Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Things Magicians Should Stop Saying: Part 1

"This is the oldest trick in magic"

"This is the world's fastest trick"


"...So, it only makes sense that..."


"I'll just sprinkle my hand with some woofle dust"

"The Jack of Spades! That's a very ambitious card. It loves to be on top!"

"See this? It's a piece of nothing. But with a rub, this piece of nothing becomes a coin!"

"Name a number from one to six. Five? We'll spell it... F-I-V-E. We've arrived on Red! Fair choice, right?"

"Red cards and black cards are like oil and water... they can't mix!"

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Hand Care

Let's create a scenario shall we? You're performing your star quality magic for a few people surrounding you. You`re the center of attention. Things are going well, your magic is strong, your sleights are imperceptible... but your spectators barely take notice. They look beyond the magic, beyond your finger-fliging, and just see this:

Nice visual eh?

It's astonishing how many magicians I see who have the ugliest hands imaginable. This is even more frequent amongst teen magicians, many of which who, let's face it, couldn't care less about hand care. And that's a problem.

As magicians, our hands are our number one asset. They are what the spectator will be staring at 90% of the time you're performing. So, why go out there with Crypt Keeper Claws? Nobody likes to see it. For some of the more OCD spectators you may encounter, it could ruin their experience. We want to create an attractive, pleasing image with our magic... the way we dress, the way we handle our props, the way we speak, the way we carry ourselves. Having hands that are cracked to the point of bleeding isn't helping.

The thing about hand care is that it's so EASY... and it's one thing I happen to know a fair bit about. I'm probably one of the few teenaged guys out there that has bottles of Hand Lotion on his dresser and actually uses them for their intended purpose. Let's go over a few tips.

First of all, wear gloves in cold weather. I know this is a given but many people neglect this simple precaution. Your hands will dry up in no time if you leave them to the mercy of the chilly winter's day. Get a nice, warm, insulated glove. If practicality is an issue for you in terms of gloves, don't get those gigantic puffy ski gloves... they prohibit major finger movement and are next to useless. Get a nice, thin, warm leather glove.

Next, MOISTURIZE. I don't care how feminine it sounds, it's so important. Every night, before you go to bed, just rub half a squirt of hand lotion into your hands and let it soak in over night... not only will this keep your hands looking great but will keep them moist and tacky, which is ideal for sleight of hand close-up magic.

Third, for the love of God, take care of your fingernails... they are so important and the condition of your nails is always noticeable. Get a cuticle push done and get rid of the excess skin that grows above your cuticles... Clean your nails if they are dirty and cut them on a regular basis. Don't even give them a chance to grow the least bit long... trust me, this is SUCH an unattractive look.

Another point... get Manicures on a monthly basis. Again, this may seem feminine, but it's so helpful... they'll get your hands looking their best. Just pop into your local spa or salon and they'll give you a quick manicure to make your hands look and feel amazing. Remember, you can't spell "Manicure" without "Man".

And finally, my own personal secret: Crabtree and Evelyn's "Gardeners Hand Recovery" solution. This stuff is a miracle. It's not cheap (anywhere from $15 to $20 a bottle) but it works wonders... one scrub of the hands with this stuff once or twice a week will keep your hands looking and feeling amazing. It leaves your hands smooth and moist without being oily or sticky. The solution has thick sea salt in it that exfoliates, scrubs deep and removes all of your dead skin. It's a brilliant product and it's my secret weapon. You're welcome.

That's all I have on that! Hopefully you take something away from this and keep your hands looking as great as the rest of your beautiful self.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Someone Who Does Things RIGHT

Fabulous routine, isn't it? David Regal is everything great about magic... he's technically skilled, likeable, and entertaining as hell. He knows how to make us CARE about his magic, as his scripting and presentation is extremely engaging and relateable (No doubt helped by the fact that he is a writer for television shows such as Rugrats and Everybody Loves Raymond). I mean, the man made me invest myself in a five minute Ambitious Card routine... to make a magician care about Ambitious Card is no easy feat, especially a routine that's five freaking minutes long. I could watch Mr. Regal perform for hours. I just did myself a favour and ordered myself his DVD set "Premise, Power, and Participation" (Which, by the way, is on for a ridiculous deal at World Magic Shop... Can't beat a four DVD set for $70!). You know you love a magician when you buy his DVDs just to watch him perform.

Long live Regal. May others follow in his footsteps. The man's got it right.

The End-All Visual Reference For Erdnase

An expert on Erdnase? Finally!

Look at this. The style! The grace! My god, I cannot possibly fathom the sheer amount of minutes put into these techniques.

First of all, kudos to whoever made this spoof trailer... it's freakin' hilarious.

Now, let's get into this... Wesley James, three-time First Place winner of the International John Malkovich Look-a-like Competition, decided he was passable enough at the techniques taught within perhaps the single most important work in the art of card technique to create a visual reference teaching the technique.

Honestly, when I saw this trailer without knowledge that this DVD actually existed, I thought it was a joke. But it does exist. And it still is a joke, but one of the unfunny kind of jokes.

I've never seen someone claim to be the end-all expert on ANYTHING without being able to practice what they preach. Sure, Wesley James can technically do the techniques, in the sense that he can complete a move from start to finish. That is, unfortunately, the extent of what can be said of his work. Isn't that a wonderful Charlier Cut?

The fact that ANYONE should try to enhance or adapt the material within Erdnase is an insult... those of us actually working hard, busting ourselves in an attempt to learn and perfect the work within the book don't appreciate half-assed attempts at making DVDs teaching the technique we're diligently attempting to master. Especially from a man like Wesley James.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Time To Get Tudor-ed

Brian Tudor - Boy Wonder. Let's see what kind of shenanigans he's up to now, shall we?

Wow. Let's begin.

First of all, he reminds me a little of something...

Neat eh?

Mr. Tudor seems like quite the angry fellow... I imagine the only way he is given gigs and lecture bookings is through the fact that he frightens clients into submission. Can he speak a single sentence without swearing?

Silent, still reactions are better than people clapping and cheering for your magic? Yeah, okay. Just because you've never had the latter reaction, it doesn't mean the unimpressed silence that you mistake for awestruck bewilderment is better. "Make no mistake 'bout it."

The Charlier Cut sucks? Really? Okay, whatever you say. I don't want you to fly out here to battle me in card magic and flourishing... because, in the event that you lost, I wouldn't want the Tudor Thunder brought down upon me. I'm sure I'd be Zipped, Snapped, Inversion-Somersaulted and called a Dumb Motherf***er.

Isn't it fun to go on angrily ranting about stuff you have no clue about? At least most people as untalented as you know they're untalented. Brian Tudor, I can't imagine what could possibly possess people to think you're any sort of magician or performer. You're like the school yard bully who frightens the lunch money out of his peers. Well, there's no room for you on our playground.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

For The Love of God...

... Who does this guy think he is?

Where do I begin with this?

This man clearly doesn't take magic seriously. From what I gather, to him, magic (Sorry, "Goshpel Illushionshs") is merely a gimmick to "illustrate God's truth"... mediocre effects that he makes sure EVERYBODY knows is "just a trick".

I mean, my God... half of his advice in this little video contradicts his intentions! He makes a point to tell us to "practice practice practice!" and gives us excuses as to why we can't repeat a trick (The one about the batteries running low is going straight into my act, let me tell you). So, we're going to practice our magic to make it deceptive? Why should deceptiveness even matter when you're trying so hard to make your magic NOT look like magic.

This guy is everything wrong with our art. In the video, he advises us to "pray about magic". I think that's the one legitimately sound piece of advice the man has.

Nice shirt, by the way.

(Thanks to Roland's "Weekly Magic Failure" blog for bringing this video to the attention of the world. I just wanted to share my own thoughts on it.)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Gig Rant #1

We all have our ups and downs when performing in public. Sometimes things go just as planned. Other time, Murphy's Law kicks in. And also, sometimes there's an in-between. Everything goes fine, but one little incident grinds your gears. Such a thing happened this past friday.

I was hired to work a Christmas Open House for a store in a small town in Ontario (No, I don't understand why there was a Christmas Open House on November 5th. Then again I apparently don't understand much of anything).

I'm mingling in a store packed tighter than a sardine can, doing my thing with the pasteboards for all the simple small-town folk wandering about and sampling wine and cheese. Suddenly I approach a group of three ladies and start up my set.

I'm about to begin Ernest Earick's "A Flippant Triumph", one of my favourite Triumph routines, and I'm standing around shuffling and springing my cards. Suddenly, one of the women says to the other two "Christian (her son) is doing all this kind of stuff now!". So I began the effect, and at the climax, two women are in awe, but Mrs. Christian's Mom pipes up and says "Christian can do that too!". I politely reply with "That's really great! How long has he been interested in magic?"... she said "A few weeks... but he's already doing all of the stuff you're doing!"

In my mind I was thinking "@%&$$&*&^&" but I merely smiled politely and nodded. At the end of my set the women walk away, and as they walk, Mrs. Christian's Mom pipes up again... "Yeah, Christian can do all that stuff! He just goes straight on YouTube and learns all kinds of magic tricks!"

Had I possessed a weapon, a murder-suicide would have followed... instead I kept my cool and continued mingling. This woman insulted my intelligence, my craft, and myself. She implied that all magic can be found for free on YouTube and learned easier than making rice. And on top of that, she implied that I must have found these effects on YouTube then, while also implying that everything I was doing required little practice. I hope to God she doesn't take this and push her son to be doing gigs.

Had the woman remained in the store for a little while, I would have given her my email address to give to her son, offering to point him toward some excellent resources for someone starting out in magic. However, she was gone.

My question is, how would YOU have handled the situation?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Attack of the YouTube Magicians

Okay, before someone else says it, full disclosure here... I myself am a YouTube magician. I have an existing YouTube Channel with nearly 60 videos uploaded of me performing magic, acting, etc. Perhaps this fact will also add credibility to my argument here.

What the HELL is with music in magic videos? I don't particularly appreciate clicking on a magic video only to have heavy metal blasted in my face. To you, the YouTube Magician who films his magic with awful music in the background, I ask a question... What do you do in the real world? Do you carry a stereo or iPod docking station around for when someone asks to see a card trick? My guess is no. And if you do, what the heck is your problem? It would take much less effort to come up with some decently engaging patter as opposed to carrying around a 10 pound sound system when you're "on da streets yo".

To those who DON'T use music during your Biddle Trick for a live audience... what DO you do? Do you perform in complete silence? Please don't tell me you just narrate your actions, stuttering every friggin' word that comes out of your mouth. Even silence would be better than that. How do you ever expect to be considered entertaining. Let's be real here... a lot of magic is only mindly entertaining on it's own. You aren't going to have people clammering to see you do magic in your school halls if you JUST do the trick. PERFORM for God's sake... magic is a performance art. It's so simple. Without it, magic is just a puzzle, and quite frankly, boring in many cases. Nobody is going to CARE that you can make a signed card rise to the top of the deck repeatedly unless you give them reason to care. That, my friends, is what seperates the men from the boys.

Anyways, I suppose I'm digressing a bit. Why post a YouTube video of Twisting The Aces unless you give me reason to? I'm not going to sit and watch a video where a guy makes cards turn over as I get deafened by the Linkin Park soundtrack. Perform it for me. That's what magic is meant to be. It astonishes me how many people are unable to grasp this concept.

YouTube is great. I personally love posting magic videos... they are good for critiquing in terms of my performance, technique, and other finer points. But I really don't see any other purpose for magic than that. If you're just going to use your webcam to shoot a heavy metal music video with a poorly executed Cutting The Aces effect, the fact of the matter is that magic just isn't for you. You clearly have no interest in performing.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Extreme Card Manipulation... Why?

The Asian cardist emerges from the dark corners of the local magic shop, arms spinning like propellors. The light hits him. He's flipping, spinning, cutting, and puree-ing cards like no tomorrow. Dramatically, he announces "I'VE GOT IT! I CAN FINALLY DO SICK AND TWISTED WINGS OF THE MOCKINGBIRD!"

What and WhatWhat of the What?

Extreme Card Manipulation. A genre of magic. But I ask... why? How does XCM in any way relate to magic? I don't get it personally. I'm always seeing DVDs and such being released, with equal balances of card magic and these extreme card flourishes. There's a lot I feel is wrong with this.

Firstly, what do XCM (X-treme Card Manipulation) and card magic have to do with each other? They only have one thing in common... they both use cards. Big whoop. If that's the only thing they have in common, they shouldn't be a combined art. It's as simple as that.

And these people who, in the middle of doing a card effect, execute this drawn-out 14-packet XCM cut, what the hell are you thinking? XCM, whether or not you believe it, is BORING after about 3 seconds. So why do these huge cuts that take 30 seconds to perform in the middle of a card effect? There's so much wrong with this.

For instance, pacing. In wasting time with your cut that only you really care about, you've broken the timing of your routine. I know, personally, if someone were to do a card effect on me and waste 30 seconds in the middle of it trying to impress me with how many packets he can hold between his fingers, I'd yawn and lose interest pretty quickly.

Don't get me wrong... Extreme Card Manipulation is a respectable art. It clearly takes extreme amounts of practice and dedication and it clearly isn't close to being easy. But why combine it with magic? It's like putting icing on a cake that already tastes good enough on its own... and the icing is so cheap and sugary that it ruins the whole cake. It doesn't taste horrible, but it doesn't taste great either.

Some of the world's most successful card magicians are so successful because they DON'T exhibit fancy cuts, shuffles, etc. They are useless eye candy in the long run and, truth be told, nobody really cares. But more important, consider this logic... If you can do this fancy cut with the cards, then you must be capable of amazing sleight of hand technical wonders too in the spectator's eyes. The successful guys, Paul Vigil and Lennart Green immediately come to mind, are so succcessful with their card magic because they don't do ANYTHING fancy. In fact, Lennart Green deliberately handles the deck overtly in a novice way, to discourage the thought that he has incredible, devastating skills.

This doesn't mean your card magic can't have flourish to it... some small, neat, nice in-the-hands cuts and shuffles are great. They're small, cozy, are over in barely a few seconds. They do maintain interest and don't really raise suspicion. It's when packets of card are being tucked under your chin that the problem arises.

Want to be a card magician? Be a card magician. Want to be an XCM artist? Go for it. Just, please, keep them seperate.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Breaking The Cliches

How many times have we watched a Cups and Balls routine that DIDN'T begin with the magician stating "This is the oldest trick in magic"?

I can only think of one routine I've personally seen (granted I haven't seen every routine in existence) that DIDN'T include such a line. Yes, it's an interesting line... it gives the trick a bare significance, at least historically, that in theory raises interest. I'm guilty of using the line myself. But I stopped... as soon as I really started to see just how many magicians use it. It's tiresome. Imagine the spectator who sees a lot of magic... don't you think they'll notice and grow tired of the same old Cups and Balls lines?

Magic is riddled with cliches... whether in stock lines, routining, or even persona. I've been considered, in some regards a performer very much like Jay Sankey... while I personally don't see this in my work, Sankey WAS a large influence on my earliest years of studying magic, so perhaps he rubbed off a bit onto me. Aside from that, I've tried to break free of magic cliches, to some degree.

Some magicians tried too hard to break free of cliches. Results are, bluntly put, disastrous. Consider Criss Angel. He tried to push what David Blaine sort of pioneered to the extreme and the results were far from spectacular.

We can't be pushing ourselves too far off track here... don't become the extreme opposite of the cliched magician or performer, just try to raise yourself above what's considered standard. If you follow the magical standards, you become just like every other magician... nothing makes you stand out. If that's how you wish to conduct yourself as a performer, that's fine. But in terms of success, I can't think of anybody who wouldn't want to stand out.

The next time I see a magician with a top hat on, I'll shoot myself. I'd rather not see magicians fulfill the public's hokey perspective of our art. People that dress in capes and perform with Change Bags and Mirror Boxes are exact examples of what makes the public look down on magic as though it's the silliest waste of time.

If you have such a hard time being different, unique, creative, you're simply in the wrong artform. Magic's about doing the impossible... so how hard could it possibly be to be unique?

So, to the standard magi out there... burn your top hats, set your rabbits free into the wild, and trade in your Change Bag for a prop that's YOU. Choose your work according to who you are, what your performing persona is. And if you're going to do the same stuff as everybody else, please, for the love of God... do it differently.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Internet Magic Forum

Okay, somebody had to point out the big green elephant in the room... What's the deal with magic forums? Who's bright idea was it to create an online community for magicians, when the LAST thing we need is an online community?

But why, you may ask, are magic forums such a bad thing? They are a place to get advice, aren't they? They are a place to discuss and debate topics in the art of magic, aren't they?

Yes, and that's what's wrong with it. Why the hell am I going to accept performing advice from a forum magician? Do you actually think the fact that he's logged in 8 hours a day dishing out advice means he has experience? The fact that people accept this advice as though it is credible appalls me.

Yes, magic forums connect us, and yes, they are a good way of sharing experiences and becoming somewhat of a distanced community. But if you actually think you're getting totally credible advice from magic forums, you are mistaken. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of forum go-ers that CAN give legitimately worthwhile advice... these magicians usually have a bounty of years of experience under their belts, and now take it easy in their magical retirement and help the young and less experienced magicians of the world. But let me ask you a question: How do you seperate the men from the boys here? How can you TELL who has said experience, or who can't practice what they preach? How much do you want to bet that half of these advice-givers are sitting at their computer with a worn copy of Strong Magic, typing advice directly out of the pages? Or giving their own crackpot advice?

Every minute you spend on a magic forum is a minute you spend NOT getting experience and NOT learning. I can compare this to playing a Soccer Video Game... you're not actually playing soccer! But it sure feels like it doesn't it? People play a racing video game, think it makes them experts at driving, then can't park a car to save their lives. Same deal.

To whoever pioneered the magic forum... shame on you. You've given an alcoholic a six-pack of Heineken. Nobody really needs it, but if they've got it, they'll use and abuse it. They'll drink and drink and eventually think they're capable of jumping off a 5 story building.

Well guess what? Splat.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Epidemic of Beginner Ignorance

"You remember that trick you did before? By Sam Finch?"

This was the question. An aspiring magician, fresh into his journey to greatness, asked me something that baffled me. Who the hell is Sam Finch?

"Umm, what was the effect?"

That was my reply... hopefully his response would help narrow it down.

"Well, I named any card, you tossed the Ace of Spades high into the air and caught it in the center of the deck... and it turned out to be right next to my card."

Now I knew what he was talking about. The Robin Hood Card. By STEPHEN MINCH.

This wasn't a fist-time occurance either. I'm too often riddled with odd questions and remarks about "The Elmer Count" and "The Shizbo Vanish", having no idea what they are talking about. How on earth do these people live their lives? How did they get through school? How difficult is it, with an arsenal of 2 basic magic effects, to remember the appropriate names of the moves and effects, as well as the creators they study?

New magicians know of Frank Everhart's Chicago Opener by the name of "The World's Greatest Card Trick". They perform Triumph routines, thinking they are called "Renegade". Where these names come from, I shudder to think.

You may accuse me of nit-picking... but I'm really trying to embody a bigger picture here. Beginners are working with mis-information (usually from the internet) and it's our job as more experienced performers to push them in the right direction.

The bottom line is, if you know of new (or even old) magicians that make common ignorant mistakes, don't grin and accept it, HELP THEM. Don't be afraid of sounding "holier than thou", it's your job to guide and educate. These people are the future of magic once the rest of the Marlos and Vernons vanish, so we might as well get them started in the best way possible. Have them already beginning toward a road of greatness. They'll be plenty of steps ahead of the ill-informed. An example of this would be my good friend in magic, Reuben, who I met in my first year of high school. He had begun to study magic over the prior summer and was very much the kind of person I describe in this article. He's an exceptional magician and performer now, and he has often said to me that, if it hadn't been for me pushing him away from the crap he'd led himself to and pointed him toward worthwhile resources, he probably wouldn't be in magic still. There you have it.

Stop this epidemic. Educate a magic neanderthal today.

Welcome to The Magic Rant!

Good day everyone!

Michael Kras here... I'm just a young guy with a cynical attitude, like most teenaged magicians are nowadays. This blog is sort of a fun venting outlet for me. I love to vent, and now I have an acceptable way of doing so.

I'm here, of course, to rant about magic... The old, the new, the cliche, the pet peeves, EVERYTHING, for your entertainment pleasure. Don't you worry, I'll have full posts coming very, very soon... And be forewarned. I don't plan on being gentle. I'll be blunt, even harsh at times, and unapologetic. Maybe we'll get some good ol' controversy going. Until then, anticipate the unknown.

Michael Kras