David Copperfield reminds us about magic’s power to bond people

March 6th, 2015 | Joe Hadsall | Filed Under General

There’s a lot of reasons we’re proud to be magicians. The art has enhanced our lives in so many different ways, from the way we can size up situations instantly, to the way we share joy and beauty with all sorts of people.

David Copperfield reminded us of another reason we’re proud.

The legendary illusionist, who has inspired so many modern magicians, wrote a column for the New York Times about the power of magical thinking. It’s a testament to how magic profoundly affects the human psyche.

“My fellow artists and I are here to create, if only for an hour or two, a concord among every member of the audience. Art has the ability to unite people into a collective mind. That’s the real magic, what those in the hate business can’t countenance.”

In making his point, he takes a trip through history, and how people have tried to suppress art, from how King James I in 1584 tried to destroy all copies of a book about sleight of hand to how a street magician was beheaded by terrorists in Syria. He also ties in other pop culture and efforts to suppress it, from the hacking of Sony Pictures to the attack on Charlie Hebdo.

And for those who think Copperfield has never had to deal with any of those issues, they would be wrong. He tells a story about a trip to mid-1990s Moscow, where the Russion Orthodox Church claims his upcoming performance there is anti-religion.

Of course he won them over.

“Boris N. Yeltsin invites me to the Kremlin. When I arrive, who’s there but the patriarch, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. Through interpreters we talk, we hang, titles and official roles fading as the night (and the vodka) wears on. At the end of night, the patriarch smiles and gives me the thumbs up. We’d started as strangers, suspicious of each other, and ended as pals. He realized I’m not Satan’s emissary, just a hard-working guy from New Jersey, as controversial (and, I hope, as entertaining) as a Cole Porter melody.”

His column is definitely worth the read, because it reminds us that we magicians are on the frontlines of a war against division. All that practice, all those performances; every business card we pass, every card we have signed, torn and restored — it all works toward bonding people together, and sharing a beautiful experience.

“Those of us in the entertainment business have a duty to vanish the idea that there’s an “us” and a “them.” When audiences unite in joy and wonder, you realize that the key isn’t the suspension of disbelief, but the suspension of divisive beliefs.”

Thanks for that reminder, David. Bravo.

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

March 2nd, 2015 | Joe Hadsall | Filed Under Four Points

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: Read more

FOUR POINTS: Remember these when trying to get media coverage

February 25th, 2015 | Joe Hadsall | Filed Under Four Points

Check out this story about magician Jay Shatnawi, of Windsor, California. It’s a great piece with an amazing photo, a good write-up of his performances at a Petaluma steakhouse and a a ballsy performance for Criss Angel and his “Believe” audience. The Press Democrat isn’t the New York Times, but that doesn’t matter to its readers. It’s a great story about one of their own community members, a rising star with talent to share and a story to tell.

That should raise the question: Why not you?

You live near a newspaper, or TV station. You perform magic. You have a story to tell, and you’d make a great subject for a story! You’re gonna start writing press releases right now, right? Wait, no! Just drive to the TV station! They’ll put you on live instantly!

Slow down. In addition to writing for Ellusionist and a performing close-up magician, I am the features editor for a daily newspaper in the Midwest, and I can tell you exactly what happens to most overly aggressive news seekers. To put it in magician’s terms, there’s a lot of ditching involved.

That doesn’t mean I’m a heartless editor. My position as features editor means I’m a little more accepting and flexible for a variety of stories, because I’m in charge of the sections people WANT to read, not what they NEED to read. I’m always looking for stories about people in our coverage area, and your story may be quite newsworthy.

So you should definitely pursue media coverage, if you think it will benefit you. But you should have reasonable expectations of the reception you’ll get from the media, and what — if any — kind of coverage you’ll get. We could dive into how to write a good press release, how to ask for coverage, etc. — but for now, the best thing to know is a little bit about the media business. I’m happy to share these four points, and hope they help you get good local coverage. Read more

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

February 19th, 2015 | Joe Hadsall | Filed Under Four Points

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: Read more

Network debut: Adam Wilber, Justin Miller featured in Syfy’s ‘Wizard Wars’

February 12th, 2015 | Joe Hadsall | Filed Under General

Tonight is the night. Two of magic’s boldest performers will appear on one of their biggest stages yet: A prime-time cable network show.

Ellusionist General Manager Adam Wilber and longtime performer Justin Miller team up and compete for $10,000 on the Syfy show “Wizard Wars.” Developed by Rick Lax and Justin Flom, the show gives a “Chopped”-style spin to magic shows: Pairs of magicians must develop magic effects and routines based on mystery objects given to them before the show.

How do Adam and Justin fare? Do they advance past the preliminary round and take on the show’s pros? We have high hopes. But no matter how they finish, Adam said the experience was a blast.

“We were pretty comfortable about the challenge because we set out to make our performance as entertaining and fun as we could with what we were given,” Adam said. “I’m happy with the way it turned out and, most importantly, we had a blast putting it together.”

Both Justin and Adam have reputations for performing fearlessly in a variety of situations. A performer with Ellusionist since the company’s early days, Justin recently completed filming The BOLD Project, which featured one of the craziest, riskiest performances we’ve ever captured on video — and he KILLED. Before Adam’s promotion to general manager, he had cemented his reputation as a worker by performing for anyone, anytime. He is the creator of The Working Man and the author of Creative Magic.

Adam said they were approached by Syfy to appear on the show. After a Skype interview, he was on a plane to Los Angeles for filming, he said.

But those are in close-up, street situations. How did the two interact on a stage, working as a team? Pretty well, Adam said.

“Justin and I are very close friends, so working with him was like second nature,” Adam said. “Two minds make the workload easier, for sure. Justin and I have a similar style of magic, so there was not a lot of teaking that had to be done. It all felt pretty natural.”

The performance went… well, you’ll see. Audience members reacted well, and connected with the two afterward to say how much they enjoyed it. Reaction elsewhere has also been overwhelming, he said. And some of the best performance feedback came from two of the show’s celebrity judges, Penn and Teller.

“It’s always great to get criticism from artists you respect,” Adam said.

“Wizard Wars” airs at 10 p.m. EST Thursdays on Syfy.