A Magic Lantern Show — Before Cinema at McGill’s Moyse Hall Theatre

I’d been waiting for ten years to see a real magic lantern performance. Last night, thanks to the organizers of Montreal’s Cinema in the Eye of the Collector conference, I got my wish. Here is Deborah Borton with the British, double-projecting magic lantern from the 1890s that they used to entertain us for 90-minutes:
Magic Lantern Show

The two lenses allow for transition effects from one image to the next. They used roughly 150 different slides during the performance, some of which incorporated masks and even tiny shadow puppets to produce animation effects. The show was accompanied by pianist Nancy Stewart, Terry Borton’s theatrical narration and featured lots of audience participation. I love that they all performed the show in period costumes and enchanted a roomful of smart-phone-saturated adults and children with turn-of-the-century technology. Book The American Magic-Lantern Theater troupe or find out where they’re performing next. These shows are hard to see, but worth every penny. After, I had a drink with fellow early cinema colleagues and friends Frank Kessler, Sabine Lenk and Frédéric Tabet. What good company to have been in for this memorable show:

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With Magic Historian Dr. Edwin Dawes at the 44th Annual MCW

Joe with Eddie Dawes 27 May 2017

I’ve learned and continue to learn from Dr. Edwin Dawes. Today in the McCord Museum, he gave an inspiring talk on the three Cs of magic history: Collect, Collate and Communicate. Also, cite and share your source information widely. I was honoured to have my name mentioned among others who have written doctoral dissertations on conjuring: Charles Pecor, Susan McCosker, Sarah Crasson, Michael Claxon, Philip Butterworth and Will Houstoun (to name just a few). The academic recognition of magic history is changing thanks to the hard work and generosity of Dr. Dawes and many other magic historians who are here this weekend. It’s a magical feeling to be in their presence.

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CFP: The Golden Age of Stage Conjuring, 1880-1930 — Early Popular Visual Culture

This is a call for papers for special issue 16.3 (August 2018) of Early Popular Visual Culture that I’ll be editing with Matthew Solomon (University of Michigan). Please circulate it widely:

The Golden Age of Stage Conjuring, 1880-1930

The Golden Age of Stage Conjuring (1880-1930) in North America and Western Europe encompasses a period of rapid technological advances in the performing arts, cinema, photography, lithography, transportation and more. It also marks a fifty-year period of social and cultural transformations across the globe: power shifts in Europe and North America’s colonial empires, a new wave of Orientalism, disillusionment during WWI, the zenith of spiritualism, victories in women’s suffrage, and the stock market crash of 1929. What were the social functions of stage illusions and their performers during this tumultuous period? What pre-1880 conditions led to this Golden Age of magical entertainment? Finally, how does the legacy of this period influence the role that stage illusions play in society today?

This special issue of Early Popular Visual Culture seeks articles investigating these and other questions that engage primary source materials from 1880-1930, that think about such documentation in relation to public or private collections, and that apply those lines of thought to specific areas that have been overlooked or understudied in today’s scholarship dedicated to the performing art of magic. Investigators are encouraged to visit the McCord Museum’s online catalogue, which features a wealth of newly digitized material related to Harry Houdini and many others (search for Chung Ling Soo, Thurston, etc. as keywords). These scans are a glimpse into the exquisite 3-million-dollar collection of lithographs and Houdiniana gifted to the McCord by La Fondation Emmanuelle Gattuso to honour her husband Allan Slaight. The arrival and digital documentation of this material create new possibilities for the kind of research that other institutions, such as the U.S. Library of Congress, the Harry Ransom Center and the National Library of France make possible.

Proposals of articles (5,000-7,000 words) and an archive piece (300-400 words and 5-10 images) are invited. For consideration, please send an abstract of no more than 300 words for proposed articles and 150 words (and one image) for archive pieces. Abstracts should be attached as individual Microsoft Word documents along with a brief CV (degree, work experience, and recent publications) and sent to: goldenageofstageconjuring@gmail.com. The deadline for article proposals is July 4, 2017. Proposals will receive a response in two to three weeks from special issue co-editors Joseph Culpepper (Concordia University) and Matthew Solomon (University of Michigan).

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Doctoring Magic at the 44th Annual Magic Collector’s Weekend — Montreal

Culpepper Dissertation for MCW May 2017

It’s strange, but there are actually people out there who collect dissertations on magic.

I’m excited to present a talk tomorrow afternoon called “Doctoring Magic” for the attendees of the 44th annual Magic Collectors Weekend (MCW). As you can see above, I’ll have 52 signed and numbered copies for purchase by those who want them after my presentation. I would like to thank Magicana and the McCord Museum for bringing so many magic historians, performers and collectors to Montréal this weekend. We are all here to appreciate the beauty and wonder of the Allan Slaight collection of Golden Age lithographs that are part of the McCord’s Illusions exhibition. Thanks to the generosity of La Fondation Emmanuelle Gattuso, Montreal has a new world class magic collection that will increase and nurture magic scholarship in this city for many years to come.

The 52 copies of my dissertation that I’ve printed for this event will be sold for $45 USD ($60 CAD). Those who purchase one and add their names to my email list will receive a text-searchable PDF version of the dissertation for free. If you requested a copy years ago and will be present tomorrow, please email me a reminder and I’ll ensure that one is set aside for you.

Now, back to the magic history research!

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A good, foggy day for writing

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Magic in Santa Cruz — Apricity Gallery Residency

Del Mar Dream Santa Cruz Art Gallery Piece

We’re driving to beautiful Santa Cruz, California. This photo of its Del Mar theater captures some of the deep magic that I feel there. I took it while wandering downtown in the early 2000s, another wide-eyed UCSC college kid dreaming about the future. Fifteen years and many countries later, it fills me with joy to be returning to Santa Cruz. Artist Sarah Louis Bianco has invited me to be Apricity Gallery’s first magician in residence. We’ve been talking about and planning art, magic, and music based on the theme of Enchantment for years. This week we get to build, create, and, finally, perform this show with artists from many disciplines. Here we go . . . back to the Del Mar . . . back to the beaches and the redwood trails . . . back to that dreamplace: Santa Cruz.

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Performance at the Edwardian Ball, San Francisco — January 20-21st

Edwardian Ball photo 17th annual

I’ll be performing an illusion as Mr. Dark at the World Famous Edwardian Ball in San Francisco this weekend. Check out the promo codes for friends below:

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 the past seventeen years from an underground club party into an internationally recognized festival of the arts, now operating with the blessing of The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust.

Here is a code for $25 OFF general admission tickets: IAMSPECIALGA

Here is another for $30 OFF VIP mezzanine tickets: IAMSPECIALVIP

Plug these codes into this site: https://www.ticketfly.com/event/World’s Faire

Hope to see you this weekend!

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An American in Châlons-en-Champagne

Long Tack Sam Exhibit for CNAC 12 January 2017

What a thrill to be here for the Illusions festival in Châlons-en-Champagne where the CNAC is celebrating 10-years of magie nouvelle. I would like to thank Gérard Fasoli, Cyril Thomas, Barbara Appert-Raulin, Jeanne Vasseur and the entire CNAC team for making my participation at this international event possible. Pascal Jacob, Christian William and the CNAC resource centre curated two lovely exhibitions of magic posters and rare books with direct links to the circus arts. Locals can visit these exhibitions until they close on January 25, 2017. I am happy to have contributed a brief text celebrating North-American magic comic books and the wonderful graphic novel — The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam — by Canadian author Ann Marie Fleming. For those of you who don’t know, Long Tack Sam was a Chinese acrobat, magician, and international celebrity. You can learn more about him by watching the documentary film Ms. Fleming made about her great-grandfather at the National Film Board of Canada’s site.

After Pascal Jacob introduced the Ouvrez les grimoires and l’Épopée de la magie exhibitions to the general public, spectators attended a grand evening of close-up magic. Four different up-and-coming close-up magicians performed fifteen-minute sets in a uniquely staged environment.

On Friday the 13th, an auspicious day for any presenter, I had the pleasure of presenting a talk among a diverse group of fascinating individuals in the professional seminar titled La transmission en magie (Transmitting Magic). Raphaël Navarro, Valentine Losseau, François Bost, Alain Poussard, Véronique Perruchon and myself all spoke about different aspects of how magic is transmitted from one person to another based on our areas of expertise. The images below display the programme of the seminar. After this event, Pascal Jacob gave an engaging talk for the public filled with stories about magic from the time of Ramses II to the most recent J.K. Rowling books. We were then able to see the premiere of Thierry Collet’s Dans la peau d’un magicien, RDV#7.

CNAC illusions séminaire 13 january 2017

As I write this, Philippe Beau’s Magie d’ombres et autres tours is about to start at the national theater here named La Comète! I’d better publish this post and head off at lightspeed to catch it.

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George Carl and the Magic of Pantomime

George Carl (1916 — 2000) performs one of my favorite physical comedy acts of all time. In this clip from 1969, he delights spectators at California’s Hollywood Palace with a mixture of clown, object manipulation and pantomime. The act is a comedy of errors in which Carl rapidly attempts to perform rope magic, hand-to-hand, and cigar box juggling. He fails at all of these, because his clothes stick to his body, his hands disappear or his feet just won’t stop dancing. We love him for the same reasons that we adore Chaplin, Lloyd, Atkinson and the other bumblers: He fails at the circus tricks he likes in a way that most spectators do when they get home and try something they saw in a show. He celebrates the clowns that we all are when we knock a toothbrush into the toilette or lean on something that can’t support us. George Carl bumbles beautifully. His is an act that celebrates and helps us laugh at this humbling experience of being human.

His act is also an excellent example of how to combine elements of magic with the art of pantomime. His optical illusions, gimmicks and constant thwarting of spectator expectations continue the tradition of silent magical comedy numbers made famous by nineteenth-century troupes like the Hanlon Brothers. It’s a little known secret that George Carl filled one of the magic slots at the famous Crazy Horse in Paris. This is a venue that Tom Mullica and other world-class comedy magicians worked. If you like George Carl, check out the pantomime of Avner the Eccentric and Arden James too.

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Hadji Ali and David Blaine’s “Beyond Magic”

I spent this morning of the US Thanksgiving weekend eating leftovers, watching David Blaine’s “Beyond Magic” TV special, reading Jarrett and learning about Hadji Ali. First, I’d like to congratulate Mr. Blaine, Enrico de la Vega, Danny Garcia, Asi Wind, Brett Loudermilk and so many involved in this project for their superb work. The shamanistic, superhuman, yet also very human, themes in Blaine’s choice of material were compelling. Focusing on the space between magic and bizarre variety acts (sword swallowing, water spouting, bullet catching, mouth sewing and more) created ethically challenging moments. The special took exciting, disgusting and troubling risks. It also inspired me to spend part of the day researching one of the vaudeville era’s most mysterious and fascinating performers: Hadji Ali from Egypt.  Here is a wonderful clip of him drinking kerosene and breathing fire in a Spanish Laurel and Hardy remake called Politiquerías. Enjoy:

 

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