Guest Contributor Lisa Cousins: A Spirit Among the Magicians

Inside Magic Image of Lisa Cousins in the Magic Castle's Parlor of PrestidigitationJoining the Magic Castle has been a wonderful experience and a great opportunity to meet people who share our passion for Magic.  Lisa Cousins works keeping the prestigious The William W. Larsen Memorial Library the fantastic resource it is for all members of The Magic Castle.  We are honored that she allowed us to print her essay in our humble magic news outlet.  You can read more about Ms. Cousins in an article published on LosAngeles.com.

I.  Obsessions

Harry Houdini is remembered first as an escape artist, but he was also a “séance-buster” who despised fraud in the séance room, and did all he could to expose it.  His 1924 book, A Magician Among the Spirits, is an account of his experiences with the spirit mediums of his day, and in no case did he discover anything but scams and shams and magic tricks.  He conducted his investigations with both an open mind and a wishful heart, as it was the death of his mother that led him to his inquiry into the realm of spirit in the first place.  He sincerely hoped that life continued after death and that communication with the departed was possible.  He was mortified to discover nothing but hokum, and morally outraged that bereaved people were being fleeced by con men using standard magician’s effects.

While he maintained that he was not a skeptic, his activities as a debunker inspired several generations of skeptical magicians to embrace him as their mascot.  There is a branch of magic called “gospel magic” where standard magic tricks are presented with a religious-instructive twist, but in the main magicians are a skeptical bunch.  They have direct experience with how easily people can be tricked, controlled, manipulated, and deceived, and using Houdini’s example as something of a guiding light, are in general quite dismissive of spirituality in any form.  This is all perfectly understandable, but for someone like myself, an avid reader and tremendous fan of spiritual literature for decades before I took up the study of magic, I entered the world of magic and magicians and found myself a stranger in a land already famously strange.

I don’t “believe in God.”  I experience divinity every minute of every day.  This has nothing to do with what becomes of us when we shed this mortal coil; this is strictly here-and-now.  What’s more, I have zero interest in persuading anybody to join me in my opinions.  I don’t see truth as some kind of numbers game, where stacking up the believers makes a truth any truer; indeed, I’m fond of Oscar Wilde’s observation that “A truth ceases to be true when more than one person believes it.”  Even if I ardently wished to make you see this splendid world as I view it through my enraptured eyes, I couldn’t do it anyhow.  It’s too late, too unique to myself, the road was too long and full of surprise twists to fill you in on all the parts that contributed to “the making of” my point of view.  In other words, do your own studying.  Or not.
Continue reading Guest Contributor Lisa Cousins: A Spirit Among the Magicians

A Thankful Magician

Inside Magic LogoLooking back over the last year, we have much for which to be thankful.  But we are never sure when we are supposed to be thankful.  We may have been thankful at the wrong time, at Thanksgiving and so technically our thankfulness will either be redundant or just for the blessings received since the day before Black Friday.

But there have been many things since the official start to the shopping season that we consider thank-worthy.  For instance, our eyebrows are growing back following what could have been a horrific flash paper ignition accident when we looked down the business end of our flash wand to see if the glow plug was working.  It was but we couldn’t see it because of the over-stuffing of the muzzle with what we thought was too old flash paper.

We are thankful that our neighbor here on Santa Monica Boulevard was evicted and we do not need to lie awake worrying whether he was abusing cats or learning to play a stringed instrument.  The new tenant seems nice.  She operates a “call service” – we’re guessing that means she acts as a human alarm clock and calls customers at appointed times to make sure they get a fresh start on the day.  Apparently some of her customers do not have phones – or maybe they don’t have good phone chargers – because she frequently has to leave her small office to call on them personally.  She works around the clock but is very quiet and frequently brings us gifts of personal-sized shampoo and conditioner from some really nice hotels.

We are thankful that our audition at The Magic Castle is coming up.  We will be performing before the membership committee in February and we were sponsored by the incomparable Pop Haydn.  The extra time before our ten to fifteen minute presentation has given us plenty of time to completely re-work our act at least twelve times.  We know the committee wants to see our skill set and so store-bought magic is eschewed.  So, we dropped our rather lengthy Hippity Hop Rabbits routine.  That could run – with the right crowd – fifteen minutes by itself.

We are thankful for finding Paper Cream to keep our very dry hands more moist and thereby allowing us to perform sleights like dealing seconds and bottoms.  We were getting complaints about our constant licking of our fingers before dealing cards or performing card maneuvers.  It got so bad we were asked to leave a party for licking one of our volunteers’ fingertips before she dealt the cards in a spelling card trick.  It is tough to say if it was the licking or the fact that we did a spelling card trick with someone named Ida.  Maybe the hostess didn’t appreciate us using a name that was so short.  Maybe she was jealous of our ability to triple lift.  Maybe we should have worn pants.  Maybe we should have shown up on time and not the next day, at 3:00 am.  Life is full of questions, just like the police.

We are very thankful for the invention of The Stripper Deck.  We use ours constantly and wonder how magicians survived without it.  We read that Dai Vernon once made his own using a shard of glass he found in a bathroom.  He was very industrious and wise.  We hope he washed his hands after making the deck, though.  We do wish they had a different name for the deck.  If you go to any of the stores here in West Hollywood and ask for a Stripper Deck, they treat you like you are crazy or they try to sell you something that is not a proper magic trick.  Because we take seriously our oath to not reveal magic secrets, we never correct the sales people or explain what we mean by the term “Stripper Deck.” If you ever come to our editorial offices / kitchen / bedroom / guest room / den, you will see piles of odd decks and personal-sized sample bottles of shampoo, conditioner and body cream.  If we are ever raided by the authorities, it will be difficult to explain that little corner of our little space.

We are most thankful for the friends we have in Magic.  Those who we left behind in Michigan and those we have met since coming to Hollywood.  Magicians share a common personality type that transcends the influences of environment and access to sunshine.  The magicians here have accepted us despite our pasty complexion and regional differences.  We would like to think they have been so ready to include us in their magic circles due to our exceptional skills and winning personality but fear it is really just because magicians are friendly and accepting.

Magic is a wonderful art daily brought to life and changed in exciting ways by people who are in it for all of the right reasons; and for that we are thankful.

UPDATED: How to Close a Show in 10 Days

Inside Magic Image of Writer and Performer Maren Wade

Maren Wade is a gifted performer, singer, dancer, skilled author and a really nice person.

We went over-the-top in our review of her essay on Robin Leach’s Vegas DeLuxe site.  Ms. Wade wanted to make sure readers understood she was not criticizing any particular producer or show.  She wrote:

“My intention on writing How To Close A Show In Ten Days was to poke fun at experiences that many performers have encountered in the entertainment industry and to praise those producers who have had successful shows.   I don’t, nor have I ever claimed my outrageous stories to be true much less to be true based on my own experiences.

“Much of what I wrote was apocryphal, over the top exaggerations of “war” stories swapped by various entertainers over drinks.  It was never intended as a criticism of any producer in particular or any producer with whom I have ever had the honor or privilege to work.

I have to make clear that I did not write the editor’s note and I did not mention anything about my credits.  The fact is over time shows can close regardless of how long they were running no matter how successful they may have been.

“Where there is a beginning, there is an end.  I acknowledge there are many factors at play and that producing is a challenging business with lots of hurdles to overcome.  It has been an honor to have performed in every show for which I have been credited.

“I have developed deep and meaningful relationships with many people from the production teams, cast and crews that I have worked with and feel inspired every day to be surrounded with so many talented people who have such enormous ambition, drive and success.”

She is not only a great writer, she is classy and kind.

Personally, we would never put up with our hijinx and wise acre ways.

In fact, we would have been a lot less diplomatic and probably gone over the top again by attacking our own writing for being unprofessional  and taking great liberties with the original story.  Fortunately, we are so lazy we likely would not have even bothered to write us.

Ms. Wade  shared what she learned from her friends in the business in a satirical piece on Vegas DeLuxe.  She served as a guest essayist whilst Robin Leach is on his annual summer vacation.

While her helpful instruction is not directly related to magic productions, her instruction can help any show avoid a short run and embarrassing close.

For instance:

What is the No. 1 rule of business? Keep costs down. Here are some effective ways to do this: Advertising is completely overrated. Why should you spend money to make money? Your show should be Vegas’ best kept secret, so secret that no one knows about it.

Read her full post here.

We hereby extend an offer to Ms. Wade.  Please join Inside Magic’s writing team.  We love snark and especially well-written and insightful snark.

You’ve got what it takes to make it in the magic writing biz, Ms. Wade.  Give us a call.

[ Edited 4:23 pm]

Guest Article: The Kids’ Show Done New

Inside Magic Image for Tony Spain's Seance for Children[It is the policy of Inside Magic to offer its readers new and different views on the art of magic -- even if they are offered by those who have no reputation for honesty or integrity.  Today's submission is an essay on a new and different approach to magic for kids.  Inside Magic does not approve of Tony Spain's thoughts or approach to kids' magic.  In fact, we find them horrible.]


It is a given – and so I’ll write it at the beginning and get it over with – that people are reluctant to accept the new and cling so tightly to the old.  The old is comfortable, fits well with their beliefs (in part because the beliefs have been formed by the comfortable fit with the old pattern) and to leave the comfortable is to risk the unknown.

I think it was John Wilkes Booth that yelled Sic Semper Tyranus as he hit the stage floor after assassinating President Lincoln.  His words are reportedly from some foreign language, maybe Latin – even though people didn’t speak Latin then – and some scholars have translated them to mean, “So Always Goes (or With) Tyrants.”

Phillipe Anjou, the cartoonist and creative mind behind the 1870′s most famous one frame comic, “Li’l Trachea: The Funny Passage Way,” reworked the assassin’s declaration with humor.

The cartoon showed Li’l Trachea jumping from the Presidential Box at Ford’s Theater with a pistol in his ligaments and the ever-present hand-rolled cigarette balancing ever so gently on the top of his tube like head.  Li’l Trachea shouts “Let’s Try Something Different!”

Li’l Trachea’s little friend, Liver Boy is about to jump from the box as well and it looks like he will land right on the proud little trachea.  Li’l Trachea wants to try something different but only we, the audience, can anticipate the fun that will follow shortly.

I traveled down that side road of cartoon history, to make a point.  Even within 10 years of the death of a great public leader, the method of his assassination is lampooned as trite.

So what does this have to do with my innovation in Kid’s Magic?

Only this: I believe I have hit upon a formula that works and works independent of the traditional trappings we associate with the Kid Show or Kid Magic.  I believe it takes a certain kind of personality to perform this method but then again, so does any kid magic.  You have to feel comfortable with the children and make them feel that you are safe and you are there to entertain them for exactly 55 minutes pursuant to your written agreement with their mother, father or legal custodian.

Rather than go into the nuts and bolts right now, I thought I would relate to you my experience this weekend as I tried out my new, novel, approach to Kid’s Magic.

At the age of seven, psychologists tell us, children become aware of mortality generally and their own mortality specifically.  Perhaps a relative has passed away or maybe a family pet or close friend.  Regardless of the trigger, the age of seven, is the time to understand that few will make it out of this life alive.

Most Kid Shows ignore this ground-shaking revelation and allow the Birthday Boy or Girl to reflect silently that their birthday also means they are moving irreversibly along the river of life towards their final day.

The kids are terrified but they cannot verbalize their fear.  By pretending all is sugar and donuts, the entertainer is really just reinforcing their fear.  Every breath used to inflate a balloon is one less breath available to the child.  Blowing out the candles on their cake provides only a harsh reminder that, as Buddha said, they too will vanish from life like the flame from the candle — even a birthday candle.

I say, don’t fight these fears.  Exploit them.  Use them to make this the best birthday ever.

That’s where I came up with my concept for Kiddy Séance.  I will get to the marketing opportunities in a second, but imagine this scene.

Continue reading Guest Article: The Kids’ Show Done New

Inside Magic Editors: Sharing is Caring

Inside Magic Image of Attractive Reader Showing Shock at Finding Republished Magic StoriesIt is tough working as an editor at Inside Magic.

Yes, the pay is incredible and the offices in downtown Mystic Hollow, Michigan are without compare.

We enjoy the club memberships, the morning coffee break, full gourmet luncheon with exciting guest speakers, the newly instituted policies discouraging most instances of corporal punishment and verbal humiliation, not to  mention the free weekly magic shows and clog dancing contests.

But it is difficult to write inaccurate, misleading and fully invented stories about magicians and the art of magic on a daily basis.

Outlandish ideas besmirching innocent public targets don’t grow on trees.  Scandal and gossip is easily created when based on at least a shred of truth.  We do not always have that luxury.

That’s why we are turning to you, the Inside Magic reader for help.

Our high-priced demographic surveys show that our readers almost universally:

1) Leave their house more than twice a week;

2) Know people to whom they are not directly or indirectly related;

3) Read or know someone who will read to them;

4) Like to watch, do, learn about and/or buy magic; and,

5) Have access to a computer with an internet connection.

Those are the characteristics of  just the type of contributor we need.

Shortly after the Burger Wars of the late 1980′s we were forced to close many of our foreign and domestic news bureaus.  As a consequence, we do not have the live information feed from places and people outside of Mystic Hollow we once enjoyed.

That’s where the sharing and caring comes in.

If you know of magic happenings in your locale, we would be excited to hear about it.

You can send a fully-written article, review, essay or press release for publication with full credit to you.  We can also send story ideas, links of interest and blurbs for us to follow.

We  made a simple form to get started.  There cannot pay you for your contribution — at least not in money — but we will like you and say very nice things about you.  Please be sure the submissions are your original work or that you have permission to submit the work to us.

Thank you in advance for bringing new blood, truth and news of interest to Inside Magic.

You can find our submission form here.