David Blaine: The Next Last Greatest Magician in the World?

Inside Magic Image of Ed Mishell DrawingMagician and endurance maven David Blaine takes to the air this evening in the United States through ABC television to ask Real or Magic?  He is joined in this endeavor by Will Smith, Olivia Wilde, Woody Allen, Stephen Hawking and other celebrities who, we are informed, will react to his tricks.

We like David Blaine and believe he has done much to revitalize our wonderful craft and feel badly that we want him to be different than the way he is.  He is not Doug Henning or David Copperfield or Harry Blackstone Jr. but he is very talented and, in his own way, charismatic and captivating.

Still, we miss Doug Henning performing the Water Torture Tank live on national television.  We miss David Copperfield’s well produced escapes and illusions performed on tape but with the assurance the home audience was seeing the events unfold in real time without camera tricks.  We miss Harry Blackstone Jr. for many, many reasons; not the least of which was his wonderful persona – so serious and light-hearted at the same time and able to convince even the most jaded teenager that he could really perform magic.

But David Blaine is bringing magic to the audience of the times where camera trickery is expected and even celebrated.  Attention spans are short and expectations are high.   Each generation of magic faces a similar challenge.  Jim Steinmeyer’s outstanding book, The Last Greatest Magician in the World tells of Howard Thurston making the transition from vaudeville to the traveling, full-evening show and the ultimate demise of that elaborate show type.  We know of Thurston today because he survived and conquered the new formats and met his audience where they sat.  They were no longer in vaudeville halls watching one of eight shows in a day’s time.  They came to see a full-length show and he had the props and chops to show them what they wanted to see – year after year.

We like David Blaine and wish him the best with his newest take on a classic art.  If there is anyone that can again move magic in a new direction, it is David Blaine.

How Broadway Works: Magic Author Steinmeyer Recalls “The Merlin Crusade”

Inside Magic Image of Doug Henning's MerlinWe received the May edition of Genii today and were delighted to read Jim Steinmeyer’s incredible recollection of the logistics, politics and creative process that went to bring Doug Henning’s second Broadway show to life.

Mr. Steinmeyer’s “The Merlin Crusade” (subtitled, “Doug Henning’s Infamous Magical Musical Appeared 30 Years Ago.  Onstage It Was a Magic Show.  Offstage It Was a Holy War”) is a compelling read.  We could not stop reading once we began.

Yes, we had to apologize to those waiting to use the restroom, but to be fair, providing just two lavatories for a full coach section of a cross-country flight is hardly our fault.

We have two great loves: magic and logistics.  You give us an article about the logistical challenges of creating great illusions for a Broadway show and we give you our undivided attention.  It is an incredibly detailed account of a 24-year-old Mr. Steinmeyer as both participant and observer.  You should subscribe to Genii as a matter of principle but if you have not, get to your local magic shop or the  Genii website to get the May edition.

Mr. Steinmeyer was part of the “magic department” brought to Broadway to seamlessly integrate Mr. Henning’s magic into a complex and challenging musical.

Because the magic was integrated with everything in the show, there wasn’t a repair, a change, or a piece of scenery that didn’t have something to do with a trick.  Each of our changes on the work list was worded, “fix,” or “add,” or “align.”  Because no other department cared to understand the magic, it was the magic department that had to work with everyone else, watching what the painters were doing, seeing if the new pieces of scenery would foul on our illusions.  Each one of these jobs involved standing in front of the prop, scratching your head, experimenting, figuring out how the dancers were doing the routine, and then devising some solution.

You can read about the endless tuning of the show’s story, style and magic right up to its official opening.   The depiction of Mr. Henning is true to our memory of the great magician and truly gentle man. 
Continue reading How Broadway Works: Magic Author Steinmeyer Recalls “The Merlin Crusade”

Magician Lee Winters Featured

Inside Magic Image of Lee WintersYoung magician Lee Winters sounds like our kind of guy.  He loves magic, is industrious and gives back to his community.  It is entirely fitting that the Danbury News Times would dedicate considerable space to their Q&A with the Connecticut performer.

His professional name is MagicLee and his weapon of choice is a deck of cards.

Mr. Winters fell in love with our wonderful Art about seven years ago and credits the late Bill Andrews and the Stamford Society of Young Magicians with encouraging and mentoring is rapid development.

He practices every day, films his own installments for YouTube and shares our love for Shaun Farquhar’s amazing effect Shape of My Heart.

“Every time I see it, it almost brings me to tears, it’s that amazing.”

Of course there are those in the magic community who will attack this young prodigy for revealing one of the true classics, The Vanishing Card on one of his YouTube videos.  Yes, the secret has been kept from the public since Robert Houdin and known to very few – until now – but we cannot fault him for this blatant breach of magic’s sacred code.

In the course of the videos (see them here and here), he gives precise details in the angle of deflection for the card to be vanished (47 to 48 degrees), the definition of momentum (as well as the correct engineering formula for determining momentum from known velocity measurements) and even the special Natural Linguistic Programming intonation and word choice to present the effect for maximum impact.

We can hear the exposure is good crowd crowing:

“Yeah, but anyone could figure out the trick.  It is wrong to keep secrets from the public.  No one goes on YouTube anymore.  There’s always a trick to it because there is no such thing as magic.  Why shouldn’t all magic be exposed before the trick is done and then the audience would better appreciate the actual performance rather than be surprised and shocked with no real chance to recreate the events causing the surprise?”
Continue reading Magician Lee Winters Featured

Great Jim Steinmeyer Lecture at Magic Castle

Inside Magic Image of Our World's Famous Bunny in Open Arms PostureWe were perusing the Magic Castle web site seconds ago and came across what would be a fantastic lecture to witness first hand.

Fellow Chicagoan Jim Steinmeyer will take the spotlight at the Parlour of Prestidigitation on  Sunday, Jan 13th 2013 at 3:00 pm.  His lecture is titled, “Allow Me To Give You Some Really Awful Advice,” focusing on what magicians do wrong.

According to the Magic Castle’s advertisement, Mr. Steinmeyer “will demonstrate a number of original and useful effects, from close-up, to mentalism, and stand-up magic, and discuss the development and the selection of new material for your performances.”

This sounds like a lecture not to be missed.  Mr. Steinmeyer has not only invented just about every magic trick in the history of magic, he also has written about every magician and magic event ever.  We know that sounds like hyperbole but it could be true.  We haven’t done our fact-checking and we’re just kind of going with our gut on this one.

You can judge for yourself by going to his website and reading the list of effects he has brought forth from his imagination to the world.

Check out Mr. Steinmeyer’s website for some great information, history and insight.

via The World Famous Hollywood Magic Castle.

Magic’s Demise Predicted — Again

We have been reading The Last Greatest Magician in the World: Howard Thurston versus Houdini & the Battles of the American Wizards and enjoying every page. Jim Steinmeyer could have made his living writing books and wouldn't have needed to be the prodigious inventor of so many game changing illusions. We are fortunate as a community that he lost his way and fell victim to Magic's seductive call.

After Kellar's passing, there was a heated contest between Houdini and Thurston to assume the position of Dean in the Society of American Magicians. The debate was ugly and filled with attacks founded and otherwise to prove or disprove worthiness to the throne. One of the knocks on Thurston was his alleged violation of Magic's sacred rule against exposure.

Audiences could purchase candy in specially printed containers that taught basic magic tricks. Some of Magic's elite branded this activity evil and worthy of disqualification. Others saw no problem with the general principle of teaching very basic tricks to young people. The case apparently turned on a bizarre technicality: because the candy was being sold, there was no offense. If the same candy had been given away in the boxes, the case would have gone against Thurston.

In the midst of the debate, the magician and historian Henry Ridgely Evans penned his essay "Is Magic Decadent?"

Ah, for the good old days, when magic was a genuine mystery, and one had to learn it from a professor of sleight-of-hand; when books and boxes of magic did not exist, and stage secrets were as closely guarded as the formula of certain patent medicines.

Magic has been on the cusp of ruin for centuries and apparently the advent of mass production of magic kits and publication of magic books indicated the last days in 1923.

In an article published this weekend in the online journal, Salon, writer Santiago Willis voices concerns almost identical to those of Evans. His article, The Internet Makes Magic Disappear runs parallel to Evans' concerns and is familiar.

Magic depends on secrecy, magic shops controlled access to secrets, brick and mortar magic shops are shuttered by the internet outlets, youtube.com exposes all to everyone with a computer; and therefore, magic will die out from over-exposure.

The writer notes New York City had 16 magic shops in 1960, three in 2003 and now only two. Willis quotes Jamy Ian Swiss for the proposition that the decline in brick-and-mortar shops portends the erosion of one of our art's essential support structures.

We cannot disagree that youtube has permitted really bad magicians to expose what could be really great tricks. But magic has been with us for a very long time and it has never been just about figuring out the secret. Magic in its truest form focuses on the performance, the give-and-take with an audience of one or a thousand, and the experience shared.


Continue reading Magic’s Demise Predicted — Again