Sunday, January 25, 2015

Steampunk for the Newbie

If you're interested in learning about Steampunk and are not sure where to start, I'm going to give you a few places to look. First, up are some books. These books initially guided my way into steampunk and also helped to inspire me in some cases. Though I don't buy into everything written, they serve as a solid guide to the world of steampunk.

The Steampunk Bible & The Steampunk User's Manual by Jeff Vandermeer. These books contain all the basics to point you in the right direction. They're filled with incredible photos as well of everything from costumes, gadgets, to ray guns and music and performance. Good stuff.

Steampunk-An Illustrated History of Fantastical Fiction, Fanciful Film and Other Victorian Visions by Brian Robb. This book will also give you a solid foundation into steampunk. The author spends a fair amount of time discussing the origins of steampunk in literature. Tons of information in this book and a great deal to inspire you.

Steampunk-The Art of Victorian Futurism by Jay Strongman. This book has a little bit of information on steampunk, however that is not the focus of the book. The true purpose is to showcase examples of steampunk creations by various artists. THIS is a must have if you want to build props. It will help you to see what others have done and also show you by example that steampunk is far more than gears. If you're not a good do it yourself-er, this book may also scare you away, lol.

Steampunk really has it's roots in literature. Jules Verne and H.G. Wells being the fathers of the genre. But there are many others that can be included in the mix, like Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe and even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. And then there are the modern day Steampunk authors like Michael Moorcock, K.W. Jeter, James Blaylock, Stephen Hunt and many others. There is a great list of modern Steampunk authors and their books here.

There are of course a myriad of Steampunk Movies starting with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Disney) The Time Machine, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Time After Time, Journey To The Center of the Earth(1959), Five Weeks In A Balloon, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Prestige, Johah Hex, Hugo and many others. Check out this list for more.

And if you're really anxious to get your feet wet, why not attend a Steampunk Convention? Here is a partial list of events going on in the near future.

Of course, if you are interested in Steampunk Magic, stay here or go to

I hope that helps.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Everyone Doing Steampunk?

I heard this statement recently, "Everyone is doing Steampunk". It was said by a fellow illusionist and I had to laugh a little. It's not true, exactly. I can tell you what is true, there is a trend lately in the stage magic world towards the steampunk look. Also, from what I have seen, a lot of the time the look is incorrect. Now on the other side, there are a number of magicians who have gone steampunk and what they do seem to get correct is the costuming. I can't say much for the material as I have not seen what they do. I know of one fellow who does a steampunk magic act and I know his stuff is right on the mark. No, strike that, I know of two people, Pop Haydn and Master Payne. Pop Haydn LIVES his act and it's killer. Master Payne is a very talented individual who has been able to create a number of different period style acts. These guys present great material.

But I've also seen people who don't seem to get it correct.  I've seen some folks who dress up in steampunk clothes but their act has little to do with steampunk. Also, I've seen some people with steampunk props but again, little do to with steampunk. And worse, I've seen some with 'steampunk-like' props that miss the mark totally. Now it is true that steampunk can be interpreted differently, but slapping a few gears and cogs on a box and calling it steampunk isn't hitting the mark.

Let me also apologize for those who are doing steampunk magic correctly, who I didn't name. I just am not familiar with everyone out there. Also, I'm not here to advertise other acts on MY blog, lol. I won't be naming any of the 'bad' acts. And I'm not naming any illusionists here either, as that would be working against my own interests. I have seen a couple incredibly cool illusion acts who are doing steampunk.

My act actually runs a fine line between actual Victorian and Steampunk. The premise behind my show is that I am a modern day performer who finds himself transported back in time and must use the technology of the day to get home. Magic is theatre afterall, at least stage magic is. And as I've mentioned before, I have a great interest in magic history and this genre allows me to explore historical magic along with more modern day effects with a different twist.

I don't think steampunk is for everyone. I know some guys who do just Victorian and you know what, it fits them wonderfully. The true secret behind any act, whether it be steampunk, victorian, contemporary, or whatever is the performer. The performer is the most important thing. In a themed act the performer must be believable and must be likeable. The costumes and props are tools that complete the theme and tie it all together. But if the performer is not likeable, does not have a strong personality, then he/she is just a person in an unusual costume presenting tricks.

Rather than trying to do steampunk because others are doing it, try to find that which fits you best. Maybe it's sports, maybe it's movies, maybe it's science, maybe it's literature, only you know. Use the things that interest you to build an act. If it is steampunk, then learn all about it first. But if you just like the look, and who could blame you if you do, it might be best to go another direction. That's my advice for the day.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

What Came Before The Rabbit and Hat?

John Henry Anderson was a Victorian Era Magician who is credited with the being the first magician to produce a Rabbit from a Top Hat. Since then, the Rabbit/Hat image has become associated with magicians world-wide (and some of us are sick of it). Anyway, before magicians started producing rabbits, there was another creature that was popular among magicians, the Goldfish.

Fountain of Love
In Vienna Austria, in the mid 1800s  Johann Hofzinser presented an
effect called The Fountain of Love.  It begins with a glass goblet containing some sort of murky brown water apparently from the 'Fountain of Love'. A borrowed ring is tossed into the water to test whether the volunteer who lent the ring has true love, for if he/she does, the water will turn crystal clear. The performer covers the glass goblet with a scarf for a moment and then when it is removed the water can be seen to be clear and there are a a couple goldfish swimming inside the goblet. But the even more amazing part, one of the fish apparently has the ring in it's mouth! A net is used to retrieve the fish and the ring.

In Paris France, Robert-Houdin, known as the Father of Modern Magic, was producing fishbowls full of fish. In England, Chung Ling Soo presented an illusion called Aerial Fishing where he would use a fishing pole to magically catch fish from mid-air. He also presented an effect where he would produce a huge bowl of water on the stage. I think, that his predecessor Ching Ling Foo was the first to do this, and then every Asian inspired magic act seemed to include a version of it. The effect is captured in the movie The Prestige, though in that movie they produce, what else, a large bowl of goldfish.

I read that Richiardi had a goldfish production in his show for a time. He had several buckets of water that he poured into an empty aquarium. He covered the tank momentarily and then removed the cover to display a tank filled with fish. Doug Henning produced two fish in a barehanded presentation on one of his TV shows in the 1970s and David Copperfield, also using a barehanded method, produced what looked like 50 goldfish on a TV special a few years ago.

Probably my favorite of all the goldfish productions is presented by Luis DeMatos of Portugal. He starts with a single fish production followed by producing an entire aquarium full of fish. He currently uses this effect in The Illusionists 2.0 touring show. And no article about Goldfish magic would be complete without mentioning Mac King. Mac is a comedy magician who does a hilarious version of Aerial Fishing with a spectator from the audience.

I have presented so many different goldfish productions that some of my friends jokingly call me 'The Goldfish Magician'. My current favorite version would probably be looked upon quite fondly by my Victorian predecessors...I draw a picture of a fishbowl and fish and then produce the fish from the picture. But I'm currently working on a new Steampunk Fish Production which should be interesting, especially if it ends up working, lol! I'll post images once it's completed.

This article previously appeared on

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Radio Interview This Sunday on Magic History

Besides being The Steampunk Illusionist, I'm also known as The Magic Detective. This is the name I use on my blog all about the world of magic history. If you read any of my blogs, you'll notice that magic history creeps into all of them from time to time.

This Sunday, January 18th, I'll be interviewed for an internet radio show called
I will be talking about magic history and Houdini. It should be lots of fun and if you can't stay up till 10pm Pacific Standard Time, then you can always wait for the replay, which I'll post on here the moment it is up.

Monday, January 12, 2015

A Glimpse of The Illusionists 1903

The Illusionists 1903, the third show from the producers who started it all with The Illusionists, is now on tour in Australia. I've been following this show closely, well as closely as I can being that I'm in the US and they are an ocean away.

The Illusionists 1903 is not Steampunk and not quite Victorian, though some aspects of it are. They call it 'Magic From the Golden Age', but even that is a bit of a deception. Some of the effects might have their origins in the Golden Age of Magic, but from I have seen it's all pretty much modern material made over to look older. Now is that a problem? NO!!! Not at all. It's not even a critique of the show, it's just what they have done. And by all accounts they've done it in a fantastic manner.

The formula for The Illusionists is a multi-performer cast, with no M.C., live music, and great magic.
The success of the two previous shows proves that this formula works, and works well. In 1903, they have a good mix of top notch performers. They all get a special moniker for being in the show. The artists include: The Immortal-Rick Thomas, The Eccentric-Charlie Frye, The Daredevil-Jonathan Goodwin, The Showman-Mark Kalin, The Conjuress-Jinger Leigh, The Clairevoyants-Thommy Ten & Amelie van Tass, and The Maestro-Armando Lucero.

What's in the show you ask? Well, I can only go by some of the reviews and the photos that I've seen, but it appears that there is an upside down straight jacket escape involving fire that looks pretty intense. There is a two person mentalism sequence that is truly from that time period. There looks to be a bullet catch presented by Mark Kalin, but I don't know who is doing the catching. I've seen a great photo of Mark's wife Jinger Leigh with a gold floating ball. I am wondering if that is actually Okito's Floating Ball (not a copy, but OKITO's actual floating ball). I'm not sure what the other acts are doing specifically, but I can tell you they are all fantastic performers so rest assured their material is going to be really strong.

The reviews I've read have all been favorable.

From the Absolute Theatre Review by Eric Scott
"This time the mood was more subdued, the tricks less flashy; but then the setting was the turn of the 20th century when artists didn’t have the luxury of modern technology. They used skill and showmanship and that’s what we got. We might all have seen the illusions before, but it was not the tricks so much as the way they were performed, with deftness, humour – and always with one extra twist at the end of the act. "

From the website StageWhispers
"Accompanied almost continuously by an inspiring and at times moving score effectively tagging along with the action, a skilful fusion of theatrical timing, presentation and production value, this franchise demonstrated family entertainment teetering on world class heritage. Sure we’ve seen some of these acts before but this is edge-of-seat, gob smacking entertainment with just as much pulling power as Hollywood in her full glory, CGI and special effects included. And it’s live."

They also pulled quite a few front covers of the entertainment sections in newspapers. There is apparently no website for 1903, yet. But they do have a facebook page

They debuted at the Queensland Performing Arts Center and now are at the Adelaide Festival Centre until Jan 25th. I don't know where the tour goes after that, but I"ll try and let you know.