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.

Movie Magic

A little magic goes a long way, particularly when you partner with someone who exemplifies creativity. In this case, the partners are Magicana, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) Bell Lightbox, and the magic is the March Break Magic and Movie Camp.

While meeting with representatives from the centre late last year, I suggested that they partner with Magicana to provide a Magic and Movie March Break for kids. Magic and the Movies go back a long way. In fact, the movie business owes a great deal to magicians. Not only did magicians and their magic lantern shows help begat the technology that make motion pictures, but magicians were also pioneer producers and exhibitors of film.

George Méliès, for example, was a magician who purchased the theatre of Robert-Houdin in Paris, located a stone’s throw from the studio of the Lumière Brothers. Méliès soon afterward documented his stage spectacles on film, breaking through barriers of live theatre, creating cinematic special effects, to transport his audiences to exotic locations – including the moon!

Magicians were also amongst the first exhibitors of motion pictures, making them a feature of their traveling stage show. David Devant, the great British conjuror, brought motion pictures to the English Provinces and Carl Hertz, an American by birth, introduced traveling motion picture exhibitions down under – that’s Australia.

I knew that, with its program My Magic Hands, Magicana had a great deal of experience introducing children to the artistic process, empowering them to make decisions, communicate their ideas, and perform. Combine that know-how with the expertise and facilities of the Bell Lightbox Centre, and you create a golden opportunity.

The result was truly magic. The children learned the fundamentals of several magic tricks, how to develop a character, script dialogue and action, practice, rehearse and then, perform. They also learned, courtesy of TIFF, how to storyboard their ideas, pitch a script, shoot the action, edit the material and screen the results for the audience. Not bad for a week’s work!

The program sold-out quickly and the kids had a ball. It’s a programming initiative that I predict will become a perennial. If you have or know of kids that would be interested in participating in this type of program, contact TIFF and let them know that you are interested.



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!



When you wish upon a star

Doug Henning changed my life.  It was while watching his first network television special, broadcast live-live, meaning in real time and not on a tape delay, that I said to myself: “I want to become a magician.”  The year was 1975 and I was fourteen years old.

Now, some thirty-five years later, I have had the chance to repay Doug the favour.  Doug Henning will receive his “star” this weekend on the Canadian Walk of Fame and I have been working behind the scenes for the past several months on the tribute to Doug that will be broadcast to the nation.

Although Doug, sadly, passed away on February 7, 2000 from cancer at age 52, he not only left behind a large body of work – eight NBC television specials, three extended runs on Broadway, a legacy of magic on the Las Vegas strip, and numerous national tours and television appearances – but also he transformed the way that magic was performed by magicians and viewed by the public. You can learn more about Doug’s contributions here.

Fortunately, in creating the tribute to Doug, many friends lent a hand. First up was the late Sid Lorraine. Sid passed away in 1989.  I acquired, however, Sid’s extensive collection of magic from his widow, Rene Johnson, a few years ago.  Sid was very close to Doug, and had been one of his early mentors. Fortunately, Sid had videotape records of most of Doug’s television specials and appearances.

Jerry Goldstein – Doug’s longtime manager – gave me permission to digitize the collection so that I could review all of the television appearances and make some suggestions as to which clips epitomized Doug and his magic. Once we narrowed down the selections, Jerry kindly provided the pertinent excerpts from the master tapes for inclusion in the broadcast.

Richard Kaufman and Stan Allen, of Genii and MAGIC magazines respectively, provided dozens of digital images of Doug and his performances for both the media kit, and the broadcast tribute.

Charles Reynolds and Jim Steinmeyer, both men behind-the-curtain who advised Doug on what to perform and how, offered me their counsel and insight. For that I am grateful.

Keeping this all on track were the people at Magicana (Julie Eng and James Alan), Insight Productions (Aili Suurallik and Joseph Recupero), the Canadian Walk of Fame (Peter Soumalias), as well as Peter Samelson in New York, and Allan and Gary Slaight in Toronto.

Special thanks must also go to Chris Kenner, Homer Liwag and, in particular, David Copperfield, for donating their time and talent in honouring Doug. While Doug blazed the trail for modern magic, David Copperfield has certainly taken it to heights magicians never imagined.

Most of all, we have to thank the many people who voted for Doug to receive his star on the Canadian Walk of Fame. As the organization only recognizes one posthumous recipient per year, it makes Doug’s star that much more special for all who admired and were inspired by him.

Doug’s star will be unveiled on Saturday, October 16th. The broadcast of the ceremonies and celebration will take place on October 20th on Global TV.

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!

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.

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!



Well, it’s official.

Luminato (www.luminato.com), Toronto’s annual ten-day celebration of the arts where the city’s stages, streets, and public spaces are infused with theatre, dance, classical and contemporary music, film, literature, visual arts, and design, will now feature Magic.

As the Artistic Director of Magicana, I have been working closely with Luminato to bring four of the world’s master magicians – Juan Tamariz, Mac King, Max Maven and Bob Sheets – to Toronto as part of the Festival. What a wonderful opportunity, particularly for the public who now has the chance to see these four stellar performers present their work in such a superb setting.

Juan Tamariz will perform his full show three times – first in Spanish (June 17), then in English (June 19) and then in French (June 20), a testament to his extraordinary talent and to the diversity of Toronto, and the Festival. Max Maven presents his one-man theatrical journey – “Thinking In Person”  – Friday evening, June 18th. Mac King will be presenting his full Las Vegas show on Saturday and Sunday afternoon, June 19th and 20th.

All performances by Tamariz, Maven, and King will take place at the Panasonic Theatre.

Tickets will be priced at $35.00 and $45.00, and will go on sale at 10:00 am on April 15th through TicketMaster (call 416-872-1111 or visit www.ticketmaster.ca).

Bob Sheets will be roaming the city, staging impromptu street performances here and there, between the 17th and the 20th.

Additional magic-related events are scheduled, and I’ll comment about the performers, the Festival, and other upcoming events in the coming weeks. I’ll also let you know when the Festival’s full schedule is released so you can plan your time accordingly. It’s worth noting, however, that a lot “just happens”. That is one of the hallmarks of the Festival, to surprise the city and the public with events throughout the dates.

None of this, of course, would be possible without the vision of the Festival’s organizers, and its extensive network of sponsors, L’Oréal being the lead sponsor. The magic component was made possible by the generous support of the Slaight Family through Luminato’s SuperNova Program Development Fund. Juan Tamariz’ performance is supported by The Consulate General of Spain.

So, block off two sets of dates.

The first is April 15th. You will want to book your tickets on the day they go sale to avoid disappointment. Second, June 11 to the 20th to spend time in Toronto sampling some of the very the best the world as to offer.

Ignite the Imagination

Some of you may know that I also serve as the Artistic Director of Magicana, a performing arts organization and registered charity that I co-founded with Patrick Watson and Daniel Zuckerbrot almost ten years ago.

One of my roles – a recent one – is acting as the editor and publisher of Magicol, a quarterly journal that explores the history of magic, and the personalities, apparatus and ephemera that are its foundation. Magicol was first published in August 1950. It is a privilege for me to join the ranks as one of its editors.

The first issue under my watch is now being mailed to subscribers. The cover features a painting of the great Compars Herrmann (1816-1887), provided to us courtesy of the Belvedere Museum and Magic Christian, both residents of Vienna. I would like to thank both of them for sharing with us this stunning portrait of one of magic’s greatest practitioners.

Articles include a walking magic tour of Chicago by William Pack; observations on Dai Vernon by his wife, Jeanne Verner; and a scholarly discussion regarding the burning of Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft by Clay Shevlin. There are, of course, conference reports, books reviews, and additional commentary.

The production of Magicol also gave me the opportunity of working with Michael Albright. Michael is a lifelong student of magic. Fortunately for us, however, he is also a designer of international renown. His recent work includes redesigning the media pages for the BBC, promotions for Oprah Winfrey, and American Idol. Michael and I have collaborated on several publications including Revelation, Spins and Needles, and How Gamblers Win. I have supplied Michael with the text and images for five other publications for future release. With any luck – and provided I don’t exhaust his good graces – three of them will be released this calendar year.

In the interim, consider subscribing to Magicol. It was assembled, to paraphrase the great American magician Harry Kellar, to feed the mind with mystery and ignite the imagination.

You won’t be disappointed.