Thoughts on products, performance, and doublethink in the magic community.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Someone Jumps Ship, Another Gets Onboard

Penguin has had a bad reputation for a while. Still, it took years until someone with Sankey's clout started making accusations.

I can understand why customers would ignore Sankey and keep sending Penguin their money. Illiterate 12-13 year olds (the vast majority of Penguin customers) will always choose saving their allowance money over doing ethical business.

But it's an entirely different level of stupidity when professional magicians, the ones who create and market new tricks, maintain a relationship with Penguin. It should be in their interest to stay far away from the "lying thieving whores," as MagicianX eloquently put it. Sankey left no doubts about how badly Penguin screws its partners (and customers) over. And any association with Penguin damages a creator's reputation in the magic community.

Which is why I'm absolutely puzzled at Gazzo's major partnership with Penguin. He's got his own store on the site. Five of his products are already for sale, with nine DVDs and a CD set planned for release. (How did we ever live without a DVD on the overhand shuffle?) He also reccomends a bunch of old books (all for sale) and has a message to prospective suckers, er, customers. This does not look like a casual partnership. He is in big.

What the hell is Gazzo thinking? He is not a Penguin-manufactured magician, like Oz or Jay Noblezada. He is an experienced, sucessful and well-respected professional. In short, the absolutely last person I'd expect to go into business with Penguin Magic.

How long will this last? Does this mean that Penguin is becoming legit? What is Gazzo smoking?

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Friendly Public Service Announcement

Posting has been slow (i.e. nonexistent) lately. I hope to be posting more often from now on. The posts will be shorter and have a little more to do with the magic community, since I haven't been performing as much here.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Open Thread

What are people interested in reading about? Post a comment and let me know.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Tel Aviv

I had a great time in Tel Aviv visiting Israeli magicians. Not only did I learn a lot from very talented people, but I discovered how incredible the magic fraternity is. People I hardly knew let me stay at their houses, showed me around, and invited me into their circle of friends.

Roei was the one who arranged everything for me. He is a full-time professional who does mentalism at corporate parties/events. I'm getting into mentalism, so this was nice. But Roei was also quite talented with cards, even having put out a set of lecture notes. He has the best (and simplest!) version of Reset that I've ever seen.

I also enjoyed browsing Roei's library, which included the Tamariz trilogy (Five Points, Magic Way, Sonata) and other fascinating hard-to-find books.

Roei told me about Israel's first international magic convention, which he organized almost single-handedly. The convention drew 100 people and some major headliners (Max Maven, Flip, Pit Hartling).

I also met Tomer, a busy professional who does illusions and (I'm told) a beautiful dove act, and Binyamin, a close-up magician who must have thick skin. His next gig is performing walkaround - on a moving bus of American tourists! Binyamin was quite talented and gave me great ideas on tricks with everything from cigarettes to shekels (Israeli coins). Four or five other magicians were also there, and we sessioned until five in the morning!

For such a small country, I'd say the magic scene is thriving. And I've only seen a small portion of it. I'll keep you up to date as the exploration continues. Can you say Guy Bavli, Yaniv Deutsch, and Yigal Mesika?

Friday, October 14, 2005

The Girl on the Bus

I’m amazed at all the magicians I’ve met here in Israel. One of my teachers is a cousin of Ariel Freilich, and a classmate’s brother is a Canadian professional magician. I even met someone from a different school who’s seriously into sleight-of-hand. And at the time I’m writing this, I’ve arranged to meet the head of the Israeli magic scene, a professional performer who organized Israel’s first international magic convention, which took place several weeks ago. Say what you will about the Cafe, but it’s a great way for magicians around the globe to connect.

Despite these incredible resources, I don’t have as much interaction with the magic community as I did in the U.S. This is not such a bad thing. I’m becoming more creative and a better thinker about magic.

But how are my performances going? I’ve had more crazy experiences than I can describe and I’m enjoying performing more than I ever have. So pretty damn well, I guess.

I’ve performed several times on Ben Yehuda street, Jerusalem’s main bar/club area. One memorable experience involved five young Australian exchange students and two Israeli teenage guys. The Aussies has a good time for a while, but eventually lost interest, leaving me with the two Israelis.

For my opening effect, I did a two-card transpo, but also superglued my feet to the ground. Allow me to explain.

After the guys saw the cards change, nothing else mattered to them. I tried flourishes, pulling cards out of my mouth, my best tricks, but to no luck. They just wanted to see cards change. And they were quite insistent on it. I never felt physically threatened at any point, but they made it as difficult as possible for me to leave. One of them even grabbed my sleeve (non-violently) and pulled me back in. The chutzpah!

They offered me a significant amount of money for the secret. After I declined, they tried to buy the deck, believing that they could figure it out themselves.

They were some of the most enthusiastic spectators you could imagine. However, their level of excitement made it harder for me to perform, turning them into a sort of heckler! Who knew such things existed!
In Israel, everybody knows each other. There are over six million people living in a country about the size of New Jersey. Anytime you go out, you’re going to see at least several people you know.

And if Israel is small, then the community of American Jewish kids spending a post-high school year here (that’s me) is even smaller. I’ll put it this way. If there’s a group of American teenagers on Ben Yehuda, I with either know one of them or we have a common acquaintance.

People I met in the airport waiting area a month-and-a half ago have approached me and asked me to perform for them/their friends!

Still, Ben Yehuda is often a battleground of drunks and broken glass. People there are not the easiest crowd to work with. So I’ve ‘diversified’ and found another, albeit unlikely, place to perform – the buses. Everybody in Israel, even schoolkids, ride the buses, because cars are expensive (100% sales tax!) and impractical.

I take out my cards, nonchalantly do some flourishes and color changes. This catches peoples’ eyes and they tell me how cool/weird/crazy it is. I ask if they’d like to see something and go into a mini-performance. If the person is more reserved, but I know I have their attention, I ask if they’d like to see something. However it works out, riding a bus is boring as hell and people like something to take their mind off of things.

The angles are difficult and there’s not much room to move, but you can still interact with people. At one time, I was performing for someone next to me, two people in the seat behind us, and one person in the seat behind them.

I enjoy it more than I can describe.

Several days ago, I was doing color changes, and an attractive Israeli girl behind me broke into the most beautiful smile. She was smiling while I showed her the tricks, and she kept smiling even after I put the cards away, and the ride continued. I could still see the grin on her face as she walked off.

That’s what magic is all about.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Currently Equipped!

My school now has an internet connection! Postings will be far more frequent now.

Performing in Israel is more exciting than I can put into words at this ridiculous hour.
I've only been here for a few weeks, and I already have many crazy stories to tell.

Check back soon!

Friday, September 23, 2005

Crossing the Cultural Divide

For seven of my eighteen years, I have had a serious interest in magic. I have a specific personality when I perform, which has been shaped and defined by hundreds of interactions with spectators.

Since I am an American, this personality appeals to a uniquely American culture, sense or humor, and attitude. I am, as all entertainers are, a product of my environment.

My performance style, which has worked so well in the USA, is strange and unfamiliar in Israel. My jokes, effects, misdirection, and even body language reflect an unmistakably foreign culture. Translating the patter of my tricks is not enough. I have to actually translate the tricks themselves.

But what am I up against? What is the Israeli attitude towards magic, if such a thing even exists? Well, to know the people, you must first understand the country.

Israel is not an easy place to live. Many people are quite poor, and supporting yourself/a family is a difficult endeavor. The country is by no means a backwards place, but the comfortable American lifestyle is inaccessible to most Israelis.

Life is only made harder by the vile, murderous animals known as Palestinian terrorists. The murderers target every Israeli man, woman and child. Every second of every day. Security is taken unbelievably seriously. Even so, hundreds of innocent people have been killed while riding buses, clubbing, or eating out. Activities that are mundane in America can be deadly over here.

Because of the security situation, all Israelis have mandatory military service as soon as they finish high school. When most Americans turn 18, they go off to a leisurely lifestyle full of heavy drinking. When Israelis turn 18, they are given an M-16 and the heavy responsibility of protecting their homeland.

Men serve three years and women two. After being discharged, they have reserve duty for a month every year, until they're in their fifties. Israel is truly a nation of citizen soldiers.

The hebrew world for a native Israeli is 'sabra,' or cactus. Cactuses are sharp and spiny on the outside, but inside, there is cool and delicious water. Similarly, Israelis are gruff and abrasive on the outside, but incredibly warm and friendly once you get to know them.

Breaking through won't be easy. But if magic can remove Israelis, if only temporarily, from their difficult and embattled existence, they will be the most enthusiastic audience that I could ask for.

But what are my obstacles?

As an American, I am clearly marked as an outsider by Israeli spectators. This is totally unfamiliar to me. In America, I could approach someone I hardly knew and use a deck of cards to show how much we had in common. Not so 6000 miles away, where I am out of my element.

Perhaps I can embrace my outsider status by wearing an usual item of clothing or acting like a fool. This could counteract any hostility I'd encounter, making differences a source of strength for the performance, rather than a weakness.

Also, many Israelis will be ill-disposed to me as soon as they realize that I'm American. This is not an issue of diplomacy or politics. America and Israel are on good terms. It's just that, in the area I perform, most Americans whom Israelis encounter are drunk and obnoxious. (I go to Ben Yehuda Street, which is the bar/club area of Jerusalem.)

Ironically, many of the Israelis at Ben Yehuda are also totally smashed. I'm told that alcohol makes magic look better, but it also makes people violent and unpredictable. Avoiding undesirable situations will require serious audience management skills. I do not have a ton of experience in these situations, so there will be a lot of learning in the trenches.

However, I don't think I'll be able to avoid the "arseem." These Israeli punks are easily identifiable by their ridiculously tight clothes, meticulously trimmed facial hair, and the cigarette between their lips. And no, they're not gay. Arseem are rude and violent, the worst audience a magician could have. Unfortunately, on any given night, they make up about half of the population of Ben Yehuda street. They're easy to spot and avoid approaching, but many will be drawn in to the crowd while I'm performing - and I will draw a crowd.

I really am performing - not just speaking - in another language. It's forcing me to think about my magic in a way that I've never done before. Why do I do it? How do I want people to react? What are my goals? They're difficult questions, but I look forward to the experiences that will help me answer them.