An Annual Night of Magic By Anthony R. Kolb

Every year in Eastern Virginia on the Sunday before the Super Bowl, Harold and Diane Wood host a Party. This has been the case for many years and this year was no exception. The Party started as a way to bring a few local Magicians and Jugglers together to celebrate and share in their passions and to help the various local organizations to come together. The event started out in Harold and Diane’s home, and eventually grew too large. This year the Wood family hosted the event at the Marlbank Cove Club House located at 111 Lookout Point, Yorktown, VA. The Club was a wonderful facility with a large meeting room, a recreation room with a pool table, a lovely kitchen and several smaller rooms, set at the end of a neighborhood in historic Yorktown. The event drew 50-60 people, from all over Virginia and from many other parts of the country. It also drew from several International Brotherhood of Magician’s Rings and Society of American Magician’s Assemblies. Harold was at the entryway, sporting a purple suit jacket and fancy, colorful bow tie and that wacky expression. Everyone was asked to bring a special dish for the pot luck dinner and the kitchen was already packed with tasty delights of all sorts.

Harold introduced himself and asked if I would be willing to perform something after the meal. Having not performed much in the last, well 30 years or so, I was more than happy to oblige. Harold wrote my name down and we got to know each other briefly. Most magicians are never strangers, least not for very long. As my wife Julie and I began to mingle it became obvious this was a very welcoming group of folks. As everyone sat around eating, chatting and getting to know each other the entertainment began. First in corners of the rooms, and in hallways and nestled against the kitchen counter as Magicians shared with each other the secrets of our special trade. My evening brought me to a corner of the room where a kindly old man by the name of Santa was sitting, munching on some delicacies and trying to keep them out of his ample white beard. Turns out Santa spends much of his time when away from the North Pole, in and around Richmond, VA where he travels about the region performing children’s shows whilst his elves are fast at work producing those wondrous toys for Christmas. Santa took out a deck of cards and of course had me select one, remember it and place it back into the deck which was cut repeatedly and you guessed it my card was selected from the deck. He and I exchanged several variations of the old “Key Card” routines. Including one of my favorites where spectator deals out each card and calls it out truthfully, until they arrive at their card (which they have been told to lie about), and the performer states true or false for each card. This has gotten me more than one confession from a criminal while sitting across from them at the interrogation table, but it is always an amazing and powerful effect when done in front of an audience.

Julie and I continued to mingle, roam the house and gorge on fine food for the next couple of hours. Meeting folks and shopping at a couple of vender tables set of with all sorts a magic memorabilia, everything from stage effects to close up tricks which were brought for sale. There were historic posters, a temple screen, die box, boxes of sponge balls, thumb tips, eggs, silks, appearing canes and many more very reasonably priced treasures.

Harold kicked the evening off and then introduced each and every performer one by one. Jugglers, Magicians, Mentalists and Comedians one and all; card tricks, stage magic and feats of amazing skill and balance were demonstrated with practiced expertise typical of the many hundreds of combined years of experience gathered inside the Cove Club that day.

Juggling was amazing, this entertainer even got several people from the audience involved. He had two boys actually keeping a spinning pie pan and a lasso going for quite some time; while he was amazing folks with his own skills of dexterity and comedy. This was followed by a spectator being blindfolded, while he thought that three very sharp objects were being juggled over him. In reality the audience got a barrel of laughs at his expense.

Classic effects were performed for everyone’s enjoyment and amazement. One of the local IBM Ring members took out the Linking Rings and showed that when done well, even if everyone in the audience know’s how it’s done, it is still an effect that can bring down the house. He brought a unique patter and it was obvious to the entire audience how much he enjoys performing the classics of magic.

I chose to adapt the PATEO Prediction into a card routine. Shuffling two separate decks, I had four audience members choose different cards from the red backed deck. A blue backed deck was then shuffled and four cards were chosen from this deck. A different spectator chose one of the eight selected cards randomly and I wrote a prediction on the back and gave it to a different member of the audience. I chose a last spectator to assist me in eliminating the remaining cards one at a time by alternating 2 selecting and eliminating one with me. This is a truly amazing effect which can be done with various random borrowed items. It is impromptu, packs a lot of participation and is a lot of fun to do.

Santa preceded to do a rattling ping pong ball which would work for every child in the audience, but not for him, followed by a root beer bottle with a penetrating cap and ending with an appearing cane.

One of the local teachers of the arcane did fanciful card tricks, one of which incorporated a Magic Eight Ball. He had a number of flourishes and fans, and a lot of audience participation. This was followed up by a performance by one of his students and perhaps one of the youngest performers ever in the history of this dinner event. There was a wonderful rope routine performed by one of the local fellas from Chesapeake, VA. Harold had a wonderful floating glass of water suspended from a pencil and ended the night with a great straight jacket escape while riding a unicycle. There were several other wonderful performers and a great time was had by all. Hopefully Harold and Diane’s Pre Super Bowl Dinner continues to grow and draw even more friends we’ve just not met yet. For details of the next event stay tuned or check with one of the local Magic Clubs in the Hampton Roads area.

Julie and I met some really magical people. The night brought the beginnings of friendships, mystery, magic and mirth I certainly believe that magic brings people together and is a motivational tool in so many ways.

See you all next year!

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The Lost Art of Busking By Anthony R. Kolb

So what is Busking? Busking is performing in the street or other public place for gratuities. Typically there is monetary compensation, but gifts, food and other forms of gratuity may be acquired from time to time. The practice is as ancient as any performing arts, and is practiced all over the world by men, women and children in a variety of the performing arts. Anyone who practices this type of enterprise is called a street performer or busker. The Gypsy culture is largely based upon the concept of busking. Busking is typically associated with jugglers, magicians, mimes and musicians, but it can work for many performers regardless of their specific discipline. For the purposes of this article the performance of magic will be discussed.

Why would a performer want to busk? Primarily it is a good way to get out there. It can be done anywhere where a performer would find people. Airports, bars, bus stations, cafes, carnivals, concerts, festivals, libraries, malls, parks, plazas, pubs, rail stations, sporting events, subways, theaters, town centers and train stations are just a few examples of where to start busking. The place where one busks is typically called a pitch. It is important to select a good pitch. The nice thing is that if a particular pitch doesn’t seem to be working out, the performer simply can move to another pitch.

Why start busking? It affords the performer an opportunity to perform on very short notice and with a great degree of regularity. It is an ideal venue for performers to hone their skills, develop their personas and to easily access an audience. Busking allows the magician to develop their patter, their effects and to truly perfect their magic. It puts the magician in front of strangers; potentially lots of strangers. It is one thing to practice in front of family and friends or in front of a mirror. It is a whole new perspective to perform in front of total strangers.

One primary advantage to busking is the magician is working for tips. If things go badly, no one is hurt. In a normal booking situation there could potentially be a need to refund the customer if they aren’t happy with the performance. When busking the magician simply resets and if the audience isn’t impressed, they are not obligated to leave payment. This can be a win-win situation. Theoretically, as the performer’s skills increase, so will the income.

It is important that the performer check with local authorities and investigate what licenses that might apply. If choosing to busk on private or government property, malls and parks be sure to check with the management in advance. In ancient times some penalties were severe and in some cases even the death penalty if the busker insulted the government or it’s officials publicly. Today, it might result in a simple fine or perhaps even a night or two in jail.

Before you head out to start busking consider your appearance. Grooming standards must be maintained, no one wants to watch you do your favorite piece of magic with grudge fingernails, or dragon breath. What are you wearing, is it appropriate for the pitch you’ve chosen? Some performances are fine if you’re wearing a tee shirt and jeans while others may require a suit and tie. Perhaps your persona is that of a bum, hobo, gypsy or country lady or gentlemen. Whatever you decide make sure it is right for the audience you’re performing for. Will you wear jewelry, will it interfere with your effects? These are all considerations and might take some trial and error to get just right.

Maintain the three golden rules of magic. First, never reveal the secrets. People won’t like you any better if you tell them how it works. Fact is they’ll like you less. People expect you to fool them, they even enjoy it. Be sure you have prepared well in advance, you don’t want to inadvertently show them how it’s done by accidentally revealing it during the presentation. Second, never tell them what you’re going to do in advance. It just might give them a better chance of catching onto the mechanics of the effect you’re performing. If they don’t know what’s going to happen, it is easier to cover if something goes wrong. Everyone has that happen, even the most experienced magicians have things that go wrong. Lastly, never repeat an effect. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but it is generally best not to repeat to the same audience in the same sitting. Some magic effects are meant to be repeated, some examples are sucker tricks. Some like “Deck-ography” are designed to be done several times. But generally speaking it just gives them more opportunity to either figure it out, or for something to go wrong.

The magic might seem spontaneous, but it has to be practiced, and practiced again and again. Timing, patter, and the mechanics of the effects have got to be practiced over and over. Then when you have it down, or think you do. Walk away, put it down. Tom Ogden suggests that after mastering an effect you do it only once from then on. His premise is that in the real world you don’t get to practice an effect before performing it in public. This is a very good suggestion. Remember, everyone needs somewhere to be bad before they are good at something. Once you have realized this it will make the initial mastering of an effect much easier. Not everything works for everyone. Some things just don’t fit into my routine, or just aren’t to my liking. Not every effect can be used in every situation, the squared circle, which is a classic effect can’t be done in an auditorium where the magician is on a lower level than the audience. Folks in the balcony will easily be able to see the loaded items from their vantage point. A dove pan can’t typically be used in the opposite situation, where the audience is much lower than the magician.

Remember, the hardest thing about busking is getting yourself out there. Have fun, go forth and prosper. Start out with smaller crowds if you have to, but go out and perform. Good luck!