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:’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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A Spectacle of Magic, Witchcraft and Politics in South Korea

The winner of best Halloween costume for 2016 may be Choi Soon-sil, whose revelation as an influential shaman-like advisor to South Korean President Park Geun-hye has created a massive scandal. Here is a recent video of Soon-sil being mobbed by reporters:


The political spectacle of this event is a mysterious one of Rasputin-like proportions.

From a North American vantage point, it is difficult to know exactly what is going on and what is being lost in translation. At least three things are clear:

First, there are protests and popular calls for President Guen-hye to step down due to accusations that advisor Soon-sil has had an inappropriate amount of influence upon the leader’s decisions. Second, the President’s popularity rating is now very low. It’s been reported in the 10%-20% range during the last week by a variety of news outlets. Finally, a discourse of witchcraft is being invoked in the political commentary surrounding this event. Law Professor Joung Hwang, affiliated with Korea’s Hangkuk University of Foreign Studies, described Soon-sil as “… a kind of witch who has bewitched our president and has managed to run the state affairs.”

Wow. Is this 2016? This talk of witchcraft and bewitchment sounds more like the language one might read in Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584), a biography of Grigori Rasputin, or Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. To talk of witches certainly fuels the political spectacle of this event. It also seems like a superstitious and inflammatory statement, particularly coming from a professor of law. As I watch the video of the press mobbing Soon-sil above, I can’t help but see those continuous camera flashes as flames of fire. Burn her, they cry. She’s a witch!

Soon-sil will eventually be outed as a con artist who has done something fraudulent and illegal or not. Her story is certainly a mysterious and compelling one that has something to teach the us about belief and superstition in the 21st century. Labelling her a witch, however, is foolish.

Halloween was yesterday.

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Healthy Writing Habits Workshop at McGill this Friday, 10AM-12PM


Click on the text above if you’d like to take my workshop this Friday at McGill’s GRAPHOS writing centre for grad students and postdocs. I’m stretching right now as I think about how rewarding it is to treat the body and the mind as equal partners in the writing process.



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Two Years of Magic at the National Circus School


I had a great time today sharing highlights from two years of practice-based research at Montréal’s National Circus School (NCS) and giving some glimpses into current projects. It was quite special to have Una Bennett (a current student), Kerttu Pussinen (a circus pro and collaborator) and Anna-Karyna Barlati (head of the library) speak about the various magic projects we work on together. The NCS, its SSHRC Industrial Research Chair for Colleges in circus arts, Patrick Leroux’s Montréal Working Group on Circus, the TOHU, and En Piste continue to be amazingly supportive partners in exploring how to adapt the performing art of magic to other circus disciplines. 

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