Master Class Musings

Dear Friends:

This is Tobias, back home in California after a week in Las Vegas with Jeff, Abbi, Eugene, Bryce and Larry, teaching one of our Extended Master Classes. We had 14 students – the maximum we can really handle in the space and time available, and they were all fantastic. Coming from Spain, England, Canada, Hungary, France, Scotland and the US, students ranged in age from 15 to 60 years old – and in experience from one who was completely new to magic up to professionals who have been performing for many years. Each of them displayed a passion and commitment to their magic that I found inspirational. What a pleasure to spend a week with so many magicians so passionate about their art!

Magic Master Class, July 2011

Every time we do one of these extended classes, I am simultaneously sorry we can’t do more of them – and happy that we can’t, as they are exhausting. The staff, in spite of being at a 1 to 3 ratio of staff to students, is kept fully engaged, not only during the hours when students are present – usually roughly 11am – 5:30pm – but for several hours on each side of that. We are discussing individual students’ needs, planning special break-out sessions to make sure everyone who has come and expressed a particular interest actually gets the things they say they’ve come for. If certain students appear to be having difficulty, we brainstorm ways we can assign one or more of the faculty to stick with those students and make sure they are attended to.

Paul VigilDuring this particular class, we were fortunate to see one show I had not seen before. I have known Paul Vigil for a number of years, and seen him perform short bits for other magicians. I have memories of Paul dropping by Jeff’s house, and totally mystifying Jeff, Eugene and myself with some card effect or another. Then he would explain the effect’s devious workings – often a mathematical principal or subtlety that I found even more mystifying than the effect itself. Until last week, however, I had no idea what a masterful performer Paul really is. His show at the Mirage is a series of mostly mental effects, one or two of which I may have seen before, but all of which were powerful and amazing. The thing that impressed me even more than the magic, however, was Paul’s complete commitment to and connectedness with his audience. I love seeing a performer who is so in control of his material that he has time to really enjoy the give and take with his audience – and Paul provided a prime example of just how this should be done.

The next day, we had a similar experience at the Mac King show. I haven’t gone with the classes to see Mac’s show for several years (I HAVE seen it many times…just not lately), and it was a joy. Like Paul, Mac has mastered all of his material – every line, every expression, every pause – so that he seems always to be completely relaxed and in the moment, responding honestly to everything that happens with every audience member. There were some families with small babies in the performance we saw, and it was a lesson in audience handling to see the way Mac gently (but clearly) suggested it would be a good idea for them to take the babies out when they cried, disturbing the other audience members.

Magic Master Class with Mac King

On the evening of the day following Mac’s show, we all attended The Wonderground together. Again…it has been almost a year since I was able to attend The Wonderground live, and the experience has grown considerably. Last year there was plenty of chaotic energy and some good performances. This year the energy was much more contained and channeled, and the shows flowed as though they had been performed 100 times. Performances were better than ever. Since The Wonderground shows are put together by Jeff and Jordan more or less the week of the show, without the acts coming together in advance for rehearsals, this is a small miracle. I discovered the modus aparandi behind this particular miracle in the person of Lauren Bairas, who has joined the troupe as stage manager. Lauren does an admirable job of making everything work like clockwork both backstage and onstage. I was only able to stay through the first stage show of the night and the close-up show, this week featuring my friend Paul Draper, who wowed the audience with a lively combination of story-telling, classic and mental mysteries.

Finally, we had managed to arrange for a special performance by Jeff McBride himself in the theater at Anthem, one of Las Vegas’ premiere planned communities. Jeff performed many of his best known works – masks, coins, water bowls, cards – and also presented several of our “Mystery School Magic” crew, including wonderful bits by Larry Hass, Leo Diaz, Tim Wise…and, of course, Eugene Burger.

Many people go a lifetime never seeing as many top quality magic shows as we managed in just one week! If all this sounds like a full week, keep in mind that in between all the performances (and visits with the performers), we were seeing and working on students’ works in progress, conducting special break-out sessions, delivering lectures on various aspects of the art and business of magic – and taking hardly any time for sleep at all.

By the end of my time in Vegas, I found myself exhausted – but inspired and energized at the same time. I hope (and believe – you can tell by the bright eyes), our students were, as well. It was a real joy spending so much time with all the staff of the Magic and Mystery School (we all stay at Jeff’s during these extended classes). I hope this brief description can convey at least a small part of the amazing experience these classes are – not only for the students, but for those of us involved in putting them on.

I also hope we’ll be seeing some of you at upcoming classes. I understand we have one slot left for the August class, a few for the Street Magic class, and 5 or 6 left for this year’s Magic & Meaning Conference. If you come in for the August class, plan to arrive in Las Vegas a day early, since The Wonderground in August is on the night prior to the beginning of the class, and you will most definitely not want to miss that!

Also: We’ve been working hard to refine the “McBride Magic Experience,” Jeff’s touring show/lecture and workshop. Please let your local magic groups know that this is available, specially designed to make it easy and without risk for local magic groups to bring Jeff to their towns. Visit to see the latest!

Wishing you a magical summer.


Tobias Beckwith

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