Sunday, December 29, 2013

Victorian Magic - Book

I recently stumbled upon a book on eBay called 'Victorian Magic'. It's a hardbound book by Geoffrey Lamb published in 1976. I was unfamiliar with the book and many of the auctions for the book had it listed at $40 and above. Fortunately for me I was able to find it for a little more reasonable price.

I must say, it's a really enjoyable history on Victorian Magic. There are a number of things in here that I was not familiar with. The book opens with a chapter on The Great Wizard of the North, John Henry Anderson. The chapter also discusses a lesser known competitor and some of the battles they had together.

Another chapter that I really enjoyed was on Pepper's Ghost and Pepper's Metampsychosis illusions. Fascinating chapter on optical principles once used in the theatre. It was doubly interesting because I was reading it on Christmas Eve just after having watched Charles Dicken's 'A Christmas Carol' on TV. One of the things that is mentioned in the chapter is how the Pepper Optical Principles were used to create the illusion of real ghosts in plays of the Christmas Carol back in the 1800s! The author also gives a fairly good explanation of the Blue Room, probably the most thorough I've ever read (not counting Jim Steinmeyer's book on this exact topic)

The chapter on Robert Houdin was good. It's from a slightly different perspective. It's written from the eyes and of the Londoners who witnessed Houdin's performances in England. Apparently, when Robert-Houdin first began to perform in London he spoke no English. The crowds were not happy with this and according to the book, his solution was to inquire to the audience as to the english name of each item he presented. It became more interactive and the audiences warmed up to him.

The chapter on the Davenport Brothers was also interesting. The brothers were extremely popular in America, but in England they often met with resistance and even hostility. I must add that at this moment the Spirit Cabinet holds an extra amount of interest to me because of the recent presentation by Mike Caveney of Charles Carter's Spirit Cabinet at the Los Angeles Conference on Magic History. I was unfamiliar with the routine he presented and it sure opens my eyes to new ideas for this ancient but still wonderful effect. In addition, the Davenport Brothers leads into J.N. Maskelyne, who I always assumed was already famous at this point in time, but that was not the case. His confrontation with the Davenports actually helped to make a name for himself.

And for the first time that I can recall reading in print, is an explanation on how the famous Egyptian Hall began. Fascinating stuff to say the least.

From a Steampunk point of view it's interesting to see the types of entertainment that Victorian audiences appreciated. From a magic point of view it gives a performer many ideas on material and routine ideas. All in all it's a fine book. I have only seen them for sale on eBay, so best of luck finding a copy!

Thursday, December 05, 2013

The Irony of an Illusion

A few years ago I was doing a routine in my show using a piece of rope, scissors and music. It was what magician's call 'Cutting a rope and making it whole again', but this version is more than that. Anyway, it always received a decent reaction, though not the killer reaction that I expected. So I pulled it from the show and haven't done it since.

Several days ago I happened upon a video of a fairly well known magician doing the same effect. And lo and behold, he was doing it silently to music as was mine. In fact, his routine was so close to mine it was uncanny. But there was a difference, he killed with it!

My evaluation quickly started. Why one, not the other? I watched his video several more times. Then I dug up a video of my performance. I was surprised to see that though our style of music was similar, the rest of the routine though similar was not the same. I had veered from the normal way of doing the trick whereas this magician had stuck to the template. And don't get me wrong, the template is strong! He had plenty of his own touches which made it unique. But then again, so did I. Yet his routine brought the house down, mine received pleasant applause.

Then it occurred to me. The difference wasn't in the routine, it was in the audience! Watching the video confirmed this. The video was shot at my Underground Magic Theatre and this run was all summer camps shows. The audiences were mainly kids. Watching the video, I could hear big reaction from adults, but only average reaction from the kids. Ah ha! I recall watching the video years ago and thinking, "I know this is a strong routine, but it's not playing the way it should". Viewing it, I was to engrossed in the magic, the routining and the staging and neglected the other factor, the audience. It wasn't that the effect was over their heads, it was just something that didn't appeal to them as much as floating a person, sawing someone in half or causing people to appear or vanish. And the one big mistake I made was pulling the routine before it got to a broader aged audience.

Lesson learned. And the great news is I have a new routine to add to the Steampunk Illusionist show. A rope trick fits in perfectly. I've already come up with the 'steampunk' touches to make it fit into the show better. I'm so looking forward to using this again and having it get the reaction it deserves!

By the way, the photo at the top of the page is NOT the trick from the article. It is a wine bottle holder which can be purchased online. I thought the image was cool, as I didn't have a picture for my routine.