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Greg Arce
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Just got back from the IBM convention in San Diego. I have a few gripes about magic now and can see why lay people think it's a low form of entertainment. My biggest gripe deals with the stage shows. We had the shows in a theater that looked like it fit over 2000... 2000!!! Read that again...2000! Now imagine someone doing what could best be considered a parlor act that is not visible from past the third row... and there was probably fifty rows!! Would you pay a ticket price to see a movie and then when you got in the theater they wheeled in a 17 inch tv set and had you watch that? Would you? I think most of us would go screaming to the management. I know I would. Well, were do we magicians get off having someone pay a full ticket price and then seat them in a large arena and have them squint at someone doing an effect slightly larger than nickels to dimes. I was furious!!! One performer not only did effects that were small to begin with, but proceeded to dim the lights for his last miracle. I get it! You didn't want the front row to see it either. Are we kidding ourselves? Do we actually see this as entertainment? Is someone prancing around and moving some unknown objects around, a form of entertainment? If I had been someone in the back of the theater... well, actually anyone past the fifth row, I would have demanded either my full refund or a partial refund. This is insane! Ladies and gentlemen, we are killing magic by promoting such things. When we clap because we know that what he did was a great color change, but no one saw it, we are promoting bad entertainment. When we clap because we know it's a brilliant routine even though it can't be seen, we are promoting bad entertainment. When we allow a fellow performer to dim lights to a seance level, we are promoting bad entertainment. Let's stop kidding ourselves... it's not the Masked Magicians fault or David Blaine or magic shops that sell invisible thread to the public... we are driving in our own nails and we are making sure magic never rises from the dead.
Okay, now my rant on close up contests: Since when has close up magic needed assistants to bring props in, set up, and then take an hour to set up again. Since when has close up magic been about flash pots and large stage productions, and endless props, and a half a dozen boxes to hold all your loads, and more pyrotechnics than a Fourth of July holiday? Is it close up when you need to carry a radio, and a specially made suit to fit dozens of productions that can only be reset by leaving town? Don't get me wrong... I was entertained by many of the close up acts, but I kept thinking, "Okay, we complain that David Blaine can't do his thing in the real world, yet I'm seeing the same thing in the contest." I challenge 90% of the contestants to do one walkaround night at a club with the same act they performed at the contest. I'm just asking: Has close up become as cheesy and glitzy as a Las Vegas act? Is that something that will work in the real world? As I was watching the acts, I could only think of my friends Shoot Ogawa and Reed McClintock who could have smoked anyone there with a handful of coins and a deck of cards, but I wonder if they would have won? Afterall, they can instantly go to the next table and start again so maybe their acts don't count. Maybe next year someone will just bring in a trash can size Cups & Balls and produce three tigers at the end. Maybe the matrix needs to be done with manhole covers and throwrugs for cover. Maybe the first part of my close up act should be a dance number followed by a juggler and then I end with a subtrunk... but put it on a close up mat so it meets the requirements.
Okay, is it just me? Or what has happen to close up contests is become insane?
Give me your opinions. I want to know what you think because I left the convention disappointed in magic and I was almost ashamed to say I perform it.
Greg
One of my favorite quotes: "A critic is a legless man who teaches running."
Scott F. Guinn
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First of all, you need to understand that magic conventions are typically completely false environments--particularly the competitions and the close up performances/lectures.

Close up, by its very name, is completely alien to a room full of people, unless it is strolling close up. As to competitions, well, anyone who has read my posts here or my articles elsewhere knows what I think of those--and I have won a couple!

As to the stage shows, I think it depends on what's going on. If it is people who are truly stage perfomers, who do their shows for audiences of 2000 regularly, than there is no excuse for what you describe. However, if it is a performer who does his show in the real world for audiences of 50-500, I think that expecting him to come up with an entirely new act just for that one show at a convention is not only unreasonable, but the show would probably really suck, as it's not what he usually does.

I personally dislike the big conventions for the some of the very reasons that you list. That's why I don't go to them. I much prefer the smaller, more intimate conventions, with shows that more truly match real-world conditions.
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p.b.jones
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Quote:
" I challenge 90% of the contestants to do one walkaround night at a club with the same act they performed at the contest. I'm just asking: Has close up become as cheesy and glitzy as a Las Vegas act? Is that something that will work in the real world? As I was watching the acts, I could only think of my friends Shoot Ogawa and Reed McClintock who could have smoked anyone there with a handful of coins and a deck of cards, but I wonder if they would have won? Afterall, they can instantly go to the next table and start again so maybe their acts don't count."

Hi Greg,
I just thought that I would point out that not all close up magic has or indeed is performed in a table hopping/ strolling Enviroment. It is quite possible to book close up shows and set up in advance Just like in the magic conventions. John Tremaine for one did this for years. Many people critised his video's because he performed this way. Now I was talking to Roberto Giobbi
a year or so back and he was telling me that he does not table hop. But prefers to perform
a close up show. It was his opinion that this is quite possible to do this and that it is just magicians Lazyness/neglect in marketing that ties magicians to table hopping.

How many have actually tried marketing a 45 mins close up show?

Think how much stronger an impact such a performance (done well) would have on an audience over 5 mins of what you can stick in your pockets.

I agree it is easier to sell table hopping
But it does not mean that a close up show is unsaleable.
Phillip
Huw Collingbourne
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As a general point, the thing that has struck me since I've started learning magic is that magicians value very different skills and effects from the public at large. It seems to me that close-up magic (cards, coins at all) is much more highly valued among magicians than the general public since magicians appreciate the real skill and subtlety involved whereas, to the the untrained viewer, there's nothing much to distinguish a simple card trick from a clever card trick.

If you were to ask most non magicians to think of an impressive magic trick I'll bet most people would say something like sawing a lady in half, vanishing an elephant or (maybe?) getting frozen in a block of ice - in other words, the big spectacular and/or bizarre illusions. That's why Copperfield, Lance Burton and Penn and Teller have become so well known. They may be able to do close-up (certainly Lance Burton can) but they are known for their big stage and TV 'events'.

Maybe close-up workers should branch out into big illusions every once in a while to help them get the "let's blow their socks off in the back row" approach to stagecraft....?

best wishes
Huw
Peter Marucci
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I was a judge in the close-up contests at the IBM international a few years ago and would have to agree with Greg -- up to a point.
First of all, the audiences are too big for true close-up work; but you can only repeat the show a finite number of times and the point is to allow as many as possible to see the work.
Thus, bigger crowds.
This, then, leads the performers to use effects that will play to a bigger crowd.
And the cycle continues.
As for stage shows, I recall an IBM convention almost 10 years ago with a closing act that was, to my mind, just awful.
Apparently others agreed because the audience almost booed the performer off the stage.
Some others were appalled by this booing, so much so as to go into print with their comments.
Personally, I would have congratulated the audience for being critical enough to voice their opinion, rather than the usual polite "pity" applause.
Members of the public who attend the evening shows must think magicians will accept any kind of crap as entertainment!
A stage show doesn't have to be huge illusions: Jay Marshall could (and still can) hold an audience in the palm of his hand with just a glove puppet! With just a rope and a pair of scissors, Mike Finney can bring down the house! Karrell Fox could do big and small magic on stage and have both work effectively! The list goes on and on!
So it's not the tricks; it's the tricksters.
Smile
cheers,
Peter Marucci
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p.b.jones
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quote:
If you were to ask most non magicians to think of an impressive magic trick I'll bet most people would say something like sawing a lady in half, vanishing an elephant or (maybe?) getting frozen in a block of ice - in other words, the big spectacular and/or bizarre illusions. That's why Copperfield, Lance Burton and Penn and Teller have become so well known. They may be able to do close-up (certainly Lance Burton can) but they are known for their big stage and TV 'events'.

HI Huw,
I have to dissagree with you a little here,
When I perform close up at tables I often get into conversations with my audiences. whilst I agree that most people would reel off the names you mentioned this is because this is what's on TV. In my opinion this is also one of the main reasons that magic has a cheesy image with the lay public. when Paul Daniels had a TV show. the most talked about acts where the guests performing the close up. Many people say to me that They prefer the smaller magic even from the big names. If you happen to work for people who have seen other good close up magicians they mostly regard this as there Best experience of magic. It is not unusual for people to tell me about how Fay presto pushed a bottle through there table or a tale about Phil Jay or Bob Read. Of course as these people are only working for small groups they will never have the recognition of the big names.
close up magic has huge impact simply because
it appeals on a personal level, it is right in front of there eyes, they can touch, feel and totaly experience the magic. which is also why magic does not come across well on TV there is no Experience no feeling.
phillip
Huw Collingbourne
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Quote:
If you happen to work for people who have seen other good close up magicians they mostly regard this as there Best experience of magic.

I'm sure that's true, Phillip. It's a bit like seeing a play in a small theatre or hearing a singer 'unplugged' in a small bar. The effect can be far more immediate and memorable than seeing a film on a big screen or hearing Pink Floyd or Pavarotti in a vast amphitheatre.

But most people, most of the time, see magic on TV (if at all) or, if they are lucky, in a big venue. I think the point that was made at the start of this discussion was the disparity between a smallscale performance and a big scale venue. As a newcomer to the study of magic (on the cusp, you could say between being a member of the lay public and an novice of the arts of magic), I can tell you that my view of 'what magic is' has changed quite a bit since I've been studying it seriously. I now appreciate why magicians put so much emphasis on the skills of close-up magic. And yes, I get a kick from seeing the real 'experts at the card table' in action.

And yet it still seems to me that the general public, on the whole, has a rather jaundiced view of close-up magic. I can tell you bluntly (and I really don't want to cause offence to the skilled card people here, but this is the plain, unvarnished truth) that, in my youth, whenever a magic show came on TV, I would always watch the escapes, the sawings, the ZigZags etc. but I'd go and do something else as soon as any cards or doves appeared.

I accept that, had I seen the dove and card acts live and up close, my reaction might have been very different. But most people are introduced to magic through 'the box' and it's the big, spectacular stuff that grabs the attention of the viewer at home.

btw, next time I'm back home in Wales, I'll have to try to find out your performance schedule (I'm also curious to know what you plan to do with that head!!!!)

best wishes
Huw

best wishes
Huw
Garrett Nelson
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Different people, different strokes.

Before my interst in magic became more serious, I would force myself to watch the escapes and dove acts, just hoping to see some card stuff.
Greg Arce
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Thanks for some of the comments. I still wonder on who is to blame when it came to a stage show that could only be viewed by the front row. Should the committee that hires the acts have said something or should it be the act itself that looks at the theater and says, "My show won't play well here." I'm not sure. I just know it is an atrocious situation where you have people paying to see a show they can't see. Just a little more insight on what happened at these shows: Because I had to leave a bit early each night to help my friend set up his booth, I was privy to hanging out at the trolley station with other audience members that left early... some were regular folk and some where magi. The comments were all the same: "What the hell was that!!??" "Could you see what he was doing!!??" "I don't get it!" "why was it so dark?"
As badly as I felt for the regular public that was complaining, I felt twice as strong about the magi. I didn't feel bad for them, but I felt something else... why were they complaining outside and not booing inside? Why did they continue to applaud while inside when they knew it was a poorly visible act? Why do we encourage this kind of stuff? I never applaud or encourage this stuff. I made my feelings known right there and told several of the individuals in charge that this was not acceptable in the real world. Would you pay for cable if they could only send you some channels that are visible while others are muddy and dark? Would you continue to eat at a restaurant that serves you bland meals? Would you continue to read an author's books if each one had a silly ending? Would you continue to pay your phone bill if the company could only guarantee that every other call was audible? I think not. Why do we accept performances and situations that weaken the entertainment in magic? I love magic, but I see it a self-fulfilling prophecy...we continue to say it is dying, but we continue to feed it poison. Let's all put on our thinking caps and try to come up with a solution to this. What can be done?
Greg
Greg
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Huw Collingbourne
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Quote:
On 2002-07-07 13:21, Greg Arce wrote:
Why did they continue to applaud while inside when they knew it was a poorly visible act?

It's the curse of being 'brought up to be polite'. I've sat through all kinds of bad performances (not just magic - I also mean theatre, concerts, opera etc.) here in the UK which have been received with polite applause. In Italy audiences are somewhat more forthright (they've even been known to boo Pavarotti - something that would be inconceivable over here).

Your point about poor visibility makes me wonder how the old time coin manipulators such as T. Nelson Downes managed to play to big theatres with an act whose main props must have been all but invisible from the middle rows, never mind the back rows. I can only assume that Downes and his contemporaries must have had the arts of showmanship so well mastered that the audience thought they were seeing more than they really were...?

best wishes
Huw
Greg Arce
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Huw, you bring up a good point. I, too, always wondered about past acts that dealt with small props. If anyone has an answer to that please respond. But having said that, we are in modern times, there is no reason to disappoint an audience that way. How about saying that from now on all conventions should rent a large screen tv and project the show so that it can be seen by all. Or check out all the acts first and only put them on if their acts fit the stage or can be changed to fit the stage. Someone mentioned not blaming the performer if he has an act that cannot be changed... well, is that person truly a professional? I would think if you are a professional you would care how you are percieved by the paying public. What if there is a manager or booker in the audience who sees this act that cant' be seen? You've lost a potential job. Would it not be better to say no or take the time to create an act better suited for a large venue? Maybe it's me, but I care for the paying public.
Greg
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Adam V
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I've had many people tell me that they've watched the World's Greatest Magic specials and their favourite parts were the close up sections. I used to love the stage illusions as a kid but when I got older I started becoming less impressed with them and more impressed with skill involved in close-up. The exception of course being Melinda getting that screw shoved into her. What an outfit.
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Peter Marucci
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First of all, I don't think you can blame the talent committees at various magic conventions for the quality of the acts.
Most acts on stage perform at magic conventions for considerably less money than they would normally get; so the committee pretty well has to go with what that particular act offers.
That's part of the trouble with having "name" acts.
As for the old-timers, like Downes, etc., Huw is right: They were masters of showmanship.
And the audiences didn't so much care about what they did as who they were and how they did it.
Downes, for example, was billed as a coin worker but actually relied heavily on comedy. (Unfortunately, virtually none of that survives today, since his material was timely and, therefore, dated by today's standards.)
The late Doug Henning, when doing close-up on stage (i.e., the chop cup), would use a TV camera and a large screen, so that the entire audience could see what he was doing.
I suspect many audiences prefer close-up because:
It appears not to rely on angles as much as stage;
The magic happens right in front of them, and often in their own hands;
It appears to the audience to be more personal.
So, once again, it seems to boil down to:
Don't blame the tricks; don't even blame the people who book the tricks; blame the people who DO the tricks.
cheers,
Peter Marucci
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Tom Cutts
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"makes me wonder how the old time coin manipulators such as T. Nelson Downes managed to play to big theatres with an act whose main props must have been all but invisible from the middle rows"

Max Howard experienced first hand this very issue in the creation of his coin routine for the character Gus Rich. He touches on the details in his AM/PM magazine interview, issues 3 & 4.
p.b.jones
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Hi,
I must say that although we have the same problems of viewing close up at conventions you have. Here in the Uk we do not generally have parlour acts in the gala stage shows. I cannot really recall not being able to see the props ext even at the Blackpool convention at the Opra house which seats about 3,000 I believe the smallest acts (prop wise not by fame} are normaly Manipulators like Norm Nielson,Roy Davenport ext. the only thing I have ever had trouble seeing is the Thimbles some acts use.
Phillip
Greg Arce
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One thing I'd like to add to my comments: I don't blame the close up workers for doing parlor size acts. They are only doing what they have learned will win the contest. It seems almost like Johnny Ace Palmer's act is the cause of this. People now think you have to have a large flashy show with many props and some sort of animal production to win... and, unfortunately, they are right. Maybe we should think of having three types of contests: Stage, Fantasy Close Up and Real World Close Up.
Greg
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Millard123
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Hi Greg,

Twenty five years ago you said that I did the best stage manipulation act you had ever seen; do you remember that?

One of the things that I did to make my small props look bigger was to work in a spotlight. Many of the other acts I did not see because they refused to work in a spot. Did the acts you saw at the IBM use spots?

Millard
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p.b.jones
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Hi,
I recal George Blake saying (on a Martin Breese audio tape never met him) about performing the torn and restored cigarette paper on stage in a fixed head and arms spot light and how amazed he was at the reaction he recieved. aparently the venue was much larger than he normaly worked and he just came up with the spotlight idea. from then on I think he used it all the time for this effect.
Phillip
Greg Arce
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Quote:
On 2002-07-08 23:45, Millard123 wrote:
Hi Greg,

Twenty five years ago you said that I did the best stage manipulation act you had ever seen; do you remember that?

One of the things that I did to make my small props look bigger was to work in a spotlight. Many of the other acts I did not see because they refused to work in a spot. Did the acts you saw at the IBM use spots?

Millard


Did I say that? I was heavily medicated at the time Smile
Just kidding... you had a beautiful act. Anyway, if they did use the light it still wasn't working. All I can repeat is that there were a lot of effects and props that could not be seen past the fifth row. One act ended up dimming the lights even more... just in case Ray Charles needed to see it.
I give up. I just don't want to hear anymore about why magicians are not respected as much in the entertainment field... we do it to ourselves so we can't blame anyone else.
Greg
One of my favorite quotes: "A critic is a legless man who teaches running."
Millard123
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Greg,

Even a Toad like me can fool Ray Charles! You are a very funny guy; why is your film so evil?

Magicians are the only entertainers that perform only to amuse themselves! Who cares about the audience? Smile

I still have vivid memories of you doing the Bizarre Twist while you thought no one was watching. You did it over and over again, not for practice since you were doing it perfectly, but for your own amusement! I have done the same thing and still do.

Of course, I do not do magic for anyone else now that I am a Psychic Entertainer!

Millard
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