Birthday

October 30, 2010

30 is the sum of the first four squares, which makes it a square pyramidal number. Thanks, Wikipedia!

Today is my birthday.  Not just any birthday, it’s my 30th birthday.  Birthday’s always make us question a lot of things about our lives but it seems like it’s the one’s that end in zeros that give us the most pause.  I’m not sure what I think about it yet.  I’ve only been 30 for 18 hours.  For the last 10 years I’ve been frustrated by my lack of progress toward the goal of being a magician.  Even though deep down I considered it one of my main goals, I put it off again and again for other goals of mine.  But now, here I am.  I’m 30.  Becoming a magician is one of the last and maybe biggest goals I have left.  I have no more excuses.  Fear of failure is no longer an option.  At this point, if I don’t try, I will fail.  I have been given an opportunity with this renaissance faire show to really give it a shot.  I’ve poured myself into preparing for it and I’ve had a blast.  It would be awesome if this turned into something more.  That’s what I’m hoping for anyway.  Well, this will be a short post, I’ve got to go get ready for a party.

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The Perfect Addition

October 27, 2010

So, if you’re following from last time, I’m left with only 4 items in my act when I need 5.  What’s a fella to do?  The answer hit me like a ton of bricks.  I really should have thought of it sooner: the classic trick, Card Warp.  I actually did think of it sooner, like a month ago when I was just starting to plan the act, but decided not to include it because it was a card trick and I thought I was being more authentic or some such nonsense.  Well, a lot can change in a month.  Now I feel like I’m not being true to myself if I don’t include at least one card trick.  Cards and magic go together like singing the blues and making a deal with the Devil.

I've never made a deal with the Devil, but I will play cards with his friends. I've given up on playing the blues.

It has several advantages over other card tricks I could have picked.  It’s very visual, no one has to remember a card, only two cards are used so there is simplicity and focus, and it can be done with jumbo cards making it visible from the stage.  Plus, it’s a trick that I learned a long, long time ago.  I’ve probably been doing this trick for 15 years.  I know it like the back of my hand and can do it asleep.  It’s great for a last minute addition.  So, here’s the new set list as it stands now:

  • Ball, Fruit, & Flute
  • Rope
  • Torn & Restored Paper w/ mouth coil
  • Card Warp
  • Rings

I’m really digging this set.  It feels right.   Plenty of texture, very magical moments, and plenty of opportunities to let my personality show through.  That’s what is really important to me.  I know I’ve talked about this before, but my personality is what is going to set me apart from other magic acts out there.  I’ve got to be me, even if I can’t exactly put who I am into words yet.  I find that in the heat of performance when I’ve shown tricks to friends I suddenly become someone else it seems.  The nerves of “about to perform Eric” melt away and reveal “magic Eric.”  I get frustrated sometimes in practice because I can’t get access to this “other me” on demand.  But I know he’s in there somewhere, and the more I work on this stuff, the closer I feel to understanding this performance persona.  I don’t mean this to sound all “new-age-y” and I really don’t mean to put so many things in “quotes.”  It’s not really another personality, it’s just me turned up a notch.  I’ve got a long time to figure all that crazy stuff out, but only 10 days to polish this act.  Better get back to it.

Streamlining

October 26, 2010

Good directors cut.  That’s what I’ve always heard anyway.  However, until yesterday, I had never really had to deal with majorly editing my act.  If cutting was all it took to be a good director, I’d be the best.  Taking some advice for show preparedness I heard a long time ago, I made a list of all the props that my act required to prevent forgetting anything at home on the day of the show.  When I looked at the list, everything that I had to carry, I was stunned.  It was way more than I had thought.  It was over 20 items, including a table  and shoulder bag.  That’s a lot of lug around.  I also noticed that something seemed funny about my set list.  There were six items.  The more I really thought about the show as a whole, and actually ran through some things, the more awkward that number seemed.  It just seemed like too much.  So I decided to cut it down to 5 items.

I like five items mainly because it’s not too long, not too short and it has a middle.  Six just feels like too much.  So I decided to cut the egg and silk trick.  Not only is it one of the tricks I have the least amount of expience with, it keeps me from having to carry around one of the more volatile props on my list: raw eggs.  So that helps both problems.

Then I got to thinking more about the flow of the show as a whole.  My last two effects are the rings and the cup and ball.  Something just seemed off about that.  I consider both of those pieces “finale pieces.”  The rings end so triumphantly will all the rings linked into a long chain and the cups end so surprisingly with the sudden appearance of a lemon.  They weren’t flowing together.  So, I considered all the circumstances of the show, the setting, audience, and whatnot, and decided that the rings with their flashiness and sound factor were more of a fit for the show.  So I cut the cups and balls.  Now, I know what you’re saying.  You’re saying, “But, Eric, you just told us a while back that the cups were really cool and authentic and how excited you were about it and you even put up pictures and stuff, what’s wrong with you? Are you some kind of chicken? BWAK BWAK BWAK!!”  Yes.  All that is true.  And trust me when I tell you it was a really hard decision for me, but it’s for the best.  With that trick gone, I no longer needed to bring my table, and that helped that situation a lot as well.

“But wait!” you exclaim, “now you only have 4 tricks!  What are you going to do?”  I appreciate your concern.  I have found a solution for that as well, but it will have to wait till tomorrow.  On the edge of your seats? I thought so.

Two Weeks To Go

October 23, 2010

I can’t believe how fast the time is going by.  It feels like just yesterday I found out that I was going to be in the faire.  This is the moment I was dreading.  The moment when the nerves set in and the feelings of not being prepared enough creep over me.  I’ve really had a hard time focusing this week, I’ve been exhausted from my real job and not sleeping well.  Not to mention that by this time next week, I’ll be 30.  That’s a weird thing to type.  It feels like it should be a turning point, a big moment when everything becomes clear as soon as you blow out the candles.  But, really, it’s just another day.  I can’t tell you how much I’ve hoped in the past for a “big moment” to happen: to all of a sudden feel different and new like waking up from a dream and finally seeing things the way they really are.  These moments are only found in fiction.  In movies and books, there’s always the moment of epiphany, where the hero puts it all together and in one instant understands everything.  I don’t know if I believe in epiphanies.  It always seems like life moves gradually forward, no matter what, without major changes in direction and understanding.  All knowledge comes in pieces and understanding takes time.  Lots of time, usually.

People have told me that once you hit 30, things change.  You start to really know yourself and know what you want.  You put away the things you want that are impractical and unlikely, and you focus on the things that you can really do.  I’m scared that that is true.  I’m scared that the dreams of my youth will begin to seem silly if I don’t start to make them come true.  That’s why I’m doing this.  I want to do it before I give up.  There is some hope though.  There is a magician who has been my teacher ( I feel like I can call him that, I’ve read and re-read his books so many times watched his videos and met him in person  a couple of times) who has inspired me more than any other.  His name is Eugene Burger.  He is, in my opinion, one of the greatest magicians of (at least) the last century.  And although his magic has always sparked my imagination, it’s his story of how he began in magic that really resonates with me.

Eugene Burger, My Hero

After having worked at a government job for many years, he quit at age 40 to be a magician.  He had never done a magic show before, but it was where his passion was.  With only enough money in the bank for 4 months of rent, he had his work cut out for him.  But now, 30 years later, he is one of the top magicians out there.  He writes books, performs at some of the fanciest parties in Chicago, and flies all over the world doing what he loves.  He did it.  That means there’s hope that I can do it too.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to quit my job or anything.  But I do sometimes like to think about it.

Maybe what happens as you grow older is you realize just how much you have to loose if you don’t try for something you really want.  The longer you live, the clearer you see the consequences of settling.  And maybe you stop caring so much about what other people think about, well, everything.  If that’s the case, I can’t wait to get older.

Hey, Look, a Website!

October 20, 2010

Well, it’s official, I have a website.  Nothing fancy, I just started working on it, in fact, that’s what I was doing all day yesterday instead of practicing and blogging…  I just wanted to have it going before I showed up in public so I could direct people there to look more professional.  I’ve been wanting to do this for a while now, and yesterday, I was so tired from my real job (and a little burned out on practicing) that I decided to take the day off, so to speak, and get the site up and running.  I also decided (my wife made me) to clean my office/practice space.  Now I can practice a more effectively and I’ve got a better spot for my video camera.  So it’s back to work.

I’m feeling pretty comfortable with all the routines as they are so now I just need to weave them all together into the tapestry that is a magic show (what a lame metaphor, anyone can see it’s more like a quilt).  This means that at some point I’m going to have to run through the whole shebang from soup to nuts (that’s start to finish in case you’re under 60 years old).  The timing has me worried a little.  I don’t really know how long the act will be and I’m worried that it will either be too long, and I’ll have to cut stuff, or it will be too short and I’ll have to add stuff.  Adding stuff would be the most trouble because that would require working up an entirely new piece at the last minute.  Not always the best thing to do.  If I know me, I’m probably worried about nothing.  I got the impression from the event organizers that it really didn’t matter how long it was, they just needed to know so they could work out the rotation for that stage.

In other news, I got these cool replica 16th century cards from the same place where I got my costume thinking that I could use them for card tricks at the faire.  However, when I got them, they turned out to be printed on a much flimsier stock than most cards so I can’t use them for tricks.  Bummer.  The backs are blank though (as is accurate for cards of the day) so I had the idea of printing my info on the back of them and giving them out like business cards.  It should be cool.  So what will I use for card ticks, you ask?  Well, I thought of just using normal cards and saying, “F you, I’m a magician, what do you expect?” to the anachronism police, but I may use another deck I have.  It is a replica historical deck as well, but it’s printed on actual card stock so they handle basically like normal cards.  It is a replica 18th century deck, but I doubt anyone would notice the difference.  Let’s just keep this between you and me.  I hope there are no playing card historians in the audience.

 

On the left, a 16th c. card. The middle is 18th c., and the right is modern. Really, they just got lazier.

It’s back to practice for me.  You should check out my website while you’re at it.  I’m still working on it, but feel free to tell me what you think.  I know I need some better pictures, but that will come soon enough, don’t worry.

Updates and the Week Ahead

October 18, 2010

What a busy weekend I had.  I had to work my real job on Saturday and it was rough.  I was just too tired Saturday night to do anything. Sunday, however, was full of faire business.  I met with the people putting on the faire for the first time in person.  It was quite an experience.  They are all very committed to putting on a good faire even though they have quite a bit going against them, but I won’t get into any of that here.  They are all very passionate about the faire and I like that.  Their enthusiasm make me feel better about it.  Their enthusiasm also showed me that I really need to impress them come showtime.  I also got a confirmation on exactly what kind of performance I’ll be doing, when, and where.  There will be one stage which various performers will rotate through.  I’ll be in that rotation to do my main act and in the times between, I’ll roam around doing some small tricks for people.  It’s pretty much what I had hoped for and had prepared for.

Three weeks left.  It’s closing in fast.  This week it’s back to the rings for a few days then I start the work of tying it all together.  This connecting of the parts into a whole will be what I’ll be spending the rest of the time before the faire on.  It will be a lot of work, but things are going well.

I’m also looking into ways of learning to project my voice better.  I’ve always been a quiet speaker, and it’s really hard for me to speak loudly (I don’t really know if it’s because of some sort of physical problem or a mental block).  Whatever the reason, I’ve got to get better at it if I’m going to be heard by a crowd outdoors.  I’ve read several things online about it and the key seems to be deep breathing and relaxing the throat muscles.  Seems simple enough.  I’ll be working on that in this next three weeks as well.  Probably by speaking loudly to my cat.  He’s a good audience.

I did manage to find a hat and shoes for my costume.  Both were loaned to me by a friend of my wife’s.  I told you she could do it.  Speaking of my wife, today is our anniversary, so, happy anniversary, sweetie, thanks for all the support.

Well, I’ve got a little bit of time today for practicing so I better get to it.

Something’s Missing

October 15, 2010

As the faire draws closer and I think more and more about my routines, I can’t help but feel like something’s missing.  I don’t need a new trick, or a new prop or anything like that, there’s something missing from the entire show in general.  What’s missing is (dramatic pause) me.  By “me” I mean my own personal touch, my own slant.  When it hit me today it was a major forehead slap moment.  I’ve been so worried about the tricks themselves since I haven’t done a show like this in a while that I forgot about me.  Maybe forget isn’t the right word.  I think (I know) what happened is that I got so worried about the show being liked and going well that I didn’t want to risk being myself in front of the audience.  It’s like I got scared and thought that just being generic magic man #1 would give me the best chance of not being disliked.  Yes, that’s it: I was willing to sacrifice the potential to be great as myself for the certainty of not being bad as just another magician.  Oh what a fool I’ve been.  I didn’t even realize that I was doing it.  But now, I’m realizing that this is it, my big moment to give this thing a shot.  I’d rather fail being myself than succeed as something I’m not.  And, it’s not really about succeeding or failing anyway.  To paraphrase Jay Sankey, it’s about saying, “I might succeed and I might fail, but if I do fail, I’ll be OK and either way I learn something.”

I know what you’re saying, people reading this blog from the 1970s, you’re saying, “That’s pretty heavy, man.”  Maybe your right, but this issue of being myself* is more important to my future in magic than just giving me a sense of artistic integrity (which along with a quarter will buy me half of a “Homies” figure from a gumball machine).  Being myself is also a sound business decision. How so? I’m glad you asked.  Let’s say you are planning an event.  Why would you hire one magician over another?  What makes one magician different from another?  The tricks they do?  Surely different magicians do different tricks, but if you’re planning an event, I bet you care less about which tricks will be done and more about keeping people entertained.  It really comes down to the magician’s personality.  Who, as a person, is going to be the best fit with this crowd?  Being unique in that way is far more important than doing the newest and fanciest tricks.  Being a unique personality amongst a sea of mediocrity will get you hired more often.

Another good thing about having a very clear performing persona and style is that you probably won’t get asked to do shows you don’t want to do anyway.  No one’s going to ask Criss Angel to do a show for a preschool and I bet he doesn’t want to.  He’s made it very clear what type of people he wants to perform for (people who like being on camera and don’t mind being “freaked” in one way or another).  If you make it clear, the shows you want will come to you and the shows you don’t want won’t.  In theory that is.

So, as I continue to practice, my job is to not try to not be myself.  I don’t want to force it, just let my personality come through naturally where it can.  This won’t be easy, but for my sake and the sake of my “Homies” collection, I’ve got to try.

*Hey look this blog has a footnote, that’s weird.  I just wanted to say something about the phrase “just be yourself.”  “Just be yourself” is the most useless and perhaps, harmful, piece of advice anyone could ever give anyone else.  It’s an extremely dismissive response to what is a very complex, deeply personal problem.  Making such a difficult process sound as if it’s so easy it can be turned on with a switch just makes the person feel extremely frustrated and desperately lost. Let’s never say “just be yourself” again.  The more you know…

Wardrobe

October 14, 2010

My costume has arrived!  And I’m glad to say that everything fits and, if I do say so myself, looks good on me.  This whole time, waiting for my stuff to get here, I’ve had a vision in my head of what I would look like in my costume.  So, you can imagine my surprise when I opened the package to find that certain things were not quite what I expected.  For instance, I ordered pants in a color called “curry.”  Now, I know what curry is, I’ve had it many times and love it, but for some reason, I got it in my head that the pants would be red.  A simple search on Google would have shown me thousands of pictures like this:

 

This is curry. It is not red.

 

Totally my mistake.  However, it turns out to have been a good one because the vest which I had imagined to be brown is actually more of a tan-ish color and would not have gone well with the curry pants as I pictured it.  So everything worked out in the end and I actually love the way it looks.  That just goes to show you, you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you might find that a rolling stone gathers no moss… wait, no, I mean that just goes to show you that you should be careful  about getting too caught up in your vision of how something might go.  If you are, then when the unexpected happens, you will see the event as a failure because it didn’t match your expectations.  However, if you remain open to options and possibilities, you change more easily when obstacles pop up.  Ok, that enough from the wheel of morality today.

Another thing was that the hat I wanted was out of stock.  I’m pretty bummed about that.  Oh well, I guess clothes shopping is never done.  Luckily, it’s not too hard to find places that sell reasonably priced renaissance hats.  Shoes, on the other hand, are proving to be a bit more difficult.  My wife is on the case of the shoes and if anyone can find a good deal, its her.  It’s all coming together and it’s all feeling a bit more “real” everyday.  Exciting.

By tomorrow I should have pictures to put up of me looking fancy in my little outfit (I can’t believe I just wrote that).

A Lot on My Mind

October 13, 2010

Ugh.  There’s a lot of stuff going on right now.  I’m just trying to wrap my head around it all.  The practicing and rehearsal won’t be too bad, I enjoy that, but there’s also the scripting which I’m pretty sure I’m worrying too much over.  I know, deep down, that when I get in the swing of things, the words will flow like a big… flowing… thing.  For now though, it’s rough.  My costume will arrive tomorrow and that will be a big piece in place that I can stop worrying about too.  I’m actually really excited about getting it.  Don’t worry, I’ll post pictures of me looking silly.  Speaking of that, here’s this that I took today.

 

Even I'm surprised

 

Just messing around there.  But it did give me an idea.  I’m thinking of getting just a real simple website set up so I can give out the address at the faire.  You see, my hope is that this isn’t just a one time thing.  I really want to use this performance to get my name out there and generate more shows.  I want to look professional and really make an impression.  Having even a simple website would help I think.  I’m hoping to print up some more business cards as well.  It’s this extra stuff that’s stressing me out.  However I hope that the hard work will pay off in the end.  I think if I even get to book one show from this it will have all been worth it.  Every step, no matter how small, is a step closer to living my dream.  Whew, I feel a bit better now.  Back to work!  Wish me luck.

C&BW: The Gear

October 12, 2010

Good news!  As of yesterday, my costume is on it’s way to my door.  Yippie!  The folks at The Tudor Shoppe were super helpful in getting my stuff to me.  Hit them up for all your Renaissance costume needs.

It’s cup and ball week, and I wanted to stat by going over the actual props.  There are routines with three cups, one cup and even two cups (one that I know of).  Although most standard routines call for three cups, I have decided to go with a one cup routine for a couple of reasons.  First, less props to carry around, and second, for clarity’s sake.  At a venue like this, there will be all kinds of things trying to get their attention.  I want to keep my stuff as simple and clear as possible so no one is lost.  If the audience doesn’t or can’t pay attention, then they won’t understand why what just happened is magic.  Anyway, let me show you what I’m working with.

 

My Gear

 

It’s a pretty standard single cup and ball set.  That is, except for the big ball.  That was custom made for me by a friend of a friend of a friend from my magic club or something like that.  If you want one, my advice is to be nice to people who can crochet spheres around wooden balls, because apparently, it’s not easy.  This ball is the “final load” as we say.  That means it’s the surprising thing that appears under the cup at the end.  Past magicians have used a variety of weird things for their final loads: rocks, sand, liquids, even livestock like mice and baby chicks (these final loads require a very heavy cup so they don’t go wandering off during the show… seriously).  But perhaps the most traditional final load is fruit.  I will defiantly be using fruit in my routine ( a lemon to be precise) and I may or may not also use the big ball as well for an added surprise.  I haven’t decided.

If you will notice, the top of the cup (for magicians, the “top” of the cup refers to what most people call the “bottom” of the cup because these are meant to be used mouth down.  Can nothing be easy?) has many dents and scratches.  This is due to the other important prop which I forget to put in the picture: the magic wand.  The wand may seem like just another prop, but it is really serves a very important function, especially to the renaissance magician.  Back in the day, these guys were performing for big crowds on the street.  Holding the wand extends the space the performer takes up making him larger and his movements more dramatic.  It also serves as a pointer, much like in a classroom, you can point it where you want everyone to look without having to say so.  This is handy in an environment where some may have trouble hearing you.  It’s also good from smacking the cup and the table to create noise to get people’s attention.  Really, the wand is a magician’s best friend.  Here’s mine.

 

A slightly blurry picture of my wand

 

I got this at Mr. Magic in Little Rock, AR where I worked for a bit in high school.  It was made by a local member of the magic club down there, but sadly, I don’t remember who.  I love this wand.  It’s wooden with metal tips.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen one like it.  I’ve had it for at least 15 years now I know it like the back of my hand.  It is MY wand.  Before I start sounding too “Harry-Potter-ish,” I had better get back to practicing.