We’re back!

As Luminato, Toronto’s festival of creativity and the arts, has just announced, we will be part of the Festival’s Masters of Magic series June 10-18th.

As the Artistic Director of Magicana, I program the magic for the Festival. Magicana will be presenting three distinct programs in June: Natural Magick, Vodavil and Eric Mead: Toast of the Town.  Magicana will also be presenting its community outreach program, My Magic Hands, at Holland-Bloorview Kid’s Rehabilitation Hospital, and at Queen Victoria Public School.

I’ll be discussing the ins and outs of the various shows over the coming weeks. At this stage, if you love magic, Toronto is the place to be between June 10-18th.

Tickets will go on sale in Mid-April. We will be giving an advance purchase option to subscribers, so make sure that you join the Magicana eList to receive word.

Piff Paff Poof

Who says tricks are for kids?  Well, just about everybody.

There are few places, however, where kids can see, let alone participate in, a great magic show.  That is, until now.

If you are anywhere near Toronto during the March Break (March 14-19) or each remaining weekend of this month, bring your family, or children, or friends of your family to see Piff, Paff, Poof! – an extravaganza of magic for the young at heart.

Magicana, where I serve as Artistic Director, in association with the Lower Ossington Theatre, is presenting this wonderful outing of magic for children ages 5 – 12.

The name “Piff Paff Poof!”, by the way, was inspired by both the magic words said by magicians of long ago as well as the name of a magic convention that was held in Fort Erie, Ontario in the 1930s.

The show features the magic of Julie Eng, a special guest performer, and her magic bunny – Poof!  Actually, Poof claims in his biography that he comes from a long line of bunnies, each of which adopted a magician at an early age. Poof’s magician is, of course, Julie.

Whichever came first – the Poof or the Eng – is irrelevant as together they make some wonderful magic. David Rayfield has designed a delightful set and, although the show is staged for children, there is something in it for everyone.  Julie has even been known to levitate a mom or two!

Don’t take my word for it.  Listen to the critics. Much to my surprise – and to their credit – Eye Weekly appeared on the scene unannounced to conduct exit surveys from those who matter most – the children who emerge from the theatre after witnessing a performance. Children have no filters.  They tell it like it is; they loved it.

And, you will too!

 

 

Yesno

Just over a year ago I received an email from Brian Johnson, film critic for Macleans magazine and, as I was to discover, a filmmaker in his own right.

 He asked if I would help bring some magic to a short film he was creating based on the poetry of Dennis Lee.

I love collaborating with other artists because it is always such a learning experience.  This was no exception. It was a particularly challenging shoot simply because, while Brian had created a special deck of cards for me to manipulate, one with visual imagery inspired by the poetry, he wanted me to improvise the magic during the filming.

Adding to the challenge was that we had a short window in which to film because he wanted to capture the magic with natural light, at dusk, just before nightfall.

Well, I finally get a chance to see the film, YesNo, this Sunday as it is will receive its official screening as part of the Toronto International Film Festival as part of the TIFF Shortcuts Canada Programme.  You’ll see from the listing that the film features narration by a stellar cast of Canadian authors, poets and musicians including Leonard Cohen, Margaret Attwood, Michael Ondaatje, and Karen Solie.

Although Brian offered to send me a copy of the film prior to the official screening, I declined the offer because I wanted to see it initially as it was meant to be seen: on a large screen in a theatre with hundreds of other people.

The film will also be screened at the Atlantic Film Festival, the Woodstock Film Festival, and the Vancouver Film Festival.

Behind the Curtain

Although space at 31 Faces North is limited, we have always tried to expand the reach of the conference by helping Magicana stage lectures and workshops for those locally with a passion for magic. These workshops and lectures are by performers who rarely, if ever, lecture or perform in these parts.

This year there are three!

First up is Rafael Benatar with both a workshop – limited to ten people – and the first half of a lecture double-bill. I’ve only met Rafael once, and that was a decade ago, but I have followed his creative output closely. Rafael, although from Venezuela, is of the Spanish-school, being a close-confidant of Arturo Ascanio and, of course, Juan Tamariz, two of the most influential magicians of the past quarter century. Rafael travels the world, and by doing so, sees and hears the latest wonders, all of which inform his own work. Rafael is also a great communicator. Fluent in several languages, he knows how to explain both the essence and the detail required for creating and performing superb sleight-of-hand.

Gaëtan Bloom is the second. I have known Gaëtan since the mid-1980s, and have seen him perform and lecture both here and abroad. I have invited him every year to 31 Faces North, and I am ecstatic that he has finally found the time to join us. It has been ten years since his last visit to Toronto, and for someone like Gaëtan, that was a million ideas ago! So, I’m pleased that we have the opportunity to catch up on his fertile imagination. Gaëtan is not only a superb inventor of subtle secrets, but he is also one of the most entertaining performers – one whose magic is the high watermark of visual deception.

Rafael and Gaëtan will be presenting a double-bill of magic in Montreal on August 14 and in Toronto on August 18. Rafael is also doing an intensive card workshop in each city.

Jim Steinmeyer is the third. As an author, inventor, magic historian and creative consultant, Jim has touched the lives of all of us interested in the art of magic. His lectures are few and far between, and I have traveled far to see and hear him in action: Louisville, Chicago, Los Angeles and London. For those in Toronto with a passion for magic, you now you have the chance to listen and learn from him in your own backyard.  It doesn’t get much better than that!

31 Faces North

I shouldn’t complain, although I do: too many projects, and all of them interesting.

As soon as the Masters of Magic Series finished – it closed the Luminato Festival – I was on an airplane to perform in St. John’s, Newfoundland.  It was my first visit to the Rock, but one that was all too short.  I was on another plane the next day to do a show that night in beautiful Banff, Alberta.  Although not coast-to-coast, something I’ve done before – a morning keynote presentation in Boston, an afternoon keynote in Vancouver and then back to Toronto for the evening – it was a great reminder of the size, beauty and diversity of the country. Signal Hill and the Banff Springs are both as majestic as the mountain ranges on which they are situated.

I am now, however, on to another project – 31 Faces North.  This is an invitation-only assembly of 40 of the world’s premier performers of sleight-of-hand.  This will be our 8th year co-hosting the conference with Allan Slaight, the Canadian media mogul and magician.

I’ve certainly spoken or performed at hundreds of conferences over the course of my career. 31 Faces North, however, is unique. Allan and I were inspired to host the conference by the late P. Howard Lyons. Howard was a prominent accountant by trade, but one with a passion for jazz, science fiction and magic. Allan and I first met some thirty years ago at Howard’s conference, “The Ibidem Event”.  The conference was named after an avant-garde magic magazine – yes, there was such a thing – that Howard published called Ibidem. In addition to the eclectic and thought-provoking magic, each magazine featured a cover created and individually silk-screened by Howard’s wife, Pat Patterson. Howard died in 1987.

Howard’s idea for a conference was to have three gourmet meals a day, and an open bar for four consecutive days, and minimal scheduled events. Delegates would just sit around, eat, drink and share knowledge. The event was staged at the Oban Inn at Niagara-on-the-Lake, and the delegates took over the entire inn. I was invited when I was quite young because Howard believed that it was important to broker knowledge. It certainly changed my life as I met many people there who not only became fast friends, but who also mentored me personally and professionally.

Well, fast forward to 2002 when Allan and I were discussing Howard, and the “Ibidem Event”. It was time, we thought, to resurrect the concept. Although many in the magic community believe we called the event 31 Faces North in honor of Howard and Allan’s magical muse Stewart James, and Stewart’s legendary feat 51 Faces North, the truth is that Allan and I set up chairs in the room and discovered that it could comfortably accommodate 31 people.  As all of the chairs were facing north, the name became 31 Faces North. The play on Stewart’s title was just a lovely coincidence.

We expanded the facility in the intervening years, and now accommodate about 40 attendees. The spirit, however, remains the same.  It is four days of the world’s best magicians – and a handful of the next generation – hanging around, sharing sustenance and secrets, and all for the love of magic.

Thinking In Person

As the Artistic Director responsible for programming the Masters of Magic series for Luminato, I have provided the Festival with notes for the media on why I invited Juan Tamariz, Mac King, Max Maven and Bob Sheets to Toronto.

In other words, what makes these performers so special? For now, let’s focus on Max Maven.

Max Maven’s list of credits is so broad, and so deep, that even a short listing seems obnoxious. He has performed throughout the world, been a featured performer on scores of television programs, and has created and hosted television series for a variety of networks. He has hosted eight network specials in Japan – performing in Japanese – designed an interactive museum exhibition and, of course, performed before live audiences for decades.

With a lifelong passion for conjuring and kindred accomplishments, Max has invented the modus operandi for more magic and mind games than probably any other person in the history of this ancient art.

Magic isn’t, however, his only interest. Inspired by Alexander Woollcott, the quick-witted and intellectual dominatrix of the Algonquin Round Table, Max wanted to become, like Woollcott, a “fabulous monster”.

So Max combined his interest in magic, the paranormal, and human psychology to become a globetrotting mindreader – but one who, like Woollcott, has an acerbic wit.

His full-evening show – Thinking In Person – reflects his myriad of interests. Max takes the audience on a journey. He ushers the audience into his mind as he takes his own trip through theirs.

Now, there is much talk in theatre about the need to break down the fourth wall. Most stage performers, however, are terrified of interacting with the audience in an unscripted manner.

What makes Max’s performances so rewarding is that he not only takes on the risk of interacting with his audience, but he actually embraces it. It can create tension for all concerned. And, that is a good thing.

Join us on June 18, 2010 for Max Maven’s Thinking In Person – the more minds, the merrier.

More Magic!

I’m pleased to report that the Masters of Magic series at Luminato has more than just stage and street performances by Juan Tamariz, Mac King, Max Maven and Bob Sheets. The Festival is also screening The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam, a film by Ann Marie Fleming. I am honored to have played a bit part in both the making of the film, and its forthcoming screening at the Festival.

The film is about Ann Marie’s search for information about her great-grandfather, Long Tack Sam. Ann Marie describes Sam as, “The Devilishly Handsome Globe-Hopping Chinese Vaudevillian Magician and Acrobat”. And that he was.

I first met Ann Marie in 1997 when I was performing The Conjuror at the Royal Ontario Museum. She introduced herself as a friend of the filmmaker Ron Mann, a mutual acquaintance, and asked if I had ever heard the name “Long Tack Sam”. Much to her surprise, I had. She then showed me one Sam’s scrapbooks from “Scala”. I was able to put in her touch with many other magicians who helped her piece together the life of this remarkable performer. I then watched her over the course of the next few years assemble the story, and the film. Quite a journey! Although the film had its official premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2003, the actual world premiere took place a few days earlier, at 31 Faces North in Toronto, a gathering of magicians that I co-hosted with Magicana, and Allan Slaight. Several of the magicians featured in Ann Marie’s film were in attendance. It was a great evening.

Luminato is a curated Festival, that is, the programming is developed along lines envisioned by an artistic director, in this case, Chris Lorway. This year, Chris has tabled three broad themes: East/West, Artist Rights, and Divas. It was easy to suggest Ann Marie’s film be included because it deals with, in its own way, all three. You can see The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam for yourself – and at no charge – at the theatre at the National Film Board on June 20 at 2:30 PM.

I am also participating in a public form about rights in the arts. The forum, moderated by Chris Lorway, takes place at the Roots Store at 100 Bloor Street West on June 16 at 12:30 PM.  I have always been interested in this topic and I believe that the history of magic as a performing art offers insight into the relationship between artists and creative works.

Coincidentally, I was recently sent a copy of Law and Magic, a collection of essays published by Carolina Academic Press, to review. One of the essays, “Secrets Revealed: Protecting Magicians’s Intellectual Property without Law” generated a lot of press, including from The Economist, prior to its publication in this book. The paper discusses, among other things, how the magic community has developed a set of informal norms and sanctions to protect their intellectual property.

I read the paper at a draft stage when the author, Jacob Loshin, was seeking comments. His notion, however, of how magicians protect their secrets, and their ability to do so, was completely off the mark. It still is. This is because he makes the classic mistake of assuming that, because he once dabbled in magic, and was a member of a magic society – a hobby club, really – that he has an insider’s understanding of the profession. He doesn’t.  It certainly sounds good, however.

As for the third theme – Divas – need I say anything more?

 

We’re back!

Blogging is a lot like dieting: one starts with the best of intentions but it is easy to fall off the track. There are simply too many distractions.

Fortunately for me, it wasn’t the chocolate cake. We’ve just been busy with many projects.

We’ve been working with the fine cast and crew at the Shaw Festival to develop a new illusion for A Touch of Venus, a musical written by Kurt Weil, Ogden Nash and S.J. Perelman. To crib from an old Penn & Teller testimonial – one that I believe they wrote about themselves – the musical can best be described as zany, brainy, marvelous and mad.  I don’t want to spoil the illusion by giving you too much information. Suffice to say, the team put lots of time into it, more than most people would ever imagine, which is the case with all great magic, and the results show. They have created a wonderful grace note to a fun-filled theatrical outing.

We’re also just back from Chicago where we hosted, as Artistic Director of Magicana, the 41st Annual Magic Collectors Weekend. Although we have produced many shows and conferences over the years, this was our first for the Magic Collectors Association. Fortunately, we had a crackerjack team, led by Julie Eng, Executive Director of Magicana, ensure that everything ran smoothly. There were many highlights – the presentation by Guests of Honor George Daily and Mike Caveney on their acquisition of Egyptian Hall, the presentations by Diego Domingo and Gary Hunt on “finding your man”, and a heartfelt presentation by Walter Blaney of his famous levitation. Walter, now 82, informed the group that he was performing the levitation for the last time. Julie Eng was his floatee. It was a beautiful illusion performed by a real gentleman. All delegates felt enriched by his stories and presence.

Finally, we’re now gearing up for Luminato, Toronto’s festival of creativity and the arts.  As you know, Magicana is producing “Masters of Magic” with Juan Tamariz, Max Maven, Mac King and Bob Sheets. Advance sales have been very strong. So much so, that Juan’s Sunday afternoon show is now going to be performed in English. Originally he was going to perform the first show in Spanish, the second in English, and the third in French. Tickets disappeared so quickly for the English-only performance, however, that the Festival asked for Juan to change the French-language show to a second English-only performance to accommodate the demand.

Many other exciting projects are in the works, and we will report on them shortly.

 

Shhh…It’s a Secret!

As you know from previous postings, we are programming the Masters of Magic series as part of Luminato, Toronto’s superb festival dedicated to creativity and the arts. Tickets go on sale to the general public on April 15th through Ticketmaster.ca.

We’re pleased, however, to offer you the opportunity to purchase your tickets in advance of the general public by using a secret password. No, it’s not “Open Sesame”. The code is “IMAGINE”. Yes, all capital letters.

You can use it anytime from April 5th to 14th to purchase your tickets. Simply visit Ticketmaster.ca to order your tickets and, when prompted for the code word, enter the word IMAGINE.

Just remember, it’s our secret!