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Newsletters

Newsletter: 12
December 2005

Printable version.

John Derris Lecture

The lecture opened with an interesting look into John’s working history. We learnt about how he used to work in both theatre and advertising and how crucial a part they started to play once he began performing magic. John incorporated a lot of magic theory into his lecture that linked back to his
work in theatre and advertising.

He reminded us of the importance of PERFORMANCE, and that great, golden rule K.I.S.S (keep it simple stupid). The theory being that once you have your routines polished, the idea is to work on the PERFORMANCE side until the moves become just a part of the way you move throughout the routine. Once you forget the moves you can relax and really build your own personality and performance. He used a good quote that "magic is about PERFORMANCES not SECRETS" and built on the knowledge that knowing how to perform well and ’sell’ yourself, will greatly benefit any magician.

John then moved on to present some of his routines, all of which were very strong and visual. The first of which was the folding note. It looked very natural and magical. He then proceeded to pull a coat hanger from a small purse, before opening up an ordinary wallet and have it set on fire! The emphasis of these effects is that they are quick and very visual, great for grabbing attention and sparking an initial interest in the spectators. He then taught how to build on that initial interest with something a little more engaging and intriguing, all the while delivered with his wit and charm. He taught us that comedy was also a great tool for misdirection, and a simple gag can create a great ’offbeat’ moment for sleights to be performed.

Other tricks demonstrated were the ring on the rope and the pen through mirror. And make no mistake, both these effects had some inspirational work done on them to improve the props as well as the presentation, turning them into two great visual magical performances. Other tricks included the
skeleton card, which was humorous and visual, and a routine with a coin box which again had been worked on to improve its presentation.

All the performances featured simple but very strong and visual effects so that the PERFORMANCE could be demonstrated, rather than the actual tricks. This all related back to the first part of the lecture (KISS) about keeping it simple and really working on your performance and selling yourself. "If you like someone, you will like their magic". He also had some good pointers to help out with practising the moves. He said to do them where ever and whenever you could in as many different situations as possible so that when it comes to performing, you can adapt well to any situation and fully concentrate on performance.

All in all it was a very interesting and insightful lecture with a lot of thought provoking theory, and of course plenty of great visual magic. There was enough information for everyone to really learn something about our art, rather than just learning a cool new ’trick’. Magic theory should be the core of any great lecture, and that is exactly what it was.

Many thanks to John Derris for a great evening.
Leon Simmmonds

SMC Children’s Competition WARNING:Controversial article follows

There were five entrants for this year’s competition. In order of performance they were Andy Adsett, Andy Hart, Mike Pettitt, Paul Leacy, and Felix Beacher. Firstly, Andy Adsett went through a variety of routines, showed good timing in his sponge ball routine, and had some good one-liners. Andy Hart showed good spectator management, kept his act child-focused, and finished with his slick rabbit production routine. Andy is an experienced and very good children’s performer and I would have liked to have seen him do another routine or two. Mike Pettitt’s enthusiasm for magic was obvious through his act and his Silver Sceptre and Sponge Ball routines in particular were well honed. Paul Leacy had the audience in stitches with his quick-witted humour and self-effacing personality. Felix Beacher’s act was full of highly original material and the cloak was effectively the largest topit you will ever see!

Before I go any further, let me make something clear. Nothing that follows is intended to detract from anyone’s performance. I apologise if anyone feels that this is a personal issue; it most certainly is not intended as such.

Imagine suggesting that from now on, it will be possible to take your driving test without getting in a car. Of course, people would tell you that you were mad. Yet this is not a million miles from the situation in which we now find ourselves with our annual Children’s Competition.

The Sussex Magic Circle is a healthy mixture of professionals, keen amateurs, and those of us who are somewhere in between. All three groups were represented in the competition.

All five entrants found themselves in the unenviable position of having to perform a children’s act to an audience containing no children. The obvious consequence of this was that they felt a need to entertain the adults, and this they all tried hard to do. Chatting to the winner afterwards, I remarked (somewhat rudely) that his magic was not great but that he won on entertainment value alone. He was gracious enough to accept this as true (rather than slap me). The other entrants were equally gracious in defeat, and were all, I am sure, sporting enough to congratulate Paul, but they must also have been secretly disappointed not to have had their own performances judged in front of a group of real children.

Now for the controversy. I feel that we as a club need to rethink the structure of this competition. I spoke to a past president of the club who feels the same. One year we awarded the prize to the member who was adjudged to have ‘gone down best’ at the shows we did for Children in Need in a primary school, filled with 100% genuine bona fide real live children. I think that it would make a huge amount of sense to revisit this idea, and I suspect that many if not all of this year’s competitors would also agree.

Unfortunately this immediately throws up all sorts of problems. Firstly, who would judge it? The kids? The parents? The SMC members present? The council? There are problems with any of these groups being appointed as the judges. Secondly, who could enter? Under the current rules of competitions, any member is free to enter. This throws up a major difficulty. If we are putting on a public show, we cannot afford to have anything but the best performers. So - either we are effectively excluding members from entering the competition until they are adjudged to be of an acceptable standard (again, by whom?), or we risk putting on a show that is weaker than it might be because we allow everyone to enter. Also, if 8 people want to enter the competition at 15 minutes each, the show would then be far too long.

Of course it is easy to outline problems, and harder to outline solutions. So, in order not to be branded as overly negative, here is my attempt at a solution. Perhaps we could have an ‘in-house qualifying round’, wherein members who wish to enter the competition but who are not professional entertainers could perform their act. The best few (as judged by the members) would then be put forward to perform in the show, alongside the more experienced acts. This would mean that everyone could have a go, but with the realisation that a certain standard was expected in order to perform to the public under the club’s banner.

This does not solve the problem of who judges the actual show, but it is a start.

Finally, I accept that my views are controversial, but they are not designed to be inflammatory. Feel free to publicly disagree with this viewpoint - I am genuinely interested in stimulating debate in order to find a solution to this issue, and to restore some credibility to our beloved SMC’s Children’s Competition.

Andrew Jeffrey
President

Andy Clockwise Lecture

Having been unable to attend meetings in recent weeks, I was pleased to see the clubroom pretty full for this evening’s lecture. Andy is a funny, popular and busy entertainer, and it was easy to see why.

Very near the start of the lecture, Andy showed us a video extract of his first ever kids show. Now, while we have all had things go wrong to some extent, very few of us have ever been brave enough to not only record our mistakes for posterity, but even to show them as a demonstration of how not to do it!

I have decided to break from a traditional linear format for this report. For my own benefit as much as anyone else’s, I thought it would be an interesting experiment to attempt a summary of what I felt were some of the key messages from Andy’s lecture.

After all, as you read this, you were either present at the lecture or you were not. If you were, there is little interest for you in merely reading my recollections of Andy’s kids’ routines. If you were not there, there is similarly unlikely to be much stimulation in reading "Andy took a black and white silk with a picture of a clown on, put it in a cloth bag with some coloured ones, then with the help of a boy from the audience, he waved a few comedy wands!

Instead, although for the sake of completeness I will list all of Andy’s routines, this review will concentrate on some of the wisdom to be gleaned from Andy’s experience.

Firstly, in Andy’s words: "I have learnt nothing from the Magic Circle. I have learnt everything I know about entertaining children from actually doing shows." He was not being intentionally dismissive of magic clubs, but merely pointing out that there’s no substitute for getting out there and doing shows for people who aren’t magicians.

Andy said: "My first show was terrible, but my second was better, and my third was better still. My fourth show was better than my third, and so on." Why was this? Because Andy had the humility and the wisdom to study his performances and try to eradicate the weaknesses. Good idea. I vividly recall that once I started to do this, I stopped trying to adjust my underwear mid-show, and even stopped sniffing guiltily every time I did a card sleight!

Andy explained that you need to be in as complete control as possible of your environment, your audience and your props. Andy gave numerous tips and anecdotes about how to get children sitting where you want them, and how to handle noisy and rude parents. His methods may not work for everyone, but even to consider them and then to reject them in favour of methods you prefer will stimulate some mental debate.

From Andy’s handling of ‘Strat-o-Sphere’ we learnt that the routine that comes with the prop may not be the routine that suits us best. Andy said that his normal approach is to ignore the printed instructions until he has failed to come up with a very good idea. Only then does he ‘consult the manual’ and eventually settle on, in his words, a compromise routine. As an extreme example, Andy even bought a ‘Two Little Dicky Birds’ prop with no instructions at all, then built a routine to go with it, which he performed, despite some good-natured heckling from the floor. I had a good conversation with Mark and others afterwards about the Strat-o-sphere, and it transpired that we all perform it completely differently from each other!

The word ‘perform’ is itself an important part of Andy’s lecture. He urged us to ‘perform’ our routines, rather than just simply ‘do’ them. Magicians who begin to act on this distinction invariably see a much greater reaction to their magic.

Extending a routine to get the maximum from it was another point Andy made. For example, his die box routine starts with the sliding of the box from side to side. Traditionally, this is not done until much later, but Andy has worked out that he can get more mileage from the effect by doing it at the start. A nice idea.
Andy’s opener was a Blendo routine, as alluded to previously. Here he taught that routines can and will evolve over time until the pace, length, patter and bits of business are at a level with which you feel comfortable.
Andy demonstrated how to combine props to create original effects. To this end he used Terry Herbert’s Flitto flower and an Axtell puppet in an effective combination. He also used a Devil’s Hank with the Strat-o-sphere discussed earlier.

Bookings: Andy had several good tips regarding costings and bookings. Again, his methods might not suit everyone, but the important point is that he had adapted his procedures based on what he found out ‘in the real world’.

One final point: In a fascinating question and answer session, Andy was asked an interesting question about changing his act for repeat bookings. His (paraphrased) response was the biggest indicator of how experienced a performer he truly is. "No, I don’t change my whole show every year. Why should I? They book me because they like what they saw last time. Of course I rotate things, but think how often kids are happy to sit down and watch "Finding Nemo." Touché!

So there was a huge amount to learn from Andy’s lecture. I am about to entertain at my son’s fifth birthday party later this month. I feel that the magic show will be a little better than if I had not been at this lecture. Before you ask, yes, I will be videoing the show, and no, you may not watch it afterwards.

AJ

Paul Leacy’s Cups and Balls Teach-in

Paul’s tutorial was very well received. There was a great deal of practical advice, garnered from years performing the routine professionally. He talked about the importance of effective misdirection during a Cups and Balls routine. He also talked about ‘believing in what you are doing’. There were calls for another teach-in session, perhaps on the ‘Card to Wallet’.

Paul also helped Patrick with a couple of tricks. Patrick had acquired ‘Critical Mass’ and the ‘Dice through Mirror’ without their instructions.

Worst Trick Night


"There are no good or bad tricks. There are only well and badly presented tricks."
Raynaly


Raynaly’s quote is often paraphrased and is inherently a good theory, and it states the importance of performance. But of course, there ARE good and bad tricks, and tonight we focused on the very ‘worst’.

"A ‘Trick’ : something which is intended to deceive and entertain."
Oxford English Dictionary


In a literal sense, a ‘trick’ consists of two components, the concept/effect and the method. Any ‘bad’ trick will have either a poor method or concept. Stuart introduced two tricks to us. With Pen-Sensation’, the effect sounded great, but the method was incredibly poor (it would not deceive many people). Whereas, the ‘Shameless Open Prediction 2’ had a clever, and usable method, but the concept was very weak. This type of trick needs to be explained to the audience AFTER the effect.

"Confusion is not magic"
Vernon


There are also tricks which are just cheap and poorly made, and therefore rendered unusable. Ali raised some of these issues in regards to the ‘Black Hole’, and also mentioned the paucity of the instructions. The instructions can be hugely important, depending on your current knowledge and skill level. They are the critical link between the effect and method and us (the magician). Could the worst trick be one with the poorest instructions?

Matt Parr and Paul Leacy did some simple finger and thumb tricks and Matt mentioned the importance of practice. Practising allows us to perfect our technique and misdirection. Misdirection has been defined as ‘that which directs the audience towards the EFFECT and away from the METHOD’. A skilled and accomplished magician could most likely take a ‘bad trick’ and perform it well.

"The worst trick? Simple. It is the one you show your audience before you have really learned it."
Scott Guinn


Gordon shared a small sample from his vast collection of ‘bad’ tricks! He expressed his annoyance at certain tricks not working as advertised, an opinion which generated agreement. Also the issues of paying for secrets, getting value for money and the policy of returning certain tricks. Most dealers’ first concern is not to further our magical art, but to make a living. Subsequently, they churn out loads of new effects, and a lot of it is crap! There were several derisory comments aimed at certain dealers throughout the evening.

Gordon also mentioned the importance of the trick suiting the performer. And, of course, it is difficult to separate the ‘trick’ from the performer for too long.

"YOU are the magic! The tricks only come along for the ride."
Al Goshman


We talked about tricks in the context of the performance, and tricks which have gone wrong in spectacular ways. From borrowed rings being destroyed to magicians injuring themselves. And, the televised example of the most cretinous and moronic magician, who impaled a VOLUNTEER’S hand, performing ‘Smash and Stab’.

But there is perhaps, a crime even more heinous. Worse than a trick going wrong, worse than causing monetary damage, worse even than stabbing a fellow human being’s hand. Worse than all these, is the trick which induces boredom. Imagine for a moment, a technically perfect ambitious card routine which goes on for 17 hours - I’d willingly start stabbing my hand with a spike after a while.

"I want you to stop doing magic."
Dai Vernon


(Dai Vernon said this when someone performed magic to him at a convention. The performance was so bad in Vernon’s eyes, that he followed the poor fellow around saying that over and over again.)

David had recently attended a convention and talked passionately about his experience. He mentioned as highlights, the Jerry Andrus lecture and a Q & A session with Derren Brown. Derren had showed some new clips from an upcoming series and David enthusiastically regaled us with descriptions of what we could expect.

It was a pleasantly informal evening which raised many interesting points, and there was much to be learned. There clearly ARE bad tricks, but you can not understate the importance of performance.

"The greatest disservice you can do magic is to perform it badly."
Harry Blackstone, Jr.


Giles

Forthcoming Events

5 January 2006
New Tricks & Problems
Lewes

19 January 2006
Stage & Cabaret Competition
Lewes

2 February 2006 (Different form Published Programme)
The Paul Gordon Close-up ‘30 Years Later’ Lecture
Lewes

16 February 2006
Jonathan Cann Lecture - Presentation Counts
Lewes

Have a Very Merry Christmas


Complied by: Gordon Burtenshaw

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