Ring Report: February 2012 meeting

Ring #320

Of the International Brotherhood of Magicians

President – Eddie Tobey   Vice President – George Buckley  

Secretary – Dennis Phillips   Treasurer – David Clauss

Sergeant at Arms – Jim Champion 

MARCH 2012

Breaking NEWS

Banachek is coming! March 8th  Regular Meeting Place!


Described as the “Cream of the Crop” when it comes to entertainers, Banachek is the world’s

leading Mentalist. His talents are so incredible that he is the only mentalist ever to fool scientists

into believing he possessed ‘Psychic powers’ but to later reveal he was fooling them.

Performers around the world such as the colorful Penn & Teller, “The Amazing” James Randi

and television’s unique street magician David Blaine seek his performing expertise.

Companies and theaters seek him for his outstanding performing abilities.

Wolf Blitzer says of Banachek “Your one hell of an Entertainer.”

Penn & Teller say “”Banachek is brilliant…a magical thinker of deep, deep subtlety.” and Las

Vegas style magazine is quoted as printing “Banachek is an astonishing go see.. buy a ticket.” 

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February, 2012 meeting

The winter snows had been missing here in the Shenandoah Valley and then two days before our February Ring meeting we had a big snow fall. The roads were cleared and we were able to have our meeting.

President Tobey brought us to order and mentioned that all dues should be paid to Treasurer David Clauss and we have some nice lectures planned in coming months.  Vice President Buckley is working with the local media on Ring publicity to help our numbers to grow.  We are also thrilled about the National IBM Convention coming to Norfolk this summer.

With the business meeting concluded, the month show and tell began.  President Tobey, “Tobini”, opened with a mini-lecture on how he does a complete routine with a prepared deck of cards.  He opened with his signature effect where he shows the entire deck and then deals off the top card, face down, and asks the spectator if they know the card they say “No”. He has them turn over the card and it is blank card with a big “No” printed on it.  He then moves into a series of interesting audience participation effects and many with his own special touch.

The theme of the effects to be seen this month was, “Suspensions”. Jim Olberg showed us the “Sidewinder Card”. A playing card can be examined. It is held between the finger tips and it suddenly is floating four inching in front of the fingers. Then without touching it, it spins. He showed us the gimmick that accomplishes the effect and it was a mechanical marvel.

Wes Iseli did a bit of bizarre magic where he had a circle of numbers written on a piece of paper and he placed a fork on the circle like a pointer on a clock.  Each person thought of a number and did a calculation and landed on a number and then the fork mysteriously moved to point to a number and it was the number that everyone was thinking.

Wes then showed a scientific puzzle called “Newton’s Nightmare”. A metal ball-bearing slowly descends through a tube without any means of slowing in down.  He concluded with a different method and version of “Out of this World” which he found stored in his magic props for 10 years. Most are familiar with the Paul Curry classic effect.  Wes did the effect with his half of a deck shuffled by a spectator and not in any stack. He was able to separate the black and red cards by touch!

Dennis Phillips concluded with several floating effects.  One was a floating chalice that he made for the play, Pippin.  Pippin is a popular Broadway play and has several magic scenes and effects in it.  Dennis then showed the bottle and stem glass version of “Airborne” such as Lance Burton used. He also showed a floating light bulb using a Zombie method but the bulb is very animated.  Finally he did an effect where red clear beads were randomly chosen and he knew beforehand which amounts would be chosen.

 Dennis’ Deliberations……………    Comment and Editorial

I still get upset over magic on TV boasting that there is “no trick photography and it is just as you would see it if you were here!”  That statement is only true if you stood in one exact spot, with blinders on each side of your eyes!  That is not a practical or realistic claim.

I think, in some videos, the camera (angles) are as important as the illusion. And it could be, that some viewer could be placed at a spot that would reveal something, but they are hired to still look dumbfounded. All designed to throw us off completely. One magician wrote me back once in one of my previous tirades to say, ” Yes, his trick was Interesting. But not practical.”

The beginning of this kind of “magic” was:

1) Copperfield with his stooges on the Lear Jet and Statue of Liberty Vanish as well as his fake dummy being dragged by a chopper on the Grand Canyon levitation.

2) David Blaine, in his first special, when he edited in a few shots of his feet while he was doing “chin-ups” during the Balducci heel-rise sketch.

After that it was pretty much over for any creditability for TV “Magic”. The Golden Rule of Milbourne Christopher, Mark Wilson and Doug Henning had been trashed: Never use the camera in any way that would violate what an audience would see if they were there in person.  

Even Jim Steinmeyer stooped to using a “position vital” method on Lance Burton’s Elephant Vanish. Anyone there would have seen the mirror method unless they were positioned with blinders on and looking only where the camera was aimed.

I am not sure that “practical” has anything to do with TV fakery.  Whatever looks like a miracle on TV, regardless of how it is done, has accomplished its purpose.   Copperfield was able to adapt total TV trickery to an entertaining sketch on live stage with the “Escape from Alcatraz”. Of course the fake shots of him flying a helicopter and vanishing  things by dropping them out of frame were not used on stage. His actual vanish from the cardboard box on the table was done differently for TV.

I have never actually performed John Cornelius’ “Fickle Nickle” but Henning opened one of his specials with it.   I guess it could work in some situations as a live performance piece but, for me, I consider it impractical due to the complexity of the thread and getting into and out of it. It is great for TV. Can I forgive Henning for breaking is own rule? Probably.  

About the same time on Copperfield’s #3 special , he was doing a miracle in his opening by making a medallion appear in his bare hands.  The methodology was similar to Fickle Nickle but apparently Copperfield had someone sitting below him manipulating the medallion on a magnetic stick and keeping it constantly behind his hands, so as not to be seen.  Is that  magic?  It is TV magic using the characteristics of the camera  and, as such, it is camera trickery.     When you drop a coin out of frame, it is the TV equal to “lapping” or sleeving but if you were there you would see it.  That is TV trickery.

I am not trying to be a purist. I am trying to arrive at some ethical definitions.  I get people that come up to me and ask, “Is that Criss Angel guy for real?  I saw him float a woman on the sidewalk in the middle of the town with people all around him. That must be real!”   I almost always say, “Yep he is real alright!” Often it is followed by them saying, “Do it!  Float me right here!” I respond, “Just like Criss Angels, I would need 50 grand worth of video gear, an editing suite, 12 assistants and all the special gimmicks.”   I wink…  They then get the idea; not the method or secret but the idea that TV magic is a bit different than live magic.

Career management and timing are so important to anyone wanting to work in show business. You can have all the talent in the world but if it is not managed and brought to bear at the right time and places, you will get nowhere.  It is so easy to get side-tracked and lost in the boiling cauldron of show business.  The opportunity to stay in the top tier and in the public’s eye and making money is very limited and tenuous.   You can rattle off the names: Brett Daniels, Rick Thomas et.al. All who have decent acts and should find it easy to stay busy. I am not sure that they do.

There was a window from 1975 until 2000, that we now call, “The Second Golden Age of Magic” where a competent stage act (willing to travel and put up with a little hardship) could stay fairly busy.  Just like the First Golden Age was ended by talking pictures and the Great Depression, the second was crushed by the Internet and the Great Recession. The Great Recession began in 2000 with the Dot Com bubble burst and was deepened in 2001 with 9-11 and then smothered over by Alan Greenspan and the Federal Reserve with massive in injections of paper money which led to the Real Estate Bubble and financial shenanigans with led to the Global 2008 free-fall. 

In many ways, this epoch in magic is worse than the 1930s depression of the variety arts. America is no longer rural with a large market of “tall grass” venues.  Mac Birch and later Lee Grabel and Ken Griffin and many others just went into the remote countryside where  the population only radio and they booked “first money” gigs for community organizations such as The Lions, Rotary Optimists and even school fund-raising.

Such a market no longer exists and is only viable in some parts of Canada, Australia and New Zealand.. John Kaplan still does it in Canada and sells his method but it does not work well in many places here in the lower 48 other than in the minds of those deluded by visions of grandeur. What cracks me up is that there are many magicains who have failed at taking out a succesful touring show but they will sell you the secret to doing it for a few hundred dollars.

As the rural areas got strung with phone wires, the late 40s to mid 80s saw the heyday of the “phone promotion”.  This was the main source of activity for my illusion show.  A rural club or charity was booked and a crew of phone callers moved into town for a month and sold tickets through phone calls in a “day room” to local businesses and its “night room” to homes and local families.  The last gasp of dying breath on this was in the late 80s.  My long time agents, John Bevis and Ken Parker all faced the truth: Wal-Mart killed small town businesses and phone answering machines, cell phones and legal restrictions killed cold-calls to homes.  I recall in the pre-internet age (1989)when Ken showed me his note-card file with calling records of a town ( called a “tap file” in phone room lingo) and only one third of some small town businesses were left after the rise of the big boxes such as Wal-Mart.  Compounding this was the collapse of most Fraternal Organizations. Today you can look at the declining memberships of the Elks, Moose, Masons, Boy Scouts and see how our ideas of “community” have shifted from face-to-face interaction to social media!

My point is that these venues and performing opportunities for a lightly capitalized illusion, self-promoted and independent touring show no longer exist.  

I have heard that the big money shows such as Ringling now use E-mail lists and their name-recognition along with splashy video clips in their E-Mail to sell tickets on-line to their smaller tier of traveling attractions (Mickey’s Magic Show etc).  Whereas, radio, TV, newspapers and print media posters were the primary and expensive and inefficient method of advertising, now E-mail is free. But you have to have the list and the name recognition and the money.

It is easy to see oneself as a victim and blame others or get into mental depression and self-pity.  The fact is that show business is a very limited business and is often at the mercy of conditions beyond the control of all parties. Will Rock, was a great showman and he tried it for a few years , in the late 30s, with Thurston’s brother’s show and then threw in the towel and spendt his remaining years working for a dry-cleaners.

The cultural mindset of America has been greatly influenced by the mythological Calvinist-Puritan work ethic: “the cream rises to the top” and “hard work and talent always are rewarded”. This is overlaid with the myth found in the Horatio Alger “Rags to Riches” stories which were so popular in the late 1800s.  “Anyone can get rich, famous and successful is you work hard enough. This is America!”  When both of these myths are severely challenged by existential reality, social rage and anger result along with political unrest. 

Culturally, Americans try to find who publicly denies the myths that were supposed to work for them. The search for the “guilty” is public and noisy.   On one side, a cacophony screams into the radio microphone: “Its the illegal immigrants. Its the unions. Its all those lazy and stupid people who want something for nothing. “It’s…” fill in racial slurs and what I don’t have to tell you.  On the other side: “It’s the rich. It’s Wall Street. It’s the Far Right. It’s the …”

In a country without a common ethnicity and religion, we are only bound together by economics and an ill defined and individual and flexible idea of liberty and freedom. That is not much to hang unity upon.

In the last few years, I have come to appreciate an old bumper sticker that I saw on a rusted-out car years ago in Orlando. It said, “Since I gave up hope, I feel so much better!”  

Recently I have beaten my head against the wall until it is bloody and I am just flat tired.  Younger, brighter and fresher minds may find an easier way to make money in magic.  I am old and worn out. I have been selling myself for far too long.  Churchill once defined insanity as “Doing the same thing over and over again and each time expecting a different result”.   I am at the point where I know that I am not insane and I simply don’t have a clue as to what else to do and I no longer want to do the same thing over and over again.      I will continue to perform mentor, write, discuss, create on the cheap, do shows if they drop in my lap, sub-teach and do radio.  It could be worse…

There comes a time to stop believing in myths and face reality. Arthur Miller put these words in the mouth of Charlie as a eulogy for the ill-fated Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman    “A salesman is got to dream, boy. He’s a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine . . .”    I am getting too old for that. 

Dennis Phillips 



About blueridgemagiciansring320

Secretary of Ring 320 of the International Brotherhood of Magicians located in the Western Virginia.
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