.