Teaching Magic at the McCord’s Camp ABRACADABRA

McCord Abracadabra grand spectacle 14 July 2017

It’s not the magician who teaches the children. It’s the children who teach the magician.

I had a great time working with the McCord Museum’s education team to teach over 100 different mini-Montrealers how to perform magic onstage this summer as part of their ABRACADABRA camps.* This series of week-long summer camps was inspired by the ILLUSIONS exhibition. The exhibition contains beautiful chromolithograph posters from the Allan Slaight collection acquired with help from the Emmanuelle Gattuso Foundation. Each week, the ABRACADABRA kids took a tour of this magnificent collection as part of their discovery of Montreal’s entertainment history. They then worked with me and their camp counselors (Skippy, Scala, Echo, Stein and Marc-André) to learn a new effect or two each day as preparation for their “Grand Spectacle” at the end of the week. As part of preparing for this big show for their friends and family, they learned fine motor skills, creative brainstorming techniques, performance vocabulary, public speaking skills and how to interact with audience members onstage.

I’d like to thank David Ben, Julie Eng and their charitable organisation Magicana for training me to work with their My Magic Hands team during my graduate school years in Toronto. I had experience teaching individuals and very small groups magic due to my end-of-highschool job as a demonstrator at Grand Illusions magic shop. However, it was working with Julie Eng, Suley Fattah and James Alan that I learned how to teach sleight-of-hand to larger groups of kids (sometimes as many as 30 or 40 at once) while coordinating with a larger team of magic coaches and volunteers. We worked with at-risk youth, children at Bloorview Rehabilitation Hospital and kids at Camp Oochigeas who all taught me a lot about overcoming obstacles, perseverance and what a magical moment can be.

Of course, the kids in Montreal taught me new lessons this summer too: clarity, joy and the power of overcoming fear through friendship onstage. The ABRACADABRA kids reminded me everyday to be as clear as possible when demonstrating techniques. Children are mirrors. They reflect back almost exactly what you show them. You have to model what you’d like them to do 100% of the time. Children are also tough yet extremely rewarding spectators. They love it when you perform something great, when they have a learning breakthrough, and when they get their moment to shine. Sharing those wonder-filled moments with them is inspiring. Finally, these kids reminded me that one of the secrets to overcoming stage fright is going onstage with a friend or getting used to it a little bit at a time. In one of our rehearsals, a little girl was forlorn and terrified by the idea of performing onstage. I told her that it was fine if she didn’t perform, but I could really use her help crossing the stage silently with magic posters to announce her friends. By the end of the show, she was so accustomed to walking onstage and looking at the audience that she chose to perform after all. She didn’t want to miss out on the fun! Some of the other kids found strength and joy by going on as a duo or trio. All of these variations on the single performer model added variety to our “Grand Spectacle” at the end of each week.

Who knows? Twenty years from now one of these little magicians might have their own magic poster up in town.

*Special thanks to Suzanne Sauvage, Sylvie Durand, Dominique Trudeau, Sophie Viennot and Christian Vachon at the McCord Museum.

McCord Abracadabra posters 14 July 2017

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Magic Broadcast Interview with Circus Artist Mick Holsbeke

I recently interviewed National Circus School graduate and clown extraordinaire Mick Holsbeke about learning Yann Frisch’s award-winning FISM act “Baltass.” Mick is performing magic in the “magie nouvelle” show Rêveurs définitifswhich you can see at the Just For Laughs festival in Montreal until July 29. You can listen to the interview by visiting http://themagicbroadcast.com/ or by clicking on the photo below:

Mick Brook John Joe at Musee McCord 25 July 2017 copy

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Cirque Global review in new issue of TRIC

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I just received the newest issue of Theatre Research in Canada (TRIC!) and am excited to see my review of Cirque Global in print. It’s fun to be published beside Ars Mechanica co-founder Sasha Kovacs and above a review of friend and colleague David Fancy’s creative commons projet Diversities in Actor Training. Many thanks to Kim Solga, Michelle Macarthur and the entire TRIC editorial team.



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Rêveurs Définitifs in Montreal: A Surrealistic Magic Show


Great magic gives its spectators the experience of dreaming even though they’re awake. Rêveurs Définitifs, a “magie nouvelle” show playing in Montreal until July 30, achieves this. The show is a surrealistic experience that both magicians and the general public should catch before it leaves town.

Cie 14:20, directed by Raphaël Navarro and Clément Debailleul, is a company that has been mixing magic and other circus disciplines primarily in France since the year 2000. While their “magie nouvelle” (new magic) shows have experienced significant success in that country, their work is less known in North America. It is therefore a rare and special opportunity to see emerging circus / magic stars, like Yann Frisch, Etienne Saglio and others, performing wildly abstract numbers in this show.

***Plot spoiler alert: In the paragraphs below, I will comment on the contents of the show. Though I won’t be revealing any secrets, I might spoil some surprises for those who have not yet seen the show. I suggest you watch it before reading what follows.***

The performance is a sort of insomniac cabaret with a soundtrack by Canadian musician Patrick Watson. It begins with the dancing of Ingrid Estarque, in this opening scene she does some contemporary popping and locking, that transitions nicely into a suspension illusion. It brings me joy, and I hope Danny Cole would also be happy, to see a dancer execute this magic effect with such grace.

French comedian Éric Antoine, a Just For Laughs comedy magic regular, follows with what is best described as a parody of a stage manipulation act. Antoine is definitely funny and this act has a certain cartoonish likeability. That being said, the dove magic is a real disappointment for those familiar with the technical prowess of comedy magic greats like Johnny Thompson. There was also a moment, in the show I watched, when the method of a magically animated object was obviously revealed. There was an audible groan from the audience during this uncomfortable mistake. None of us wanted the spell of the illusion to be broken and, for a few moments, it definitely was.

The magic of Etienne Saglio plunged spectators back into dreamland for the next two acts. Saglio’s flying object work is so excellent that it deserves to be written about in relation to Maskelyne, Kellar, Blackstone Sr. and other greats. The number with the mannequin and the flying ghosts that multiply and attack a sword-swinging performer is downright brilliant. This was my favorite piece in the show: a demented and magical tragedy. That’s a rare accomplishment.

Next is Yann Frisch’s virtuosic combination of clown, juggling and magic. This is the cups and balls routine that won him the Grand Prix at FISM in 2012. It’s even better now. Frisch has added a number of crafty touches. His character work is captivating and utterly deceptive. I’m sure that others may have made this observation before, but Yann is clearly on the Juan Tamariz path of greatness: a world class combination of clown and magic.

It’s nice to see the influence of Lennart Green and Dani DaOrtiz on Frisch’s card work too. He teams up with Éric Antoine to perform three close-up card effects. After a few false ribbon spread starts in the performance I saw, the magic was good and the duo had the audience in stitches.

Dancer Ingrid Estarque returns with an enchanting combination of dancing and levitation. After this act, a comic interlude with Calista Sinclair (silk to egg) and Éric Antoine serves as an introduction to an excellent, digital adaptation of Pepper’s Ghost. Cie 14:20, Antoine and Sinclair all deserve high praise for this smart combination of digital and analogue illusion choreography. Echoes of the old and new magic work done by Pepper and Tobin, Kalle Nio, Ville Walo and others can be felt here. Navarro’s directing is very smart in this scene.

Reveurs concludes with a final dance by Estarque. She strikes various poses, each of which leaves an ethereal afterimage onstage. These traces, along with any hope most spectators would have of understanding how the illusions are created, are erased with her final movement downstage. This is an important show to see. For music fans, I should mention that at some point Patrick Watson gets up from his orchestral niche to play a roaming and intimate acoustic song. He’s a pro. For those of you who cannot attend Reveurs, for whatever reason, I hope my description offers some commentary that is absent in the rather brief reviews published by the mainstream press.

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“La grande fragilité des apparences”

Thibaut Rioult writes about the fragility of appearances in this article. Merci, Thibault. Quelle belle phrase:

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This American Life on Magic

This American Life has been my favorite radio show for a long time. Their latest episode is on magic. I think this is the universe’s way of wishing me an extra special 4th of July:

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Aura at Basilique Montreal 16 june 2017 for webAura is phenomenal. This is a must-see, immersive light and sound show at the Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal. The venue is an already-exquisite, 19th-century church. The spectacle of state-of-the art projection mapping created by The Moment Factory to animate the basilica’s interior propels its spectators into a special state of ecstasy. The show is a fascinating example of what can be accomplished with an enormous initial investment in technology and creative design. Though there are no live performers or spectator interaction components, two of my favorite things, the ticket price is absolutely worth the experience of witnessing this virtuosic manipulation of light, sound and architecture.

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Enchantment — #ThrowbackThursday

So many projects happened so quickly this winter that I haven’t had time to properly blog about them. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be catching up by posting articles with the tag #ThrowbackThursday to share some special moments.

Enchantment Santa Cruz magic show stage 25 February 2017

What is enchantment? According to the Oxford English Dictionary it’s “the action or process of enchanting, … of employing magic or sorcery.”

In preparation for a residency at Apricity Gallery, in Santa Cruz’s Tannery Arts Centre, I asked friends for their own definitions. “The moment before sleep comes,” said the costume designer. “Dissociation with linear time,” said the jazz improvisor. “A seduction through words,” said the architect philosopher, “don’t forget that this is about chanting.” They’re so right. And, of course, friends’ definitions are at least as important as the one found in the dictionary and are certainly more meaningful.

As I collaborated with painter Sarah Louise Bianco to create an evening that would create this feeling of enchantment in various ways, I thought about my personal definition. Much of this thinking had to do with Santa Cruz and the Tannery Arts Centre area itself. We weren’t far from the sequoia forests, rolling hills and secret meadows on and surrounding the University of California at Santa Cruz. I knew that friends who I’d hiked through those forests with, friends who I’d spent hours reading and thinking and building fires on beaches with, would be at this show. Those environments and those people are inseparable from the years I spent being enchanted by life in Santa Cruz. I thought about this as we sent a call to artists to create art inspired by our theme, collaborated with musicians, dragon puppeteers, and created illusion installations. This personal definition of enchantment guided the scripting of my parlour magic show as well. It was one of those joyous, playful performances with a packed house. Plenty of locals came, but many made the trip from Sacramento and the Bay Area too. It was a highlight of my performance life that I will forever regret not having filmed. We did get photos thanks to many and most of all to Baranduin Briggs:

The day after the show, still dizzy with enchantment, I watched a Pacific sunset on Scott Creek Beach with my girlfriend Jessamine. It was finally the right place and the right moment to propose. Happily, she said “yes.” It’s good to celebrate and to reflect on these enchanted moments in our lives. Even better, is sharing them with others:

Scotts Creek Beach Engagement 26 February 2017

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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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