Magical Origins, Magical Transformations

Dear Friends,
After more than 20 years in public broadcasting, Arun Rath has done just about everything. On the radio side, he has been the director, editor, reporter, and host for numerous programs. On the television side, his reporting and producing duties have taken him from Kazakhstan to Guantanamo Bay. His work has been recognized with a Peabody award, a National Press Club award, and in 2020 he was named “Best Radio Personality in Boston.” On the magic side, he’s a passionate amateur who studies at McBride’s Magic & Mystery School, and takes private lessons with Jeff McBride.

Magical Origins
Last year in a class at Magic & Mystery School, we were asked to reflect on our magical ‘origin story,’ and I was at a loss. Most magicians seem to have stories of when they were bitten by the magic bug, having some kind of epiphany when they saw a relative vanish a coin, seeing a big illusion show, or getting their first magic set. I did pursue magic as a hobbyist as a young man, but the simple truth is, I felt no calling. By my early 20’s I was done with magic – or so I thought.
Over a decade later, my son Arjun demanded I put on a magic show for his fifth birthday party–not that I should hire a magician, but quite specifically that I should put on a show. He didn’t throw a fit or make the request in anything other than the most adorable manner, but he was adamant, and irresistible. On a trip to Las Vegas, I spent some hours in the Denny and Lee magic shop with two young men who helped me put together my act from scratch. I later learned that one of them was Bizzaro – and that’s when I got hooked.
My parents had retired to Las Vegas, and every time I visited them I would go back to Denny and Lee’s, often bumping into big names, (and often not realizing they were big names) and listening to a lot of stories. Some of those stories were so interesting that I had to pursue them as a journalist, and it was when researching a story about intellectual property theft in magic, that I was first brought into contact with McBride’s Magic & Mystery School
I interviewed Jeff McBride at the school, and then met and interviewed Eugene Burger and Larry Hass at a Wonderground show. We talked about the IP issue, and I got the information needed for the piece, but each conversation grew and touched on the deeper meaning of magic. I started to plan trips to Vegas around Wonderground shows, looking forward to talking with Jeff, Eugene, and Larry as much as seeing the incredible, cutting-edge magic. The hook was set deeper.

Magical Development
I only did two shows a year, (our daughter Mira soon got in on the act), but I would build a unique show each time for each child. By the time the pandemic rolled in, I had almost ten years of these performances under my belt – performances of increasing sophistication, as the kids grew older and more demanding, and as I improved. I started re-reading a book Larry gave me back in 2012, the title apt in this context: Transformations. The strange thing is that the pandemic didn’t give me more time for magic and reading. If anything, I was working more hours than ever while doing radio broadcasts from home.
Looking back, it seems incredible that I was able to cram so much magic into these past couple of years. I was able to pull it off for two simple reasons: my magic friends and the Magic & Mystery School community fed my soul, and helped me get through the madness, and the support of my family, especially my wife Raney, who could see how much it fed my soul.
While it didn’t create more time, the pandemic did create the opportunity to take Magic & Mystery School classes over Zoom, and then attend the online Magic & Meaning conference. A year after that conference, I had gone from performing ‘standard’ tricks, to writing my own scripts with stories and original presentations, and it was time for the next level of education. I started private lessons with Jeff McBride himself.  
I figured out early on that as a working journalist and a public figure, my stage ‘character’ was always going to be a version of me. The magic (and boy, did this feel like magic) let me develop the best version of myself – the most interesting, accessible, compassionate and loving version of myself. The process also made me a better broadcaster and radio host in every way possible. In It Together became a phenomenon, and I was named “Best Radio Personality in Boston.” I have no doubt that my magical work was an essential factor in that happening.

Becoming a Magician

I don’t want to overuse an overused word, but when it comes to magic study and performance, things really did come together like magic in the second half of last year. The positive thinking axiom “if you put in the work, opportunities will present themselves” proved true, as I was invited to deliver a talk at the Second Annual Inclusivity and Diversity in Magic Conference. 

Not long after that, Felice Ling, one of the organizers of the conference, invited me to perform at the Boston Magic Lab, a venue for cutting-edge original magic – my first real gig! In her introduction, the emcee told my magic origin story, and introduced my son Arjun, now 16, who was sitting in the front row. I decided to use him as the subject in my mentalism routine, and it was a triumph. The audience adored it, and in the words of another magician who watched, my son looked at me “with a combination of love and astonishment.”

I can’t imagine a greater gift. 

Arun Rath

Life, Death, and Magic

Dear Friends,
I was sitting by the fireplace the other night with Abigail reflecting on life…and death. One of the questions I asked myself was, “What will I leave behind when my life is over?” Yes, there will be lots and lots of books and magic props left behind, and memories from shows gone by. But, what is the story that will be told long after I’m gone? My answer was, “The story of my life and love with Abigail, our magic school, and the magical gifts I shared with my dear friends and students.” 
My question for you today is, “What will you pass on to the future generations before you, um…pass on?” While you ponder that, watch the following film. It might put life in perspective. When I saw the short video below, it brought tears to my eyes. It is a story about an old magician who shares a moment of magic with a child, and the impact that a simple “trick” can have on a young person’s life. A little gift for you!

You just never know how your magic can change a person’s life. I feel the power of this special magic when I pass on the wand of magic to the next generation. I always remember that I am very blessed that I get to be part of passing on a magical legacy to magicians of the future!

Meanwhile, Back in Las Vegas…

We are back home now, re-inspired, refreshed and energized to share our magic with the world! As we enter the new year, it’s important to remember the importance of recharging during the winter months. Just as the earth takes a break and goes dormant, so too should we take time to reflect and rejuvenate. This is a time for us to get a renewed vision for the year ahead, to set new goals, and to re-imagine our craft.

Reflections and Projections

The months leading up to the new year are so often filled with hustle and bustle during a time where Mother Nature whispers to us. “Take a break!” This slows down after the bells ring in the new year. Now is a perfect time to focus on inner work, study, and practice. 

Reflect on what worked well in the past year and what you can improve upon. Take the time to learn new skills and techniques, or to delve deeper into the ones you already possess. Revisit old routines and see if you can find new ways to make them more powerful and engaging. Following are a few things you can do to refresh and renew your magic.

Twist It and Invert It

Here is how you can add a new twist to an old trick. Take a classic trick or illusion and put a new spin on it. This can make your routine feel fresh and new. If a magic effect is often performed as a comedy routine, I try making it dramatic. If it is typically dramatic, then I’ll try a comedy frame for it.

For example, I am very serious and dramatic during my “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” coin routine, yet there is a huge contrast between my drama, and the fun and comedy the kid is experiencing on stage. The audience roars with laughter. Look at Rudy Coby performing his famous “Four Legs Act.” Rudy is being serious and the result is hilarious. What can you twist or invert to create a new and refreshed piece of magic?

Pro Advice

Ask a professional to watch one of your routines and give you feedback. You might be surprised how a fresh pair of eyes can spot things you missed. If you need help getting feedback, let me know. I’m here to give you professional help and direction on your show and your business.

Get Inspiration 

Watch performers who are not magicians. Watch singers, dancers and musicians, and study how they touch and move their audiences. Watch other magicians perform, read books and articles about magic, attend conventions and lectures, to get new ideas and inspiration for your routines. Attend one of our upcoming classes online or in person.

I often get inspiration from watching past masters and others. Here is a great channel I found that might give you some inspiration to create original art. I come back to this page again and again to get inspiration, and I’ll bet you will, too.

Self Care First

Most importantly, don’t forget to take care of yourself during this time. Make sure to take breaks, get enough rest, and stay active. Your physical and mental well-being is essential to being able to perform at your best. 

Everything dies to be reborn. Each winter, we have the chance to reflect on life, death, and magic. As we move forward into the new year, let us all strive to be alive. Strive to be the best and most magical versions of ourselves. Let us recharge our batteries and renew our vision, so that we may continue to amaze and inspire audiences with our art. 

I hope to see you at one of our classes soon!

It is a matter of Life,

Jeff McBride and Abigail

Three Sirens of Fear

Dear Friends,
Our guest contributor this month is Braden Daniels. Braden has over twenty years of experience in business leadership, training, and coaching, with clients that include global brands such as General Mills, Lowe’s, Live Nation, Petco, and Petsmart. He engages, empowers, and transforms leaders across industries through his thought-provoking keynotes, mentorship programs and workshops.

Three Sirens of Fear
In Greek mythology, a siren’s enchanting ballad would lure sailors toward their peril by crashing their boats into the rocks, or by compelling them to leap into the ocean. Symbolically, these three sirens seem to represent temptation, desire, and risk. In modern times we recognize the sound of a siren to indicate a warning sign of potential danger.

The Siren of Temptation – Procrastination
The siren of temptation sings the verses of procrastination. It is the habit of putting off or delaying tasks. The growing temptation to do other things when one should be working on something more important. The habitual conditioning of procrastination dulls one’s concentration, attention, and focus, making one vulnerable and easily caught up in distractions. This is when we find ourselves most enchanted by the lyrics of temptation, isolating us and steering us closer and closer to the jagged coastline.

In order to prevent the slow-moving and mischievous melodies of procrastination from entering your mind, one must first recognize that procrastination is the manifestation of fear inside the body. Our body’s mechanism for handling fear, which causes stress, is to delay or put aside what is causing the fear stirred inside us. The delay can be extreme, and often triggers us to build a sense of deadline, with the hope being that it triggers adrenaline, which in theory allows us to power through it. The downside being that adrenaline can lead to increased anxiety and worry. 

If what we are working on is important but not urgent, we often do not build up enough energy to surmount the procrastination, which tends to pull us away from ever finishing it. This happens to us when we have projects we can’t seem to start or finish. In cases such as this, procrastination seems infinite.  
Here are a few strategies to block the siren song of procrastination:

  • Write down what is making you fearful. What exactly are you afraid of? Include any anger and resentments related to the work. 
  • Acknowledge the realness of the fear, and let it humble you. This humility will stimulate creative breakthroughs.
  • Set a timer for ten minutes, and just do one small task related to the project.
  • Set up deadlines related to work that have no deadlines already, and keep them.
  • Build procrastination periods into your daily activities, schedule shorter periods of times to work on your project, and give yourself a small reward for achieving some small progress.

Procrastination is best friends with distraction. Be mindful of what has your attention throughout the day. Attention is an act of magic. Ideally, our daily activities should be a reflection of our central focus, and our magic goals should be part of that. Stay off social media, e-mail, podcasts, audiobooks, and TV for set periods of time when you are getting work done.  
The Siren of Desire – Perfectionism
The siren of desire sings the verses of perfectionism. Perfectionism is the habit of holding an unachievable personal standard, attitude, or philosophy which demands perfection and rejects anything less. The never ending desire to make things “better” often serves to block our most creative instincts. While perfectionism seems useful at first, it can block our ability to see the power and the promise in the work we’ve done.

Desire wants perfection from everyone around us, and in everything we do. Perfectionism deceptively masks itself as a blanket of protection, when it keeps us isolated from the judgements of others by consuming us with our self-criticisms. 

Here are a few strategies to block the siren song of perfectionism:

  • Recognize that perfectionism is a heuristic loop, often both obsessive and compulsive.
  • Recognize that the desire to do better can block our ability to see the productive work we’ve completed. Take an inventory of your completed works and reflect on the process it took to get there.
  • Produce work by letting it flow from you unfiltered, and do the editing later.
  • Perfectionism often shows up as an extremely myopic focus. Step back and gain perspective on the greater progress you’ve made, then enter your work refreshed and relieved.
  • Ask yourself, “What would I start (or finish) if I wasn’t afraid of having to be ‘perfect’ at it?”
  • Remember that “perfect” only exists in our minds.  

The Siren of Risk – Self-criticism

The siren of risk sings the verses of self-criticism. It is a disempowering habit of expressing adverse, disapproving comments, or judgments against oneself. Risk comes to us as the voice inside our head that wants to make us feel afraid, that putting our ideas out there is risky, that other people are bound to judge us, and that they will realize we aren’t perfect. Our inner critic must be dealt with head-on because it intends to attack our credibility, so that we never take a risk. The inner critic is the voice of our self-doubt waging war on our confidence and assurances.

As we grow, our inner critic grows, and the more we fight through it, the more it comes back again. There is no end to its criticisms. For every act of creation, our inner critic wants to balance it out with an equal amount of destruction. This increasing imbalance in our minds between security and insecurity is where our inner critic gains its power. 

Here are some strategies to help you gain back your security:

  • Identify the critic. Ask yourself, “who is this critic?” Is it truly you, or is it someone else?
  • Describe this critic so you know exactly what the critic looks like when it decides to show up.
  • Seek and acknowledge the truth in any underlying points your critic is making. See if you can address those points. For example, if your critic tells you that you don’t have enough experience, and it may be true, ask what you can do to gain the experience.
  • Seek and acknowledge the false in any underlying points your critic is making. If your inner critic says you don’t have enough experience, go back and review the experience that you do have in this area to regain your confidence.
  • Create a ritual and sacred space to work freely. Push your critic out of this space, make it very clear that they aren’t allowed to enter here.  

The myth of the sirens reminds us that there are three sirens of fear to be wary of, and that we should not listen to them sing. Fear impacts our overall ability to be free and to create. Listening to the sirens calls forth procrastination, perfectionism, and our inner critic, which leads to the destruction of our ideas and the ruin of our magical productivity.

Braden Daniels

Three Mind-Blowing Magic Adventures

1. My First Immersive Magic Theater
You never forget your first.
I didn’t even know what the word “immersive” meant when I started building my “Magic & Mystery Room.” I was ten years old, living in Rock Hill, New York, in the Catskill mountains. I had been into magic for two whole years, and already I was known as the only magician in my area. I read a lot of books and started building my magical world. To outside eyes, it just looked like a storage room in the corner of the house.
Filling the tiny room were all my magical treasures: my little magic props, an old top hat, my wand (I made it from a wooden coat hanger dowel), my Houdini-style handcuffs, my imitation rabbit, and my budding collection of bizarre curios – rubber vampire bats, plastic spiders, and two rubber shrunken heads my Dad brought back from South America. Hey, he knew what I liked!

I’ve always loved collecting strange and wonderful curios, and I love sharing them with my friends!

I painted and decorated the walls of my tiny room with scraps of paper and any magazine or news clipping I could find about magic – even from Boys’ Life magazine, when they had a magician on the cover. I had full-color classic magic posters, and some black and white photos of Doug Henning, Mark Wilson, Cardini, Thurston, and Houdini.
I would give tours of my magic room, show off my treasures and perform my magic show for anyone who came into our house. I charged them a quarter.
2. The Disco Daze
After high school, I moved away from home and got a day job working at Al Flosso’s Magic Shop in New York City. At night, I would work in discotheques with a theatrical troupe called Le Clique Fantasy Players.
At nineteen years old, I was gigging with this company, doing conservative Bar Mitzvahs in the afternoon, and then diving into the decadent ’80s disco scene until the wee hours of the morning. What was so interesting about working with Le Clique Fantasy Players was that they were working in immersive nightlife environments like The Electric Circus and the legendary Studio 54.
I lived two blocks from Studio 54 and performed there often. I hung out there every week just to meet and mingle with the famous folks while making magic. I developed many of my routines in this chaotic but magical environment. By immersing myself in the night club culture of NYC, I met Bill Barnes (my first manager), show business agents, and performed on shows with artists like Andy Warhol, Grace Jones, Raquel Welch, and Diana Ross. T’was a wild era indeed for my magic career! (I’ll tell you the details only in person next time we meet, ok?)

Studio 54 was “the place to be, and to be seen” in the 1980’s. (Can you name all the famous people in this photo?)

We did not do traditional stage shows in the clubs, but created installations and dynamic interactive experiences that went with the flow of the music and night culture. We broke down the walls between audience and performer. We were integrated into the party. 
Sometimes as many as thirty of us performing in the troupe would all bring three complete costume changes, creating the illusion of ninety different outrageous masked characters. It was a wonderful time, and I got paid a hundred dollars a night. Things were looking up!

Ms. Ross and me! Here we are opening night at Radio City Music Hall.

3. Diana Ross
Ms. Ross chose me as her opening act for her show at Radio City Music Hall, and brought me to Caesar’s Palace as her opening act in the late ’80s. I was performing on some of the biggest stages in Las Vegas, sharing my untraditional magic in very stereotypically Vegas shows – you know, showgirls, feathers, and tall neon staircases.
Adventure Theater
The real magic happened a few years later when Vegas fully embraced the art of magic and spent 65 million dollars creating an adventure theater experience called Caesars Magical Empire, where I headlined for many years. The world had never seen anything like this immersive experience before. 
Patrons entered into an ancient temple of magic, then descended into the catacombs on a giant elevator, to walk through tunnels and caverns into a world where magicians surrounded them with their delights, deceptions and illusions. There was food. There was fire. There were lots of interactive installations and “immersive magic.” 
I won’t tell you how much I made working there, but it was enough to build a wonderful home, school and community here in Las Vegas. You can get a little taste of what “The Magical Empire” was by watching this:

Immersive Magic Theater
Over the years, I’ve worked in the most extraordinary venues in the world, from Radio City Music Hall in New York City,  to The Mikado in Tokyo, Japan, to Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. In my experience, the most transformative performances are ones where the audience feels like a part of the mystery, and part of the magic. The key to creating this experience is dissolving the barriers between performer and audience.
The term “immersive magic theater” is often used for this ancient, yet re-emerging, form of magic theater. In January, I will be hosting a three-part online class to explore the history and current state of the art.

Your Invitation to Mystery

Performers, magic fans and enthusiasts are all welcome to attend. This will be a lively, fun, interactive class, filled with insight on how this exciting form of magic can enhance your life and performance. Click on the link below and join me for a three part journey beyond imagination.

I look forward to taking you on my mind blowing magical adventures here at Mystery School in Las Vegas or in our class room online!


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