West Coast Vaudeville – The Orpheum Circuit

Dear Friends,
 
Our guest contributor this month is Kat Rettke. A social worker and magic enthusiast who lives in Las Vegas, Kat also acts as the Magic & Mystery School Executive Assistant. This month she shares a scholarly insight into an interesting bit of magic history.

Question: What did Harry Houdini, Jack Benny, and Charlie Chaplin have in common?  

Answer: All three performed on the Orpheum vaudeville circuit!  

Vaudeville was a type of live performance popular from the late 1800s until the 1920s, featuring variety, comedy, and musical acts. Comedians like Buster Keaton and Jack Benny began their careers in vaudeville. Acrobats and comic jugglers like W.C. Fields were popular. Best of all, it featured many of the best-known magicians performing at that time. The style of vaudeville was unique because it consisted of a fast-paced variety show made up of unrelated performances. Developed with a goal of appealing to a wide audience, most vaudeville was intended to be family-friendly.

There were different vaudeville performing circuits throughout the United States and Canada. The largest circuit operating in the Western United States was the Orpheum Circuit. This circuit was a chain founded in 1886, and operated until 1927, when it merged into the Keith-Albee-Orpheum corporation, ultimately becoming part of the Radio-Keith-Orpheum (RKO).
 
The Orpheum circuit was more prestigious than lesser known and smaller circuits performing in the same areas. This circuit had a reputation for high quality performances in beautiful theaters. Orpheum performers were paid better than average salaries. Behind the scenes, booking offices of the Orpheum stayed busy, with performers auditioning, and talent agents trying to sell the acts they represented. Popular films of the 20s and 30s (like Singin’ in the Rain) have scenes with performers going from office to office auditioning, as well as recreations of some of the kinds of performances that were popular on the vaudeville circuit.

One theater which was part of the Orpheum circuit was the Palace Theatre in Los Angeles. This theater was originally known as The Orpheum Theatre. Opened in 1911, the theater’s name was changed in 1926. This theater is the oldest remaining original Orpheum theatre in the United States, and is still in operation today. The inside and outside of the Palace Theatre can only be described as extravagant and beautiful, with wonderful acoustics.
 
If you live in Los Angeles, or if you are able to travel there, I suggest adding this theater to your bucket list of places to see. Picture yourself standing on the stage of this historic theater, knowing that you are standing on the same stage where Harry Houdini once performed. Other performers who once stood on this same stage include Will Rogers, W.C. Fields, and the Marx Brothers. Popular recent films from The Artist to The Prestige have filmed scenes at The Palace.

Do you want to learn more about preservation efforts for the historic theaters in Los Angeles? Check out the Los Angeles Conservancy, a not-for-profit organization focused on preserving historic places. You can learn more at https://www.laconservancy.org/.

Sources

Carina. (2021, April 14). An Annotated History of Vaudeville Theater. 
https://www.theaterseatstore.com/blog/vaudeville-theater

Discover Hollywood Magazine. (2012, Fall).  Last Page: RKO Pictures, A Titan is Born. 
https://www.discoverhollywood.com/Publications/Discover-Hollywood/2012/Issue-Fall-2012/Last-Page-RKO-Pictures-A-Titan-is-Born.aspx

Encyclopedia.com. (2018, May 17). Vaudeville.
https://www.encyclopedia.com/literature-and-arts/performing-arts/theater/vaudeville

Genii Magazine Magicpedia (n.d.) Vaudeville. 
https://geniimagazine.com/wiki/index.php?title=Vaudeville#:~:text=More%20the%20four%20thousand%20magicians,%2C%20Carl%20Rosini%2C%20Horace%20Goldin%2C

Los Angeles Conservancy. (n.d.) Palace Theatre. 
https://www.laconservancy.org/locations/palace-theatre

“Muses of Vaudeville” (Palace Theater, Los Angeles (n.d.) In Publicartinla.  Retrieved April 16, 
2022, from http://www.publicartinla.com/Downtown/Broadway/palace_theater.html

Orpheum Circuit (n.d.) In Wikipedia.  Retrieved July 28, 2021, from 
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orpheum_Circuit

PBS. (1999, October 8). About Vaudeville.   
https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/vaudeville-about-vaudeville/721/

Vaudeville (n.d.) In Wikipedia.  Retrieved July 28, 2021, from 
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vaudeville

Boom! We Had an Explosion In Our Garden!

Greetings all, Jeff and Abigail here in Las Vegas. BOOM! There was an explosion of color, fruit, and flowers in our garden…and DRAGONS! The oleander trees are bursting with red and white flowers. The peach tree is giving off new juicy peaches. The garden is scintillating with the “slow fireworks” of nature, and we are hosting live magic classes again – HOORAY! When you visit, you will see our new outdoor Dragon Stage and Mystic Fire Circle. We have upgraded all our outdoor areas for the upcoming shows that we will host.

Above is a photo of magician Jason Hudy, who joined us for a 3 day RAINMAKER training session. 
When will you come visit us for your special magic experience?

Las Vegas Magic News!
 
We have some fun news, and we are inviting you to The Las Vegas Street Magic Super-Sessions, which we are hosting online! Take a look at the details here: https://shop.magicalwisdom.com/event/the-las-vegas-street-magic-super-sessions

Thank you, Jeff and Abigail, for the updates on the happenings in Las Vegas! Our guest contributor this month is CJ May, a storyteller, recycling professional, and environmental magician. He brings together the learnings he received from two great institutions: Yale’s School of Forestry and McBride’s Magic & Mystery School. With his magic and real-world experience, he reminds his audiences of the wonders of our world, and the power each of us has to protect it.

The Wizard of Aquilon show asks, “What if someone had the power to steal a river?” and “What if you had the power to save it?”

How much is enough?

The answer that my archery teacher provided to a question many years ago has relevance for magic and many other fields.  When I asked him how much I should “cant” (lean to the side, so that the limbs of the bow are no longer straight up and down) he responded “enough.” It was a wise answer. By this he meant there was no golden rule that all archers should hold their bows with their limbs on a perfect vertical plane, or should “cant” so they were all at fifteen degrees, or to any specific degree. Instead, each archer must work out how much, if any, was enough. 

The reminder that there are few absolutes in archery fits also for magic – and also for environmental magic. Give some consideration as to what sort of enviromagic you might try, experiment with, or even perform. How big should it be? Enough. In our consideration let us employ the archetypal sizing system first put forth by the Scottish Shoppe owner on Saturday Night Live – “Wee,” “Not So Wee,” and “Freakin’ HUGE.”

Wee

A good way to try out enviromagic is to go small. Use a method you already know, and couple it with a new script. I use “Professor’s Nightmare” to demonstrate the carbon footprint of different methods for creating electricity: solar and wind (short rope), oil and natural gas (medium rope), and coal (long rope). 

In The Magic of Ecology, enviromagician Steve Trash offers a beautiful and simple way to explain the “magic” of renewable resources. The full routine is laid out in Steve’s book, but this is enough to get you started.

Renewable Resources (shared by permission)

  1. Pour three small balls of smooshed-up bread out of a coffee mug and onto the table with your right hand. Say “Renewable resources can be used, but they must not be used any faster than they can be replaced.” Set the cup down.
  2. Pick up one of the balls from the table with your right first finger and thumb. Show this bread ball and drop it back into the coffee cup. Say, “One.”
  3. Pick up the second bread ball and drop it, along with the fourth bread ball which you had hidden in your hand, into the coffee cup. Say, “Two.” (See the next illustration.)
  4. Pick up the third bread ball and put it into your mouth and eat it. Go ahead and swallow it…it’s only bread! Say, “Bread is a renewable resource because we can use it, and then grow more.”  
  5. Pour out the three bread balls that are now in the cup. “Because it is a renewable resource we can eat it and still have more in the future.”
  6. Count the three balls on the table.  
  7. Congratulations! You’re fabulous! Absolutely fabulous, darling!

Not So Wee
 
Since my performances are largely at schools, libraries, festivals, and online after-school programs, I more often use enviromagic slightly bigger than close-up, to ensure that both the entertainment value and educational message reach a larger audience. The “Unequal Carbon” routine I mentioned earlier works well on a stage with three volunteers each holding ropes. The routine is expanded yet further when one holds a toy wind turbine, the second holds an oil drum and the third a large black chunk of “coal.” The ropes are contained in these props furthering the interaction as the volunteers pull out their ropes when receiving the prop.

Many other somewhat large props and routines are suitable for enviromagic in parlor, stage, assembly, and festival settings. Restoring a newspaper remains a standard way to showcase the power of recycling to change old into new. Expand it even further by having the audience wave fingers, wands, or say magic words to cause the magic to happen. Tom Yurasits’s “Foiled” fulfills a similar function, recycling a sheet of aluminum foil into a metal can in the blink of an eye. Audience participation can also expand the already small and powerful “Bottom’s Up” by Tom Burgoon. The rising up of an old plastic water bottle in one’s palm is amplified when it is the audience members, in-person or on Zoom, that cause the magic to happen.

Freakin’ HUGE!

If so much good enviromagic can be created at the “Wee” and “Not So Wee” levels, why even ponder making it “Freakin’ HUGE”?  Well, as the teaser for the Godzilla movie so aptly reminded us, “size does matter.”  Sometimes bigger is better!

Steve Trash exemplifies big enviromagic. I have seen performances where he filled an entire stage in a large theater with light, sound, and energy. Props and music, plus his own stage-sized persona, gave the students bused-in for the performances a taste of Vegas majesty. Big magic allowed him to reach many audience members at once, and do so in a way which created a lasting impression – and he accomplished this with a single van-load of props.
 
Steve’s feat of creating a big stage show from modest transportation reminds me of a new adage I learned reading Morgan & West’s Parlour Magic: “pack medium, play big.” They realized that by adding the right props, they created the feel of a proper English parlour, adding considerably to the show’s mystique and panache. It is worth it for them to fill their own van with backdrop, staging and other items included simply for their atmospheric value.  
 
I find myself experimenting with “pack medium, play big” in creating a new enviromagic show “The Wizard of Aquilon.” Through multiple characters, costumes, and styles of magic, I bring the audience into this fairytale kingdom. This is a play filled with magic, rather than a magic show. The environmental message is there, but it runs subtle and deep, at least at first. Like the ever-present Aquilon River itself, the messages of “water is life” and “a river is everyone’s” are foundational, even if never directly spoken. Is such an expansive production really worthwhile? I will let you know!
 
I hope that you will try a bit of enviromagic, whether it be Wee, Not So Wee or Freakin’ HUGE! Our world needs magical help. By using your talents to inspire and empower audiences you will be making an important contribution–however large your routine and show may be.

Finding Your Authentic Voice

Dear Friends,
 
Our guest contributor this month is Chris Herren. Jeff McBride describes Chris best when he says “Chris Herren as Faust weaves the ancient art of magic and pantomime into a rich tapestry of illusion and enchantment.”

One of the most common questions I get asked is, “How did I come up with my character Faust?” Usually, the people looking to find an answer to this question are those seeking to find their own authentic voice in magic. Rather than call Faust a character or persona, I identify with Faust as an intimate expression of who I am. 
 
Finding your voice
 
Generally speaking, I believe that finding your authentic voice can be one of the most difficult things to discover. I say this because it requires us to do something that we are normally taught not to do in magic – and that is to be completely honest. Magic is an art form that requires us to keep our techniques secret, so it’s understandable that our initial instinct may discourage us from exploring a voice that exposes who we are. 
 
For myself, the character development of Faust was inspired from various hardships in my life. I knew that drawing on such inspirations would place me in a rather vulnerable situation. It would expose some parts of me that I felt were very private, and I wasn’t sure if I was ready to share this side of me, particularly on stage. My approach to developing Faust was to create something real for the audience – to contrast the stage illusions that I was performing, with authentic, true emotional expressions of who I was, and who I wanted to be. 

I recall Eugene Burger’s 1992 audio recordings Growing in the Art of Magic. The one statement that Eugene said that will always resonate with me was, “What do you want your magic to be?” It is a question I had explored when developing Faust. His question led to many questions about the direction I wanted to go, but it soon led to the most important one, “What did I want to say?” 
 
I believe that these two questions were vital in finding my authentic voice, so I share these very questions to those who are seeking the same thing. What do you want to say in magic? And, what do you want it to be? In Eugene’s audio recordings, he described his sponge ball routine as one of his most requested pieces of magic. However, when asking himself the very question of “What he wanted his magic to be,” Eugene found that the sponge balls did not fit his personal vision. So he ended up taking out the sponge balls from his repertoire, even though that piece of magic was very successful. 

This reflection of Eugene led me to believe that finding your authentic voice begins with the question, “What do you want your magic to be?” It’s obvious to me that Eugene knew exactly what that was for himself. He knew what fitted in that world, and excluded what didn’t. Likewise, I wanted my magic to be an honest reflection of who I was. I wanted people to be moved by emotion and story – particularly, my story. 
 
I believe everyone has an authentic voice to share. Whatever that may be, I believe it comes from honestly looking at who you are and what you want. Begin there, and ask the very question that Eugene has left us all with, “What do you want your magic to be?” Perhaps in asking this question, you too will find an authentic voice that has yet to be discovered.

Chris Herren as Faust, MMC
iPhone: (650) 392-4570 
www.chrisherrenmagic.com
Facebook: Chris Herren As Faust
Portfolio: http://chrisherrenmagic.com/portfolio-2/
Promo Video: https://youtu.be/GxXjSvgoBh4

The Life-Changing Power of First Impressions

First impressions are so powerful!
 
First impressions can change a person’s life. Each one of the following experiences was shocking – but each shock led to a realization, and to a life-changing transformation.
 
The first mask
 
When my father put on the werewolf mask, he scared the heck out of me. I was shocked to see my normal dad change into a super-scary monster, right before my eyes. I will always remember that moment—it made a lifelong impact on me. That was that day I knew that a mask had the power to transform a person’s life, and it changed mine…forever.
 
Lesson #1: Masks have the power to transform our audiences and ourselves.

The first mime I ever saw was Marcel Marceau, and I could not believe what I was seeing. Here was a man on stage with absolutely nothing—no props, no scenery, no music, and no sound—just the absolute mastery of his body and face. Marcel Marceau is regarded as one of the greatest pantomime performers of all time. He is the most famous mime the world has ever known. His amazing performance filled the entire stage and theater, and moved the audience to tears. At the finale, the audience leapt to its feet for a 10-minute standing ovation. I had never experienced anything like it in my life. 
 
Lesson #2: You do not need a stage full of props to make powerful theater. 

The first street magician I ever watched was Jeff Sheridan. He was a mysterious stranger in black, plucking cards from the air—from his empty hands. The crowd was magnetized by his movements and expressions. He did not speak. There was no music, just pure theater, and the powerful presence of a true master of his art. Jeff Sheridan is known as the “Father of Modern Street Magic,” and as one of the great card manipulators of all time. I had the good fortune to study magic with him for many years, and he is still one of my most influential teachers.
 
Lesson #3: Performing in complete silence adds power and mystery to our magic.

The lasting impressions made by these first experiences with a mask, a mime, and a silent magician helped to define my style in my early years as a performing artist. It was the combination of three powerful theatrical forces that led me to develop my own style in the world.

MASK + MIME + MAGIC = A Formula for International Success.

What is the impression you want to make with your performance? Do you want to learn new ideas, skills, and techniques to enhance your magic? Do you want to learn how to work with silence or music? Musical and magical performances can transport people beyond words to a place of incomprehensible beauty and wonder. One of the great advantages to working silently, or to a musical soundtrack is that you stand out from the crowd, and you have international appeal. Magic is a language that transcends all cultural and language barriers. I can teach you what I have found valuable, so that you, too, can experience this powerful kind of magic.

Now, for the first time ever, I am holding an online class to teach you the secrets of my magic, and how to use the skills of mime and mask to create your own unique style of magical performance. As always, all classes are recorded, and are available to registered students for a full year after the class ends. So, even if you can’t be there when the class is happening, you can still have access to all the material. Click here to open the door to a new way of performing magic: https://shop.magicalwisdom.com/event/mime-mask-magic-movement-theater-arts-for-magicians
 
If finances are the only thing in the way of you joining us for the amazing online experience, you should know that financial aid is available. Click here to find out more:
https://www.magicalwisdom.com/about/scholarship-program

Magic Quiz time!
 
What do Penn & Teller, David Blaine, Harry Anderson and Amazing Jonathan all have in common? They all began their careers with street magic. In fact, many of the world’s most famous magicians began as street performers, and the skills they learned helped them in their careers. Now, it’s your turn to learn the secrets of the masters.

Join us for a three-day journey into the heart and art of street magic.

Who is this class for?

  • Magicians interested in learning how to perform more powerful magic.
  • Anyone interested in the performance, business, art, and history of street magic.
  • Performers who want to learn how to capture attention, and control an audience.
  • Performers who want to make more money with their magic, or travel the world with their show.
  • Magicians who want to learn the techniques to work the streets, and how to apply them to other venues.    

These classes will teach you to:

  • Learn new street-tested magic routines that will delight your audiences.
  • Gain confidence and learn how to control your audience.
  • Develop your character and showmanship skills.
  • Polish your presentations.
  • Have fun, and make money at the same time.

Go here for all info:
https://shop.magicalwisdom.com/event/the-las-vegas-street-magic-super-sessions

Newsflash: Women in Magic.

Las Vegas headliner Jen Kramer will be our guest online for Mystery School Monday at 7:00 pm Pacific time on May 2. This is an “Open House” and a free class, so just go to http://www.mcbridemagic.tv. Remember, Monday is a school night!

When you visit Las Vegas.

Abigail and I are opening our Mystery School to visiting magic students who would like a private class and tour. To arrange your exclusive experience, please contact Abigail at 702-450-0021, or send her an email at abigail@mcbridemagic.com.

See you online, or here at Mystery School in Las Vegas!

Jeff 

We Are Leaving!

Jeff & Abigail run off to the mountains to get some inspiration…then bring it back for you

We are leaving!

We are running away from Las Vegas!, but just for a few days!

As I write this, Abigail and I are on top of a mountain snuggled in our cozy log cabin next to the fireplace. We look out onto the snow-capped peaks of the spring mountains. Bluejays, deer, and the occasional pack of wild horses pass by our window. We come up here a few times a year to get away, to rest, recharge, and get re-inspired. We also catch up with our letter writing and answering questions about our school. One of the frequently asked questions is…

How can I develop a better character?

The answer is simply to learn more about theater arts, and how to use movement and mime on stage. When I started to add theater arts to my magic show, my show stood out. It was very different from “a guy just doing magic tricks!” The addition of pantomime, mask-work, and movement theater got people’s attention in a powerful way, and my bookings increased dramatically! I also could travel the world and could perform for people in any country. Now, I am gathering some of my good friends for a one-time only online experience, and you are invited.

Magic is an international language that transcends all language and cultural barriers.

Announcing a one-time only online magic training experience – Mime, Mask and Magic! Join Jeff McBride, Avner the Eccentric, and pantomime artist Chris Herren in an exploration of the powerful art of silent storytelling, and learn how to expand your markets beyond cultural and language boundaries. Note: all classes will be recorded so you can watch at any time!

For more info on how to join us, CLICK HERE

Mentorship can help make your dream come true
 
Over the years, we have helped many magicians transform their aspirations into reality. Listen to mentorship student Chris Herren share the story of his dream to work at the world famous Magic Castle. Here is his dream come true!

Make your dream become a reality! Watch this and learn how!

How do the secrets of magic get handed down?
 
Have you ever wondered how the secrets of magic get handed down from generation to generation? Lance Burton knows how, and has been doing it for years – and for free! We are excited to announce that the Lance Burton Teen Seminar will be taking place in-person and live, two days before and during the 2022 I.B.M. Convention.

Lance, Jeff and Mystery School faculty and friends will be teaching at the Lance Burton Teen Seminar at the I.B.M. convention this summer, and they would love for you to join them!

The seminar is free to all I.B.M. Youth Members between the ages of 13 and 19. Attendance is limited and spaces are filling up fast, so apply now because we are already almost sold out. For more information and to sign up, click here. Download the application form, complete it, and email it back to us at simone@marrons.us – ASAP!

The seminar dates are July 11-13, 2022, with extra hours during the convention. Learn from some of the greatest magic teachers in the world including Lance Burton, Jeff McBride, Larry Hass, and several surprise guests. Additionally, the first forty I.B.M. Members under the age of 18 to register for the convention can register for free! Don’t delay, as only a small amount of free registrations remain. Register for the convention by clicking here.

We are so excited to be able to offer you this incredible opportunity this summer, and hope to hear from you soon.

By the time you read this, we will be back from the mountains and helping folks like you learn wonderful magic. Mystery School is back, and open for your private class online, or if you are visiting Las Vegas, please email Abigail to set up a time for your special private class – abigail@mcbridemagic.com, or call her at 702-450-0021.

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