Sunday, July 3, 2011

Magic Sans Theatre

At least, good magic is. I’m a harsh critic of those who magic sans theatre… some people are more forgiving, but I just hate to see magic done for the sole purpose of doing magic. Seriously, why even bother? Magic is a branch of theatre. You are excluding the magic of theatre if you don’t make good use of the theatre of magic.

Magic should paint a picture and tell a story… as such, your magic must be motivated! Every single magical thing that you do must have a purpose, a reason. Otherwise, your magic becomes more or less “Look what cool things I can do with these tricky props!”

One of my favourite examples of such a magic act is that of Soma, who is world-renowned for his “Phone Act”. There’s a reason he keeps raking in the awards and prizes. I like to consider his act essentially a one-act play with magic incorporated. It begins with a businessman walking on stage reading a newspaper. Accidentally, he tears his newspaper and, seeming to have an idea, goes with it and tears the paper to shreds. He even drops a couple of pieces by accident. At this point, he does what any person with magical powers would do in this situation… rewinds time and restores the newspaper! Like, literally rewinds time… the music in the background begins to run in reverse, the pieces that fell fly back into his hands, and the paper is restored in a flash. This sets the stage for what’s to come… Soma’s cellphone begins to malfunction in the middle of a phone call, but luckily, there is a payphone right near by. So, Soma begins producing endless amounts of coins to pay for his phone call! I won’t describe the rest of the act, because I’m sure you get the point.

Think about this when designing your magic: Why does your audience care? Magic is NO different than a play… the audience must have reason to invest themselves emotionally in what you’re doing. They have to care. For them to care, you magic must tell a story... and within your story, you, the performer, must be fighting for something. Done properly, the audience will care and invest themselves into wanting to see if you win or lose.

An easy way to design magic in this fashion is to consider the following each time you are constructing a routine or act: “I’m a person. I have a problem. I also happen to have the ability to use magical powers. Considering this, how would I solve my problem?” The best magic comes from a root of problem solving… it’s the bare basics to designing magic that people will care about. Of couse, that’s only Step One… now that you have your problem that needs to be solved, you need to make your audience care about it. That doesn’t come naturally.

It’s not easy… but who ever said it was?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Methods Spectators Have Already Guessed

1. Levitation. "There's a string!"

2. Coin Vanish. "It's up your sleeve!" or "It's in your other hand!"

3. Ambitious Card. "There's two cards there!" and "You just did a double flip!"

4. A Multiple Outs Effect. "Well, you had a one in three chance of getting it!"

5. Thought-of Card Effect. "That's just gotta be the one card EVERYONE thinks of!"

6. Memorized Deck. "That deck is just in Si Stebbins, and all you did was a couple of false shuffles and cuts, then when I picked a card and put it back you just looked for the one card that was displaced from it's usual position from the stack. So OBVIOUS!... Then again, maybe it's in Aronson Stack, I didn't get a good enough look."

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Re-Charge Phase

I haven't been posting often. Why, you ask? Two reasons... Firstly, I have a life. And, secondly, I'm in my "re-charge" phase.

You know how you can love a band's music for the longest time, then suddenly grow sick and tired of it and stop listening to it? But, a few months later, you pick it up again and it sounds just as great as it did before? Yeah, that's me right now. Only not with music, with magic.

I figure I've been working hard for 10 years on this stuff and I need and deserve a break. I put down the pasteboards for a while, ever since the beginning of February really, and haven't picked them up since. When will I get back in the game? Hard to tell. All I know is that I'm going to pitch myself to some restaurants in the next week or two and hopefully land a table-hopping gig. At that point, I'll be back full-force. Until then, I consider this a much-needed break.

I've done a lot in this break. I directed my first ever play... one I wrote in fact. Ended up landing the show in the Sear Ontario Drama Festival, had an excellent premiere performance, and ended up winning The Award of Excellence for my Writing and Direction. Also been frequently attending rehearsals for the musical Grease, which I have the good fortune of being in the cast of, as well as working with my high school's amazing Glee Club, belting out the tenor section of our four-part harmonies on a constant basis. So yeah, I've been a busy bee.

Magic's not dead to me. Just gotta re-charge those batteries. Then I'll be back studying, practicing, and generally getting pissed off at the ignorance of some people in our community.

Friday, February 25, 2011


Here's a list I've compiled of completely useless, meaningless habits magicians have adopted over the ages.

WHY do magicians always riffle the deck with the tension of breaking a bird's neck?

WHY do magicians have the annoying habit of looking smugly into the audience after doing something impressive? We get it, you're good and you know it.

WHY do magicians make stupid noises with their mouths when something magical happens? Particularly smacking their lips or cracking their tongue when something vanishes.

WHY do magicians like to show off crazy finger maneuvers and exercises during their acts? Combine this with the smug look into the audience thing and you've got the perfect was to non-verbally say "I'm really amazing at pleasuring, meet me at the stage door after the show if you're single, hot, and female"

Here's a full WHY story: I once saw a young magician who spent 5 damn minutes (no exaggeration) pulling random shit out of a Square Circle Production prop. Silks, bottles, coins, you name it. Nothing was justified... not to mention the kid had the absolute worst magic soundtrack I've ever heard. At one point, he produced a length of rope from the Square Circle, and in displaying it briefly lifted it to his throat with both hands and, for a split second, pretended to strangle himself with it. It was the whole works too... bulging eye balls, tongue stuck out at the side... had he started to turn blue I would have jumped up to rescue the poor lad from committing suicide on account of his awful magic act.

WHY DID YOU DO THIS? Doing stupid things like wiping your mouth with silks you produce and strangling yourself with rope serves NO DRAMATIC PURPOSE WHATSOEVER. It's not clever, interesting, or funny... just confusing. Everything you do in an act or even just an effect must be motivated. The whole act I described served no purpose... the magician produced a random assortment of pointless items, none of which were clever in the slightest. If you're going to produce objects for no reason, at least connect them logically.

Although, the most powerful theatrical use of making something vanish or appear in terms of justification is, simply, purpose! Produce things because you NEED them. Vanish things that you no longer need or want. Consider Soma... he has a positively brilliant, award winning act involving, primarily, the need to make a phone call. At first, all he has for himself is a payphone. So, for good reason, he produces coins! Coins to pay for the phone call! Logical and justified. Earlier on in this same act, he restores a torn newspaper. Not just for the sake of doing a magic trick like many, but because he accidentally tore it and wants it back in one piece!

So, in constructing an effect or act as a magician, consider this: "You have a real, human, logical problem. If you could do magic, how would you solve the problem?". Ask yourself this question and you'll have the key to creating connecting, strong, interesting, justified magic.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The "Taking Things Too Seriously" Phase

As magicians, and even just as performers and artists in general, we all go through what I like to call the "Taking Things Too Seriously" phase. You've either been there, or currently are there... or even approaching it. Let's assess exactly what this phase is and why it's bad.

In middle school, and the first year of high school, I had my "Taking Things Too Seriously" phase... I was the serious, passionate sleight of hand artist. And I still am.... but with one big difference. I cared too much.

In this phase, you take yourself too seriously, take your effort too seriously, and take the craft in general too seriously. Although this seems like a positive attribute for an artist, it is the opposite. When I went through this phase, there was a difference in the way people looked at me. Audiences, peers at school, they all respected me... but they didn't LIKE ME.

Not to say that they disliked me, but I gave them no reason to feel anything but neutral toward me because, simply put, I wasn't real. Nobody knew who I really was because it was always about the magic. Everybody knew Michael Kras, but nobody knew Michael.

Word to the wise: LOOSEN UP! Stop caring so much. When I finally got over myself, got the 12 inch magic wand out of my ass and started being who I really was, people liked me. Now, everybody knows Michael Kras, the entertainer, and Michael, they laid-back, playful guy who loves horror movies, golfing, music, acting, singing, and just being with people. Now, all the people who thought of me as nothing more than a magician are all my friends.

Learn to laugh at yourself... learn to laugh at your craft. Learn to not take it so seriously. I don't mean stop caring and completely disregard magic as an art by spitting on it's name, but don't cradle your cards everywhere you go. That was me 4 years ago, and it was awful. I spent time with people at school and I built positive relationships with my peers, but these weren't the kind of people who would call me after school and meet up with me at Starbucks. I knew plenty of friendly people, but few friends.

Realize magic isn't the end-all passion of your life. Realize you probably aren't going to become the next big sleight of hand superstar. Just relax, and enjoy the ride. The more you push your magic, the less good it will do for you in many aspects of life... don't push magic, let magic push you.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Magic Clubs

Ahh the magic club... that one time of month that we get to kick back with a bunch of like-minded individuals and spend the night making smug attempts to fool each other.

Let's not kid ourselves here. That really is what magic clubs are... it's where a bunch of magical entertainers congregate and each magician sets out to prove to all of the other club members why he is better than them. Apparently, fooling a room of magicians with boring, procedural magic designed to fool magicians is what seperates the men from the boys. Here's how a standard night at your typical magic club will occur:

7:30 to 8:00- Magicians meet in the church recreational center or house basement they do every month and begin idle chatter about how much they're gonna "fool the boys tonight".

8:00 to 8:15- The club president, a stocky man in a tucked-in polo shirt, gathers everyone and asks them to seat themselves. A bunch of announcements and bits of news are made, which nobody is listening to as they all sit and focus on remembering the convulted counting and dealing procedure of the routine they will leap up and perform later on.

8:15 to 8:30- News wraps up. All of the members in the room attempt to hide their excitement by smugly raising their hands (fast but not too fast) when the president asks who among them would like to perform their miracle first.

8:30 to 8:35- Steve Johnson performs his version of the 21 Card trick using a full deck memorized stack, a deck switch, a shiner, a double backer, a double facer, and a PK ring. The magicians in the room applaud, attempting to look unimpressed when in reality they are baffled by the pointless and ridiculous method.

8:35 to 9:00- Al Brennan takes the stage and performs an overlong and uninteresting set consisting of The Vanishing Bandana, Strat-o-sphere, and The Egg Bag, all the while actually thinking he's being totally entertaining. The members all check their watches in anticipation of break time, but find all of them have been stolen by Steve Johnson who had subtly hooked a pull through everyone's watches during his competition-level card routine from before.

9:00 to 9:30- Break time. Cheap coffee brewed in the church kitchen by one of the magician's wives is served with the Krispy Kremes left over from last month's meeting. While the members indulge in their tasty diaretic treats, they huddle in small groups and discuss methods for Steve Johnson's twist on the old card classic. They finally reach a mutual method solution and decide they are correct. This is all to help them sleep at night.

9:30 to 10:00- The members guzzle the rest of their now-lukewarm coffee as they are called back to their seats. One of the members talks on magic theory that all of the other members gush over except for that one seasoned professional the club has, who stands in the corner behind all of the seats of amateur hobbyists and relishes in his knowledge and excellence (without verbalizing it of course, that would be arrogant). Steve Johnson smacks himself repeatedly in the forehead, now realizing he could have just fooled these people with Six Card Repeat or something.

10:00pm to 10:15pm- Members congratulate themselves on another successful meeting and files out into the church parking lot, climbing into their cars with the MAGIC4U and MAG1C1AN license plates and puttering off to their bungalows to begin working on their show-stopper for next month's meeting.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Goshpel Illushionshs Part TWO!

My friend gave this to me the other day. It's a set of those optical illusion boomerangs. You know the ones... those curved piece of cardboard that, while identical in size, when held next to each other appear to be quite different in size. That's not the fun part. The fun part is what's printed on the back. It really does speak for itself.

"Our eyes are often fooled by optical illusions. Speaking of eyes... would you sell one eye for $1 Million? How about both eyes for $20 Million? No one in their right mind would. Your eyes are priceless, yet they are merely the windows of your soul. Jesus said that your eyes are worth nothing compared to the value of your soul. If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes and being cast into Hell fire"

You really couldn't make this stuff up. But wait! There's more!

"There is nothing as important as your salvation. So, do YOU think you'll go to Heaven when you die?"

Deep stuff. But it's far from over.

"Check yourself by going through the Ten Commandments. How many lies have you told in your life? Have you ever stolen, committed adultery, or murdered someone? Have you loved God above all else? Be Honest. You know you are guilty, and on Judgement Day, you will therefore end up in Hell."

I'm starting to get scared. Dare I continue?

"Jesus showed how much God loves us by dying on the cross to take our punishment, and then rising from the dead. Today, repent, confess and turn from your sin, and trust in Jesus Christ. Then read the Bible daily, and obey it"

Yes master! Well, that's all they say, but it's enough. I'm packing to move to a convent now, so until next time... assuming that convents have wireless internet.