New Year! New Show?

Dear Friends,
 
Our guest contributor this month is Napoleon Ryan. Napoleon is an actor, magician and children’s entertainer based in Los Angeles.

It’s March, 2022! Wherever you are, spring has sprung or fall has fallen! 
 
After two years performing virtual magic, our live in-person shows are released from hibernation. Due to the hiatus, those shows can feel new to a repeat audience (and to us), even if we are performing the same repertoire from before the pandemic. But, if we constantly perform the same shows to the same people in the same area, or the same market, sooner or later we will be forced to look for new audiences. If we customize and revamp our shows, or design new shows, we can (potentially) play the same audiences forever! 
 
As the world gradually reopens, we have an opportunity to devise something fresh for the times. Since I tend to see the same audiences again, creating new shows is also a necessity. So, how do we develop a new show? And how can we do it quickly, and with minimal pain? What strategies can help?
 
Getting our first show together and testing it in front of an audience until it gets to a worthy standard can feel like a difficult ‘trial and error’ process  – and not a short one. In a discussion with Kozmo on the DVD Kiddin’ Around, Chris Capehart commented that many magicians have an excellent primary show, but fewer have an excellent second or third show ready to perform at a moment’s notice. However, with one honed show already in our repertoire, it is possible to replicate its best qualities, and leverage its structure to quickly create another similarly successful, but different show.
 
Some time ago, Jay Leslie from the House of Enchantment wrote a fascinating online blog post about structuring his performances. He needed to rapidly replicate and devise new shows each year for repeat clients and repeat audiences. The new show would be completely different in terms of theme and individual effects and routines, but the formula or structure underpinning the show would remain the same, improving the efficiency of the show creation process. If we don’t have our own formula already, we can create one, and replicate the show we currently perform. One action that has helped me immensely with this process is writing show reports.

I’ll admit that I don’t always know exactly what I am going to perform before I do a show. A lot of my magic can be a spontaneous and semi-improvised response to the performance environment, and the energy of the audience. I definitely make a plan, but I may depart from it entirely depending on what happens. For example, one of my recent shows started with a cry of “Stop that goat!” Then I had to help a trainer lasso the escaping animal before it fled up the street never to be seen again. (The llama, pony and ten rabbits were more compliant).
 
After the show I will write a report. The show report can be a fully detailed account of an individual show, or just a simple record of the running order of what routines were performed. Once several show reports or running order lists have been compiled, patterns emerge and the lists quickly become a valuable data resource for what effects work well with particular audiences, as well as a template for future shows for that kind of audience. 
 
For repeat clients, I can refer back to the lists, and know within a couple of minutes what routines I have already performed. The information helps me devise a new program for the repeat audience from my current repertoire, and even suggests the character of new routines to pursue. Incidentally, when I am away from home, I tend to keep my show reports in a Notes App on my iPhone, so that I can quickly find one by searching for a keyword, name, or event date. That way I can double check something, if I need to, before I start a show.
 
The great thing about a show report, and especially the running order, is that it becomes a concise bullet point skeleton of our show script. Freed from wading through the entire script, we quickly get an overview of the shape of the show. Analyzing the nature of the routines on the running order, their position in the performance, and their relationship to each other, and the overall theatrical experience becomes a lot easier. The structure of a show that might have evolved organically in performance over many years is clear. 
 
With this information, when devising new shows, we start to see what items to switch out or substitute on the set list, if we have to customize a script for a particular audience. We notice if we need to add or replace a running gag that helps maintain or hinder the momentum of the show between individual routines. If we are striving to create a particular dramatic effect or magical experience, we begin to recognize opportunities to layer important narrative elements or other information earlier into the show before the big revelation.

If you have never made a show report before, all you need to do is write down a list of what you currently perform in your act. Then, describe and analyze each routine. What does it consist of in terms of effects and props? What is its nature (dramatic or comedic, a demonstration of skill, an evocative storytelling piece, an audience participation routine?) What function does it serve within your overall show (an opportunity to build rapport with the audience, a palate cleanse, a climax of energy?) Once we understand our current shows, we can replicate their structures, but add new repertoires that might be suitable for other acts. 
 
Making further lists can be very useful. An inventory of our magic props, and especially our gimmicks, noting what they do, is a springboard to working, on and devising new repertoire. Composing lists of effects and routines, and plots and presentations that are similar, and comparing them, can inspire us to turn away and look in more varied directions. I might avoid apparatus that looks or feels from an audience’s perspective too similar to another prop or routine already in my repertoire. 
 
For example, the ABC Blocks, Cube a Libre and the Strat-O-Sphere might seem too superficially similar to each other for a repeat audience, though the method, routine or presentation of a routine with those props could be markedly different. The same might apply to the Peripatetic Walnuts and the Cups & Balls. However, I am very happy to use a similar method from a routine in one show as the method for a routine with a completely different prop in another show.
 
Knowing what repertoire to work on next to create new shows all starts with being deeply aware of what we already perform, and what we have performed in the past, and that requires keeping thorough and accessible show records.

Kick Ass with Confidence

Transforming Fear into Power
 
I was so scared riding the bus to school! Mike and Pat were the bullies on the Rock Hill school bus, and they picked on all the little kids. They had failed a few grades, and they were much bigger than us. I was always afraid of getting my ass kicked.
 
When summer came, my folks sent me away to basketball camp, but I didn’t spend any time on the court. I went directly to the martial arts class. I studied Judo for a year, then Aikido and also Karate. I will always remember my first martial arts teacher, and the confidence he helped me to build.

“Judo Jeff” in his 1st class, learning that martial arts is much more than kicking ass!
Kutcher’s Sports Academy, near Monticello, New York, 1968

Meeting the Master
 
My first martial arts teacher was not anything like the movie The Karate Kid. He was no Mr. Miyagi. My “sensei” was from Essex, England, and had a thick British accent. His name was Steve Peck, and he taught me the discipline of martial arts – and that training the mind and body was more than just learning how to kick ass.

“Don’t mess with Jeff!”  After my first lessons I never got into a schoolyard fight again.

After the first day of class something changed. I had new confidence. When I returned from summer camp, none of the kids in my neighborhood or in the schoolyard ever picked on me again. I had something inside of me now that people could feel that said, “Don’t mess with Jeff!”
 
After I took my first lesson in martial arts, I never got into a schoolyard fight again. All I needed was a bit of confidence to push past my self imposed limitations. Having a proper teacher gave me a little push and the confidence I needed, and now it is a pleasure to pass on the power of confidence to others…you!
 
Confidence is the Fire that Burns in Your Soul
 
Here is a video of magical fire juggler and flow artist, Kevin Axtell, who has been my student for a few years. Kevin loves magic. He started taking online classes with me, and just a few weeks ago he came in for a three-day private training. Listen to why he is so lit up.

The Best Way to Learn and Grow in the Art of Magic
 
Personal training is the way to go, and now it is easier than ever. Let us know when you are visiting Las Vegas, and we can arrange a private lesson. If you’re not planning a trip, no problem! We can meet in our convenient online classroom –  https://www.magicalwisdom.com
 
Just call Abigail to set up your private online or live class with Jeff at (702) 450-0021, or email Abigail at Abigail@mcbridemagic.com.

One Last Thought
 
This might be your breakthrough year – but you have to take the first steps. In closing, one last important thought by master Bruce Lee.
 
Keep inspired,
Jeff

Minimizing Our Magical Clutter to Maximize Our Magical Impact

Dear Friends: 
 
Braden Daniels is a leadership development expert, as well as a professional performing magician. This month he shares insights on how to declutter our magic collections, our lives, and our minds.

“Our aim…is not so much to have a large repertoire, as it is to have a repertoire 
in which every item can be counted upon to produce real impact.” 
– Eugene Burger, Mastering The Art of Magic

Like many of you, I want my magic to get better this year. How do we do that? One approach I have taken is to reduce the clutter in my sacred magic space. I have far too much “magical junk,” and not enough magic! I have come to the realization that there is a correlation between my physical magical clutter, and my mental magical clutter. 
 
Since decluttering my magic space, I have felt more creative freedom, and a greater quality of focus to polish my performance pieces, and to develop new routines. Once committed to the idea of reducing our magic clutter, the practical question of  “How do I get started?” emerges. Here are three steps that you can take to achieve clutter-free creativity.

1.  Create a staging and processing area

 
Find a table and place it outside of your magical space. A folding table, your kitchen table, it doesn’t really matter what kind of table or how big. The table is what is important, as you will be systematically removing items from your magic space, and placing them on this table to process. It is important that the table is outside of the space you are decluttering. It doesn’t have to be far – in a hallway is fine, but it must be outside. This will help reduce some of the attachment that our magic props have with the space they occupy.

The area to the immediate left of the table is the ‘staging’ area. You will bring out items and place them here as they await processing. The table top will be the ‘processing’ area. You will place items on the table and decide whether you will keep, donate, or discard. The area to the immediate right of the table is the ‘processed’ area divided into keep, donate, or discard piles. 
 
You may also make other piles here that are helpful, for instance you might have a pile for things that need to be relocated to other rooms.

2.  Start at the bottom, and work your way up and behind

The best way to gain momentum in this process is to see the results happen quickly. Start by picking up items that are laying on the floor of the room you are decluttering. This can be sound equipment, leaning illusions, magic tables, or random piles of magical junk. Use this opportunity to take any movable furniture out of the space. Seeing the floor clear and clean is a very powerful way to gain momentum. 

As you bring a group of items out of your magic space, set them in the staging area to the left of the table. One by one, pick up the objects, place them on the table, and spread them out liberally across the table top. Once enough items to cover your table top have been placed on the table, you will begin processing the items. 

Carefully review each item and decide if you really need this item. When was the last time you used it? Will you really use it in the future? Don’t kid yourself! Do yourself a favor and be aggressive with your decluttering. You know what you like and use, and you know what you haven’t touched in over a year. 

If you aren’t actively using the item, consider donating it first. Never keep something based solely on how much you paid for it. That is what Seth Godin explains in his book The Practice identifies as a Sunk Cost. “It’s fine to experience regret when we abandon a sunk cost. It’s a mistake to stick with one simply because we can’t bear the regret.” 
 
The more empty space you can create the more inspiration and flow you will experience later on in the space. Once you have made a decision, place the item in the appropriate pile in the “processed” area to the right of the table. Repeat this process for all items in the staging area. 
 
Once you have processed all items on the floor you will work your way up to surfaces, tables, counters, and shelves. Bring your books to the staging area, then place them on the table and process them. Which books have you read? Which will you never read? Remember these are sunk costs too, so be aggressive. 
 
After you have worked your way up to the top of shelves, now you will repeat the process for all items that are hidden behind cabinet doors and in drawers. Start at the bottom and work your way up. 

3.  Avoid further consumption

 
Congratulations! You have taken a major step toward a more mindful approach to owning magical things. 

However, as Jeff McBride and Larry Hass kindly point out in The Show Doctor, you have only treated the symptom. The root cause is really Consumption. “Consumption is the lavish or wasteful spending assumed to have social prestige, but which actually squanders time, money, and resources.” 

Symptoms include:

  • A drawer overstuffed with magic props.
  • A magic room filled with props that haven’t been touched in many years.
  • The false assumption that having lots of magic-related materials on bookshelves and in storage equates to magical wisdom.
  • An unshakeable urge to buy every new trick.
  • A continual feeling of dissatisfaction with current routines and repertoire.

Causes include:

  • Inability to focus on a singular effect or presentation.
  • The dissatisfaction of one’s current state of performance.

Follow the three steps above and you will have a clutter free space to practice and improve your magic. You will be able to focus on your performance pieces and feel greater satisfaction with your repertoire. Do not let clutter and consumption ruin your magical progress this year! 

Fire on the Dance Floor

Dear Friends: 
 
Experience is often the best teacher, but the lessons learned often don’t come cheap. Read what Magic & Mystery Schoolfounder Jeff McBride had to learn – the hard way!

Have you ever asked yourself “How does good magic go bad?” 
 
It was New Years Eve, and my biggest gig of the year 1977. I was just out of high school, and already a full time magician. I had a rock and roll magic show, and I had a live rock band playing behind me. All was going well, when suddenly the dance floor burst into flames! Right then I knew it was not going to be an easy show!

What could go wrong? 
 
I rehearsed this fire act in my mind over and over again! 

  1. The show opened with my production of silks from an empty tube.
  2. Then from the silks the fire bowl appeared – wow!
  3. Then the dancing flames in the bowl suddenly turned into paper flowers.
  4. Unexpectedly, the flowers caught fire. The fire pan started burning. It got too hot, I dropped it on the dance floor, and now we have a disco inferno – for real!  

The band behind me started stomping out the flames, while never missing a note to Herbie Hancock’s tune “Chameleon.” The flames eventually died down, the screaming stopped, and miraculously the magic show continued. All the time I had to step over the burned mess in the center of the dance floor–not such a good way to start 1977!
 
Why did this show go so wrong?
 
I rehearsed this fire act in my mind over and over again – and that was the problem. I rehearsed in my mind, not with the actual props and lighter fluid, and now it was too late! Lighter fluid and paper flowers are on a collision course to pyrotechnics – and I was learning this lesson the hard way.

I learned the hard way, but it didn’t have to be like this. If I had a mentor I would have learned the lessons before the accident, and how to avoid it!

  1. I would have learned from my mentor’s experience not to overfill the fire pan with lighter fluid.
  2. My mentor would have trained me in fire safety, i.e, silk + fire= disaster!
  3. Most importantly, I would have learned to aways rehearse with “live loads” and perform all of my routines full-out physically, not just in my mind.            

So how can you avoid making costly or dangerous mistakes, and cut years off your learning curve? Get a mentor!

Actual image of how mentorship works!

I was blessed to have many mentors in my life, and now I am sharing their teachings with my mentees. You see, having a mentor can help with more than just avoiding expensive dance floor repairs; a mentor is a friend and guide to help you, even when things do not go so well. We can all use that kind of support, can’t we?

We all need a guiding hand through the often confusing world of magic and entertainment. If you are interested in learning many of the most important teachings that are handed down to me by my master mentors, then go take a look at this:
https://shop.magicalwisdom.com/event/masters-mentors-in-magic

“Jeff McBride is the greatest magic teacher in the world”
– David Copperfield

Also,If you are interested in private coaching, I can work with you on Zoom. I teach magic at all levels, from beginner to pro! Learning magic and working on your career moves can be fun and easy – just take a look!
https://shop.magicalwisdom.com/p/stage-magic-manipulation/skype-mentoring-package
 
The circle of mentorship and magic continues as we expand and develop our programs here at the McBride Magic & Mystery School. We will see you live on Monday nights at www.mcbridemagic.tv, or see you for “in person” classes here at The Mystery School in Vegas!
 
Jeff & Abigail and all your friends

Looking Forward

Our guest contributor for this first Museletter of the new year is none other than our Dean – a multi-talented performer, teacher, author, and philosopher of magic—Dr. Larry Hass.

Happy New Year to everyone! The year 2021 is in the rear-view mirror, and 2022 lies ahead like a beautiful vista with open horizons. It is time to “clink” those champagne flutes and move ahead with a beginner’s mind.

Many of you know this is my favorite time of year, and that I typically carry out a reflective exercise to help me turn the page. That is, I explore, write, and share with my family, my answers to the following questions:

1. What are my best achievements for the previous year?
2. What are some good everyday behaviors I resolve to do?
3. What are my goals for the year ahead?

I have found this practice, this ritual, to be very affirmational and productive. (You can read more about it HERE.)

Yet, as I engaged in the exercise this year, nearly two years into our global pandemic, a supplementary set of ideas kept surfacing in my mind—three special reminders at this world-historical time. I offer them in the hope that they resonate with you, too.

1. Honor the Wins…and Wounds

Everything is more difficult during a pandemic, from needing to wear a mask in public, to limited access to goods and services, to separation from, and worries about friends and family, to uncertainties around planning…among so many other things. This often means that the wins come harder. What might have previously been “a challenge,” can now feel like dragging Frodo and the Ring up the side of Mount Doom.

So, celebrate those wins! They were harder than they used to be, and that’s an important part of the story. The trials and travails need to be sung and spoken, especially this year. They are essential flavor notes for the 2021 vintage.
 
And there are also wounds. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t lost something or someone because of this crazy thing. When difficult memories surge up, I try to put my hand on my heart, take a deep breath, and honor the moment. I have found this to be more helpful and healthful than just forging ahead or telling myself everything’s fine.
 
2. Re-align Our Goals
 
Human beings are the forward-looking animal; we can’t help but look ahead, make plans, and try our best to fulfill them. Yet, if the pandemic has taught us anything it’s that the need to revise our goals is built into the fabric of things. And you know what? These past two years, we have met that need time and again, and become more resilient through the process.
 
Indeed, I have come to see that “long-term planning” is a luxury, not a given. And it was a privilege I previously took for granted. This keeps me living a bit “closer to the bone,” and I find it keenly productive to plan that I will need to revise the plan. So, I am definitely setting goals for 2022. But one of those goals is being ready to re-align my goals as needed without stress, regrets, or depression.
 
3. Cultivate Hope
 
Some folks say, “Hope is Love,” others call it a desire. Emily Dickinson wrote that it’s “a thing with feathers…that sings the tune…and never stops at all.” I suspect there is truth in each of these, but for this context I take hope to be an elusive human capacity to imaginatively create a forward path or sense of the future, exactly when those things seem foreclosed.
 
Ordinarily, hope is a reservoir we draw on when needed, but during the pandemic we’ve gone to the well more than usual. Which perhaps means we need to do a bit more to replenish the well.
 
For me, this happens with some intentional quiet time—shutting off the constantly interrupting noise of modern social-media life. It happens over meals with family and dear friends. It happens by reading meaningful things rather than superficial trash. It happens by getting sufficient sleep and going for walks. Your own list will vary.
 
But I think what’s true for all of us is that magic fills the tank. Every little “miracle” is a human-created reminder that the world is a surprising place, that through art the impossible is possible, and that feels great. So sure, magic is the art of the impossible, but that very phrase also makes it the art of hope.
 
So please remember as we turn the page—the world needs your magic. It really does! And you need your magic. It is one of the finest things we can do to cultivate and enlarge our capacity to hope.
 
Here’s to your Magical New Year! “Clink!”

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