The Risk of Circus Studies by Madeline Hoak

I’m delighted to be quoted in the company of many thoughtful and daring colleagues in this article about the history of circus in higher education. Thank you, Madeline Hoak for the work your doing and for sharing it with the world:

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Derren Brown on The Magicians’ Podcast

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I would like to thank Richard Young, The Magic Circle and others who made The Magicians’ Podcast possible. I love listening to podcasts and audiobooks when I’m traveling long distances or running errands. However, there are very few audiobooks devoted to the conjuring arts out there and only a handful of magic podcasts. Clicking on the link above will take you to a fascinating 2-hour interview with Darren Brown as well as 72 other episodes. I’ve listened to all of them now and appreciate the diverse perspectives they document from demonstrators, retailers, convention organizers, television writers, producers, performers of all kinds of magic (close-up, parlor and stage) and others. Since Richard Young is based in London, these focus on the UK scene and offer a thumbnail sketch of major players, productions and politics active in that part of the globe from 2015-2016. Check them out and let’s hope that more of this kind of magic-world audio content makes its way into the world.

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An Invitation from the Newberry Library for the Transcription of Early Modern Magic Texts

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Chicago’s Newberry library is crowd-sourcing the transcription of a number of its texts. The collection that I’m immediately drawn to, of course, was recently mentioned on the Open Culture website. Click on the image above to read about the projects details and to try your hand at a little magical transcription.


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Pícaro at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in NYC

BAC 2 6 April 2018

After an initial creation residency, Pícaro had its first public showing at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in Manhattan last night. This has been a wonderful exploration period with Carlos Alexis Cruz, Alicia Martinez Alvarez, Shamou Mou and the BAC team. It’s been an exciting challenge to combine circus, Mexican mask, magic, and theatre to create a story about immigration. I would like to thank the Princess Grace Foundation and the BAC for supporting this international collaboration.

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Illusion en jeu in Toulouse

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This is how much I loved teaching, presenting and performing at L’Illusion en jeu: techniques — outils — histoire / Illusion at Play: Techniques — Tools — History colloquium organized by Frédéric Tabet and friends. Clicking on the link above will take you to the full program of events. It was a thought-provoking mixture of academic and artistic explorations of how illusions are created and what is at stake, culturally, when we encounter them. I only have a few moments to make this post, so I will restrict it to only the first and final days of the week (Monday and Friday).

On Monday, March 25, Dr. Tabet kicked everything off with a thoughtful introduction and parlour magic performance exploring what the phrase illusion en jeu can mean. The goal of the week, as I understood it, was to bring artists, scholars, and performance specialists in various media together to examine how illusions in the performing arts function (in various media, time periods, cultures and more). Some of the meanings of the French phrase where expressed quite beautifully in the 16mm films screened and commented upon at the impressive ENSAV (École Nationale Supérieure d’Audiovisuel) by Sebastien Ronceray. Norm McLaren’s “A Chairy Tale” (1957) was one of my favorite selections of the evening, because it expresses both the playfulness, power relations and mutual compromise that makes the experience of the impossible . . . possible.

[Please see the programme for the excellent events that took place on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday]

Friday, March 30, was a whirlwind. It began with an early trip to La Grenarie where, from 9:30AM to 12:30PM, I taught a magic workshop to 15 students from the professional training program at the LIDO circus school. I was impressed with the creativity and passion of this group and would like to thank Sophie Cosnard, Marie Céline Daubagna, and Francis Rougemont for introducing me to their beautiful circus world in Toulouse. After the workshop, and a speedy lunch, I met fellow panelist and FISM grand prize winner Pierric Tenthorey and Dr. Tabet in the chapiteau for our afternoon panel. It was wonderful to see such a mix of professional artists-in-training, magic academics, film scholars and others in the audience. I spoke about Houdini’s performance of a suspended straitjacket escape in Toronto in 1916 and how it informed our adaptation of this stunt for the web series Houdini and Doyle: World of Wonders. Pierric then gave a fascinating talk — Dans la fabrique de l’illusion / In the Illusion Factory — about his approach to magic creation with illustrations from his projects including his one-man show: Homme encadré sur fond blanc

After the rich discussion that followed, we headed to the Cinémathèque de Toulouse where Dr. Tabet played the magical master of ceremonies for a series of magic performances and films that were open to the public. He, Pierric and I performed magic effects before the screening of the films with a performative reading of L’Hypothèse du tableau volé (1978) by magic historian Thibaut Rioult.

This is only a small glimpse into the intellectual and artistic exchanges made possible by this event. For the sake of brevity, I’ve necessarily had to leave out many of my favorite experiences. I’ve also neglected to mention that Dr. Tabet moved mountains to save his conference from disaster when his host university was shut down by a huge student strike in Toulouse. I felt very lucky to have been reunited with old friends, to have met new ones, and to have finally visited Toulouse — a magical city.

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Ricky Jay on Masters of the Magic Lantern

This New Yorker contribution by Ricky Jay on magic lanterns and phantasmagoria is a fun read. Last night I toured the Parisian catacombs, which has me thinking about Étienne-Gaspard Robert. If you like Jay’s article, then learning about Robert’s phantasmagoria shows at the end of the 1700s in Paris is a must:

RJ on Magic Lanterns

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The Task of the Magic Translator

I’ve completed 1,000 words of a magic translation and I’m thinking of Walter Benjamin. He says that a translation “issues from the afterlife” of the original. For him the translated work causes a “flowering” of the origin text. How wonderful it is to be part of a text’s reincarnation. Now when I sit down to work, I see modest new buds sprouting from the original. They render at least part of the spirit of the text visible, blooming, in a language that will always be connected to its roots. By the end, I can only hope to have added life to one of many enchanted gardens.

Illustration for E.T.A. Hoffmann’s “The Golden Pot” made by Indre Selenyte

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Winter rehearsal

Winter rehearsal 26 November 2017

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Optical Illusion Sculpture

This cool new addition to Concordia University’s campus was created by Anthony Howe:

The hypnotic optical illusion that it’s based on is similar to Buugeng (aka S-staff) manipulation. Multiplying the s-staffs and placing them into a flower-like configuration as a piece of motion-based urban art was smart. You can see this at the corner of Maisonneuve and Mackay.

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Una Bennett’s Magic Touch: Aerial Rope Manipulation

MAGGOT GROOVIN’ from Una Bennett on Vimeo.

Una Bennett’s act is full of surprises, personality and rockin’ rope manipulation. About two years ago, Una asked me to teach her rope magic (the traditional kind with a small rope) and explore ways to adapt magician-like manipulation techniques to her tool: that fat ‘ol corde lisse in the sky. We didn’t have much time together (about 20 hours) and no budget for special materials. So we focused on basic technique: sleight-of-hand adapted to sleight-of-body.

Here’s a clip of Una essentially throwing her body into what magicians may recognize as a one-handed knot:

Morning magic! #cordegroovin #circusinternational

A post shared by Una (@unabennett) on

Magic technique was only one small part of Una’s extensive training at Montreal’s National Circus School. A full roster of amazing teachers — Johanne Madore, Sarah Poole, Eliane Domanski and more — helped her to build on the impressive skill-set and artistic personality that Una brought with her when she moved to Montreal. She trained with Circus Smirkus for years and in her hometown of Seattle too. I feel very lucky to work among these talented people in the circus community.

Now that Una has graduated and is touring the world, you can see her performing in Europe with Circus Monti’s Dreambox show.

If you go, watch her act closely. You just might see a knot appear, vanish or some other unique aerial rope manipulation that reveals a magic touch.

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