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.

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.

Piff the Magic Dragon Returns to Roots

Inside Magic Image of Piff the Magic Dragon doing a One-Handed Card SpringStar of television, stage and the Penn & Teller magic contest, Piff the Magic Dragon sent us a nice note this morning.  He is returning to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for a special, limited run of shows based on his Breakfast at Piffany’s production.  The show will benefit a worthy charity.

We first read about Piff when he performed at the Fringe Festival several years ago.  He and his magic dog, Mr. Piffles have risen to great heights within the magic world and his return to the Fringe will likely sell out almost immediately.  If you are looking to see great magic performed with profound creativity, you need to see Piff the Magic Dragon.

Piff wrote:

I’m coming back to the Fringe this year. But only for two weeks. Here’s some fancy words about it.

“Direct from Las Vegas, Piff returns to the Fringe with an hour of new tricks, old snacks and sweet, sweet prizes. And yes, he’s bringing the dog too.

Part magic show, part game show, part cry for help, Breakfast at Piffany’s sees Piff split the audience into teams to fight for points and prizes, and along the way witness incredible magic tricks, delicious snacks, surprise special guests and epic thumb wars.

A smash hit on the Las Vegas Strip, Piff has dished up desserts to Shania Twain, sold Hollywood star Brad Garrett a croissant for $1000, and dazzled David Copperfield himself with sleight of paw dragony miracles. Piff and Mr Piffles (the World’s First Magic Performing Chihuahua) fly into Edinburgh for sixteen nights only to give UK audiences a taste of what they’ve been missing.

The evening culminates in the Auction of the Croissant, to benefit Edinburgh charity The Sick Kids Friends Foundation (but don’t tell Piff, he’s planning to buy a fancy new castle). In Las Vegas Piff raised over $15,000 in three months by selling stale pastry treats to minor celebrities. It’s unlikely he’ll repeat that feat in a town where punters balk at a £4 beer, but he’ll give it his best shot.

Strolling Magic Lessons Learned

Inside Magic Image of Innovative BunnyWe performed strolling magic at a wonderful event this weekend.  It was quite the scene – the event, not our performance.  In one of LA’s museums, it was brimming with attractive and important people dressed well with great food and even a red carpet.

Our pockets were packed with three routines’ worth of props.  We had Invisible, Rising, Marked and regular decks in each of our coat pockets.  In our pants pockets we had dental floss for Gypsy Thread.  A Professor’s Nightmare rope set was wedged in our waistband.  A Pen through Bill was in our shirt pocket.  The four of hearts affixed to the back of our beautiful silk tie.  We had a Toppit in place and in it was our Thumb Tip and a black silk for vanishing.  Wedged into our front pocket were our Mogar Color Changing Knives. We were, in the parlance of zookeepers, loaded for bear.

But the contents of our pockets remained in place.  We performed for about 30 small groups and did essentially one effect – Sponge Balls.

We have not performed Sponge Balls in an actual public routine since 1974, during the Close-up Competition at the Florida State Magicians Association Convention in Winter Park, Florida.  We brought the set with us almost as an afterthought.  They do not take up much room, are visible and it can be performed in noisy surroundings.

We approached our first grouping of beautifully attired attendees and asked if they would like to see some magic.  They consented and we reached into our pocket to pull out a deck of cards to perform our standard 42-minute ambitious card routine but our fingers lingered on the Sponge Balls.

It was like we were back in 1974 at the Langford Hotel.  We were once again that young magician performing an endlessly rehearsed routine for judges.  Here and now, the judges were comely women and men with more disposable income than we have earned since 1974 but they were just as receptive.  We did our routine with very little talking and when the balls appeared in the startled volunteer’s beautifully manicured hand, she squealed with shock.

“Do me next,” her companion urged.

We performed the kicker ending for her friend and they reacted in a way we are used to seeing on every YouTube video of a street performer.

The reaction was better than we could have hoped to receive from any of the other items packed about our person.

As the evening rolled on, we performed Sponge Balls repeatedly.  Using the same patter we developed while still an acne-scarred youth, we worked the room.

In our younger days, we would have insisted on performing something different.  We do not know if it is a sign of maturity or laziness but we decided to stick with what was working.  The room was dark and loud so a Book Test would not have worked.  Our delightful patter that accompanies our 90-minute version of The Professor’s Nightmare rope trick would probably not have been heard above the din and may have been a tad too long given the event.

As we drove back to West Hollywood with our top down – plus we had the convertible top down – we thought about the lessons learned.

First, give the audience what it wants.

Second, don’t give the audience what you want unless it is also what they want.

Third, magician’s rope expands when exposed to sweat and can become uncomfortable when wedged in one’s waistband for long periods of time.

It was a magical night.