Balsamo and Ricardo

Dear Friends:

If you’ve been a part of our community for any length of time at all, you’re already aware of the very high regard we all have for Bob Neale. Bob was the first one ever to sign up for one of our events…back in 1992! He’s been coming to events and sharing his amazing knowledge and ideas with us ever since.

I know my own thinking about the art of magic and its importance to society at large has been vastly influenced by Bob and his writings (highly recommended). Always interested in stirring things up by taking a contrarian view to what others might be expecting, Bob’s ideas and writings therefore bring about some of the most interesting discussions and thinking about our art. I know you’ll enjoy what we have for you below.

Balsamo and Ricardo
Robert E. Neale

Founded in 2006 as an outgrowth of the early Mystery School experiences, The Magic and Meaning Conference remains dedicated to exploring magic performance as it relates to a wide variety of human concerns, such as anthropology, history, psychology of magic, and the role of magic in modern society. The gathering, held every October as the Magic & Mystery School’s “Homecoming,” contains a rich array of performances, small group discussions, large group communal exercises, and lectures on a great variety of topics.

This year’s conference was held October 24-27 in Las Vegas and featured twenty-one talks. We listened to George Parker on “TheCreationGame®: Transforming Your Life Through Magic”; Marjorie Hass on “The Living Ground of Creativity”; Abigail McBride on “Magic Words and the Power of Nonviolent Language”; and Kenton Knepper on (as he titled it in his stimulating way) “Deeper,” among many others. Far and wide, conference attendees agreed that the presentations were of very high quality, both informative and provocative.

Undoubtedly, each person had favorite talks and it was difficult to select just one as the most appealing. I certainly found it difficult. However, after one talk I rushed over to the Founder of our school (Jeff McBride) and emoted, “That is one of the most magical talks I have ever witnessed!” I did not know very much about the how or why of it, but just had to proclaim it.

The lecture was by Ricardo Rosenkranz and titled, “The Secret Life of Props.” The content was about his experience in creating a routine for his 2016 and 2018 magic shows in Chicago, The Rosenkranz Mysteries—a routine involving a prop human skull. This is a familiar object to magicians, and an easy stimulus for a magical effect. Even so, I was awestruck by the magic Ricardo created in his talk about the routine (which he had performed earlier during the conference). As you might imagine, his prop was on stage with him for the lecture.

The performance routine magically creates life by animating, humanizing, and stimulating interaction between the prop, performer, and audience. The lecture did the same. While talking about the creation of the routine for Balsamo, Ricardo and Balsamo behaved as they did in the routine itself, demonstrating the goal in the process. So the lecture itself was a very fine performance of magic.

As magicians, we often use tricks to illustrate our comments on the process of creating magic. But Balsamo and Ricardo have led me to think about this more deeply: the skull prop, but also the standard ventriloquist doll, and some other animation routines (such as the Spirit Dancing Hank) are out to create life. Perhaps that goal is the secret of many, or even all our tricks. And, perhaps we are so accustomed to the manipulation of the props, that we forget what we’re aiming for.

Please click on the photo to see a brief clip of Ricardo and Balsmo in action.

I still have so little to say about Ricardo’s lecture because I do not understand enough about creating life. My only obvious experience is with a fist puppet routine, “A Simple Test,” (in Magic Matters, pages 19-25) in which my attempts were strange and somewhat disturbing. And that is about all I know. But for more on what can be called “the secret life of props,” I recommend two works by Kenneth Gross. Puppet: An Essay on Uncanny Life is his thorough exploration of our creation of living puppets, and can be understood as a discussion of magic. On Dolls is his collection of thoughts on the subject by a variety of authors such as Baudelaire, Rilke, Freud, and Kafka. Both books have suggestions for further reading.

Better yet, as we begin this new year of 2019, we might pay more respect to our own creating of life. Perhaps we performers, and our audiences, too, are seeking life, just as our props do. Are we props that need be brought to life? As Kurt Vonnegut observed in Mother Night, “We are what we pretend to be,” and then added, “so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” Consider carefully “The Secret Lives of Ourselves as Props.”

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