P.T. Barnum Proven Right Again

Arizona State Fair LogoWe think it was P.T. Barnum that said, “Missing Goats Make Gravy.”  He was likely talking about the type of gravy that one would eat or slurp from a plastic bottle affixed to a fanny pack as one does one’s daily exercise walk through the mall.  But like all great quotes we invent, it applies to more than food or exercise supplements.

Really?  Yes, we have an example.

The Arizona State Fair is a big event and usually a pretty dry experience.  It is, after all, in the Phoenix area and we have it on good authority that it is usually sunny and desert-like.

But for some reason, known only to people who know science and stuff, it rained for six days.  The rain was so heavy, rides had to be shut down.  Things were looking bad.  “Many people deferred their visit because of the rain, which was unusual for Arizona, because we don’t usually get rain this time of year,” said Kristi Walsh, Assistant Executive Director of the Fair.  “Considering the weather, the fact the fair was only down about 5 percent is positive.”

Yes, things were looking bleak for the Fair organizers until GusGus went missing.

GusGus was just three weeks old at the time of his abduction by unknown bad people.  He was taken from the petting zoo on the fairgrounds and was not located for ten days.  The search for this poor little goat brought attention to the moist midway just as P.T. Barnum predicted.

“We made international news, it was one of the biggest stories we’ve ever had the fair,” said Walsh. “We got a lot of extra publicity for the fair that we never had before.

“We had international coverage, reports in France and Canada, we were fielding a lot of calls. There were reports that Gus-Gus misses his mommy,” said Walsh. “The Petting Zoo manager said it was not healthy for the baby goat to be away from his mother and people took it to heart.”

A Good Samaritan walking his or her dog found GusGus about ten miles from the fairgrounds and brought to him PetsMart.  (We did not know that was the protocol for found farm animals but it makes sense to us and will be in the next edition of our Illustrated What to Do Guide).

“It was really great, our media partners covered the story and our Facebook fans were posting about GusGus,” Walsh said. “They really put out the word, and it was refreshing that there were so many people who cared about the goat as opposed to some bad people who would actually steal a goat.”

The publicity not only brought attention to the fair, “but it was promotional too, the social media really got a hold of the story and ran with it. I think it pushed attendance too, people came to the fair to see GusGus,” Walsh said.

The McBrides and Magic and Mystery

Jeff McBride

Last night, the place to be was The Magic Castle at the corner of Franklin and Orange in Hollywood, California.  We squeaked in (we are on the waiting list for a hip replacement or a good oiling) just before they closed the parking lot.   Phew, we said to no one.

We were dressed in our finest and even polished one of our two shoes (the right – and we always walk with it going first) and wore a tie inherited from our late uncle.  Like all families, we had to fight to recover the tie he promised us.  Our aunt said he never intended us to have it.  Our cousins claimed they were entitled to it.  The funeral director said we couldn’t open the casket without a court order.  But we have it – most of it – and we were wearing it with the pride of a person who knows how to wear a snap on tie.

Steve Valentine is more than a great magician, he is also a world-famous actor and great guy.  When his name is on the bill, there are going to be crowds.  Well, last night, his name was on the bill and there were crowds.  QED.

Mr. Valentine was hosting a special Castle Perk for members on Street Magic in the beautifully appointed Peller Theatre.  Unfortunately, the Peller Theatre seats around 40 guests and there were far more than that looking to learn the ins and outs of performing on boulevards and byways.

We stood solemnly by the door, gazing in with hope and expectation but to no avail.  We couldn’t hear a thing.  We saw mouths moving and props being displayed but without the language track, the visual was insufficient for us.  Dejectedly, we gathered our street performing props and funny hat, and walked away.

After a wonderful meal in the dining room, we were able to see Jeff McBride and Abigail Spinner-McBride in the Palace of Mystery.  What a treat.  Because of our late arrival and dubious hygiene, we were given a choice seat with lots of room near the front.  We have seen Mr. McBride several times and were once again delighted by his creativity and skill.  He is a man of many talents and masks.  He uses both resources to make for a fantastic show.

We have never seen Ms. Spinner-McBride perform and were equally delighted to see her work.  She has a wonderful sense of poise and grace on stage.  Her performance of Max Maven’s Brainwave was beautifully done.

The McBrides will be at The Magic Castle through Sunday as part of the Magic and Mystery School Week.  If you haven’t seen their show or haven’t seen it in a while, make plans to get there.

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.