Couldn’t Have Happened to a Nicer Guy: Johnny Thompson Honored by LA Critics

Johnny Thompson and Pam as Great Tomsoni & Co.A while back we gave our review of Teller and Todd Robbins disturbing but very entertaining show Play Dead then showing at The Geffen Playhouse here in Los Angeles.

The writing was fantastic and matched the outstanding performance given by Mr. Robbins.  The magic was, though, was truly magical.

Today we learned through Teller’s contribution to Alan Watson’s always jam-packed with goodness Magic New Zealand newsletter that Johnny Thompson’s work to make the illusions and effects so effective has been recognized with a LA Drama Critics Circle award.

Mr. Thompson has an encyclopedic knowledge of our wonderful art and its history.  According to Penn Jillette, there is no one who knows more about the subject.  With his wife Pam, Mr. Thompson often performs as the hysterical and technically brilliant The Great Tomsoni & Co.  Though we have seen the act many times, we still embarrass ourselves with our high-pitched, almost girl-like laughing fits each time.

For as good as he is – and we agree with Mr. Jillette that he the elite of the elites – he does not engage in the type of self-promotion and chest-thumping we see from lesser-lights in our industry.  He does not even make a big deal of the fact that he is modest.

We get that “business” is an integral part of the term show-biz and that self-promotion is often the only type of promotion available to a young performer.  We accept that hiding one’s light under a bushel basket is an inefficient career move and only adds to one’s carbon footprint.  But it is refreshing to encounter performers who are really, really good and are not afraid to be judged solely on their work.

But Mr. Thompson could be modest, talented, lack the need to proclaim his superiority and still be a jerk.  In fact, he would deserve to be a jerk if he wanted.

But Mr. Thompson is decidedly not a jerk.

He is not dismissive of magicians who are just honored to meet him at a regional magic convention – say in Toledo – and seem unable to speak in complete sentences in his presence.  He does not dismiss those same magicians who encounter him, say, in Dallas at a national convention.  In fact, he is the kind of person who would invite that lesser-talented magician to sit and take part in a late-hour conversation in the lobby area with professionals the gawking magician had only seen on television or read about in magic magazines.

Mr. Thompson must have off-days.  He must occasionally feel it is unnecessary to cross a room to introduce himself – as if that would be necessary – to a magician/fan at a magic conference  set in some bucolic Michigan magic mecca setting like the Abbott’s Get-Together.   There must be times when he does not feel the need to engage in conversation with lesser magicians about their shared roots in Chicago.  We have never seen him on those days and, significantly, never read of others seeing him in that way.

Congratulations to Mr. Thompson for his award and recognition from a notoriously tough group of people to please, The LA Drama Critics.  We, as magicians, are fortunate to have people of his ability and demeanor in our art.

Magician Andrew Mayne Gets Great Press

Andrew-MayneToday’s edition of The Sun gives well-deserved coverage to Inside Magic Favorite Andrew Mayne and his new show Don’t Trust Andrew Mayne,

Mr. Mayne is an accomplished performer and prolific inventor of great effects.  The Sun gives us some insight into the self-effacing magician that is rarely the fodder of a typical feature piece about a network star.  It is refreshing to read.

But what about the show’s title?  Shouldn’t all magicians be beloved and trusted without question?  Why would a magician want to begin with the premise that he is untrustworthy?

“I liked the idea of using magic to do something ­different. In this case, instead of just watching me do ­something really cool, you get to see me use magic to help people get revenge on ­someone they love or to ­convey a ­pertinent ­message.”

We admit that our recent search of the internets shows there are no other “revenge magicians.”

(Here is a tip from your family-friendly editor, do not do a search using the words “revenge” and “trick” or “perform” if you are at work or have any concern that humanity is quickly sliding down a well-oiled slope towards a society where one would not want to saunter without first donning a hazmat suit and mega-dosing amoxicillin).

His approach is different than others who claim to be Street Magicians.  

“I can’t just ask someone for a ring, I have to convince them to give it to a stranger.”

That is a little tougher than confronting drunk groups of 20-somethings with a camera crew along to capture the moment.

(Editor: we assume the writer meant that the magician doing the confronting had a camera crew in tow as he confronted the drunken group of young people, not that the magician looked for the unique configuration — rarely seen on today’s city streets — of publicly intoxicated folks matching the show’s focus demographic who happen to also have a camera crew (presumably not similarly intoxicated) in their midst).

The Sun reporter asked Mr. Mayne if his impromptu audiences “see through him” on occasion.

“I think people see through me all the time!”

“I have had times when I do something like making a phone vanish – I then walk away thinking they are still standing there.

“Then someone will run up behind me and grab me and tackle me! They don’t know how it works but they know I had done something to them.”

His goal is not to prove himself superior to those he encounters.  

Yes, his reputation precedes him and, as seen in some of the clips on YouTube, some folks run the other way when they see him coming.

“On the whole, I think many know that I am a pretty nice guy and if I get hold of them, they are going to have fun.”

Check out Mr. Mayne’s website here: http://andrewmayne.com.

Brad Ross Takes Centenary Stage Again

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After a sold out performance last year, the Merlin Award Winner for “Best International Family Entertainer” returns to the Centenary Stage. The Illusionary Magic of Brad Ross is back with some brand new tricks on Sunday, April 13 at 2 p.m. in the Lackland Center.

This International Star Illusionist combines magic, illusion, theatricality, comedy and fun into a family friendly experience for kids, parents and grandparents.

Ross has made more than 500 television appearances, with ABC television hailing him as the “Illusionist Extraordinaire,” and has impressed talk-show host Rosie O’Donnell, who exclaimed, “Brad Ross, you rock.”

Mr. Ross is also the founder of New Jersey’s local chapter of Project Magic, a charity program started by David Copperfield.

The International Magicians’ Society recognized Ross with the “Oscar of the magic industry,” the Merlin Award, for his work entertaining children and their families the world over.

To purchase tickets or to find more information on other CSC events, visit www.centenarystageco.org or call the CSC box office at 908-979-0900. Tickets for the Family Fun Series’ shows range from $17.50 to $20 in advance and $22.50 to $25 on the day of. Workshops are available for an additional $18.50 a person, limit of 50 people.

Pepper’s Ghost Key in New Lawsuit Against Cirque du Soleil

Inside Magic Image for Tony Spain's Seance for ChildrenIt is not often when the worlds of west coast rap culture and classical illusion come together.  It is an even more rare event to have those two spheres of history collide with patent law.  Today, then, is a special day for fans of the late Tupac Shakur, Pepper’s Ghost and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

According to industry magazines (the entertainment industry) a company is suing Cirque du Soleil and MGM Resorts for their alleged infringement on a patent it owns.  The suit claims Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson: One uses its patented technology to “create a hologram” of the late King of Pop for one of the final scenes of the show.

FilmOn  and hologram-maker Musion filed suit against the defendants in Los Angeles yesterday alleging Cirque du Soleil and MGM Resorts bring Michael Jackson back to the stage by an unlicensed use of their technology.

The complaint gives a little background on Pepper’s Ghost in its opening paragraphs – before getting to the meat of the issue:

“In 1862, John Pepper and Henry Dircks invented ‘Pepper’s Ghost,’ an illusion technique, which, over the last 150 years, has appeared in movies, concerts, magic shows and amusement park rides,” says the lawsuit. “Today a new incarnation of Pepper’s Ghost exists — Musion Eyeliner technology. Musion Eyeliner uses a patented system to project three-dimensional images virtually indistinguishable from real life bodies.”

The complaint then alleges that it is “widely acknowledged that Defendants employ the technology to create a three-dimensional hologram of Michael Jackson in Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson: One, Defendants do not possess a valid license to practice that technology.”

One wonders what they mean by “widely acknowledged.”

This will be an interesting case to watch.  Patent law is an intricate and difficult world to navigate.  We make no claim of expertise and it is always tough to judge a claim by the opening salvo.  As we write this, the defendants have not issued a statement in reaction to the complaint but when they do, we will provide coverage.

We note that despite the headlines and the loose text that floats through coverage about the lawsuit, Pepper’s Ghost is not a hologram – not even a little.  It is – as the complaint notes – a method of projecting an image.  Plaintiffs complaint is that the method used to project the ghost onto a live stage is protected by their patents and therefore Cirque and MGM have infringed.  Perhaps our beef is with the misnaming of the illusion.

Read more about the lawsuit here: http://m.hollywoodreporter.com/entry/view/id/268549

David Blaine: Waiting for the Wheels to Come Off

One must love an article that begins thusly:

The first time I meet David Blaine, he is weird. Zoned out, distracted or high on something. It’s a private dinner in an upstairs room at a London hotel and he enters without small talk. Dressed all in black with a black baseball cap, the American illusionist is big, bulky and intimidating.

The article in today’s The Evening Herald profiles magician David Blaine from a distance – at least emotionally.  The writer is clearly not one of the millions sold on the concept of David Blaine.  He views the performer as an oddity; hence an appropriate topic for a news story, we presume.

Mr. Blaine performs some pretty amazing effects for the reporter but he does not seem overly impressed.  The tricks he describes seem great but as the writer notes, “wImage of David Blaine on Inside Magice expect to be astonished.”  He does not say if he was astonished though.

Mr. Blaine confesses that despite his reputation as a performer of death-defying stunts, he is “obsessed with magic.”

He considers magic as a grounding center for his peripatetic life.  “It’s what drives me. It’s my favorite thing. It’s my saving grace. Like a meditation. I don’t even know what I would do without it.”

We know the feeling.  Give us a deck of cards and we are content.  Take away our deck of cards or our two silver dollars and the panic comes back.

Mr. Blaine teased his fans with scant information about an upcoming performance.

“There is a very big idea that I am going to do in London for the first time ever,” he says. “It’s a very simple idea, but it will be the best thing I have ever done. The most exciting. I know that it will drive me and I will push myself in a way I never would if it was not in front of me.”

It is scheduled to happen sometime in 2016 and in a football stadium.  That’s all we know so far.

We were thinking it would be the world’s longest performance of The Six Card Repeat.  That would have a lot of magicians watching for sure and there would be drama as he risked paper cuts and wrist injury.  Perhaps it is something different.

“No, an event. It is different from anything I have ever done, but combines everything. It will make sense out of everything I have spent my career working towards. If it works.”
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