Monthly Archives: April 2013

Magic With A Group Of People Who Taught Me a Thing Or Two

On Wednesday, 17 April I had the honour and privilege to perform at a function for Chayeinu. Chayeinu is a project housed in Israel and takes children 18 and under, who are terminally ill with cancer to South Africa. I had trouble trying to find a website with information on this, so if anyone knows anything else, please post it in the comments as I am very interested to know more about this.

These kids spend their days in a hospital bed, in chemotherapy (which is very taxing on any human let alone on children). The project provides each child with a buddy – a young adult (in their 20s) – Jewish but just as some of the kids aren’t religious, the buddies aren’t all religious.

I performed for Chayeinu in 2011 and it was such a humbling experience. I did a short show (3 parlour effects) and met some kids who had such high aspirations. They wanted to be doctors and musicians, therapists and lawyers etc. What amazing dreams. This year when I was contacted to perform, without hesitation I said: “What an honour! If I have plans I will cancel them!” I was so excited! I thought that this was the perfect time to try out new material that I have been working on for a few months.

Arriving to the function I was overwhelmed by so many kids of all ages. Some in wheelchairs, some with bandages and some with a shaking-disability. But what was so crazy was seeing their smiles. These kids looked so happy. They were with their buddies, friends and their buddies, and some Cape Town peeps enjoying a delicious meal before the entertainment.

The group are from Israel – naturally the kids speak Hebrew. The buddies were of American origin so they spoke English but I had a problem. I can read Hebrew and speak it “okayish” but the level of my understanding and of my speaking for that matter is incredibly low. So I have 20 Israeli kids watching me perform, but the language barrier made it difficult for me to explain what I was doing and hard for them to communicate with me. My wife said I shouldn’t have spoken much because my magic is very visual. Next time I will speak less.

So onto the magic: I opened with an Ambitious Card Routine because I wanted a WOW effect. However I realised a WOW effect in English doesn’t necessarily mean a WOW effect in another language. I probably shouldn’t have spoken so much during that effect. I moved onto a new effect that I have been practicing – The Matrix. It basically is a 4 coin assembly under impossible conditions – very visual and very magical. That effect I realised is angle-sensitive and so some kids to my left “caught” me out but because it was in Hebrew I had no idea what they were saying but the buddies were telling the kids they must enjoy it and even though they can see how it is done – they must keep it a secret.

I did the cups and balls which went down really well with lemons as my final loads. I did a nice sucker-effect with sponge balls that also was great! I did a colour changing deck, any language loves that effect! Triumph also went down well. I ended with a trick from David Roth Coins to Glass – a new one I have been working on and that got the best reactions. I had no idea how huge it packs! The magician makes 4 coins travel by magic from one hand to a glass. Pure magic.

During the show there were these 2 kids – Matan and Shachar (nicknamed Shoko) who bought those little magic boxes from the guys at the Waterfront and were asking me how I did my magic. I shared with them how to do a standard colour change. They were so excited. Last time I performed for Chayeinu I gave 2 kids (my “favourites”) each a green sponge ball. I told those boys that the colour change is a very difficult move and requires some skill but they were adamant to learn it. I love their dedication and desire; qualities that us adults sometimes lack in our lives when we’re caught up with the daily activities.

After the show some buddies picked up guitars and were singing and dancing with the kids, putting them on their shoulders and bonding with them.

This was such an emotional and heart-warming experience. We are so lucky to have all our body parts working as they should. It’s these moments that make me so thankful and appreciative for what I have and the ability that I have to put smiles on people’s faces.

Here you can see me doing the cups and balls. The kids really enjoyed it!

This experience made me realise that being a magician is pretty darn awesome – making people laugh and smile. But you don’t have to be a magician to do that. Just going up to someone and waving a “hello” or giving a smile will make that person feel appreciative – ESPECIALLY these teens who are cognisant of the fact that their lives are different from those on TV and around them. So next time you have an opportunity to smile at someone or greet them – just do it. It won’t hurt you – only empower you and I suppose empowering oneself opens the door for opportunities to empower others.

Performing the classic Cups and Balls for the Chayeinu kids

Performing the classic Cups and Balls for the Chayeinu kids

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Failure And How To Deal With It

Contrary to many names I have been given by spectators: Godlike, Inhumane, Moses, David Blaine, and Houdini – to name a few. I am human, and humans are fallible. Magicians are human and even the most skilled magicians make mistakes. I mean I made a mistake 3 years ago March 3rd. Haha I’m kidding folks. Magicians have off-days too.

So how does a magician pick him/herself up after a mistake? I was listening to an interview with Jay Sankey (website) on magicnewswire.com (click here for the interview) and Dodd Vickers asked Jay about his magic in the early years and this was his first paid gig. Jay mentions how he was approximately 15 years old and he was performing for a Church in the basement and almost killed a kitten and set the church on fire. I kid you not! Listen to his interview for the details. But it got me thinking. Here is a young teenager with very little experience and a self – esteem that is very fragile (as are most teens) and he stuffs up. Big time. He says he was on the verge of balling his eyes out.

I remember I was at camp when I was 17 and was performing for the annual talent show. I had a fantastic effect and I practiced in until it was coming out of my ears. But what happened? I got up – 17 years old, 1200 (one of the biggest camps to date) faces looking at me and my spectator (my fault for picking him) decided to shuffle the deck of cards (which obviously I said not to as I had stacked it). So little did I know when I was dealing with my 2nd spec – the 1st one davka (can’t translate this) shuffled the deck without me knowing. I walked right into it. I realised the trick had gone pear-shaped and just apologised and walked off, blood red from embarrassment. I sat there thinking: “my short-lived magic career is over.” I had people coming up to me trying to sympathise and giving me those condescending half-smiles “it’s okay Greggi.” I thought to myself the only thing I could – I picked up a deck and pleaded to a friend to show him a trick to get back on that horse. I did and he was amazed.

So that was in 2004. It is 2013 and I can honestly say I have made many… many mistakes. Mistakes either happen if you have not practiced enough (which did happen to me sometimes I won’t lie), the sleights are angle-sensitive and you don’t take those into account, dropped a concealment for whatever reason/excuse, you’re not confident enough, or you’re just having “one of those days” *shrugs shoulders*

The end of the interview with Jay is that he did some other effects and continued his show as best he could. That, my friends is the best advice I can give. To end your show abruptly is the last resort. You have to carry on and I promise you the audience will side-step the mistake you made and enjoy the rest of the show. They will not forget it but it won’t be the most important thing they say when they come to you after the show.

Craig Ballantyne put it perfectly: “Never forget that failure isn’t bad. Failure isn’t final. Don’t let the fear of failure stop you from achieving the success you deserve. If you’re struggling, keep hustling. Keep taking at least one big action step each day.”

Being a magician is a lot more than just knowing tricks. You need balls. You need charisma. You need to be able to give over of yourself in a way that spectators will want to be sucked into your show. Those qualities take time and effort to perfect. Some quicker than others, but you deserve every applaud, every laugh at a stupid joke you make, every compliment. You deserve them. Let the failure that you will experience along this journey only help you understand yourself and help teach you how to act in those scenarios. DON’T let failure be the closer of your magic show/career.

Good luck and remember: You are awesome!

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F.I.S.M

When you hear FIFA 20-10 South Africa, you remember the unity and the camaraderie that South Africa experienced for the first time in many years. There is a debate as to if that magic has lasted up to 2013 but we can all agree that 2010 was a year for togetherness, a year of bridging the gaps. That being said everyone knows that FIFA is the World Cup soccer championships. Everyone knows the IRB World Cup is the rugby World Cup. Everyone knows that the ICC is the cricket World Cup. But what is the world cup for magicians?

The Fédération Internationale des Sociétés Magiques (FISM) (International Federation of Magic Societies) is the magicians’ world cup. FISM takes place every 3 years and in 2015 FISM will be in Rimini, Italy. This past year was the 25th World Championships competition and it took place in Blackpool, United Kingdom.

The federation was created in 1948 and today consists of more than 80 societies national and international as well as national federations that represent over 50,000 magicians.  Their aims are:
• To be a leading platform, unifying magic societies from all over the world, committed to the enhancement, promotion and development of the Art of Magic;
• To develop, elevate, promote the art of magic and to preserve the knowledge of the history of magic;
• To coordinate the activities of Member Societies, enhancing their authority and encouraging the exchange of reciprocal cooperation and services
• To fight against exposure and copies of acts, effects or inventions, presentations or original routines
• To organise international events such as the FISM World Championships of Magic and supervise Continental Championships of Magic.

(Fism.org)

This is THE most powerful convention to date. To be a participant and come stone-cold last does not mean you suck. To be able to fulfill all the criteria to perform at FISM means that you have incredible talent, creativity beyond comprehension and a love and desire for magic that is unthinkable. To enter FISM means you are going to face the crème de la crème. You ARE the crème de la crème! Only 150 participants (100 for stage and 50 for close-up) take part in FISM so if you make it – you are seriously talented.

The rules to enter FISM are extensive and 7 pages long. Basically to participate in FISM you need to have reached FISM level (That is over 50 points in a previous competition) and you need to belong to a magic organisation that is under FISM auspices. OR if you reach FISM level and are not part of an organisation that is under the FISM umbrella, if you receive a letter from the FISM president then you are eligible to enter. To qualify into FISM you as the contestant need to own the rights to the effect and the rights to perform it.

There are many prizes to be won in either stage or close – up performances. Stage prizes are for best comedy performance, illusions, mental magic, manipulations and general magic. Close – up prizes are for card magic, micro-magic and parlour magic. The Grand Prix winners are not World Champions but the title precedes world champion. For e.g. John Smith is the FISM Grand Prix winner 2012 and the World Champion Manipulator 2012.

This year the Grand Prix winner for Stage was Yu Ho Jin from Korea. He also won FISM for Manipulation. His video posted below will show you why. The magic was incredible. The grace of how he maneuvered the cards was phenomenal!

The Grand Prix close – up winner was Yann Frisch from France. Yann Frisch also won FISM in the Parlour section. Parlour is neither close – up nor stage. It is kind of in-between. His act was incredible. Both acts in fact were so beautiful to watch. The cups and balls routine dates back centuries ago and to see it in the 21 century being performed in a way that is so unique and so theatrical really shows you just a glimpse of how creative Yann is. No final loads in his act, which is new and unorthodox for a cups and balls fanatic, but new is good and when it is performed at a level that Yann did – it is just remarkable.

One day I would love to attend a FISM convention, maybe even participate in it. My magic is far from the level of FISM but I’m working on it. Enjoy the two acts and know that if magicians are dropping their jaws at these performances then it has to be the best.

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Magic and YouTube

How do we learn magic? How does anyone learn magic? To be successful in the art of magic I feel you need to start at the right place. The Beginning. Where is The Beginning you ask? Well the beginning is as anyone would suspect: the basics.

One needs to learn the basics in order to move forward. I know you agree with me. If you don’t try this: type in YouTube Ambitious Card Routine, or Reset by Paul Harris and try and learn the moves and sleight of hand involved in those effects. You will fail miserably and will probably never pick up a deck of cards ever again. Yes, those effects are mind-blowing, however you need to learn to crawl before you can walk and in this case you need to learn how to crawl before you can run!

This is my biggest issue that I have with people learning magic off YouTube. I was incredibly fortunate enough to learn the basics from a book that I found in my school library. Then, my late grandmother bought me volume 2 of Michael Ammar’s Easy to Master Card Miracles. I never knew it then but that was already intermediate level and boy did I struggle at first. That darn Elmsely Count took weeks and weeks to learn, and then I took weeks and weeks to build up the courage to perform The Professor’s Twisting The Aces. You can see Michael Ammar perform it below. The first effect is the Twisting The Aces.

So I learned from books first and then I progressed to DVDs and now I use DVDs and books to learn new effects. But it is 2013, we live in a world that survives on instant gratification. So “Avada Kadavra” books and hello DVDs… But DVD means DVD player….mission!.. “Avada Kadavra” DVDS, hello Youtube. You get it on your phone and at home. What more can we ask for?

Magical books and DVDs are relatively expensive. PenguinMagic have a great website where you can buy magic online but unless you live in the States the shipping can add up. So YouTube wins this because it is free.

Someone learning magic off YouTube does not have the cognitive ability to know what the basics are and if they are learning the basics. I could learn a trick and be learning multiple shifts before learning breaks and I would have no clue (as much of you who do not know what magic is – these are moves that you should never learn about).  YouTube has extensive material but it requires the watcher to sift through what they are capable and ready to learn and what needs to be bookmarked until they are skilled enough to tackle the task.

YouTube teaches how to do the effect, but YouTube doesn’t teach how to perform it. THAT is where personality and creativity comes in. I suppose that forces the performer to think up their own patter and story, which is good. Watching off DVDs and watching the magician perform the effect in front of an audience gives you the patter and storyline, which negates any effort in creating your own way to perform. It can be done but it is hard. Often magicians in DVDs say that you can use their effects but the way they perform it is their way and it will probably not work for you. Michael Finney springs to mind. He explicitly says that his way of performing the trick will not work for you because you are not him.

An issue with YouTube is that the performer who you are watching might not be THAT good and actually has a few bad habits that are ingrained in them and you will learn from them and pick up those habits. So you have to be able to know what differentiates a good performer from a bad one. That is tough!

Overall I think YouTube is a great source of material that is economical. But just as anything you get that is free, you have to be careful. If a trick mentions sleights that are foreign to you – research them first and see if you are ready to perform them. Make an investment in buying Bill Tarr’s Now You See It, Now You Don’t book on sleight of hand. It will take you from basics straight to advanced. Use YouTube by all means but do not forget that nothing beats watching the pro’s performing the effect and nothing beats reading about it. Check in with a magician who is more skilled than you are to see if you are performing the effect correctly and just remember what makes an effect yours is HOW you perform it. Find your flare and embrace it.

Good luck

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Finally a Definition I Can Swallow!

I’ve been thinking a bit about magic (as a magician should be). What is magic? Is it the ability to perform a trick? Is it the ability to perform? Is it the ability to deceive? Is there an ethical side to magic? Is there some sort of relationship in magic? If so, between whom?

In the January 2013 edition of Genii, Tom Stone defines magic as the following (pg 34):

“At least one human agent presents a dramatic/choreographic scenario designed to successfully and immediately cause an obvious characteristic cognitive dissonance regarding the scenario for at least one observer.”

That is quite a mouthful! So let’s break it down a notch. This article was very interesting and informative and I will try my best to summarise it as best as possible. It is important for magicians to know what magic is and what it is not.

  • At least one human agent

This is referring to a human magician. If there is no human present to perform, the audience will not perceive the work as “magic.” Tricks on the internet or out of a book like Mark Setteducati’s The Magic Show will feel more like puzzles than magic effects.

  • presents

This usually refers to the piece being performed by the onstage agent, however it can also include people who are invisible to the audience or presumed to be regular audience members (namely backstage assistants, stooges, hidden assistances).

  • a dramatic

Fiction is shown to the audience, not reality. This is often confused. If I took a serviette and wrote the word “fire” on it and then put a mug of water over the serviette and the water began to boil without the serviette burning; it is likely not real. If I told the audience about this verbally it will be perceived as a riveting story.  However if I wanted to show this to the audience, I would have to rely on my own expertise. Everything that I do to portray this piece of fiction is part of the drama.

If, however I did in fact cause a chemical reaction to occur in the serviette, and the water boils without the serviette burning, then all that I would have achieved is the probability of winning a Nobel Prize in physics, but I certainly did not perform a magical effect.

  • choreographic

This refers to at least one structured movement, no matter what the movement is. It could be a head turn at a particular point, a covert pinkie finger move, a shift in body towards something or someone.

If you as the magician doubt this, think about it. It is incredibly difficult to find a magical effect where you don’t have to do something physical at a certain point. Even picking a card and replacing it in the deck and then controlling it – the moves are deliberate and has to follow an order.

  • designed

Someone has to have created the effect. The performer can, but does not have to be the creator of the effect that they are performing.

  • to successfully

There is no gray area here. If the effect does not successfully conclude, the desired effect will be lost and the audience will not experience the “magic.”

  • and immediately cause

If the audience have to ponder on the effect and then try to convince themselves that something magical took place, the effect has missed the plot.

  • an obvious

The audience must be able to recognise the point of the effect alone without having to have it pointed out to them. There has to be cognitive dissonance.

  • characteristic cognitive dissonance

This part is a bit tricky. Most definitions can only drive the point so far. If I describe the green – it won’t be long before I’m umming and ahhing and will have to find something green and say “like this!” Music and theatre can only be defined to a certain degree (like our colour example) and you will have to move away from the outside and step into the inside to bridge the gap. People also refer to this by saying “I know it when I see it.”  “I don’t know how to describe Chopin, but I know it when I hear it.”

It is the same for magic. When the spectator sees something, but it somehow goes against reality. That conflict, the acceptance of two opposing and mutually exclusive thoughts is what magic needs to bring forth in the mind of the spectator. It doesn’t have to be a positive and pleasurable experience though.

  • regarding the scenario

To cause the above mentioned “confusion” or “wonderment” outside the framework of the performance is beyond the scope and interest of magic.

  • for at least one observer.

Without someone watching, there will be no desired response.

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Well guys, I must say the first time I read the article I turned the page thinking WTF? However reading it again slowly really opened my eyes. What do you think? Do you think this definition can be shortened or is it lacking something? I think it has hit the nail on the head perfectly.

Thanks Genii magazine for a great article!

Reference List:

Stone, T. (2013, January). Seeing the Ontolophaunt. Genii. The Conjurors’ Magazine, 76, 34 – 35.

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The World of Card Artistry

It’s been a while since I last wrote something for my blog. My magical wife Lee-Ann (Follow her blog here) has been nagging me to write about my adventures in magic.

On Tuesday, I attended the monthly Magic Circle meeting at the College of Magic and listened to the most wonderful lecture by a great magician Andrew Klazinga who spoke about card artistry as well as up-and-coming magicians around the world (although they all seemed to central around the USA – why haven’t I moved there yet?).

The heading of the triangle is Card Manipulation. Card manipulation is the appearance and disappearance of cards, flicking them about, making cards bigger or smaller and fancy cuts. Card Artistry and flourishes are branches of card manipulation. They all produce similar outcomes but hopefully I can illustrate the difference between card artistry and the rest.

Card Artistry, also known as Cardistry in my own understanding is basically a skill that you learn to manoeuvre playing cards in a smooth and delicate motion that when performed looks incredibly easy, but is in fact the polar opposite – incredibly difficult. Some people loosely will translate this as card flourishes but it is much more than that. Cardistry has skill no doubt, but the way in which the magician conducts himself during a card artistry act is with grace and care (Take a look at Andrei Jikh and the video link I put down below to understand this). Card flourishes are an “in-between” card effects. The magic in Cardistry is how the magician or any human being alive can do these awesome moves using cards your kids or you will use to play snap with. Cardistry is also known as flourishing or Extreme Card Manipulation (XCM). Either way – the words scream “insane”!

The first card artist that caught my eye was the Russian born Andrei Jikh. He is 21 years old and lives in Las Vegas. 21 years old! He says when he first started card artistry he would practice for more than 10 hours a day EVERY day! Watch this video:

It is uncut so it was recorded in one take. Just watch the video and remember to close your mouth afterwards otherwise flies will fly in and have babies down your throat.

The next duo is the Buck Twins – Dan and Dave who believe in “effortless effectiveness” and use Cardistry as a way of expression. They have released DVDs that contain intense and intricate flourishes as well as DVDs that contain tricks that look like flourishes. It is incredible what these brothers can do with their hands. And, side note, they started to learn from YouTube. Interesting no?  Here is one of their previews for their DVD that incorporates tricks and flourishes.

The Buck twins also created a DVD called: The System. It is all flourishes and skill. Not for the faint-hearted.

De’Vo Vom Schattenreich is known as the leader in card artistry and he produced this video on Cardistry starring J.S Lim who was World champion in 2006 and 2007 and Max V who was World champion in 2007 and 2008. Take a look at how fast and how smooth the moves look. THAT is the magic of Cardistry.

Next time you pick up a pack of cards and  you’re about to start dealing a hand of President or Snap – remember this article and stop for a moment to realise the potential the cardboard you hold in your hands have as well as the potential you have. These people are ordinary people with ordinary lives. You can be a cardist too. First place to start is to get a decent pack of cards – Bicycle will do. Then look on the internet to learn some basic moves. I suggest learning the Chalier cut to start off. It’s impressive, easy and will get you going into the mindset of practice makes perfect. It was the first flourish I learned.

So good luck and remember to keep practicing no matter how hard the moves get. Keep practicing no matter how discouraged you might become and remember to have fun!

below are some action photos of cardists doing their thing 🙂

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