Dennis’ Deliberations……………………………………….(RING 170 IBM, April 07)
Si finis bonus est, totum bonum erit . Sic transit gloria mundi *
A full moon was shinning on March 3rd and the sky was clear and the road was straight. I made my way down the Florida Turnpike to rural St. Cloudto the FirstBaptistChurch. It was the first time in about 10 years I would get to see the full evening illusion show of Andre Kole. http://www.andrekole.org/index.html
I have known about Andre since the mid 1960s. We have met and corresponded a few times. He was known early on as Robert Gurtler, a young illusionist ,born in 1936, from thePhoenix,Arizona area. . At 12 years older than me he is almost from another generation. So, as I review his show keep in mind that I am talking about a 70-year-old man who spent his magical formative years in an earlier time of magic. Also, keep in mind that we are dealing with a man who has had several deep emotional events in his life. The first involved a strong religious conversion experience in the early 1960s. As he tells it, his life was empty and without meaning and he had come to the end of himself (deep depression?) when he found a religious purpose and meaning in life in his conversion to Fundamentalist Protestant Christianity. He says that he dedicated his talents and life to God.
A second major stress must have been the loss of his wife, partner and chief assistant, Aljeana , to a brain tumor in the mid 1970s. Nevertheless , Andre has been on the road for over 30 years and has played all over the world. He has always been an ingenious inventor and original thinker. I can recall , a young Doug Henning, in 1969 at the Abbott’s Get Together gushing to me over Andre’s creations. Later Henning would use many of Andre’s ideas such as Andre’s “No-Feet” illusion on a TV special. During the early 70s Andre performed his “Table of Death” on Bill Bixby’s TV series “The Magician”. David Copperfield has used many of Andre’s concepts. One was the
“Squeeze Box” that was used to shrink David to just his head and feet. If you have ever used a “Spikes Through Balloon” you have used a invention from Andre for which I believe he says he never made a nickel !
So we are talking about a talented, experienced,colorful and complex guy when we talk about Andre. His college degree was in psychology and he enjoys quoting psychologists. He especially likes to show that they offer insights but are of little help to the human condition. For a while, his son Tim Kole was doing well inLas Vegasas a secular illusionist but he was severely injured in a motor vehicle accident while on a tour ofSouthwest Asia. That must have been another emotional stress for Andre.
Now…Please understand that I respect and like Andre. His program at First Baptist was totally appropriate and ideal for that venue or a sponsored religious college event . But, regrettably, most magicians and secular audiences would probably find his show very slow paced and oblique in current tastes in entertainment. He could never make it as a commercial secular illusionist with this type of act. Part of the reason is that first and foremost he is a preacher and evangelist, even though he rejects the title. The purpose of his show is to convert you to Fundamentalist Protestant Christianity. A trained theologian would tell you that his is a semi-Calvinistic , Revivalist form of Christianity. He is intent on this goal because this is what “saved” him and he believes that everyone has the same spiritual problem he had and needs the identical individualistic spiritual experience. Because his illusion show mixes magic, theology, psychology, geo-politics and religious doctrines, I will need to discuss all of these so you can get an insight into why you experience what you do at his illusion show.
A metacognitive analysis of his 90-minute show shows that it is designed to convince you that all claims of Supernaturalism are fake but Andre’s mystical Fundamentalist Christianity is real. He constantly (non-verbally and verbally) tells you that you are gullible and incapable of understanding empirical reality and he tries to prove his proposition by fooling you with his illusions. Then, near the end he offers you a mystical way ( a conversion experience through a simple prayer) to link with God and come to understand that God alone is the great illusionist who does the real stuff- Does that make sense? Hang on! I will get to Andre’s illusions in a moment.
Andre’s illusion show travels under the banner of Campus Crusade for Christ. This is a massive international para-church ministry founded by the late Bill Bright and aimed mostly at college students. At the core of their theology is the practice of “Decisional Regeneration”. This means that if you decide, in your mind and from your own free will, to be a Christian , you are instantly going to Heaven, justified with God and ontologically a new spiritual creation. This is reflected in their Four Spiritual Laws: 1) God Loves you and wants you to be saved. 2) Mankind is sinful , separated from God and needs God. 3) Jesus has the answers to all your problems.4) You must individually accept and trust Jesus.
In fairness, Andre’s approach does provide a path for many people who need a spiritual purpose in their lives. We live in a very complex and seemingly meaningless world. Strong religious faith is a bedrock for many of us. Andre articulates one religious form of a cultural and historic theological/methodology based on 19th Century Protestant Revivalism as found in D.L. Moody, R.A. Torrey and the Keswickians and recently the Neo-Evangelicals. So, give the guy a break. If you want to see his innovative illusions , cut him some slack on the religious pitch. In a quieter time, check out his religious advice. It may do you some good. He is not “pushy” with his direct pitch and offers anyone a chance to leave during his sermon portion of the program. In all the performances I have seen, I have never seen anyone leave. After all, he shows another magic trick as part of the sermon.
Andre’s technical staging is ingenious. He carries a pipe and drape set and a 12 by 12 foot proscenium ,and a curtain traveler, with him. He transforms the front of a traditional church into a boxed stage for his illusions. On each upper side of the proscenium, on the inside end of the traveler is an intelligent light. He also uses a front footlight strip .He carries his own sound system with professionally done music and announcing tracks as well as a Hazer fog machine.
The program opens with a pounding musical overture. There is a recorded announcement by a deep-throated announcer about all the continents and countries that Andre has toured. The curtains open and an upright 4-foot by 4-foot box fan can be seen. Two main assistants wheel it forward. A puff of CO2 is blown through it into the audience. At each corner are 2-foot tinsel streamers waving in the breeze. The fan is rotated to a horizontal position and the two assistants place a 10 foot square thin red cloth over the fan and the breeze billows up the cloth like a parachute. The cloth is lowered down again and allowed to quickly billow up and there in silhouette with his hair blowing in the wind stands Andre! As the music builds to a crescendo Andre does a classic fist thrusting up for the applause cue. A very impressive opening.
Illusionists watching will the joys of working inside a small performing box set with side views blocked.
Andre walked out to the apron as the curtains closed behind him . He lighted a length of about 18 inches of black rope and as orange flames burned, he twirled the rope and it became a cane. This is one of several signature effects he does. The music ended and Andre welcomed the audience and told them that he was doing nothing supernatural. He mentioned that a million dollar prize offered by skeptics to anyone who could do the supernatural is still unclaimed. He said there were two professions where a person tells you that he is going to do something and then fools you. One is a magician, the other is a politician. The audience laughed.
He began with a tribute to the Broadway play, The Phantom of the Opera. The famous Andrew Lloyd Webber show-music played. The illusion is performed with his female assistant and is known as “The Head Mover”. It is an original creation of Andre’s and made popular on a David Copperfield special. The girl kneels in a framework and her head is encased in a box sitting on the top of the framework. A sword is passed through the neck area. The box is then moved to each side and finally removed showing that she is decapitated. Finally, the box is replaced and the girl emerges unharmed.
After the applause, the curtain closed and Andre invited a spectator to come in front of the curtain to help him. He did the Lester Lake Head Chopper with all the well worn , but classic lines. The St. Cloud Baptist church audience ate it up.
The curtains opened after Andre talked about how he helped David Copperfield walk through theGreat Wall of China. A young woman dressed in a very baggy Oriental style costume could be see laying on her side on a gurney-type table. She was assisted to lay flat. Andre took off his shoes and walked up a stepladder placed in the back and middle of the table. His male assistants placed two handrails over the girl’s body. Andre then stepped on her belly and slowly his feet and the legs melted down through the middle of the girl. The prop seemed to me to be a kind of horizontal “Interlude” .
Next was Andre’s version of Abbott’s ( and John Calvert’s) Spirit Tie. Andre does a long build-up by telling the complete story of the Fox Sisters . They made Spiritualism famous inAmericaat the time of the psychological trauma in the post-Civil War years. He invites 2 gentlemen up to help him and his hands are securely tied around him. He sits in a wooden folding chair and his ankles are tied to the chair legs. A TV tray with aluminum pie pans and a bell is placed in front of him. When the hooped cloth cabinet is raised around him, the pie pans fly over the top, the bell rings and the TV tray comes flying out. The cabinet is quickly lowered and Andre was still tied and in a trance. Here is where those two intelligent stage lights came in handy. They strobed while the spook action was happening. Next a borrow jacket place on Andre’s lap was found on him. Finally one of the gentleman was blindfolded and placed in the hoop cabinet and ended up with his shoes off, pants legs rolled up and a bucket over his head. The theme from the film Ghostbusters was playing during the final spook scene.
One of the best responses of the evening was another of his signature acts. It is a routine you might expect to see at a child’s birthday party. He invited 4 children up to help. A glass of water was poured into a small vase and inverted and eventually placed on the top of the head of one of the children. Another child was given an open handkerchief to hold up in an opened position in the air at the side of the group. This became a running gag as Andre frequently told the child to “hold it up a little higher!”. Andre then went through a breakaway wand and breakaway fan with one of the little girls. Finally he used an ice pick and poked a hole in the boy’s forehead and a long thin stream of water shot out of the boy’s forehead into the audience. Andre then placed on a large chrome faucet on the boy’s forehead. A funnel was placed under the faucet and water was pumped out of the boy’s brain as the girl assistant working the boy’s arm like a pump handle. The vase was removed from the child’s head and was empty. Andre walked over to the other child who was holding up the handkerchief and calmly wiped the water from his hands on the handkerchief. The St. Cloud Baptist church audience roared!
The next trick could best be described as a human-sized sucker-sliding die box. A large box was shown with two doors on the front and the back. A male assistant went in through the top and could be seen lying inside. Andre did the typical lines about “making him disappear”. One door was opened and then the other and finally the back doors on each side. Just when the audience thought they had the trick figured out, he closed all the doors and the entire box was lifted from the table and a female assistant was seen reclining where the male assistant was.
Andre closed the first act of the program with another of his signature illusions, his self-levitation. He puts on a white robe and sits yogi fashion on a decorative box. the box has a huge 6-foot diameter open ring upright on the back and it is filled with small lights. Andre levitates up to the middle of the open ring. A hoop is passed over him. Finally the box and ring are pushed 5 feet in back of him, leaving him seemingly floating in the middle of the stage. He does not float back down but the curtain closes and the first act is over.
Intermission saw most of the crowd follow his suggestion to browse his sale table filled with books, posters, 8 by10 fan photos, DVDs and T-shirts.
I am not certain about his financial arrangements with Campus Crusade for Christ but I know several people that work for them and CCC does not pay them. I believe that they use the Campus Crusade name and 501 C-3 tax status to raise their own support. I would guess that Andre has a number of sustaining contributors around the country that help keep him on the road. I seriously doubt that he could perform with no admission charge to 400 or so people inSt. Cloudwithout other means of support. Standard show-industry buying statistics reveal about $3 to $4 as an average concession, trinket take per audience member in his type of venue. I don’t think only a sporadic $1,500 income could keep his program on the road, given his schedule of not playing every day. Several years ago I think his website said that he only required lodging for his crew . His show travels in an aging 24-foot diesel box truck with a king cab that holds four passengers. It was parked in the church parking lot.
The second act was shorter and featured Andre lowering himself through the center of the large fan. Again that same box fan was flipped up to a horizontal position and two poles with hand hold rings on winch cables were locked in place and Andre apparently lowered himself through the whirling fan blades.
He then went into the sermon part of the illusion program. He said that it was probably the most important part of his illusion show so I must deal with what he said and did. While doing the sermon he made a light bulb vanish from a break-apart box and reappear back in the lamp. It was an object lesson to that he wants you to believe that man has a soul, Jesus rose from the dead and you were made to live forever. I am certain that in a more secular setting , such as a college, he does not extend the sermon such as he did at First Baptist of St. Cloud. He included all kinds of current news events to convince you that the world as we know it today is in immediate danger of terrifying apocalyptic events. You are free to scroll down a few paragraphs to more of the magic review and avoid hearing his sermon about the doom facing us soon.
He preached that a Pentagon friend told him that Hugo Chavez is buying Russian submarines to attack theUnited States. I wonder if the CIA knows that? Would Chavez nuke his own American Citgo stations that are making him billions? He also told the audience that Turkey has many hydroelectric dams at the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates River, which means that they could dry up the rivers and allow 200 million Red Chinese to invade Israel! I question if Andre knows global geography very well. Isn’t the Himalayan Mountain Range or many other countries, such as India the way? If that many able bodied Red Chinese leave their factories and jobs, maybe there is hope for American manufacturing again!
It is a well-known speculative conclusion that the state of Israel has a formable nuclear arsenal. Long before 200 million Red Chinese would undertake the long land trek across the Iranian and Iraqi and Jordanian desert,Israel(and others) would unleash their weapons. Andre’s military thinking is from the Napoleonic era. Today it is possible to totally easily destroy (annihilate!) a small nation-state using long-range weapons. “Boots on the Ground” are needed only for long term occupations; such as we are doing inIraq.Israelis a small nation and its land has little mineral value although a small section of Israelhas some religious sites and shrines that are honored by Judaism, Christianity and Islam (none to the Red Chinese). A 200 million man Red Chinese army combined with another few million fighters from other unfriendly nations (that want the downfall of the state ofIsrael) seems to me to be a bit of a stretch in terms of modern rational strategic military operations.
In fairness to Andre, he is merely repeating what Rev. John Hagee, Rev. Hal Lindsey and most other Fundamentalist Premillenial Dispensationalist Christians said long ago by Bible footnoter, C.I. Scofield and more recently on religious radio and TV. They find proof-texts for all these predictions in their literal exegesis of the Bible. (One example is Revelation 9:16) Of course, when you read the verses literally, you find out that this 200 million-man army will also have horses! Imagine the logistics needed to provide hay and water for 200 million horses! Imagine all the droppings!
He then asked anyone who wished to pray the special prayer for salvation with him to bow their heads and he led the prayer and passed out cards for people to sign their name and give their address for a follow up.
Anyway, this kind of doomsday talk, as exciting as it progressed, was a low point in the pacing of the illusion program but I believe appropriate for the ultimate purpose for Andre’s program and the eschatological doctrines of that church denomination.
The finale act was Andre’s “Vanishing Statue of Liberty”. It is a 10-foot high fiberglass copy of the monument. David Copperfield does the audio introduction.
It stood on a low platform and had two high posts on each side. Andre’s assistants used two lines through pulleys and raised up a hoop with a cloth tube hanging from it. This was to hide the Statue. The tube was not long enough to completely hide the statue. When it was fully extended the head and arm of the statue could still be seen over the top of the hoop. Andre explained that he was going to vanish the statue from the bottom up! The hoop was raised and there was nothing where the bottom had been. The entire hoop was dropped and the top part was missing. Nothing was there. It was a dramatic showpiece and well executed. After well-deserved applause, Andre stepped onto the platform and the hoop was raised and dropped and he also was gone!
I think his final personal vanish was overkill and somewhat tipped off how both tricks were done but perhaps I was thinking like a magician and not like a member of the rural First Baptist Church of St. Cloud. In any event, the audience loved the show. Andre got a standing ovation. I also was on my feet. I again admired his ability, talent and presentation. I was entertained and glad I saw him again. I believe that his faith should be an inspiration to all.
I took the Florida Turnpike back home…the road was still straight, the sky was still clear and the full moon was still shinning and had not yet turned red like blood. (Revelation 6:12)
* Si finis bonus est, totum bonum erit – If the end is good, everything will be good (all’s well that ends well) Sic transit gloria mundi – So passes the glory of the world