Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Syfy becomes a new home for great magic with TV lineup

Monday, January 26th, 2015

Syfy becomes a new home for great magic with TV lineup

Something amazing is happening at Syfy. The network known for so-bad-they’re-kinda-good B-movies such as “Sharknado” and for stepping up its drama game with “12 Monkeys” and “Helix” is finding a new niche for great magic shows — the kinds of magic shows that make us cheer, not cringe.

Look at this lineup:

  • • We’ve already told you about “Wizard Wars,” the show that transforms the spirit of a jam session into an “Iron Chef”-style competition. Featuring Penn & Teller as celebrity judges, the show is the brainchild of Rick Lax and Justin Flom, and starts its second season Thursday. The new season features even more big names in close-up, including Project Manager Adam Wilber, Justin Miller, Messado, Eric Jones, Nathan Kranzo and more. The second season debuts at 9 p.m. EST Thursday.
  • • After “Wizard Wars” is a new show that promises plenty of close-up magic just by the name. “Close-up Kings” features Johnny Blaze, Magick Balay and Loki performing magic and stunts during a cross-country trip. As the journey progresses, the illusions get more orchestrated and turn into “Ocean’s Eleven” kinds of capers. “Close-up Kings” airs at 10 p.m. each Thursday.
  • • Already airing on Syfy is a new show from Troy Von Majik. “Troy: Street Magic” features the UK magician in a David Blaine-style street setting. Interesting use of hidden cameras gets completely different kinds of reactions, and each episode features environmental effects, from breaking and restoring a pair of designer glasses in front of the shop owner to bowling in a unique way. “Troy: Street Magic” airs at 10 p.m. EST each Tuesday.

It’s a solid lineup for the kind of close-up magic we love and live every day. The latter two are our favorite kind of magic shows, where magicians take their art to the street and capture the reactions of amazed onlookers. And though “Wizard Wars” takes place on a stage with an audience, it has close-up and creativity in its heart, and gives one of the best looks into a magician’s creative process without spoiling the magic. Plus, Penn & Teller are the perfect judges to critique a show based on magic creation.

In short: All these shows are great for magic, and it’s awesome that Syfy is highlighting the shows that magic fans and magicians alike can enjoy.

Do you plan on watching? Let us know in the comments below.

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

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015

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

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.”

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

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

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

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.

Ollie Mealing: Norms stifle our creative thinking into a rut, so break from them

Thursday, December 25th, 2014

Ollie Mealing: Norms stifle our creative thinking into a rut, so break from them

Ollie Mealing,creator of Control and Recoil, is a consultant for Derren Brown and created some of magic’s most-buzzed about videos on the Internet. On a break, he got a chance to check in about norms and how our magic may be littered with them — at the expense of our creativity.

Norm: A standard, model or pattern regarded as typical.

Within life we all passively fall prey to conformity, a set of behavioural norms that ultimately serve to shield us from conflict, by encouraging us to fit in with our environment. It’s a vast and complex subject that really is worth reading into. For the purpose of keeping this blog short I won’t digress too far, but know that as useful as these norms can be, they impair our creative thought.

Hiding in plain sight, there are countless norms within the performance of magic that have become so deeply rooted we struggle to see them as being questionable — they align so habitually with our performance that we take them for granted, allowing our performances to breathe such elements as imperceptibly as we breathe air.

Still unsure what I’m talking about? This indicates just how veiled and accepted these norms are. Let me quench your curiosity:

  • • When we perform we’ve always either sat or stood — what if we were lying or crouching?
  • • We’re always facing our audience — how could a different orientation serve the performance or experience?
  • • We’re always present in the room — where else could we be and what would be the repercussions?
  • • The magic is always in close proximity to the performer and the audience — where else could it be happening?
  • • The effect is always performed sequentially and continuously — is that really necessary?
  • • There’s always light — could darkness be beneficial?
  • • There’s always an effort to acquire an audience — what’s our other options?
  • • There’s always a space considered favourable to performance — how could we embrace a different space?
  • • There’s always an observable effect — could we experience magic another way?
  • • There’s always a desire to delight — what other emotions could we wish to stir?

Aside from their advantages, these and many more commonplace norms restrain our creativity by becoming undisputed requirements. They act as filters, hindering our ability to quite literally think outside of the box that they create. They impose limitations and therefore scope for diversity. Of course there are exceptions to these statements, but overall they remain ubiquitous within performance; we accept them without questioning the consequence of their absence, we lose sight of the fact that they CAN be disputed, resulting in fresh, unconventional revelations.

When it comes to the approach and execution of magic we adopt the norms of those before us, which have evolved through extensive experimentation and time-tested realisation of preferable combinations of circumstances — but collectively those norms are the result of a chain reaction, one which has formed a stratosphere above our creativity by creating the illusion of what magic is.

But really, that’s just one direction and comprehension of it. Of course while within this model we’re in no grave danger of exhausting ideas, but by gravitating towards such norms we effectively solidify a perceptual embodiment of magic. Progress requires change; we should be regularly considering everything we can, asking, “How could this be different?”

Because it always can be different. Art has no limits.

“Empty your cup so that it may be filled; become devoid to gain totality.” -Bruce Lee

There are plenty of factors which are conducive towards good entertainment and anything presented in the right way can of course be entertaining — entertainment in essence is awakening a perspective, you’re delivering information in such a way that it serves to provoke a notable experience. So surely there’s no reason why magic can’t look or feel different to it’s current disposition and yet still be entertaining — entertainment ensues from the delivery of information, rather than the information itself.

With that in mind, I feel that magic has the potential to be so much more than how we think of it today, but to discover (rather than stumble upon) what those shifts could comprise of, I believe must involve mentally inhabiting a new place for what magic can be by parting with our norms and adhering to an unduly, inquisitive cognition, we empower the potential for revolutionary ideas to reach the fore.

Only the curiosity of today conceives the magic of tomorrow.

Ollie Mealing: Creative progress requires pursuit of these two elements

Monday, November 10th, 2014

Ollie Mealing: Creative progress requires pursuit of these two elements

Ollie Mealing, creator of Control and Recoil, is a consultant for Derren Brown and created some of magic’s most-buzzed about videos on the Internet. On a break, he got a chance to check in about the key process behind making creative progress, and learning how to unlock the creative spark that leads to original ideas.

Everybody has goals they wish to progress towards, but hope and luck are no basis for a strategy — achievement requires knowledge.

At the heart of progress is information. When we acquire information we strengthen our knowledge and therefore gain progress towards discovering how we can achieve our goal — developing a strategy that allows us to regularly increase and practice our knowledge is the key to continual progress.

So if we regularly need information to progress, then we need to know how to reliably obtain it.

For that, in my mind, we’re reliant upon a combination of inspiration and motivation, or in other words, ideas worthy of acting upon. The potency of inspiration affects the consequent feeling of motivation, when the desire to fulfil an idea feels significant, motivation takes over and spurs us on with an abundance of energy.

As beneficial as this is, it blinds from considering every idea as being worthy of acting upon, which we must do if we’re to discover their true worth. Providing we act on our ideas they will always provide us with new information. It’s this recurring insight that allows us to build up our knowledge and create new, wiser ideas, which promotes the cycle’s continuance and strength.

Progress requires information which results from acting on ideas — you need to pursue something in order to learn from it.

So how can we enable ideas to emerge?