Note ye ed's email address:

Stan Allen opens MAGIC Live! 2011.

August 2011

Well, congratulations to Stan Allen, for the twentieth anniversary of MAGIC magazine, for a terrific fifth edition of MAGIC Live!, and, most importantly, for becoming a grandpa. What follows is a longer than usual review. Bear in mind that this is a partial review; I didn't attend (or stay awake through) every event, I didn't check out every dealer item, I didn't participate in Rob Zabrecky's auction, and so on. But what I did experience was great, as you will see. Also up this month, a recent visit to Mac King's show at Harrah's and a review of some of the magic that found favor with my friends over the summer. It's a nice list of stuff to try out yourself.

Oh, and just so Genii doesn't feel too left out of all this MAGIC hoopla, what were the magicians talking about at MAGIC Live!? Who was Erdnase! The mystery continues ...

Thanks to everyone who chatted with me in Las Vegas. It was great seeing you.

MAGIC MAGAZINE GOES PLATINUM -- How better to celebrate twenty years in the business than with a record number of friends at a convention that set the bar ten years ago and has yet to be topped except by itself? From the opening night party to the final YouTube video recap from Jonathan Levit, MAGIC Live! once again held its position at the cutting edge of magical congregations, in Las Vegas or otherwise. A few arguments in that direction ...

Put that on your ice cream.

Cake, ice cream, and Kozmo, oh my -- Two years ago, I said that Stan had me with the opening night Buddy Holly music. This year he had me with a hot fudge sundae, my way-off-diet creation from a continuous spread of ice cream and toppings. This and the cake at the Finally party three nights later were the perfect treats for a birthday party, and Kozmo the ideal entertainer performing street magic beneath wall-size projections of MAGIC magazine covers. The trading card game featured covers whose subjects were converted to silhouettes. The object was to trade cards until you had one of each and then to identify and approach the eighteen cover magi, all in attendance, for their autographs.

Mike Michaels' Scorpion.

At some point Stan's projection towered on the wall, like the great and powerful Oz, inviting everyone next door to The MAGIC Shop, the latest apellation for the dealer room. Mike Michaels once again anchored the room, this year with the Scorpion, a sort of transformer buzz saw escape contraption in the $15,000 range. Each $20 you spent on opening night earned you a lottery ticket for one of twenty prizes, so sales were brisk. (If you bought a Scorpion, you should have won something.)

Prizes await.

The party climaxed with the Cover Parade, as bleachers filled with as many cover magicians as they could hold. David Williamson arrived first, followed by Mac King and Jonathan Pendragon, and then a flood of others including such legends as Marvyn Roy and Cesareo Pelaez. Check the photos below for a who's who of magic royalty.

Left side of bleachers.

Right side of bleachers.

The Fab Five -- What makes MAGIC Live! special is unique events that make each incarnation the convention of a lifetime. One year it was an interview with David Blaine, another an interview with Cyril and a second with Jason Alexander. This year at least five events, and arguably more, rose to this standard.

  • "The Close-up Experience: Joshua Jay's Unreal." This was my favorite event of the convention. I had seen Josh perform as recently as a year ago, but nothing in my watching his evolution in magic prepared me for this. Unreal is a full-blown one-man theatrical performance, a la Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants and Guy Hollingworth's The Expert at the Card Table. Setting-wise, Josh uses a video projection screen that allows him to converse and interact with life-size actors, such as a young lady or gent on a park bench. In these conversations he conveys the nature of card magic and his relationship to it. It's a very personal show.

    Josh tears a card.

    The card magic was superb: there was a surprise ending Alfred Hitchcock routine with a torn card, an ACAAN involving the card at a page number in a book, and a fabulous multiple selection routine. But the trick that had us abuzz involved a wine glass and a borrowed finger ring. With the ring in the glass and covered with a handkerchief, the owner shook it up and down, and you could of course hear the ring. But then Josh commanded it to stop, and you could no longer hear it. When he then commanded it to start, the noise resumed. When the handkerchief was removed, the ring was discovered to be permanently encircling the stem of the wine glass. Martin Lewis and I discussed this after the show and had no clue. The next morning, I had breakfast with a fellow who participated later (Josh did the show six times, the last at midnight). The fellow still had the glass up in his room with his ring still on it. No [insert expletive] way.

  • "Documentary Live: Divided We Stand," narrated by magic's premier historian, Mike Caveney, was a wonderfully illustrated history of "Sawing a Woman in Two." Five outstanding performances brought the talk to life. Jonathan Pendragon performed "Clearly Impossible" with Liberty Larsen as his victim. Mark and Nani Wilson performed their train engine version via video as sons Mike and Greg simultaneously performed it live. Mark Kalin and Jinger performed their now classic "Wakeling/Selbit Sawing." Kevin James performed his chilling Johnny Eck version with an apparent half man.

    Blackstone lives.

    And there was the Blackstone Buzz Saw version, with David Charvet eerily convincing as Harry Blackstone, Jr. What a superb opportunity this was to see all these performed on the same stage.

  • "Parlor Experience: From the Dark." The most ambitious performance of the convention: an hour long magic show for the blind, presented in total darkness. Hosted by Juan Esteban Varela, the show led us into a dark room where we were blindfolded and then led to a second room. My guide strapped a box of items to my leg, and with these I was instructed to perform various seemingly random acts that culminated in a surprising outcome. In a later session, Juan fooled the sighted as well with a most visual version of "Triumph."
  • "A Night at the MAGIC Museum" was a walk-through hands-on exhibit featuring artifacts from the Lance Burton show, from the Siegfried and Roy show, from "The Magic Land of Allakazam," and so on. Some of the exhibits were live, such as the Wilsons' Live Hands advertising illusion.

    If Lance ever has a garage sale ...

    My favorite live exhibit was a display of wooden puzzles hosted by Brad Henderson. Brad handed me a large wooden die, impossible to open, and normal except that the dots were not in the usual rotation. To open it, you had to hold the one up first, then the two, then the three, and so on. Once six was up, you could slide a panel aside and the interior revealed itself.

  • Live Onstage: Carnival of Wonders hit the stage like something out of Ray Bradbury. In this closing big show, Mark Kalin wandered on stage with a carpet bag out of which he conjured an entire carnival. He was soon joined by the delectable Jinger as his partner and lead dancer and by the swishy, slightly sinister Hobson as a mad sideshow barker. Magic and comedy ensued, but it hardly mattered what they did. Kalin kept the show on track with wonderful Jim Steinmeyer patter and great illusions, and Hobson especially generated laughs with bawdy good humor whenever he opened his mouth. "I've got to get the duck out of here," he muttered as he roared off in a Tunnel of Love vehicle shaped like a duck. He ate fire, he performed his Egg Bag routine, but it was his mere presence on stage that riveted the crowd.

    Kalin vanishes his backdrop.

    In a sensational closer, Kalin caused a stage-filling backdrop curtain to vanish into his carpet bag, which he then picked up and walked off with a salute, the carnival itself a misty dream. The writing, the magic, the laughs, and the chemistry were all just right, a wonderfully themed illusion show. A fortunate public would get to see this the following weekend as part of the Orleans' normal entertainment rotation.

Oh, there was plenty more between the morning General Sessions (for my group) and the afternoon Focus Sessions.

Comedy delivered -- A surprising number of session talks were hilarious. Mark Kornhouser, MAGIC's sharpest contributor lately, punctuated his talk on high concepts with some pyro-flatulence and a talking dog that cracked everyone up. "What the hell is she doing?" the dog asked of the lady signing for the deaf. Voronin, who recently completed another Teatro ZinZanni stint with Joan Baez, opened a show with his dancing ears.

Voronin commands the stage.

Michael Weber emceed and delivered an Update with biting observational humor. Derek Hughes killed with refreshingly original lines. "How do you get into magic? Suck at sports. That's how we get into magic." He had a wonderfully politically incorrect word for a female magician that I can't print. But my favorite was Master Payne, whose Publish or Perish slide show on achieving immortality through contributing to magic magazines had us "PNP" (peeing in pants). The funniest slide was of the tearful widow carting her husband's magazines away for disposition. What a smile.

Mysteries solved -- An equally delightful number of talks taught some great magic. Sos and Victoria revealed quick change methods, something I had no knowledge of. Johnny Thompson provided a generous pot pourri of material. Ian Rowland contributed entertaining mentalism routines (to some an oxymoron!). Daryl focused on a generic concept that made many tricks possible, of which I greatly enjoyed his take on "The Professor's Nightmare." Gregory Wilson and David Gripenwaldt taught enough practical routines with coffee cups to make you the hit of your local Starbucks. Michael Ammar hosted a session in which John Lovick taught the best bill switch from his mammoth Switch book, Jason England taught a couple of useful palms, and Richard Sanders fried us with uses for repositional Glue Sticks. I look forward to trying Michael's own routine for a torn and restore card.

Armando Lucero tips precious secrets.

All nice, but the ace in this deck was Armando Lucero's method for transporting a coin from one card to another, by real magic. Armando teaches his full blown "Coin Menagerie" routine for thousands of dollars, hence it was special that he taught this much of his thinking for free. The attention to detail, the critical thinking involved, and the evolution of the routine are all just stunning. Place this routine among my Fab Five above; it belongs there.

Highbrow moments -- Historically, some MAGIC Live! lectures are purely educational, and this edition had its share. The always popular Levent spoke on the value of learning from the old books, with Linking Rings demonstrations to illustrate. Chris Kenner spoke on "How to Shoot Yourself" (with a video camera) by drawing on the videos he has captured over the years of "Three Fly." Chris sucked me in with a video of his wife, Katie, performing difficult sleights such as one-hand shuffles, only to reveal that someone was lying on the kitchen counter behind Katie and doing the real work. Long the pied piper of youth in magic, Chris closed with an admonition not to blame today's youth for playing the cards they've been dealt. Johnny Ace Palmer gave a laid back talk on table hopping, performed some of his classic routines, and dropped the tidbit that his uncle considered buying the Magic Castle (the entire hill) when it was for sale.

The invisible man starts unwrapping.

Paul Kieve presented a fascinating talk on magic in the legitimate theater, the best part being his own contributions, beginning with a very deceptive production of "The Invisible Man." Removing the bandages from the actor's head looked just as it did in the movie, but it wasn't a movie. And then there was Mark Setteducati on Creativity. Arguably the best at what he does, arguably the only one, Mark discussed such elements as invention, styling, and details as they applied to the many puzzles, games, books, Christmas cards, and magic tricks he has invented and marketed over the years. At the conclusion my seating companion said, "This is the best, the most content rich talk of the convention." OK, this too belongs in that Fab Five. Make it the Magnificent Seven.

The good, the bad, and the ugly -- Lest you think I am some sort of Stan Allen shill, I must report that not everything was perfect. Given that I was coming off a recent surprising haircut, I wasn't anticipating seeing my mug on a MAGIC Live! cover photo badge. Nevertheless, the delay in getting badges that some of us suffered was annoying and eventually became the target of one of Michael Weber's Update jokes. Seating this year, in order to accommodate more attendees, was in the Orleans showroom, which created several drawbacks. First, as every session had to be repeated, the seating ruled out possible singular events, such as a Jason Alexander interview. Second, as someone else pointed out, the great divide meant that you kept not running into friends that you enjoyed seeing, because they were elsewhere. Third, despite good sight lines, seating was kind of tight, making it harder to walk out if you needed to use the restroom, to flee a boring speaker, or just to stand off to the side to take a photograph. (I took the printed advice and queued up early enough to sit in the back on an aisle, but still ...) In general, I greatly prefer the large lecture halls that served the first four Lives! Finally, not every speaker was my cup of tea. With apologies to friends who are in this line of business, I have little stomach for motivational speakers. We endured three. I submit that MAGIC Live! attendees are Magicians of Above Average Intelligence, not salesmen in a development seminar. Just talk to us; no cheer leading or contrived relationship building is necessary.

Shopping cart -- The dealers seemed pleased and numerous items sold out. I gravitate towards H&R Magic Books as the focus of any convention, and their book signings were popular.

The dealers were happy.

Of the new items, "Pure Smoke" from Ellusionist drew the most interest. Several times, Eric Jones filled my cupped hands with smoke, quite magically. It's a system that runs down your arm to a nozzle at the wrist, and the smoke is pure water vapor. Quite practical. The other item I coveted was the Buck twins' new book, If an Octopus Could Palm. I haven't read it yet, but I browsed through Chris Kenner's copy, and the book is gorgeous.

I wonder if they have classes in this at Hogwarts.

Though not for sale at the convention, I had the opportunity to see previews of the newspaper book that Gene Anderson has been working on for years, I enjoyed Max Krause's app that does ACAAN for you, and I loved Geno Munari's "Spirit Lights." (Full disclosure: My only purchases of the convention were the new Dennis Behr book and a deck of faux distressed cards from Ellusionist.)

At the Movies -- A new feature this year was the MAGIC Live! Film Festival. Attendees were invited to send in home made videos, the only stipulation being that an issue of MAGIC magazine had to appear in it. There were nine finalists, all just swell and professional, plus a totally goofball film from David Williamson. The people's choice award for Best Picture went to The Magician's Wife, a very funny entry shot at Haines House of Cards. Congratulations to John Mobley and his wife, my traveling companions on the airplane and the happy winners. They took home a trophy and an iPad.

Audience note -- What makes any convention for me is not what is on stage, but who is in the audience to hang out with or watch perform in informal moments. For whatever reason, MAGIC Live! has attracted the best audiences from the get-go. When you look around and see guys like Bill Malone and Mac King and Charlie Frye and Pauls Harris and Gertner and David Williamson and Simon Aronson and John Moehring and Martin Lewis and on and on, and they are attending the lectures, you know you are in for a good time. It was great to see friends from all over the world, some of whom I see only at MAGIC Live!

Late Night Live-- With a feature that could only be dreamed of ten years ago, Jonathan Levit filmed highlights of each day's activities and posted them on YouTube.

Jonathan Levit stays up late.

These are great, and you can watch them yourself at your leisure. Catch the action from Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. I lulled myself to sleep each night in Las Vegas watching these on my iPad. They were most enjoyable, and Stan couldn't have picked a better host.

MAGIC MONDAYS -- For me, summers eat material. As it was last summer and several summers before, I've had a standing Monday lunch date ("Magic Monday") at which I am expected to perform magic for some engineering colleagues and their children. This is a group that actually likes mathematical card tricks, but, because of the children, it is important that the magic be visual and entertaining as well. I exhausted my normal repertoire the first summer, so all subsequent magic has been material new to me as well as to my audience. It's been a great way for me to showcase new items, to see what works and what doesn't. What follows is a list of things that worked particularly well during summer 2011. And a lot worked well! I hope it encourages you to either try these specific items or at least to dust off some items of your own that you've been meaning to perform but haven't gotten around to. Have fun!

Nick Trost's High-card Poker Deal, Revised: The high cards from a shuffled deck are cut in half, the halves ribbon spread on the table, and then the spreads are pushed together, interlacing the cards. (The shuffle is very convincing.) A spectator deals five poker hands, but they are just average. The cards are gathered and cut, and the performer deals five more hands, the fifth to himself. Each of the first four hands is a 10, J, Q, K, and A -- a straight. The performer's hand is the winning one -- four nines. By the way, all the Trost tricks in this list are from his new book, Nick Trost's Subtle Card Creations Volume 3.

Nick Trost's Significator Cards. A spectator selects a card under absolutely fair conditions and loses it in the deck. All this is done while the performer's back is turned. The deck is spread on the table, and the spectator pushes out four face-down cards. Using these four cards as "significators," the performer reveals the selected card with a wacky calculation

Fat City Revisited -- From John Bannon's Bullet Party. Two killer additions to my ongoing love affair with sandwich tricks. Oh so easy.

Cognitive Color Change -- Tom Stone's change blindness demonstration is the most fun I've had with a deck of cards all year. Check it out in the March Genii.

Hollywood 90028 -- Aka Everywhere and Nowhere Goes Hollywood, from The Little Egypt Book of Numbers. An old favorite. The little girl wanted to meet Belle, a Disney princess, of course.

Question Zero -- From John Bannon's Bullet Party. From a shuffled deck, a spectator merely thinks of one of five truly random cards, all five are lost in the deck (even the spec has no idea in which order the five were returned), and yet the magician locates the selection.

Possessed -- My routine for the Matchless Matchboxes from The Little Egypt Book of Ghosts. This is a trick the kids wanted to own. Still only $9.95 from Magic, Inc.

60-Second Card Reading -- The first two phases of the fortune telling routine in The Little Egypt Book of Numbers. Everyone wants his fortune told, kids or adults. The first phase is intriguing, the second phase is baffling.

Flash Aces -- From Harry Lorayne's Close-up Card Magic. One of the great ace routines. I've been doing this since high school.

Spot Poker Tells -- This is Patrick G. Redford's brilliant card discovery from Square. This will fool anyone you show it to, magician or layman.

Clue -- Caleb Wiles included this outstanding take on the Paul Harris Pointer Anomaly in Six Pack. I suggest making all the aces be hand drawn for the kicker climax.

Rope Puzzle -- One of the few non-card items I toyed with, this is a really funny rope trick from Aldo Colombini. I got it from his lecture notes Under One Hat, but he also sells it as a separate item.

Marlo's Mental Reverse -- Bill Malone's Malone Meets Marlo DVDs from L&L are fun just to watch. Just tons of easy-to-do miracles. In this one, a nice combination of sleight and subtlety, a thought-of card reverses itself in the center of the deck. I'll wager Bill will fool you the first time you watch it.

Affinities -- The cards are dealt into haphazard piles. The spec eliminates all but three. The top cards of any two piles are turned up, and they identify the top card of the remaining pile. One of the great "mathematical" card tricks ever. From The Vernon Chronicles/More Lost Inner Secrets, Volume Two.

Draw a Blank -- Another Aldo Colombini winner. My specs talked about this one weeks after I did it. Any card is freely named, such as the three of diamonds. From a blank deck, both sides, you extract four "threes," even though they are also blank both sides. The three off suits are eliminated, and you cause the three of diamonds to print on the remaining card. Utterly baffling, the best trick I know of this nature. No rough-smooth, no heart-stopping deck switch.

Max's trick is as modern as your iPhone.

Six Card Broadway -- OK, its true name is Saltire to the Second Power. This was Max Maven's outstanding trick contribution to this year's EMC. I don't want to tip the effect, except to say that it requires the spec to look up a value from the internet on his iPhone. This was perfect for the group I was entertaining, as they seem to look something up every time we get together anyway. Although I quickly worked out a simplistic method, Max's published method is far more devious, and it amazes me when I do it.

Hotel 52 -- This is David Regal's grand equivoque trick from Approaching Magic in which a queen of hearts rises to the top of a burning building just before the building collapses. On cue, the queen is indeed on top and the deck crumbles to a smooshed wad. Surprising and amazing.

Tuzot Sensu -- What a nice all-purpose addition to anyone's repertoire. This is Jim Steinmeyer's reworking of Mutus Nomen featuring a devilish false shuffle. Both the adults and the kids loved this one. It's yours for free in the August issue of Genii.

Marlo's Simple Triumph -- One of the easiest Triumphs you can do yet will fool magicians. From Bill Malone's Here I Go Again DVDs from L&L. These of course are also great fun to watch.

Nick Trost's Oscar. This is Nick's one-deck version of the Fred trick, with no rough-smooth. I named the girl's card "Bruce" then showed her all the names to be Martha, Audrey, Sarah, etc. Realizing my mistake, I told her that this was my girls' deck, hence her card couldn't be "Bruce," it must be "... Adalyn," which was her name. A Eugene Burger idea, super response.

Diminishing Returns -- I probably shouldn't include this, as it is from my standard set of material, but the kids loved it this summer. This is Mike Powers' masterpiece, two tricks in one: a stunning mental revelation followed by a sort of Micro Macro on steroids. This is one of the top five card tricks of all time. Audiences just have no clue.

Hot Rod -- Yep, Hot Rod. I've wanted to do this ever since Pete McCabe published (in Scripting Magic) the brilliant idea of calling the gems birthstones. I finally found a nicely made Hot Rod at the Springfield convention, and I extended Pete's idea to birthstones "from the planet Mongo." As everyone knows, Mongo has a different orbit than Earth's, hence its year contains "only six months." It's easy to come up with bogus month and stone names to make the spec's birthstone correspond to the one that changes color. The kids loved it and the dads were fooled. (Mine was nicely made from wood, a product of Michael Baker's The Magic Company.)

A voodoo likeness of my girlfriend.

Doppelganger -- My routine for Michael Schwabe's Voo-doo Puppet Puncture, in The Little Egypt Book of Ghosts. An extremely effective trick, though my favorite version to watch is Brian Brushwood's Mr. Happy Pants. Check it out on YouTube.

Mental Epic -- This mentalism classic was around before I got into magic and was featured in my first catalog, from Nelson Enterprises. I've never seen it done, and, even though I purchased one a few years back (Hank Lee still has them for only $27!), had never performed it. It was therefore a treat to try it out, using classic Hen Fetch categories and touches plus a touch from David Berglas, to astonishing effect. This is a keeper.

Cheaper By the Dozen -- My take on Tom Mullica's Card in Apple, from The Little Egypt Book of Numbers. The big question: is the worm real?

The Twilight Zone Aces -- This is my "Twilight Zone" take on Simon Lovell's The Lemming Ace Exchange, which Simon allowed me to reveal in Book of Ghosts. It really stuns people when you display the exchange.

Eight Card Brainwave Goes to Paris -- This was my take on the French Arm Chopper in The Little Egypt Book of Numbers. Mark Kornhauser (whose column is the best part of MAGIC magazine lately, as mentioned above) recently pointed out what a perfect trick the French Guillotine is, and it's true. This was the big finale to a summer of magic.

The Last Envelope -- Although it shouldn't have fooled me (I have a copy of Approaching Magic, where its secret lies), David Regal recently fooled me badly with this. An envelope in full view throughout your performance contains a prediction with detailed info about your audience, stuff you couldn't have known.

Whew. That's enough! What did you do with your summer?

MATINEE IDOL -- The week preceding MAGIC Live! had been a week of portent: a low-grade fever, a surprising haircut, a plummeting stock market. Could it be that Stan Allen's fifth MAGIC Live! might not stack up to its predecessors, not because of Stan and his crew but because my own personal stars seemed out of alignment?

Best deal in Las Vegas.

Just in case, I arrived in Las Vegas with barely an hour to scurry over to the Mac King Comedy Magic Show. It was like insurance at blackjack; no matter what happened during the rest of the week, my trip to Las Vegas would rate as a good time. The show was predictably excellent. If you congratulate Mac on a great show, he'll shrug it off as "the same old crap." This is like Jay Marshall or Ballantine saying that they did "the same old crap." This is classic comedy magic for the ages. Plaid rocks.

The computer that started it all.

Halloween is coming. Do you know where your copy of The Little Egypt Book of Ghosts is?

Little Egypt Magic is the erratically updated web site of Steve Bryant, spawned (the site, not Steve) by a former internet magazine known as The Little Egypt Gazette/for magicians only.

Steve Bryant is an obscure magician and writer who generates this site from an iMac in Bloomington, Indiana. He frequently journeys to and performs magic in Little Egypt, the local name for extreme southern Illinois, where the towns bear such names as Cairo, Thebes, and Karnak.

Past issues of this web site: Index to Past Issues

Credits: Photos of Joshua Jay, David Charvet as Blackstone, Mark Kalin, the invisible man, and Jonathan Levit were taken from YouTube. Max Maven's photo is from the EMC broadcast. All other photos by the author.

Notice: Any limited use of copyrighted images or quoted text is considered fair use, usually to review whatever product or event that is under discussion. If you object to use of any material, please get in touch and it will be cheerfully removed.

A JSB Creations product

Copyright© 2011 by Steve Bryant