Ring #320 The Blue Ridge Magicians
President Eddie Tobey “Tobini”
Vice President George Buckley
Treasurer David Clauss
Sgt. at Arms Jim Champion
Secretary Dennis Phillips
Mark it down:
Waynesboro Magic Cavalcade
Friday September 28th
Saturday September 29th
May 2012 Meeting
We had a well attended may Ring meeting with thirteen regulars and four guests. This was nice to see some young new faces interested in making magic their hobby. After a shoret business meeting discussing some upcoming events we got to the show time. This month’s theme was “Levitations and Suspensions”.
Surprisingly two members brought there versions of “The Flying Carpet” and we were treated to two presentations of the classic U.F. Grant illusion. The show opened with Dennis Phillips presenting his version of the Dancing Cane along with his finally where the cane transforms into a flower bouquet. Then Dennis showed the rarely seen Don Wayne Floating Microphone Stand. A microphone and stand mysterious float horizontal and then rotate upright and rock back and forth with a partial covering by a cloth.
Richard Gimbert used a young lady and performed his Flying Carpet to a well-timed music background of Richard Strauss’ Sunrise Overture of “Thus Spake Zarathrustra” .
George Buckley followed with his version which included two very fancy polished knives along with a decorated support screen. Buckley also showed a Lossander Floating table.
Eddie Tobey floated his eyeglasses and explained to those in the know that it was a loopy trick. Jim Champion had an unusual and mystifying floating candle. The small candle was cupped in his hands which were held at chest level and when he opened his hands the lit candle was floating. Jim Olberg showed a couple of cards and the top one floated away from the top of the stack. David Clauss demonstrated his version of the popular “Flow” trick where water floats inside an inverted water bottle. On the command, it flows out.
Dennis Deliberations…. Editorial and Comment
By Dennis Phillips and Larry Thornton
The Decline of Magic
It seems that rapidly changing times have now caused magic and its relatively insular world to wind down. Its yearly conventions, after many decades of stability and success, are now struggling to survive. One long-time annual conference, a virtual institution among the magicians in its area, has recently had to call it a day. Young blood is no longer infusing the magic community at a rate that is able to “stabilize” its population, let alone keep it expanding, as older magicians and magic enthusiasts retire from the scene. Are there other reasons for magic’s malaise? An attempt to answer this question leads us to some disturbing conclusions.
Revolutionary advances in science and technology, especially during the last dozen or so years, has been instrumental in altering the cultural landscape and attracting the rapt attention of the masses. Computers, video gaming, and mobile communications devices are now ubiquitous, and as a consequence, magic as we know and love it has been shunted off to the side, and so very far away from public awareness that for all intents and purposes it has become pretty-much invisible to the world. Today, millions of people are immersed in video games, texting, and online socializing through Twitter and Facebook. The video game industry alone has blossomed into a multi-billion-dollar enterprise, exceeding the combined revenues of the entire movie industry. And this is all in addition to the traditional offline activities that flourished well before the Internet and dozens of electronic distractions burst on the scene: sports, rock music, television, and movies exploding on the silver screen with ever-escalating special effects and in glorious 3D. Magicians everywhere are sinking into a mental funk with the realization that their talents are no longer at the forefront of the public’s consciousness — if indeed, they ever were.
But many magicians beg to differ. Some of the elder stalwarts of magic like to tell us magic has always been cyclical. That is to say, the art of magic always keeps renewing itself every twenty, thirty, or even fifty years. To back-up such assertions, they cite the big touring shows of the first half of the 20th century by the likes of Blackstone, Thurston, and Dante; and the rise of television magic stars Doug Henning and David Copperfield in a post-hippy era; and the decades-long popularity of eclectic magic shows in Las Vegas. Even the ragamuffin ‘bastard child’ called Street Magic is cited as still another “wonderful” indication that magic is constantly re-inventing itself anew. … So what’s the worry? We’re only in a temporary down cycle right now!
But dare we ask: Will we ever see discussions of this situation in magic’s club journals, or in it’s major magazines? It is doubtful. When a particular kind of entertainment begins its to falter, whether by imploding from within or simply dwindling away for lack of adequate public support, it rarely becomes a serious topic of internal dialogue among its practitioners. Magic today, as exemplified by its monthly magazines and its organization’s journals, seem to be blissfully living in a fuzzy-warm state of perpetual denial.
Perhaps we could suggest that one arguable reason for the alleged “silence” on this matter, stems from the very nature of the magic journals themselves: funding comes from dealer advertisements aimed at selling magic apparatus, books, and DVDs. What magic publications need, are a few more voices of positive self-criticism and balance. One thoughtful voice from the past was “Senator” Clarke Crandall (1906-1975). Crandall was an Abbotts’ and Magic Castle legend with his long curled moustache and cowboy hat and boots. He had a way of cutting to the chase in his observations of magic and magicians. It is best not to abuse the art of magic, because he was open with his rebukes. (Often Mark Kornhauser’s column in Magic Magazine is reflectively “Crandall-like” in its honesty. But he is among a minority these days.) Many young magicians used to think that the curmudgeonly “Senator” was just an angry old man, but as those same magicians grew older and wiser themselves, they realized it was honesty shaped by experiential insight and wisdom. Crandall risked offending some for the sake of truth and in support of the magical art in general.
Much of the credit for the revival of magic, which was on life-support in the early 60s, was The Magic Castle. (Mark Wilson and Bev’s weekly show also helped) The Castle was a venue that was far more than a private night club. It became the focal point for magic celebrities and the best of the art. If the Castle’s concept could extend to other major cities, it could keep the art alive. We recall the Comedy Clubs that formed to keep the art of comedy alive and they were successful. Magic certainly isn’t likely to die completely, but it can and should remain a vital and continuing niche in the performing arts.
There is also one other controversial monkey wrench in the gears that we consider axiomatic, and you’ve heard it before: Magic dealers on the Internet. An explosion of online commerce by virtually every business on the planet has resulted in this formerly “niche” business jumping online as well. Magic is a great performing art, but the business of selling its props is a peculiar one. The typical magic shop used to exist (and “exist” is the proper term) almost exclusively as a low-profile business not given to advertising to the general public. In an effort to make our point, just try to imagine the following bizarre scenario: A citizen opens up his morning newspaper and sees the following advertisement: “SLICKO’S TRICK-AND-JOKE SHOP is having the SALEOF THE CENTURY! Come on down today! Slicko’s is featuring ZIG ZAGS, SUB TRUNKS and LEVITATIONS at ROCK BOTTOM PRICES! ”The traditional paradigm of the commercial magic dealer, once relegated to quaint little street magic shops and discrete “backroom” emporiums that only the serious magic aficionado was aware of — is now dead. Sure, many dealers eventually developed a thriving business through mail-order too, but that was still still well under the radar compared to the gigantic visibility potential of the World Wide Web. When the dealers took the economic ‘high road’ online, they inadvertently threw the ethical ‘low road’ to the wolves when they started advertising magic’s wares indiscriminately to all the world. It represented nothing less than that newspaper metaphor, writ large. The result is that in going online, the magic shops underwent an almost Frankensteinian transformation as they exploded into the public’s consciousness. Irrespective of the fact it may have been good for the economic health of many of the magic companies, was this, in the long run, really good for magic?
Before the personal computer and the worldwide web became ubiquitous, there were people who would be so amazed by a magic effect that some of them would feel compelled to ask in astonishment, “Where did you ever learn to do that?” Such an odd question may seem naive, but it told the tale: that people half-believed (or wanted to believe) that magicians were “privy to an exclusive art”, and that such an art seemed all the more exotic and mysterious for its apparent lack of origins. What the viewer didn’t know, he didn’t need to know: that magic books are available in every public library; that there are monthly magic clubs for amateur magicians who talk shop and perform for each other; and that there are a some exclusive magic fraternities (like London’s Magic Circle) that are almost pathologically secretive, while other, much larger international magic organizations are so “open” that they will seemingly admit just about anyone with the mildest interest in magic.
In spite of the many symptoms that we’ve outlined here that suggests magic may be on the ropes for good, our diagnosis may not be all that convincing. Perhaps the old guard are right after all: that magic will still recycle itself once again. Through the creative efforts of progressive thinkers like Marco Tempest, we might see a “new renaissance” in magic that could conceivably blow-off the barnacles of a bygone era and steer a refurbished conjuring “ship” majestically into a world of ever-advancing technological wonders. In his day, the great 19th century French conjuror Robert Houdin did much the same thing by updating his attire and streamlining his tables and props. He employed clockwork automation in his performances, and disguised the then-novel discoveries of electromagnetism, anesthetics, and chemistry to look like pure magic. And a century or so later, a progressive David Copperfield revitalized magic in the latter half of the 20th century by jettisoning the arcane boxes and outdated theatrics and costuming, and in so doing, totally retrofitted the art of magic for modern times. The pre-internet times, that is.
But now, after some 20 to 30 years of creative paralysis, we find ourselves immersed in a hyper-technological new century, and so we see the need for a major magic transformation once again. The world is changing at a seemingly breakneck pace, and along with it, the ways and means with which we entertain ourselves.
If the first part of this essay seems overly pessimistic, it was not meant to be anything other than constructive. We all know that “something” is seriously amiss in the world of magic, but rather than fall into a state of denial, we felt it would be more productive to look the patient squarely in the eye and try to determine some of the principle causes for magic’s “cyclic malaise”. It is only then that we all will be able to examine the possible future directions magic should take in order to keep it not only alive, but vibrantly healthy. The magic world sorely needs more forward-thinking geniuses the likes which we mentioned above. We need the creative dreamers who will stay ahead of the curve by exercising the foresight and courage to redefine one of the greatest of the performing arts. It will be through their efforts, and your efforts, that magic will again be able to dazzle the world, and thereby propel it deeply into the 21st century — and beyond.
Larry Thornton is a long-time family magician in Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Dennis Phillips, has performed and built magic for many years and lived in Orlando, Florida, is now based in Virginia.