Tuesday, March 23, 2010

20 Years

It was exactly 20 years ago today that I met my wife Nadine for the first time.

That's 20 times around the sun. The sun looks pretty much the same. I, on the other hand, have butt wrinkles.

We celebrated by...um...having enchiladas for lunch. No point in buying flowers - we're off on a short road trip the day after tomorrow to Grande Prairie, a town in northern-central Alberta where I have a gig performing for a fire department fundraiser. If I bought flowers, they'd be dead by the time we got back, and what kind of message would that send?

One or two of you (possibly named Bruce) will now be saying, "What the hell - you're recycling the email you sent me," to which I reply, yup. I'm a busy man. Busy, I tell you.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A la Recherche du Temps Perdu

About 17 years ago to store some of my performing kit I began using a heavy old suitcase that had belonged to my grandfather. The last time I remember seeing it was about 11 years ago. I thought I had long since lost the case and all of its odd contents until this morning when it turned up at my in-laws home.

Excellent! A wonderful suitcase (pleased: both me and Nadine) and an assortment of...things...accumulated over time (pleased: me. Eye-rolling: Nadine).

What treasures awaited? Here's a partial list.

pair of vintage plaid trousers
badly squished but good quality red bowler hat
three purple juggling stage balls
three Cuban cigar boxes
plate of plastic food from Japan: rice, chicken croquets and gravy
four slices of plastic beef

a bag containing:
set of red sponge balls
balloon pump
plastic champagne glass
broken Japanese mobile phone
two clown noses
6" long rubber tongue
one set of rubber frog's legs that you stick in your mouth so the legs are hanging out - you then wiggle a lever with your tongue to make the legs move (another proud purchase from a 100Y shop in Japan)
one whoopie cushion
two TTs (magicians will know)
one 'nail through the finger' trick
one rubber snot-dripping nose prosthetic (again, 100Y shop)
one set of critter eyes for hand puppets
one cassette of 1930s boogie woogie music: Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson

There's also...

clown horn
floppy Salvador Dali-esque clock
45 ballpoint pens
fake Dali moustache
one rubber bald-head
six rubber eggs
half a dozen small magic tricks
three more clown noses
another balloon pump
two rubber juggling balls
an enlarging-$2-bill trick (useless since the advent of the toonie in 1996)
two rolls of coloured duct tape
hiking blister kit
rubber ventriloquist's mouth-and-tongue puppet
fire-starting flint and steel set
broken fork (deliberately)
cap-gun (with four still-working shots left. There were five until ten minutes ago)
pair of silly glasses
tin of exploding-cigarette loads

Oh - here's another cigar box. This one has...

six boxes of matches
two nose-flutes
another flint and steel set
referee's whistle
ten band-aids

I would forgive you for thinking that in my younger days my show revolved primarily around silly things made of latex. In fact the vast majority of the things lurking in the suitcase were bought on a whim because they made me laugh (and, yes, think 'Wow - I could do something great with that!').

I was deluded. Almost all of it has gathered dust.

Though I'm looking at the plastic food and thinking, 'You know, that still makes me giggle.'

Monday, March 15, 2010

Full deck stacks

I'm just back on my feet after being down with a head-bunging, misery-inducing cold for a week. I felt like such a poo-bag that seven days were occupied almost entirely by drinking lemon tea and lying on the sofa wading through a ridiculous number of magic videos.

During the past six months I accumulated (via various friends who were disposing of their unwieldy VHS collections) a total of approximately 80 magic instruction videos. Each one being about 90 minutes meant a total of 7200 minutes of magic tricks to wade through in search of anything that resembled (1) a good trick, (2) a useful sleight, (3) an engaging presentation.

If I worked in 8 hour shifts non-stop, that would mean 15 full days of video watching.

Time to be brutal.

And, frankly, most of the brutality was well-deserved.

I'm only half done and so far I've watched most of them in fast-forward.

Sometimes it's really easy to skim. Anything - and I mean ANYTHING - that involves dealing cards into a series of packets on the table is OUT. My God, is it any wonder we come across people who immediately profess an aversion to card tricks? It's because they've seen magicians deal cards into half a dozen packets on a table top. It brings back horrible memories of their uncles dealing three packets of seven cards each...blah blah blah.

Ok, so those get the fast-forward treatment.

As does any explanation that starts with 'This involves a full deck stack.' Please. I have yet to see a trick involving a full deck stack that is even faintly more entertaining or confounding than something that relies on pure sleight of hand and ballsy misdirection.

So those get fast-forward too.

And any trick whose magical revelation is that (1) the magician has dealt himself a perfect poker hand, (2) the spectator and magician both cut to matching cards in the deck (yawn), (3) the amazing prediction was a 1:4 chance anyway. That's not magic. That's a 1:4 chance, no matter how you manipulated it.

And because the types of shows I do and venues I work dictate a certain amount of what is practical for me (not to mention entertaining), we can also discount anything that involves a stack of ANY kind. Full deck, four card, who cares. It's a stack. Waste of my time.

Usually - though there are a very few exceptions - anything where the action takes place ENTIRELY on a table top. If I'm doing strolling magic, I rarely have table space near to hand. If I'm on stage, no one can see the table top anyway.

Tables are out.

Anything that involves putting the deck behind your back. Anything that involves any single piece of apparatus that looks like it was bought from a magic catalogue. Anything involving black light, appearing walking canes or large silk hankies.

Fast forward.

Yay. We're moving through these things at a rate of knots.

I'd be tempted to say 'anything presented by a man an ill-fitting suit' but magicians are not noted for their sartorial perfection and I'd risk throwing out lots of good stuff on that basis alone.

So I'm over half way done. Just yesterday I took 40 videotapes over to a friend's place and left them with his wife. I'm sure she was delighted. There's nothing can put a smile on the face of a magician's wife like another boxload of crap to clutter up whatever room the magician's crap gets banished to.

Luckily my friend has a basement.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Competition 2010

That's me in the photo. Or maybe a crash-test dummy in a black suit. It's hard to tell.

The day before yesterday our local chapter of the Magic Circle / IBM (International Brotherhood of Magicians) Ring 66 (Calgary/Southern Alberta) held its annual close-up and parlour magic competition. We do this every year (hence the term 'annual') and this time myself and two others were roped in to help Yeats with the organising. By 'help' I mean 'trip over each other'; Yeats is superbly efficient and really doesn't need assistance, but we thought it would look good to have more than one name on the committee list.

Three judges this year - two magicians and one lay-person (radio DJ Erin Chase). We've tried up to six judges in the past but adding up the scores was like working out how to split a hefty restaurant bill between cheap people who don't like each other. So we streamlined. Three judges. Enough. Two magicians to drool over a nice double-lift-top-change-Ernase-diagonal-palm-shift, and one lay-person to go 'Ooh, looks like magic!'

Which reminds me of a joke.
How many magicians does it take to change a lightbulb?
Five. One to change the lightbulb, and four to say, "I could do that."

I spent most of the two hours backstage herding magi so I missed most of the show but I saw enough to know that the standards have gone up of late, with more well-rehearsed technical manipulation going on. There were some nice routines which had obviously been well-planned. And the pre-event promo paid off - we had a respectably large audience.

Shortly before the show I discovered two of the Japanese competitors locked in a bathroom stall together, chattering away and attempting to get rigged up. I couldn't see but it sounded like one was putting on a body-harness and stuffing a badger into a sleeping bag. I might be wrong though.

Whatever he was doing, it was worth it: Atsushi Ono placed first.
I placed second and I'm pleased with that - Atsushi's routine was superb, and mine was...less so, though apparently it wasn't too bad considering it was a brand new routine never done in public before. (That's how we roll out here. Life on the edge.)

For the curious, I did a ten-card multiple-selection routine (ten cards selcted by various audience members, deck shuffled and cards found...in pockets, in wallets, flying out of the deck etc.)

Three months to go before our big fundraiser public show. I learned last night I'll be producing the show.

I wonder what a producer does.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Arts Day

Nostalgia ain't what it used to be.

In my day, a fun day at school consisted of (at best) a fire drill or something involving public corporal punishment.

I was born thirty years too soon.

Yesterday I was booked to teach two juggling workshops at a school having their annual Arts Day. How progressive, I thought. I figured the day would probably turn out to be me, an octogenarian singer and a local volunteer armed with tubs of finger paints.

I was wrong.

Students were allowed to choose to take lessons in any two of the following:
African drumming
Culinary adventure
Gourmet cooking
Hip hop dance
Improv theatre
Jewellery making
Outdoor adventure
Salsa dancing
Watercolour painting
Yoga and

The intructors were dripping with credentials - many were professionals and those that weren't were overqualified anyway.

Brilliant day. I'd happily have ditched my students and run off to join any of the other lessons. Except the dancing ones because I dance like a beached manatee.

Daily photo - no rabbit today. Otter instead. (Taken at a sanctuary in England)