Enchantments in the News

Woohoo, the Enchantments shows performed this weekend received coverage in the Press Democrat today. These shows were a fundraiser for the North Bay Circus Group, and the Arlene Francis Center in Santa Rosa where circus jam is held every week from 6-9PM. Click on the photo to read the article online or check out the print copy when it comes out this Sunday. Shout-out to Charles Swanson for writing this story and to Chad Surmick for his photographs. Here’s to magic and the circus arts in Sonoma County.

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Magic at the Edwardian Ball in SF — Feb 3-4, 2023

See you soon, San Francisco! I’ll be performing magic at the 22nd Annual Edwardian Ball this coming weekend. You can get tickets to this amazing party here:


The Edwardian Ball is an elegant and whimsical celebration of art, music, theatre, fashion, technology, circus, and the beloved creations of the late, great author and illustrator Edward Gorey. Set in a re-imagined “Edwardian Era,” this multi-city, multi-media extravaganza has grown over time from an underground club party into an internationally recognized festival of the arts, now operating with the blessing of The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust.

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A New Magic Table

My new portable magic table is done. I needed one after live-auctioning a similar table as part of my performance at FADO in Toronto at the end of September. (I hope that you’re enjoying the table Dr. Sammy!) This new one is going to be another light and elegant performance surface for close-up, parlor, street shows and even certain stage shows.

The table is 18″ x 22″. This means the top is big enough to hold all the props that I need it to, but is also small enough to fit into a checked bag. After finding a simple gold frame that I liked, I used black stretch velvet to cover a base layer of 1/2″ plywood. This involved a lot of cutting and stapling.

I then used Mod Podge to attach both the black velvet and the green performance surface to the board.

After that, I pre-drilled eight holes and then used a phillips screwdriver to carefully fasten the delicate gold frame to the more robust base layer. I used black 5/8″ screws to match the color of the velvet and touched up any nicks with a black furniture marker. There you have it. Another magic table is ready to go. Just in time for holiday party performances!

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Greater Bay Area Working Group on Circus, 8-9 December 2022

“San Francisco from the Marin Headlands” by Noah Friedlander, CC BY-SA 4.0

Free registration is now open for the first ever Greater Bay Area Working Group on Circus Gathering. This event is a collaboration between Stanford University, the Montreal Working Group on Circus, Circus: Arts, Life and Sciences, Kinetic Arts Center, Club Fugazi, Circus Center and you! The goal is to create new exchanges between circademics (i.e. academics who study circus), circus artists, and the Greater Bay Area Community. Space is limited so click here to register if you wish to attend.

Schedule of Events:
Thursday, December 8th
9am-12pm – Stanford University: Keynote by Patrick Leroux and Research Presentations by GBA Working Group Members
12pm-1pm – Stanford University: Hosted Lunch
1pm-2pm – Break & Travel (participants are responsible for their own transportation)
2pm-4pm – Kinetic Arts Center: Circus Research Presentations for the Local Circus Community
4pm-7pm – Break & Travel
7pm-9pm – Club Fugazi: Dear San Francisco by the 7 Fingers (this requires a ticket purchase)

Friday, December 9th
10am-12pm – Kinetic Arts Center: Panel on Bay Area Circus — Past, Present and Future
12pm-4pm – Break & Travel (participants are responsible for their own transportation)
4pm – Circus Center: Tour of the facility
Break for dinner (choose your own adventure)
7:30pm – Circus Center: Winter Show (this requires a ticket purchase)

For any questions, please contact the organizing committee: Joe Culpepper <joe.culpepper@gmail.com>, Stephanie Greenspan <sgreenspan@samuelmerritt.edu> and Adin Sidney Walker <adinw@stanford.edu>

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The Magic Table at FADO in Toronto, 24 September 2022

I’ve arrived in Toronto for rehearsals of “The Magic Table” with Marcin Kedzior. We’ll be performing this for the FADO performance art center at 401 Richmond Street West (4th floor) at 7PM on Saturday, September 24th. Tickets for this On the Table / Off the Table performance series are free, but you must register for a ticket here if you will attend. Hope to see you there!

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Magic Design Workshop — August 13, 2022 — Sebastopol, CA

“Orbit” performance (2019)

Do you love optical illusions? Are you a maker, artist, hobbyist or performer? I’m excited to be teaching an in-person magic design workshop in Sebastopol, California, on August 13, 2022 at Chimera makerspace:

I’ll be sharing tips, tricks and resources that I’ve used to make magic prototypes for Cirque du Soleil, an illusion installation for Burning Man, and other art that has allowed me to travel the world.

Click here to reserve your spot

This workshop is limited to 10 participants to ensure quality, hands-on instruction and a safe environment.

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FISM 2022 in Quebec City

Spectators gather before the Tuesday night show

FISM 2022 is in full swing in Quebec City right now. It’s exciting to be attending the Olympics of magic for the first time.

The FISM World Championship of Magic has been held every three years since 1952. This week over 2,000 magicians from all over the world are here to perform, teach, or share magic in one way or another. It’s lovely to be here, to be reconnecting with old friends, and to be meeting new ones.

Since this is my first magic convention since the pandemic began, it’s also an opportunity for me to practice masking and taking other COVID-19 precautions while still participating in a larger professional gathering. If you are in Quebec City and would like to see one of the shows this week or would like to attend one day in particular, various FISM 2022 passes are available online.

Many thanks to Renée-Claude Auclair, Pierre Hamon and the entire FISM team for all of the work they put in to make this event happen!

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Alternative United Voices

Earlier this year, teacher Colin Throness invited me to judge a magic-themed poetry and fiction contest for students from eight different alternative high schools in Montreal. This is such a wonderful initiative created by him and other members of the Montreal English School Board community to encourage and reward young writers. We announced the award-winning entries on June 22, 2021 during an online ceremony. I performed a magic show for the students and teachers on Zoom as part of the event. A free PDF version of the complete collection is available for download on the Alternative United website. Here is the forward to the collection:

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Circus Summer Seminar 2021

Thinking about circus with Dr. Patrick Leroux, Keely Whitelaw and virtual participants of ENGL 638: The Dramaturgy of Research Creation

The university and live performance are finally coming back to life again. Yesterday, it felt amazing to give a research talk “in-person” at Concordia University rather than from my home office laptop. There were three humans in the room for the “Balancing Art-Making and Scientific Analysis” session of Dr. Leroux’s fourth annual summer seminar dedicated to circus. The other speakers in that morning’s panel — Jonathan Priest (Bristol) and Gaia Vimercati (Milan) — along with student participants from around the world were projected onto a giant screen. This was a hybrid experience that felt much closer to the pre-pandemic exchanges of ideas that I’ve enjoyed during the last three summer circus seminars. Just having others physically present in the room as you listen to other presentations and deliver a presentation feels much more human than the many 100% virtual conference experiences that I’ve had during this pandemic. We were even able to have lunch afterward to continue the conversation. What a concept!

Professor Leroux began the seminar with a reflection on his experiences adapting Hamlet to tight wire performances with collaborators from Montreal’s National Circus School. Dr. Jonathan Priest then presented multiple tools, dimensions and registers of research creation that inform his activities at Circomedia in the UK. Gaia Vimercati followed with an overview of the current traditional and contemporary circus activities in Italy. She is co-director of Quattrox4, an exciting, new contemporary circus school in Milan. I presented last and gave a talk titled “Fascination at Burning Man: From Cirque du Soleil Prototype to Participatory Visual Art Installation.”

It feels so good to be collaborating in-person again. Now, it’s time to go see some Montreal Completement Cirque shows (July 8-18)! I’ve already seen Animal by Cirque Alfonse (the first in-person show at the TOHU since the pandemic began) and can’t wait to see more.

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Adaptation in the Age of Zoom

A screenshot from an ENGL 398.E Magic Languages lecture at Concordia University this fall.

2020 is a year of rapid adaptation for everyone. Like many, Zoom is now the default mode for my teaching activities. Right now I’m teaching at Concordia University and the National Circus School of Montreal (with some workshops and consulting thrown in). The first few online sessions were a challenge. A lot of technological juggling is required to connect to students, to deliver engaging content and to combat the Zoomified flattening of the teacher-student relationship. There have been some strange moments. I remember an embarrassing squeal of feedback caused by my computer at the beginning of a lecture. It sounded like a failed sound test at a rock concert traveling through a dystopian space-time continuum. I will also never forget watching a student join a course via smartphone while driving a car (“Are you driving?!” I asked. “Yes, but it’s fine . . .” was the response. I was able to convince this student to wait until getting home before catching up with us). We’ve all learned a lot since then. In a spirit of adaptation, here are three techniques that have brought more meaning and joy to my online teaching.

Meet Every Student

The first technique is a deceptively simple one that I learned from Dr. Linda Hutcheon (author of A Theory of Adaptation and intellectual force of nature). When I was a student crammed into one of her over-enrolled graduate seminars at the University of Toronto, I remember her preparing a sign-up sheet at the end of the first class for all of us to meet with her for fifteen minutes to get to know one another. “I want to know what all of you are working on!” She said. This act, going above and beyond the typical office hours to connect with each and every one of us, was a clear sign that she appreciated each one of us despite the size of our class. She wasn’t obligated to do this, she chose to. Do such one-on-one meetings demand extra time? Yes. If you multiply 15-minutes by 48 (the number of students enrolled in my ENGL 398: Magic Languages course), the result is an extra 12 hours of labor. The returns on that investment, however, are immensely beneficial for creating a meaningful relationship between teachers and students. I would like to thank Linda for modeling this for me when I was a graduate student. I would also like to thank Vice-Provost Sandra Gabriele and her Innovation in Teaching and Learning team at Concordia University for supporting faculty members as they pour many extra hours into their teaching efforts during this pandemic to ensure high-quality instruction.

Live Group Discussions & Google Docs

Another teaching tip that is excellent for building community in the online classroom, comes from Dr. Alexandra Kovacs (University of Victoria). After a 15- to 30-minute lecture providing context for a week’s readings and theoretical concepts, I share a Google document containing a question with all students in the course and give them the ability to edit that document. Participants are then randomly put into groups of 5-6 students to respond to that question and to record observations (one or two students typically become notetakers for their group). Students meet and engage with members in their community this way. The thoughts of each smaller group are visible to all of us in that document in real time, which means that they contribute to a larger collective discussion. This document can then be referenced later for inspiration when students are thinking through essay prompts. Perhaps the most important aspect of this, however, is the mixing, meeting and engagement of students with one another in class to alleviate some of the intense isolation resulting from the “new not-quite-normal” of 2020.

Visiting Experts

The last technique I’ll share in this post is focused on diversifying intellectual dialogue and comes from Professor John Mayberry at York University. When I was brainstorming online teaching strategies with colleagues this summer, I spoke to John on the phone who suggested inviting experts to join the class from time to time for a short 15-30 minute dialogue. This plays to one of the strengths of our current life online. It is much easier and more economical right now to transport ourselves anywhere in the world. Why have students listen to long monologues that risk Zoom fatigue, when I can introduce them to some of the very creative writers and authors whose work they’re studying? So far, I’ve had experts on Shakespearean witchcraft (Dr. Jennifer McDermott), colonial conjuring (Dr. Graham Jones), and the early trick films of Georges Méliès (Dr. Matthew Solomon) exchange with the students. These conversations are so intellectually meaningful and make me feel so good that sometimes I completely forget that I’m teaching online. More than a few times, I’ve turned off the computer feeling the rush of adrenaline that comes with being part of a live online panel, delivering a lecture, or interviewing a respected colleague in a way that I know is offering my students rare insights into specialized fields.

There they are. Three tips and tricks are crucial components of my current pedagogy. It’s also important to have good hardware for teaching online, of course. But rather than write about the gear that I’ve invested in, I want to share these fundamental communication techniques for digital instruction. We are all striving to connect with each other. These strategies are helping my students to learn and to exchange ideas online. What’s working for you?

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