You want to talk about ambiance? This place has it in spades. Last night was Lougheed House's staff Christmas dinner, and yours truly was booked to entertain. The house, former residence of Senator Lougheed and his family, is one of the few preserved Victorian stately homes you'll find in Alberta. Rare, and therefore quite special. Yes, yes, many of you in the UK have got leftovers in your fridge that predate what is considered antique in Canada but regardless of that, this house is beautifully preserved and maintained.
In true Victorian style it's actually a mixture - ornate brass fixtures, textured wallpapers, dark panneling (Mission / Arts & Crafts), Persian rugs, but it all works. And after dark with the lights on it takes on a cosy atmosphere perfect for (what else?) parlour magic!
Parlour magic. In a PARLOUR! One of the nice things about a gig like this is that I get to do things that work best in certain atmospheres and that I therefore only occasionally do. My multiple-selection routine, for one: ten cards selected by different audience members, shuffled back into the deck and then found one at a time... in my pockets, inside the card box, flying out of the deck and so on. Great fun to perform but works best (with that number) when the people in the audience know each other well and have rapport already.
Superb night. And a highly recommended place to visit if you like old houses with charm and history.
Thanks to iTricks for posting this (and Doug McKenzie for sending it there). Here's a guy who puts my own paltry memory-technique tricks to shame. The number of letter-arrangements he has to think ahead is remarkable, and the final reveal...well.
As he says, a return to the golden age of magic, the parlour atmosphere, is long overdue. Kudos to him.
Ah yes, the beautiful bit of pop psychology that had most of us fooled. Me for one. Hey, it made sense, didn't it? I have no idea who created it but whoever it was must have been a magician at least at heart. Let's face it: the result is pretty impressive. Rather cool. The kind of tidbit that should spark a few moments' clever conversation at any dinner party.
It only falls apart when you look closer.
Fortunately for me, fortunately for pretty much any magician who has ever offered an 'explanation' for an effect, it wroks wlel enguoh to be pssaalby (whoops - maybe that should read pasaabsly...no, wait...paassbly...is this making sense yet?) bleiveblae...believalbe (that's better).
I think I almost like it more now that I know it's a load of cobblers than I did when I thought it was a real effect.
I saw the trailer for this recently thanks to the attentive Lorna Appleby (thanks again, Lorna!) and I can hardly wait. It opens in Canada on Christmas Day! What more could I want?
Clever animation + comedy + rabbits + magic + Scottish islands... who could honestly ask for any better combination?
I suppose many people could. But not me. I have a cinema gift certificate burning a hole in my pocket and I think I've found what I'll redeem it for. Interestingly Snowdon (the white rabbit) has taken to lying on the throw rug in front of the television at times, legs stretched behind him, facing the screen. Not that that in itself is interesting, but he only seems to do it during action movies or creepy shows like Supernatural. Put on a comedy and he sneaks away or turns his back and starts investigating his genitals or looking for something to chew holes in.
The Trickster Project is a brilliant thing. Put together under the auspices of the Calgary International Children's Festival, it consists of a superb collection of professional entertainers who (in this specific case) spend a week at the school on the Eden Valley First Nations Reserve, about an hour or so south-west of Calgary in an idyllic spot. That's this photo - the instructors in front of the school.
They shut the school down for a week - no lessons at all - and we move in. The kids spend four days learning juggling, tightwire, unicycling, stiltwalking, magic, clowning, balancing, hip hop dancing and aerial work (hoop and swinging trapeze), and on the fifth day they put on a choreographed show in front of the entire community in the school gymnasium. This is the second consecutive year we've done Trickster at this location so most of the kids are building on skills they started with last year. Quite remarkable progress in some cases.
I decided to go bigger this year, and introduced escapology to my groups. By the end of the week I had a handful of the older kids doing a wonderful thumb-tie + mail-bag escape in only seconds. The thumb-ties we used were standard black plastic cable ties; while one student ties another's thumbs together I handed out a couple to the audience to examine. Best moment of the week: one of the fathers decided to test the cable-tie himself while watching the show. After our act he sheepishly came up to me with his thumbs firmly cinched together; it took us five minutes to find a pair of side-cutters to free him with.
At least it proved they were real.
As I happen to live in a small town only 30 minutes from the reserve (unlike most of the other instructors who are from elsewhere in Alberta, and in some cases Toronto and Vancouver as well), on Halloween night I saw a handful of 'my' kids come to my door trick-or-treating.
Hey, bunnies are cute. Sweet, adorable little fluffy balls of fun.
Oh yes, and territorial agressive fur-chomping paper-ripping pen-rattling little monsters that'll kill you as soon as look at you. Yeah. That's them.
You may remember that at the age of about eight weeks Augustus decided to assert his dominance over his six-week old companion Snowdon by chasing him around violently and taking chunks out of his fur. We separated them for a couple of weeks before allowing them to be together again and they've been fine ever since, doing bunny-trains around the living room, grooming each other, snuggling up for comfort. Ahh, yes. Bonded, though definitely with a pecking order.
Things were good.
Then about a week ago there was a sudden surge in butt-sniffing and one or two little chases. Snowdon, the slightly younger, was not quite 1500g (the minimum weight our vet considers it safe to neuter at) but he was close enough and we didn't want the bad behaviour to get worse so we booked them in for their little snips.
The day before the operation things kicked off again briefly. No worry - they're booked in to get fixed the next day!
Operation: successful. Laser surgery. They ate well afterwards and seemed fine. For a few hours.
Then frantic chasing and fur-ripping again. We tried separating them for a few hours. Put them back together. Twenty seconds later it kicked off again. Separation. Reintroduction. Fighting.
Did we leave it too long? Augustus could feasibly have been fixed a week or so earlier but we thought it would be better to get both done at the same time, and there were no warning signs to presage the oncoming fury.
The vet says we have to separate them for 3 months (though allowing them to 'visit' through the bars of their respective pens). We alternate which one gets to have the run of the living room and which has to settle for the pen, and they don't like this. Foot-thumping, cage-rattling and Tasmanian Devil paper ripping. Rip rip rip rip rip.
Lots of anger.
The hope (I stress hope) is that after three months when the testosterone currently in Augustus's system dissipates they will still feel the bond they've had until now, though apparently there's no guarantee. The whole point of having a pair of them is that they can keep each other company. Having to keep them separated after that point would be awful. I must say I'm feeling a little...down about this. Not sure what else we can do though.
Here's Augustus B. Bad doing hard time for crimes committed, surrounded by savaged broadsheets.
I'm not dead yet, but I'm doing my best to look that way.
A few magicians (myself, Ryan Pilling, Yeats Wong and assistant Gwyn Auger) have been booked to put on a Halloween magic show at Club Paradiso in Calgary later this month. Not your family-friendly gig, we decided. The title is "A Brush With Death...and bunny rabbits".
No, there won't really be any bunny rabbits.
I've revived my Ghoul character though, and Yeats' girlfriend has offered to do my makeup on the night with the intention of making it far more sinister than comical.
Yeats will be doing needle-through-arm, and if I have the time to practice enough I'll be doing tiny-chunk-of-metal-up-the-sinuses-and-out-the-tear-duct. I don't think the trick has a shorter name.
This summer's dismal weather has served to highlight the problems we already knew existed with the roof on our house when we bought it two years ago. In other words, when it rains, it leaks. So yours truly is taking advantage of three forecast days of sunshine and cool temperatures to replace the roof. Spent today up above, ripping off all the old shingles.
Do rabbits like hearing endless hours of heavy boots and dragging, scraping noises coming from overhead? Not particularly, it would seem.
But they'd better get used to it if they're going to become the adventure-buns we expect them to be in years to come.
Calgary Highland Games yesterday. Woo-hoo! Always fun, and this year they've got a new venue - superb. More people, more space and a beer tent that could comfortably have housed something very, very big and funny.
I was booked for a couple of stage shows and MC-ing the ceilidh in the evening. Mother Nature decided that we couldn't reasonably have a Highland Games without our share of black skies and pelting rain which chilled things down, but the die-hards that stuck around pendant la deluge got their money's worth.
The headliners for the ceilidh were Celtic Spirit, three Glaswegians who flew in at 2pm the day before, propped up the bars around the city until 2am and then spent the next day gigging at the Games. Frankly I'm amazed they were still upright by 9pm. And so were they. And they're up at the Canmore Games today which means a two-hour drive and no respite from jet-lag. If downtown Canmore gets trashed by a trio of rampaging sleep-deprived and delusional Weegies, I won't even be faintly surprised.
Two highlights: bumping into old friends from the Buccaneers (now also playing with Staggered Pints - the name says it all) and being introduced to Third Reel, a local band who ought to be far, far bigger and better known than they are. Get a CD out, guys! You're too good not to.
Two weeks ago Augustus went to the vet for his first checkup. All is well with him.
This afternoon we took Snowdon for hers. All is well with her as well. Or...almost.
She's not a she. She's a he.
Looks like the fellows we got our rabbits from have a little bit to learn in the science of sexing.
This perhaps explains the fighting two weeks ago - they were sorting out dominance, rather than it being unwanted lurve-thoughts on Augustus's part.
Good news: we don't have to keep them separated for months til they get fixed. Bad news: I'm just praying they get this dominance thing sorted out under strict supervision with minimal scrapping and then get over it.
I thought I might need to change Snowdon's name; after all, she (..he. Sorry) was named after my great-grandmother. However, the most famous Snowdon of all is Lord Snowdon who is very definitely a He. So now our little girl is a little boy. Lord Lambchop Snowdon.
Oh, what a delight it is to have binky bunnies. Bunnies that three days ago learned to jump up onto the sofa. Bunnies that follow each other around, play together, snuggle up together, and as of yesterday morning also rip into each other with fur-tuft-ripping ferocity and blind viciousness.
Seems to me that Augustus at the ripe old age of ten and a half weeks has started experiencing an interest in Snowdon that goes beyond the bounds of platonic friendship and into the realm of hey baby chicka-chicka boom boom. And Snowdon isn't having any of it...yet.
We've had to separate them. Half our living room is now taken up with a pair of dog pens with extra layers of chicken-wire to keep the two apart. They miss each other and it's heartbreaking to see them trying to nuzzle through the jail bars but rather that than have them draw blood (or, in another two months, suddenly decide to throw caution to the wind and end up with a handful of babies).
Went to the vet today. Although it's possible to spay and neuter at 4 months (and indeed most people do), these days there is evidence that having rabbits fixed at that age leads to bone and joint problems down the road as the body was denied certain developmental hormones. So... the vet wants to see the bunnies when they're 8 months old.
This means another five months of keeping the creatures close enough to maintain the bond but far enough apart that we can avoid the pitter patter of tiny, tiny paws around the house.
Sister-in-law Michelle came to visit the new rabbits yesterday.
The major difference between these two and Jellybaby - Jellybaby licked everything. Never chewed.
These two have chewed through the sofa, chewed buttons off the remote control beside my hand on the floor (I was watching the other rabbit) and shredded a footstool from Ikea. The footstool was a good thing, though - we left it out for them. It's made of woven banana fibre and we never use the thing anyway.
Lesson learned. Anything is fair game for these two. They even had a go at a library book I put by my feet while I was putting on my shoes to head out the door.
Right. It's been six months since the lovely wee Jellybaby died and the two of us have been looking forward to having company again. Hell, I've got a multi-pack of lint rollers sitting unused in a cupboard and it's been weeks since I've been woken by the sounds of nocturnal newspaper-ripping.
Yup. Time for a new rabbit. New rabbit? How about a pair so they can keep each other company? Sure. In for a penny...
On the way out on a road trip last weekend we followed up on a lead and stopped in the city of Red Deer to visit a couple who had young rabbits. On the way back from the road trip last night we stopped by again and came away with a pair of two-month olds.
So here we are again with a living room dedicated to fluff - this time two different shades. A little magpie boy called Augustus (a name held by half a dozen of Nadine's ancestors) and a little mostly-white girl called Snowdon (after my great-grandmother).
They've barely stopped racing around the house since we first let them out of their carrier this morning. Even with the camera set at ISO-equivalent 1000 almost all the pictures have come out blurry; they just haven't stopped moving. In seven hours they've proved to be more of a handful than Jellybaby was in 30 months. Time for me to get back to work rabbit-proofing the house.
Just finished a series of street magic stints as part of a thingy (let's not get all technical; 'thingy' works fine) promoting a new Hollywood movie that opens in cinemas today. My job was to accompany a small team of free-stuff-givers, and to do close-up magic for people meandering too slowly to avoid me. Not that I was getting all Lord-of-the-Savannah, accosting only the aged, the young and the sick; no, I was getting all and sundry. On one or two days the crowds were spartan and it felt a bit guerilla, spotting them from a distance, dashing up and unloading an armful of souvenir posters and the like before hitting them with a trick or two (oops, nearly wrote 'large stick', which would have been incriminating and inaccurate).
Reactions? Superb, especially since this is Stampede time. Yup, we're in the middle of another year's cowboy-hat-and-bandana bonanza. Tourists aplenty, some of whom were thoroughly confused at being entertained a propos of nothing at all, and then given free bumf. Out of hundreds of encounters over the five days, only one bad reaction: a German engineer who refused to watch as he had a morbid fear of magicians. I was rather chuffed at having caused such terror; I usually have to work so much harder at it.
Check out the last photo - me, two of the free-stuff-givers and a handful of the people I performed for. What's cool about the pic is that in the background you can see we are moments away from being crushed underfoot by an ebullient mob of Spain supporters celebrating their World Cup victory over the Netherlands - Spain had scored their one and only goal only minutes earlier.
A few days ago I was booked to do a show way up in Jasper National Park at the wonderfully swish Jasper Park Lodge (in the photo above). I'm surprised anyone at the hotel gets any work done; frankly I'd be spending all day staring at the scenery rather than doing my job. (And this differs from my daily life...how?) In fact, I did exactly that nearly 20 years ago when I spent a summer living in Jasper and working as a tour guide and boat driver on Maligne Lake. Spent nearly ten hours a day admiring the views. Salad days.
Jasper townsite is a good five hour drive from home so Nadine and I turned it into a little holiday and spent a couple of days with some good friends there. Their 12-year-old pug Mabel is still going strong, though her tongue sticks out even more than ever before. Lack of teeth will do that. I fully expect to spend my twilight years with my tongue lolling about in full view of the public. And if it doesn't do it of its own accord, I intend to make it do so. Screw dignity.
And of course our friends' four kids got their own kitchen-table magic show.
Glenn Stevenson from City TV sent me a few snaps he took while Yeats and I were at the studio last Wednesday. Anyone who's tried to take photos of a person in motion rather than just posing will know that for every good picture there will be fifty rubbish ones featuring closed eyelids, gurning mouths and looks of painful constipation. Considering none of these images features me drooling, I think he did a marvelous job.
This first picture I've titled "Are we getting this on the *FLASH*...monitor?" Subtitled "Blinking makes you weak".
It's the same expression I use while stalking the vulnerable.
This second one I'm calling "What is this thing you call 'fork'?"
Or maybe simply "WTF?"
And finally, me and Yeats hanging out with a cup of herbal tea at dawn.
Man, those guys get up EARLY. And so I had to as well.
The Calgary Magic Circle is having its annual fundraiser public show this weekend so magician colleague Yeats Wong and I managed to blag a spot on CityTV's breakfast show in Calgary this morning. I was up at 4:30am to make the drive.
At first I took the jokey on-air banter about host Andrew Schultz being a bit of a magician himself as precisely that - jokey banter - but it turns out to be true. The man is an avid hobbyist magician and has been for about 15 years, which was a nice surprise as he immediately understood how best to position ourselves and the cameras to get nice clear shots.
We were in the studio along with an Australian cover band (with a Glaswegian drummer) currently doing The Eagles at an autitorium in Calgary. Quite astonishing that they sound like Aussies and Weegies in person but Yanks on microphones. Would it be cruel of me to petition Lonely Planet travel guidebooks to inform North American visitors to Glasgow that they can overcome their difficulties in understanding the locals by insisting that their interlocutors sing their responses into a portable karaoke microphone?
Yes, that would be cruel.
As Yeats and I left the studio and walked outside into the early morning air, I thought to myself, "You know, knocking off work at 9am isn't so bad at all."
Maybe those breakfast TV-types have got the right idea.
I won't be able to embed the video for my bit, but here's the link...
Last week a a local TV news crew asked to meet up with me and a couple of magician colleagues to do a story on our upcoming public magic show. We gathered at the Vanishing Rabbit magic shop in north Calgary and spent the better part of an hour doing interviews and showing off.
The end result? A two-minute story. Decent length, actually, but the bit that confuses me is that there was no mention at all of our upcoming show, or the fact that we were also raising funds for charity. But hey, at least they broadcast it!
I've tried to embed the video here but for some reason it says 'ok!', and then proceeds to sit and think and think and think for an hour or longer without actually doing a thing. (I've known some people like that, too.) So try copying and pasting this unwieldy address:
The benefit of video is that you can get a snapshot from the exact moment you want, which in this case is when the whip cut the cards in half. Yes, yes, the cards, not the poor fellow's fingertips. Hence the bright red welder's gloves. If you look closely you'll even see that I switch hands half way through. Hence the bright red welder's gloves again, 'cos frankly my right ain't as good as my left.
Canmore Children's Festival was today. Man, what a great theatre space they have over at the school where it takes place! Raked seating, great sound system, proper crappy splintered sofa in the green room, everything a real theatre should have.
I was booked to do the Parker Doodlebug Variety Show (Parker Doodlebug being my alter-ego, an eccentric Victorian inventor who believes he's created the world's first true panacea and goes to great lengths to convince everyone that it works the way he thinks it does), and this time it included the whip-cracking finale. Yay!
The festival is always brilliantly put-together and well organised with great volunteers, great talent and a wonderful head honcho, and you know I'm being honest because head dude Casey Prescott doesn't even know I have a blog and will never read this. Will you, Casey?
And the accommodation they put us up in! Whew. Ok, a plug - Blackstone Lodge in Canmore, Alberta, bless you for helping the festival the way you do. Your apartments rock. Your tubs are Suez Canal deep, your beds are Goldilocks comfy, and you look swish. Well done.
Move over, Mr Whippy, there's a new kid in town. He's 11 years old and because he's related to me and sometimes likes me too, he's unlikely to sue if practice goes wrong.
Normally reticent to get involved, yesterday my nephew proved quite keen to dress up like (as Jade pointed out) a Monty Python Holy Grail extra and let me cut playing cards in half with a whip while he held them between his fingers. Not only that, he demanded I also try to knock a pop can off his head and disembowel a couple of balloon animals as he clutched them.
The cards worked well. The pop can took time (it's a different move I haven't practiced), and the balloons failed badly. Man, can those things absorb abuse! Whack whack whack and they still come back for more.
Jonas, my nephew, has even requested that I use him as my victim during my show at Turner Valley Discovery Day next month. The venue is close to where he lives so if I fail he's only a short limp from home.
I've compensated for the fact that we still don't have rabbits (despite a recent fact-finding mission to the Calgary Humane Society, an outing which by all accounts ought to have seen us return home with at least three more mouths to feed) by adding to our family in other ways.
I've built a plywood silhouette in our back garden and named him Sideshow Bob. It was either that or Mr. Whippy but if I'm going to get done for copyright infringement I'd rather get sued by the Simpsons than a New Zealand ice cream van franchise. (Actually, now that I put it in writing the Kiwi thing sounds a bit cooler than it did.)
Sideshow Bob's sole function in life is to hold playing cards in his outstretched hands so that I can cut them in half with a whip. He was born of necessity: I couldn't find anyone willing to stand in the garden with a bucket on their head and welding gloves on their hands, pinching cards between their fingers while I make mistakes with a stockwhip for an hour at a time.
When a person holds a playing card while wearing welding gloves the available target is about 3" wide, so it's taken me some time to get reliable enough with the whip. Missing the card to the outside is fine; it builds suspense. Missing the card to the inside is not so good; no one likes to get their hand whipped, even while wearing gloves. I tried larger targets like balloons and was amazed at how much force the balloons could absorb without popping. Generally they just moved out of the way with a 'thwup' sound. Fine for practice as it means putting up new targets less often, but a bit of a let-down if you're in the audience.
The routine is part of the new variety show I've been putting together for my Victorian alter-ego Parker Doodlebug. The show is making its debut next week at the Canmore Children's Festival, at which point I will indeed be using a real volunteer. With a bucket on their head and welding gloves on their hands.
Check out the bucket, too - a little bit of paint, an angle grinder, some foam insulation and chicken wire and you too could have protective headgear that lends you a certain...je ne sais quoi.
My friend and fellow-magician Paul Spenard called yesterday to bring me in for a last-minute booking at an up-market 'lifestyle salon' opening in Calgary. Quite a big do - superb catering, ballerinas in the window, Marie Antoinette-types lounging languidly on setees, a Rat Pack crooner in the lobby and Paul and colleagues taking photos of anyone and everyone.
Paul Spenard snapped this photo at the end of the evening.
A couple of days ago via an agent I work with I got a late-notice request from a client looking for entertainment for a golf club season's opening dinner, which was to take place tonight. They wanted a mime, I was told. Had I ever done any mime?
That's one of those questions you answer very carefully.
Yes, I told them, but I'm not actually a mime.
Never mind, came the reply. Do what you can.
It was to be a strolling gig, interacting with guests during the cocktail hour before dinner.
Trying to get an idea of what they wanted, I asked if they had a theme, or even if they knew what kind of character they wanted. 'You decide,' they said.
So I decided on a cross between a Tim Burton character and Mr Bean. It won't become a regular part of my repertoire but for a one-off event, it worked. A chance to be delightfully, innocently, inadvertently creepy. And you'd be surprised how many older women will not only happily let their husbands trail behind as a ghoulish figure in a frock coat offers his arm and leads them away, but will flirt like Armageddon is scheduled for the following morning.
I got my copy of the Calgary Magic Circle newsletter a couple of days ago - a newsletter published 'Whenever we feel like it', according to the byline.
It included an article about the 2010 Regional Competition that took place about six weeks ago. Bear in mind that, having been back in Canada for barely three years now, my experience with this competition is limited, but in those three years it's always been good.
The last paragraph in the article reads:
"The audience turnout was the largest in the history of the competition. Over 120 spectators came to watch 13 competitors compete for $100 grand prize and trophies - an incredible turnout considering that just 5 short years ago this competition was held in a small room with 4~5 magicians, no spectators, competing for a troll doll nailed to a plank."
I had a gig on the weekend in a small town in south-central Alberta, which is probably a lot like south-central L.A. but withouth the people or the buildings. Or the climate. And with a greater life-expectancy.
Actually, it's nothing at all like south-central L.A.
It doesn't take long once you get past the foothills to reach a landscape sometimes affectionately (and other times not-so-affectionately) referred to as 'bald-ass prairie'. Yes, but early in the morning it's gorgeous. On the drive home I passed a coyote, some deer and two hawks all within ten minutes. Oh - and geese. Yup. Geese too.
And the gig? Good. It was held in the town's one and only bar and, as I had been told it would be, it was virtually dead until 10pm. Ten p.m. - the witching hour. The place began to fill up and we ended up having a great time. It's probably a good thing the place had been quiet until then - if they'd had three hours to drink before my show, they might not have followed ANYTHING I was doing.