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:
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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: 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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