Teller Takes on The Tempest in the Toddlin Town

Teller's The TempestTeller and the Chicago Shakespeare Theater have a hit on their hands with The Tempest.   Labeled  “Shakespeare’s most magical play,” the Windy City critics have fallen hard for Teller’s take on the play.

Chicago television station WTTW interviewed Teller and the creative folks with whom he has worked to stage The Tempest at the Navy Pier.  The production is set in a traveling tent-show during the Dust Bowl and the unique stage allows the audience to be on three sides while the illusions are performed.

Teller is not adding tricks to a show but bringing the classic story to life through magic.

He explained, “One of the challenges of Shakespeare for a contemporary audience is to make clear all of these ideas that are sometimes realized only in the language, and since the language is hundreds of years old it helps to assist that language with strong visual things. For this show, which is about magic, supporting that with magic that is visual really helps to clarify what’s going on.”

Through the integrated illusions, Teller allows the audience to see the effects the exiled Duke of Milan character performs to befuddle and battle his foes.

Magic, says Teller, gets its edge because “it’s not a comfortable form to watch. You don’t just sit back and let magic wash over you because it’s seriously contradicting all your experience, so what you see is coming into collision with what you know and there’s a sort of explosion that’s very exciting, but it also jars you out of your seat. You don’t watch a magic event like this [strikes a relaxed pose] you watch it on the edge because you’re watching both as a complicit participant and as somebody who’s trying to catch it out, and the excitement of that tension gives it a whole different way to watch a show.”

We pride ourselves on being very uncomfortable to watch – even when not performing magic.  Just eating spaghetti can be unnerving to witness.

Our beloved Cubs are in the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and Teller’s The Tempest is at the Navy Pier – magic is in the air.

Check out the full article on Teller and The Tempest here.

Joshua Jay Fools Penn & Teller & Us

Inside Magic Image of Penn & Teller's Fool UsWe readily admit we are the lowest of the low.  We are a hypocrite of the first order.  That’s generally true but most painfully evident in our behavior last week.

It started out innocently.  We were catching up on our TiVo of Penn & Teller’s Fool Us.  We enjoy that show and are happy to hear they have been signed for a second season with the CW here in the US.  The show makes us smile and as our little reward back to the producers, writers, directors and stars of the show, we do not fast forward through the advertisements.  We are gracious in that way.

Like most viewers of the show, we take delight not only in seeing great magic but the interesting way Penn attempts to describe what he and Teller believe was the secret at work.  They use vague code words and make reference to great magicians from history to convey the message that they know the know-how.  There is no exposure but for those of us in on the craft, we know whether a magician has been foiled in his or her attempt to fool Penn & Teller.

Joshua Jay is a great magician.  We feel like we have watched him grow over the years; likely because we have.  He began performing in utero and has ascended the lofty limbs of the magic forest with aplomb.  (Sorry for the last sentence.  We farm out parts of our articles to off-shore content creator mills and they a great at maximizing word count – that’s how they’re paid – but struggle with metaphors in our language).

Mr. Jay performed an effect that blew us – and Penn & Teller – away.  We could describe the effect in great detail but won’t because that is evidence of our hypocrisy.  Our father always said, “there’s no sin in beating yourself up, but always know your safe word.”  We’re not sure he intended that sage advice for revealing one’s foibles on the internet but it fits and thus we happily appropriate it for our writing herein.  (Another off-shore sentence beginning at the word “that”).

You can check out a YouTube clip of his performance here.

Penn & Teller were fooled by the trick.  After all, how could anyone have a spectator think of a card and then produce the card as the only printed one in an otherwise blank deck.  Penn & Teller offered their solution but Mr. Jay denied what we assumed had to be the secret.  Granted, we did not see him perform the sleight but figured there could be no other explanation.  We, and Penn & Teller, took him at his word.  If he said he did not use the sleight, he did not.

That left us to engage in behavior that we find contemptible and boorish.

We replayed the video of his routine more than two or three times.

We live alone here in West Hollywood while we await our family’s move to California.  We have fully paid-up subscriptions to the prominent magic magazines, surf the web for news and tricks, sometimes go for walks along Santa Monica Boulevard and visit The Magic Castle.  Those activities can be accomplished in a few hours each and so that leaves us with roughly 14 hours times 7 days a week times 30 or 31 days each month to sit, stand or lie down while eating or sleeping.

We watched the video incessantly for a solid 24 hour period.  We used the slow motion button to analyze every move, every nuance of Mr. Jay’s performance.  We were frustrated by some of the camera angles and cuts but those were not Mr. Jay’s doing.

The proof of a bad motive is often the corrupt results, said the inventor of the modern day Capri Pants.  Once again, lessons from the world of fashion instructs the world of professional magic.  (Other examples include the cape, pockets and the classic pop-up tie).

Precisely one day after beginning our analysis of the Jay Tape, we came to the conclusion that Mr. Jay did not perform the accused sleight.  We also concluded he must have accomplished the miracle by some other method.  We have no idea how he performed the effect.  We love that feeling.

Yes, we are embarrassed to say we used our access to modern technology to discern the secret but we failed.  It was a wonderful lesson learned.  The feeling of being truly amazed was the reason we got into magic.  The attempt to figure out the trick only diminished that sense of wonder.  Congratulations to Mr. Jay for fooling Penn & Teller and us so completely.  It was fantastic.

Head Lice Puts a Crimp on Magicians

Head lice is problem for most of us working in the hat exchange underground that is West Hollywood, California.  No one wants to talk about it but it is time to change the silent acquiescence that allows these parasites to take away our fun and profit.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, lice is becoming a serious national problem.  There is a new breed of “super lice,” able to resist modern drug treatments and spread their way from person to person with impunity.

Like most performers, we no longer wear a top hat off-stage.  It used to be, a magician would not be caught dead without a top hat somewhere on his or her person.  We cannot trace this unfortunate trend to head lice – perhaps it is a question of fashion – but head lice is not helping.

[Serious students of magic no doubt recall those immortal words being uttered by Houdini during a challenge escape in Kansas City, Missouri.  A local hat maker dared the great Houdini to be sewn into a huge silk hat and escape within a half hour.  Houdini did the feat in just 15 minutes but was heard to exclaim to his on-stage assistant that the escape was progressing well “but the head lice is not helping.”]

We used to pass our hat at the end of our performance and, often, audience members would become confused and try to wear the hat rather than donate money.  Back in our carefree – and money-free – days, we would don the empty hat and stroll off to the next ward in the hospital to again perform.  We never gave a thought to the dangers of head lice.

After a day of performing, we would go to the local hat exchange pub and do what hat exchangers do.  This was back in Michigan where folks were not so enlightened.  People didn’t exchange hats in Michigan.  Your hat was for your head and that’s it.  Consequently, we had to seek out the hat-x club in a neighboring town to do what we enjoyed with people we would not later admit to knowing.

West Hollywood – like most of California – is much more accepting of hat exchanging.  People seem to accept, understand and embrace those who want to try different hats if for no other reason than it is fun.  We were at a local hat-x, The Fez, just off Santa Monica the other night and noticed a different feel to the room.

Yes, it was just as crowded.  The usual group of lawyers, doctors, day laborers, academics, anemics, anti-emetics and ambulatory specialists were in attendance.  But there was a different sense.  Gone was the joie de vivre that once infused the group.  As we watched re-runs of the 1980s classic children’s television show, Lidsville, we looked around.  No one was exchanging hats.

We offered our fedora to a professional golfer and she started, instinctively, to reach for her fine Titleist snap-back cap but then stopped.  She looked at us carefully and turned away.  We looked down at the newspaper she was clutching in her well-manicured and perfectly calloused hands to see the headline about the “super lice.”

Suddenly our head began to itch.

Houdini, Voltaire and Fiction

houdini water torture cellAsk anyone who knows us – the real, deep down us – and you will learn that we love two things: Houdini and History.

Do not pay attention to the other things they say about us.  They’re just haters and most of those things allegedly captured on video tape are not crimes anymore and the tape is grainy and they did take place, technically, within International Waters (as defined before the startling and over-reaching 1982 United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea).

The Confabulist, a new book by Steven Galloway mixes history and Houdini together into a literary frappé with sprinkles of mystery and murder.  As much as we love history, you would imagine we love historical fiction.  And as much as we love Houdini, you would bet good money – perhaps your own – that we love fiction about Houdini.  Yet your imagination and betting prowess would be in error.

Myths, Voltaire once wrote, surround history like flies about a discarded meal.

Actually, the quote in French was, “Nous cherchons tous le bonheur, mais sans savoir où, comme les ivrognes qui cherchent leur maison, sachant confusément qu’ils en ont une.

And actually, that translates roughly to “We all look for happiness, but without knowing where to find it: like drunkards who look for their house, knowing dimly that they have one.”

But we only know one of Voltaire’s sayings and few people who know French, so we use the French quote we have memorized and attribute different meanings depending on the need.

We view Houdini’s legacy as sacrosanct – a wonderful word taken from “sacro” meaning “sugary” and “sanct” meaning “smell” thus a sugary smelling thing – and do not enjoy revisionist versions of his remarkable life told with reckless disregard for the truth as we choose to believe it.  We have few immutable things in our life.  We never use a “Family Restroom” when alone, we use new dental floss every time we floss and we do not make up stories about Houdini.

All that being said, we are looking forward to reading this new book.  It seems like our cup of tea – because we like our tea to be sugary and smell good – thus hiding the bitter taste of our hypocrisy and the stench of our self-righteous claims to be immutable.

According to Everyday E Book, “Galloway approaches his story as though it were a magician’s act, structuring the novel with the four elements of a trick (effect, method, misdirection, and reconstruction). In addition to sections from Houdini’s perspective, The Confabulist employs a first-person narrator, the fictional Martin Strauss. As the novel begins, Martin is an elderly man diagnosed with a rare brain disorder that causes him to recall false memories. We quickly learn that he is the man who killed Houdini — or, as he tells it, the man who killed Houdini twice. This intriguing hook sets up the central mystery of the story.”

We love books about Houdini, history and rare brain disorders even if it is a work of fiction.  In fact, this plot sounds a lot like a novel we are writing at this very moment about Houdini who is in a history class, studying rare brain disorders.  We call it, Houdini and History’s Head Case.  It is just a working title and we have not written too much yet but we have a dynamite back cover quote we will attribute to Voltaire.

Check out Mr. Galloway’s book on Everyday E Book for yourself.

Magical Fourth of July

Inside Magic Image of Innovative BunnyWhat a wonderfully magical time we had this Fourth of July weekend.

We have been working on a new routine that we find startling and amazing.  It has consumed us over the past month and a half.  We practiced every night and when we were ready to startle and amaze others we took it to the real world.

Our first performance fell a little flat.  That’s to be expected, we thought.  After all, we had been practicing in front of our three-fold mirror or our collection of puppets and human like figures necessary for driving in the fast lane on certain highways.  They could not react or interact and so it made sense that our timing might be off.

We tried a second performance and it fell even flatter.  We thought we could attribute failure to our audience being drunk but because it was for a church group at 9:30 in the morning, we think it may have been our fault.

We ran through the effect for a friend – former friend – and he was not impressed.  “Why do you do all those sleights to end up with nothing?”

We left the convenience store in a huff – or “huph” as they are called in Los Angeles.

We know a good trick when we see it and we were convinced we had seen it, thousands of times in the mirror over the last six weeks.

Late Saturday night, while the city was watching fireworks, we sought out honest audiences to watch the trick.  We thought it might be received differently depending on ethnic, racial, religious or lifestyle affiliation.  The only difference was the way the different audiences shared their lack of enthusiasm for our hard work, innovation and willingness to share.

Despondent, we went to a focus group yesterday in Studio City, California.  It was a nice experience.  For $750.00, they will assemble a demographically relevant group of consumers and let you get their feedback.  We didn’t have $750.00 but we did know someone who was presenting an ad campaign for an ingenious take on deodorant delivery via the internet.  He said we could use seven minutes of his time.

The routine takes 24 minutes so we had to pare it down to its bare essence.  Looking back, we probably should have pared down just the parts that were not the magic trick per se.  Because of our ill-advised self-editing, a card was selected, a lemon was introduced and set on fire but then our time was up.

We were anxious.  The audience never saw the exciting conclusion so we worried about their reaction to seeing just the first third of a trick.

Our fears were not well-founded.  The focus group rated the trick “fair” to “good.”  They found the routine to be positive, uplifting and life-affirming.  Their comments indicated that they had not been aware of such a product in the past and would likely purchase and recommend to others.  While they did not consider themselves in need of “extra odor protection” they did know people who could benefit from the product.

While none of the comments directly mentioned our trick, we took this as a positive.  The trick did not draw attention away from the deodorant by internet concept.  Not one person mentioned our routine, the presentation or the lack of a conclusion.

After receiving so many bad reactions, we took this as a positive step forward.  We now know, for a fact, that there is nothing in the first seven minutes of the routine bad enough to cause an audience member to comment or react.  That is a huge insight for us.  We assumed it was the first seven minutes that ruined the trick that followed.  Now we know that it is the trick itself that is terrible.  People do not hate us per se, it is what we do that they hate.  That is practically life affirming.