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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » The March 2006 entrée: Tim Ellis & Sue-Anne Webster » » Wrestling with History (Perspective and Performance) » » TOPIC IS LOCKED (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

Vince Hancock
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Bear Lake, Michigan
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Dear Mr. Ellis and Ms. Webster,

Thanks very much for your time and for doing this Q & A session!

I very much enjoyed your posts and article about wrestling as a performance art, how your Halloween show developed its Igor character, and the MagicGames improv & critique work.

I'd like to get your thoughts specifically on historical perspective and magic performance.

Unlike music, theater or art students--who all get a smattering of history somewhere along the line--magic students seem to be on their own if they want to develop their appreciation and perspective. Part of this, I imagine, is because formal training in magic is hard to come by or expensive. So there's no instructor to insist on this point.

The other arts abound with recordings (or even picture-books) that clearly demonstrate the potential of each art form. With these artifacts, a student can see a wide variety of "solutions" accomplished by each performer. In theater and film, we can see how Olivier, Jacobi and Branagh approached Hamlet. If we're lucky enough to have a theatrical company in town, we can see local actors and directors take a stab at the play.

So--what resources would you recommend for students who want to see, specifically, magic's potential? (Until touring shows come back into fashion, seeing live performance is currently difficult.)

Secondly, which performers (magical or otherwise) have helped you figure out what can be achieved during performance?

All the best,

Vince Hancock
Tim Ellis
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Melbourne, Australia
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Excellent question Vince! I'll give my comments, then I know Sue-Anne has some interesting thoughts in this direction too.

When I started learning magic, like many others, it was from a magic set. The emphasis was on the tricks themselves. Next I got some books from the library and and, they tended to be "trick books". Every now and again I'd come across a book with a picture or two of a long passed magician with a little about his career and I'd pour over that section.

Eventually, I joined a magic club and hooked up with Lyndsay Rietschel and 'The Young Magicians' group. With the club, it was all about the tricks. With Lyndsay, it was all about the performance. But still there was no history.

As you have correctly pointed out, the magician really is left on his or her own to seek out the history of magic. Over the years there has been so much emphasis placed on the tricks, that the history of the art (and the performance of it too) appears almost inconsequential.

Even with the abundance of resource material now available on DVD, only a very small percentage is performance. Sure, there are a lot of 'performances' of effects in studios for well-behaving crowds, but when do you get to see the performer in a "real world" situation? These DVDs need to be shot because they will form part of the history of the art in the future.

When 'European Nights' came out on video years ago (courtesy of fellow Aussie Ian Baxter) I have no idea how many times I watched Channing Pollock's act over and over again. It was a real privilege to see a master in action. I had no desire at all to see him explaining where to put the birds and how to steal them. The real lessons were in his performance.

That's why we insisted on filming the 'trick' portions of our DVDs in "real world" situations. We had Ben Whimpey and his team follow us around to dozens of different gigs: strolling shows, cocktail parties, stage shows, dinners, restaurants, stand up gigs etc. Magicians can see each other perform live at conventions and lectures, but to see a fellow perform in front of a "real" audience teaches you so much more about magic.

So first of all, I'd suggest that students seek out DVDs of real performances of the "old masters" and avoid the "filmed for video" pieces that are so prolific at the moment. Even watching a Criss Angel special (and personally, I think the guy is a genius) can give you a false sense of what is possible unless you happen to be performing for cameras instead of living breathing people. There was a great DVD available awhile ago featuring footage of Houdini, Blackstone and many others. It is definitely worth getting. Another I highly recommend is 'The Story of Magic' which really would be essential viewing for students if I was constructing a Magic Course.

You can get it here:;n=130

The Complete Idiots Guide to Magic by Tom Ogden is a book which is virtually a course in magic itself. Tom takes a holistic approach to magic touching on history, language, ethics and even etiquette for magicians. It's truly a wonderful teaching aid:

Vince, I think you've touched on an interesting area though, because many younger students of magic don't know anything BC (before Criss). I think better crediting on magic trick instructions will help open their eyes to the past masters.

Oh, and I'd recommend that students, in their "free time" read books like 'Carter Beats The Devil' and 'Hiding the Elephant'. Exciting books about magic's history that really bring the past back to life and make you wish you were there. They really open your eyes up to so many more possibilities.

(Actually - CRAIG MITCHELL of the College of Magic has been cruising about in here - he should have some interesting things to say about this topic too).

Now, once students start to get serious about magic... then we get into the fun books! Smile

TO YOUR SECOND QUESTION: Performers who have helped me figure out what can be achieved.

LYNDSAY RIETSCHEL - he taught me everything I could possibly need to know about showmanship. From how to walk on to stage, to how to fill in time when another act isn't ready. How to use a microphone and how to avoid being upstaged. How to treat a volunteer and how to project my voice. The list goes on... so many things that no-one teaches anymore. Actually, no-one was teaching in back in the 70's either - that's why he started up 'The Young Magicians'.

TOM OGDEN - Me and my "crew" used to haunt the local Comedy Club and thought we were pretty good. On one of Tom's visits down under we got him to work the club and he blew the roof off the place. We realised... we knew NOTHING! We hadn't even begun to tap into the potential of comedy magic.

JEFF HOBSON - Watching him work night after night in another Comedy Club here in Melbourne was a lesson not only in timing and routining, but in how much you can get away with if you develop a clearly defined character. Plus, it showed how much the audience appreciates a touch of style.

PENN & TELLER - Intellectual magic. Magic with a message. Even if you don't agree with the message they present, they present it very well and show how to treat your audience as intellectual equals and not children. I think some trade show magicians and gospel magicians can really learn from the way Penn & Teller flatter the audience's taste, allowing the audience to relax and compliment themselves for being a part of the "in-crowd", then start sliding the messages across one by one.

LEE EUN-GYEOL - For just being such a darn nice guy on and off stage!!! What a lesson in performance. If the audience LIKES you, you can do anything! And the audience LOVES Eun-Gyeol because he genuinely LOVES them.

TOMMY WONDER - Sheer artistry and attention to detail. Dedication to the art. Watching Tommy is like watching an act from the golden age of magic.

TOPAS - I first saw Topas do his Sunglasses act at FISM in 1991. It stood out as modern, inventive and exciting magic. I still marvel at his creativity and he's one of the best MagicSports players I've ever seen!

THE FLICKING FINGERS - I need to include these guys as a group because seeing them in action for the first time in Dresden when they did their lecture blew my mind. I still remember going to the bar that night and trying to chat with them even though I had nothing to say except "You guys were great!" Then, seeing Thomas Fraps make a reference to my rap during their competition act left me walking on air the rest of the week. I LOVE spending time with the Fingers (and they are touring the USA soon - DO NOT MISS THEM!!!!)

DAVID Copperfield - Everyone has been influenced by Copperfield. (Just look at my early pictures and you'll see I adopted his hair!) He really revolutionised magic and gave it a huge shot in the arm. I even tried making up my own magical vignettes and started holding my tricks together with stories for awhile. (Ask Tom Ogden about the routine I did at The Magic Castle back in 1989).

DAVID BLAINE - He took the focus off the magician and put it on to the reaction. A brilliant idea. He also has the knack of choosing incredibly strong pieces. His character, as well defined as it is, does prevent him from contact with his audience. He floats in, performs, then he's gone (like that guy from the Kung Fu TV series), you never really get the chance to find out who he is.

CRISS ANGEL - The polar opposite of Blaine. Through his reality-style TV series we learn about him, his family, his team, his lifestyle. Even when he's being 'The Mind Freak' we know he's just a really nice guy, pretending. Playing the part of a magician. He also taught me how to make a TV special that looks great, but actually lessens the magical impact.

CYRIL - Cyril, on the other hand, shows how to make TV magic that is boring TV but GREAT magic. That's why Cyril's clips are all over the internet. People assume a lot of Angel stuff is camera tricks, but Cyril simply uses a single shot with an insert box and totally fools you. I also LOVE the fact that Cyril is keeping his secrets, secret!

DERREN BROWN - Derren is another guy who fools magicians and keeps it to himself. I REALLY appreciate that. Derren Brown's TV magic is astonishing stuff. He is combining so many different methods to achieve an effect is like watching a brilliant orchestra conductor. I love the way Derren thinks about magic, the way he has created his character, the way he writes and I'd love to see him in action live one day. (Yet weirdly, both Brown and Angel's TV series bombed in the ratings here in Australia and were each cancelled after three episodes).

ALI BONGO - I first saw Ali Bongo in 1978 at the first Australian Magic Convention I attended. He was here with David Nixon (both David Nixon and Paul Daniels have been very influential on me through their TV shows which were shown nightly in Australia for many years) but to me, Ali was the star. His show was beyond high energy, and his simple solutions to magical problems were genius. I was beyond thrilled to spend time with Ali on the FISM Jury in 2003. Every day I got to see more and more of his encyclopedic knowledge of magic... he is a national living treasure.

DAVID WILLIAMSON - The only man who can compete with Ali's craziness. From seeing him in 1991 at FISM (with the infamous "David! David!" episode) I've appreciated what a brilliant mind and natural ability for performing this man has. So many times when I'm performing I find myselfthinking "What Would David Do?"

MAX MAVEN - His writing has influenced me as much as his creation of an imortal character. I really devour his writings about the theory and the art of magic. Though, I must say, I'm not a follower of the protocols. Smile

PETER REVEEN - He has shown me that dedication and persistence are the key to achieving any goal. Other men who had to go what he went through as a performer in Australia would have quit long ago. He showed me that there will always be people who are jealous of your success and will seek to bring you down in any way they can. But rise above them. Success is the best revenge.

There are many, many other magicians who have helped me in many, many other ways. But I've just realised how long this answer has gotten so I apologise in advance to those who I know I've forgotten to mention! Having said that, I need to mention just a few more, some of my fellow Aussie magis, and my non-magic influences...

HARRY HOUDIDN'T - Adrian Kebbe is a brilliant comedy magician who came onto the comedy club scene out of the blue by studying, taking comedy classes, and showing a determination that none of us had! No wonder he succeeded! Now he's our minister, and a very loving shepherd to his flock.

ANDREW GILL - Andrew joined me in the running of Magic Week and though he was learning from me, I have always been learning from him. My focus was always on "the show" whereas he concentrated on "the client". Who do you think has changed there ways now!

ENZO FICCO - aka Al Cappuccino, the magical gangster. I've known Enzo forever and worked with him on his act - almost weekly at times. I love working with other performers like an "act doctor" but I have a particularly good time with Enzo because he allows me to "paint" on his canvas. He's willing to take risks with me and when I watch what we've designed together performed on stage it's an amazing feeling.

MAT UNWIN - Mat has truly become an integral part of Magic Unlimited. Director, stage manager, confidante, Igor and Mr Onion. He's an all round renaissance kind of a guy - and he's not afraid to tell me when I've made an idiot of myself, and I really appreciate that!

Again, so many other people here downunder who have influenced me, all the Magic Night people and the WLMS team, Tammii & Tim, so many others... to an extent, I think you learn from every performer you see. But the ones I'm singling out have taught me an awful lot!

FINALLY - non-magic:

MONTY PYTHON - They taught me all about exploring the boundaries of humour and how not to be afraid of being silly and stupid.

WEIRD AL YANKOVIC - A genius who has introduced me to parody.

Michael BARRYMORE - An all round variety entertainer. The ultimate showman. For all his on stage brilliance he has an equal amount of tragedy off stage.

STEVE IRWIN - He taught me that if you love something strongly enough, that love can be transferred to your audience. His enthusiasm is truly infectious.

WWE - The wrestlers - but you can read all about that in another thread.

I think I need a vegemite sandwich!
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