Icaro by Daniele Finzi Pasca and the Theatre of the Caress

If he were a magician, Daniele Finzi Pasca might be Michael Skinner or René Lavand or Juan Tamariz. He has the elegant touch of Skinner, the soul of Lavand, and the unconditional love of Tamariz.

Last night I saw Icaro, a virtuosic one-man show by the Swiss-Italian circus artist, clown and storyteller Daniele Finzi Pasca. He finished writing the show, which he wrote for a single spectator, during a short period spent in prison for conscientious objection. That experience, along with Pasca’s earlier humanitarian work with terminal patients in India, may explain the tenderness and intimacy of this show as well as the aesthetic approach of the Finzi Pasca company.

Theatre of Caresse is the phrase that embodies Pasca’s creation and performance philosophy. The book of the same title, a collection of interviews articulating this school-of-thought, is epitomized in the heart-to-heart style of Icaro. In the show that I saw a spectator was gently made more and more comfortable onstage, established a camaraderie with Pasca, and, finally, embarked upon an imaginary journey of recuperation . . . and escape. The theatre of the caresse is a lovely contrast to Artaud and other’s so-called “theatre of cruelty” without being its opposite.  Having lived with and watched performances by two current Finzi Pasca members (Quebecois musician Andrée-Anne Gingras Roy and Argentine juggler Marco Paoletti), I’d already been introduced to the soul and aesthetic style of Pasca’s performance work through their collaborations with him. So, it was a special treat to sit in the front row last night and watch the founder putting his own philosophy into practice (and sometimes only a few feet away).

I don’t want to spoil any other surprises that occur in Icaro, but I will say this:

If you’d like to see a master of vulnerable performance, physical clowning, and human connection, go see Icaro. And if you’d like to go deeper, read Theatre de la Caresse. 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Magical Thinking — a podcast dedicated to the art of magic

I’d like to take a moment to recommend Elliott Terral’s wonderful podcast Magical Thinking. Magic podcasts and audiobooks are finally beginning to appear in larger quantities and with greater regularity nowadays, which is a wonderful way to spread a deeper understanding of the art. Terral is a young US magician based in Los Angeles, which gives his podcast a different style and flavour compared to UK magician Richard Young’s The Magician’s Podcast (mentioned in an earlier post). Having listened to every episode of each podcast (I listen to them on my daily commute to and from work), I encourage those interest in gaining a more intimate understanding of how the magic industry operates at every level to do the same. It’s amazing what you can learn by listening to the fascinating ups, downs and lives of the magicians interviewed and the topics explored during these smart, silly, and sometimes shockingly unguarded conversations.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Magic History Presentation @ Atlanta’s Clary Theatre (5 Oct. 2018, 6PM)

See you soon, Atlanta and Georgia Tech! Thank you to Dr. Patrick Ellis, his department, and his students for this fantastic poster.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Machines. Magie. Médias.

I’m delighted to see that this magic scholarship is now available for order from Septentrion Presse. The volume collects work from a diverse number of magic scholars from around the world. It includes an article that I wrote about “The Circus Card Trick,” performative language and the ethics of deception. Many thanks to Les Arts Trompeurs  magic research group for this.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Magic at Dracula’s Guest on Oct. 13th (San Francisco, CA)

Come to Slovenian Hall in San Francisco this October 13th to see me perform magic at one hell of of party. I can’t wait to be reunited with my Edwardian Ball and Paradox Media family.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Atelier de Magie à Montréal (24-28 septembre 2018)

J’ai hâte de faire un atelier de magie à Montréal ce mois en collaboration avec En Piste (le regroupement national des arts du cirque)! Souvent je n’ai que trois heures d’enseigner l’art de la magie aux artistes (de cirque, de danse, d’écriture, de film, . . . en bref, de tous les autres disciplines). Cette fois on a trois heures chaque jour d’une semaine (le 24 au 28 septembre 2018) pour intégrer des effets magiques aux disciplines des artistes de cirque.

Voici un résumé de l’atelier:

Pensez comme un sorcier ou une sorcière! Cet atelier est une introduction à la magie pratique et théorique pendant laquelle les participants exploreront l’histoire de la magie nord-américaine jusqu’à la magie nouvelle et contemporaine, son vocabulaire dramatique, et ses influences sur les spectacles du cirque. Des exercices techniques et créatifs permettront à chaque participant d’approfondir et de personnaliser la magie afin de l’adapter à sa propre spécialité.

Venez nombreux ! 

Voici des commentaires des ateliers déjà donnés à Arezzo, à Toronto, en Californie, à Toulouse, à Montréal et ailleurs:

« Très inspirant. Il m’a ouvert l’esprit et m’a donné envie de tester des choses! »

« Très intéressant car il amène un autre côté à la création d’un numéro. Cela pousse à voir les différentes possibilités de la magie. »

« J’ai participé fréquemment puisque l’atelier était engageant, intéressent, interactive, et bien organisé. L’environnement/l’atmosphère était encourageant et excitant.»

* * *

I’m excited to be leading a magic workshop in Montréal this month in collaboration with En Piste (the Circus Arts National Network). Often, I only have three hours to teach magic to artists from other disciplines (circus, dance, creative writing, film, and many more). This time, we’ll have three hours each day from September 24-28, 2018, to adapt magic effects to the disciplines of each participant.

Here is a brief description of the workshop:

This workshop is a crash course in the art of magic for circus artists. Joe Culpepper* will share secret sleight-of-hand techniques and research tools for adapting magic effects to your future shows. You will learn how to make objects magically appear, transform, and vanish. You will learn how to create illusions using your body. Most important of all, you will learn how to think and direct attention like a magician. No previous magic experience necessary.

Come learn and experiment with us !*

*Please note that the workshop will be taught in French.

Here are some testimonials from previous workshops given in Arezzo, Toronto, California, Toulouse, Montreal and other cities:

“Top quality teaching: engaging and inspiring. Good technical information as well as mentoring and guidance.”

“I was inspired to use magic within my discipline as a better way to express the message in my act.”

“Helpful and soul-nourishing.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


Received the newest issue of Scapegoat Journal this week: “Life.” It includes my article on Nicholas Green, The Children’s Bell Tower in Bodega Bay, and its sister monument in Southern Italy. Thanks to this awesome team, to Marcin Kedzior, to Bruce Hasson and to Reg Green for thinking through the miraculous nature of organ donation with me. This one’s for them and for you, Irene Devon, and all of the good moments we’ve out there on the Sonoma coast. (Anyone who would like to order a copy can click on the link or photo above).

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

FISM 2021 in Quebec City

The future of magic in Québec is bright. Every three years, FISM (the Féderation Internationale des Sociétés Magiques) chooses a different city to host one of the largest international magic competitions and conferences in the world.  In July 2021, the first FISM to be held in the Americas will take place in Quebec City, Canada. 1300 participants from across the globe have already registered. I cannot wait to attend this event. If you wish to catch the last day of early bird registration, click on the photo above and follow the links to sign-up. For anyone who loves magic and would like to experience it in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, this is a great opportunity. Vive la magie!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Intimacy of Performing Magic

Today, I nearly cried at “work.” I was hired to perform close-up and parlour magic at a chateau (on lovely grounds) for a family gathering. The mother, father, and their extended family and friends were all celebrating the son’s completion of a doctorate in dentistry and the beginning of his career. We all ate together and in-between each course it was my job to amaze and enchant for a set. The moment that got me, sitting in this room filled with complete strangers, is when the father said a few words about how proud he is of his son’s achievement. He said a line about how hard his son had worked, the difficulties he’d overcome, and then he choked up (silently crying). I had the impression of a quiet, respectful man, who rarely showed such emotion in public. His wife came over and stood by him for support. He finished his speech and the feast went on. How lucky are we performers? Sometimes people we barely know, or have never met, invite us to add beauty and wonder to heighten events that are already highlights in their lives. Sometimes, like I did today, we see them expressing their love for one another in ways that some of their own family members only see a few times in their lives. It’s a gift.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Montréal Complètement Cirque, Journal Entry, 10 July 2018

The population of circus artists, students, companies, programmers, academics, and industry movers and shakers in Montreal balloons during the wonderful Montréal Complètement Cirque festival every year. From July 5-15, 2018, a cornucopia of free outdoor shows (Les Minutes Completement Cirque, Phénix, and others) and indoor programming allow spectators to see world class circus for a fraction of its usual, exported, cost.

I was about fourteen when I saw my first touring Cirque du Soleil show in a big top tent in Berkeley, California. Driving from Sacramento to  The show was Quidam, still my favorite from CdS, and John Gilkey was the ringmaster. Seeing a contemporary circus show originally crafted in Quebec was a foundational experience for me and my best friend who performed magic shows with me throughout high school. It was his parents who bought our tickets and drove us to the show as a special treat. So, days like today, I remember exactly how spoiled I am to be immersed in the professional worlds of circus, magic and the flourishing capital of alternative performance arts in Montreal. To share an idea of the fascinating strata of contemporary strata that are on display and accessible every July in Montreal, I’ll give a thumbnail sketch of two events I was able to attend yesterday.

After sneaking in a little early-morning editing and writing time, I headed to Concordia University where The Montreal Working Group on Circus, students and teachers from Montreal’s National Circus School, attendees of the International Market of Contemporary Circus, and those enrolled in Dr. Patrick Leroux’s “Experiential Learning in Contemporary Circus Practice” seminar had gathered. The morning session began with an intermedial performance (sound, tightrope, movement) lead by Claudel Doucet and performed by Sorell Nielson, Joel Malkoff, and Jesse Harris in the public space of Concordia’s EV building. We then proceeded to one of the University’s theaters where we watched a showing of two experimental choreography sets. The first was lead by Michael Watts and focused on the theme of precarious balance. Here is a micro clip:

All of these performance experiments (if I understood correctly) where created on a compressed timeline of 8-10 hours with the directors and students involved. Above, Katharine Scarvelis, Luisina Rosas, Louana Seclet, Angel Solis Valdez, Joel Malkoff, Sorell Nielson and Jesse Harris began an experiment that rendered invisible points of balance visible . . . almost tangible. We then saw choreographies created by these students under the direction of  clown expert Jesse Dryden, which focused on the tension and relaxation of circus being performed with and near empty, half full, and full glasses of water. The moment an empty glass was successfully passed from Luisina rolling in her German Wheel to Louana balanced on her Washington trapeze brought a cheer from the nerve-wracked audience.

A panel discussion on the topic of graduate and post-graduate circus research as it relates to circus artists and productions followed. Dr. Patric Leroux asked a panel composed of MA, PhD, and postdoctoral researchers from a variety of fields questions about their research, how they conducted it in professional artistic settings, and what such studies give to the circus arts (From left to right below: Geneviève Dupéré, Dr. Jessica Kendall, Alisan Funk, Dana Dugan, and Dr. Marie-Eve Skelling Desmeules).

After a fifteen-minute lunch, I headed to Cirque du Soleil headquarters at the invitation of a friend to see some industrial research being conducted there with graduates of the National Circus School and international circus professionals. I enjoyed the unplanned contrast of moving from an academic practice-based research setting to an industrial one in the space of a few hours. That evening, I was lucky enough to catch the premiere of Bazaar — the new CdS touring show that is about to travel to India. For those who don’t know, all CdS shows are created at headquarters in Montreal before going abroad. A small press release re: Bazaar came out a couple weeks ago:


The show is an impressive spectacle that’s ready to dazzle spectators here and abroad. At intermission, I was able to shake the hand of a CdS founding father, Gilles Ste-Croix to thank him for all that he’s done for circus locally and internationally. My head was still spinning by the time I got back to my place in Outremont last night. It’s been quite a journey from Quidam to Bazaar.

Today, it starts all over again. I’m heading back to the MICC panels, research, and then to Jaime Atkins A Fool’s Errand tonight at the TOHU. A lot of coffee is making this possible:

To understand performance, you must constantly watch performances.

Montreal is one of the best cities in the world to do that.

Come see for yourself sometime.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment