Magic Goal Setting, Mystery School and Fool Us

I was scared out of my mind! What if I screwed up? What if I died on tv? Being on national television was a pretty big deal for a 15 year-old kid from upstate New York, and this was my big chance. What’s My Line? was a famous TV game show in the 1970s. I auditioned for a talent scout, passed the audition, and now I had to deliver the goods in front of millions. The good news is that I actually pulled it off. I levitated Broadway star Anita Gillette on the show, and that was my first of hundreds of television performances. During the 80s and 90s I was in a different country almost every week performing on TV variety shows.

Floating on air. Fifteen year-old Jeff McBride’s levitation act on What’s My Line?

Helping Dreams Come True
After over fifty years of performing magic, I’ve gathered a lot of experience, and now I enjoy helping my friends and students realize their dreams. Many of our students at The Magic & Mystery School have gone on to America’s Got Talent – like Mat Franco, who was the first magician to ever win 1st place. Some of you know that Mat started studying here at our school when he was 12 years-old.

AGT 1st place champion Mat Franco with Jeff at Mystery School. 

Other students I’ve coached have gone on to television shows like AGT, Masters of Illusion, and most recently, Penn & Teller: Fool Us. Currently auditions are taking place for Fool Us, and if you are interested in submitting, I have posted the rules on my personal Facebook page. If you need some help with your show or figuring out what to submit, you can always email me at

Jeff fools Penn & Teller with his famous “Rainmaker” performance.

Here Come the Judge!

Congratulations to Judge Gary Brown for his upcoming appearance on Fool Us. Gary is one of my favorite storytellers, and here is his inspiring story – enjoy!

Mystery School 
During a session at the Mystery School’s “Weekend of Wisdom” in 2021, Jeff McBride challenged each participant to set a magic goal to accomplish during the following year. The goal was to be written, and then read to the group. I immediately knew my goal: I wanted to appear on Penn & Teller: Fool Us. But, I lacked the resolve to write it down or say it aloud. Somehow, it felt too big, too audacious, so I substituted “performing at the Magic Castle” instead. Yet, in my heart, Fool Us remained my true objective.
If you want to improve as a performer, goal setting is crucial. Over the past decade, I’ve set and met several magic goals: developing a standup act, inventing about a dozen original effects, studying and lecturing at Mystery School, and writing more about performance magic. Each goal, unimaginable just a few years earlier, required sustained effort and perseverance. Most also required guidance and feedback from mentors and friends, that helped turn fantasy into reality.
Attaining those goals resulted in amazing (and sometimes unexpected) opportunities: performing at new venues, writing Wandcraft, serving as the Distinguished Lecturer for an international convention, and receiving awards from the I.B.M. and the S.A.M. More rewarding, though, were the relationships that followed: deepening involvement in the art resulted in bonds with remarkably talented and interesting people.
Magic Goal Setting
A few months after the “Weekend of Wisdom,” Fool Us was seeking performers for Season 9. It was time. I decided to develop a new set using one of my inventions, the Viking “Spirit Trumpet,” for an audition video. Transforming that stage piece into an act appropriate for Fool Us proved daunting, and I needed help. Much of that support came from the Mystery School community: drawing on their deep experience and knowledge. Jeff and Mystery School Dean Larry Hass provided invaluable advice, reassurance, and support.  
I submitted the video, presuming I would never hear back, yet within twenty-four hours, found myself on the phone with the show’s producers and magic consultant Michael Close. The ensuing months involved revising, rescripting and reshooting the routine, hundreds of rehearsals, and attending to countless details. Through it all, my mentors and magic colleagues helped me with editing, scripting, blocking, and stagecraft. Then, it was off to see the wizards!  

Fool Us is unlike ordinary reality shows that gleefully wallow in a contestant’s failure. Everyone associated with the production loves magic, and strives to ensure that your magic looks beautiful. In a whirlwind, I encountered the Fool Us team: writers, directors, magic consultants, travel specialists, and fashion advisors who would handle everything related to my trip and appearance.  
Fool Us
Shooting began inside Penn & Teller’s secret storeroom, a gigantic space stacked floor to ceiling with boxes marked with familiar illusion names like ‘Shadows’ and ‘Needles.’ “Pretty cool in here, don’t you think?” asked our escort. “Well, don’t touch anything!” The storeroom also housed Penn & Teller’s props department, a group of craftspeople who could fabricate, fix, or jerry-rig anything that a magician might need. Contestants were shown to an impromptu seating area, where we made nervous chit chat while waiting to be called.
A short elevator ride from the secret storeroom deposits one onto the main stage. The backstage area is reminiscent of the interior of a submarine – dark, cavernous, but tightly packed with experts urgently working over glowing displays and readouts. I was fitted with a microphone, and consulted briefly with the stage manager, audio engineer, and, frankly, more supportive crew members than I can recall. And, in what seemed the blink of an eye, I found myself on the main stage. The contrast between the dark, crowded wings and the brilliantly lit stage of the mammoth Penn & Teller Theater is jarring, if not overwhelming.

What happened next? Well, I’m not allowed to say. But you can see the results on March 31, when my segment is scheduled to air. I’ll be seeing it for the first time, as well. After the filming, though, I knew just what to do. Just as Superbowl athletes famously proclaim “I’m going to Disneyland” after a big win, following the most amazing achievement of my magic career, I headed straight to Mystery School. There, I reconstructed the performance for Jeff, and described its reception by Penn & Teller. Jeff shared more important tips and encouragement.
The lesson? Set goals for yourself and your magic. Find mentors and a supportive community. Put in the work. And don’t be afraid to aim high. You never know what might happen. And, incidentally, the producers at Fool Us are looking for auditions for Season 10….

Skunk Works Yourself

Dear Friends,
Our guest contributor this month is David Morey. Consultant, strategist, author, speaker, professor, and magician, David serves as the Chairman and CEO of DMG Global and Vice Chairman of Core Strategy Group. He has advised five Nobel Peace Prize winners and twenty-two winning global presidential campaigns. David has consulted companies including Apple, Coca Cola, Microsoft, and McDonald’s, and served as a professor at a number of prestigious universities. He was the winner of the Joseph Wharton Award in 2018 for lifetime achievement and leadership, and has authored four best-selling books.

Skunk Works Yourself

Here’s simple advice for all creatives, businesspeople, and magicians. Skunk Works yourself! Whether you’re escaping the center of a bureaucracy threatened by and ready to throw antibodies at your best creative ideas, or whether you’re extracting from the day-to-day tyranny of the urgent: Skunk Works yourself. Get out and off to a creative periphery – think sun, beach, secret house, resort or, well, Las Vegas. 

I do it once or twice a year. So did Bill Gates. So did Thomas Edison, who constantly “escaped” to his Menlo Park workshop, his Miracle Factory, to just try stuff – thinking, prototyping, and conducting ongoing mini-experiments. In my book, Creating Business Magic, written with the legendary Eugene Burger and my friend John McLaughlin, we recommend “disorganizing” your own innovation efforts…and even talk about Jeff McBride, the Water Bowls, and the Magic and Mystery School. 

Disorganize Innovation

“There’s something about the center of any bureaucracy – it’s as if the water tastes different there.” – Robert Shapiro

Scene: We are in the suburban Las Vegas home of Jeff McBride, one of the best magicians in the world today. Gathered here are some of the other top American magicians, taking a five-day Master Class sponsored by the world’s most famous magic school. In the desert heat, this select group comes together to hear lectures, try out new material, and endure more-or-less polite critiques. 

Most of all, they create new ideas in a professional magicians’ equivalent of the experimental “Skunk Works” that legendary aircraft designer Kelly Johnson led for Lockheed. Or think of it as akin to Steve Jobs’s famed “Mac Group,” set up in a Cupertino, California, strip mall, physically separate from official Apple HQ and topped by a Jolly Roger pirate flag. Today, imaginations are fired up inside an unassuming desert home, the very environment in which McBride synthesized the shamanistic roots of magic to create a totally new effect – the Water Bowls. 

Now take your mind outside the suburban house and into a great Vegas showroom. There, onstage, eerily lit from above, dressed as a shaman from an earlier age, McBride displays two metal bowls, obviously empty. Suddenly, in response to an ancient musical call, he looks up, appealing to the gods of water for their bounty. He asks, he prays. And the water comes, filling both bowls. He drinks it all, and then shows the bowls, now dry. McBride asks for more. Again, the bowls fill. He drinks. They fill again, and again, and yet again. It seems too much. Yet the bowls fill again. A thankful McBride accepts at long last the final drops. He says nothing, but the audience understands. The magic of life is good. 

The lesson: innovation and breakthrough happen outside the daily bureaucracy of our lives, and away from companies’ and organizations’ incumbent centers.
And check this video and chapter summary from my latest book, Innovating Innovation, to see how in the 1990s Bill Gates got away once or twice a year for his own “Think Week” or Skunk Works. Secluded cabin, no TV, no phones, and no emails. Gates only out-bounded ideas that he spent the day cooking up, leaving time out in this creative periphery, in his own Skunk Works, to just think – because thinking can be the most magical thing magicians can do.
So, fellow creatives, businesspeople, and magicians – Skunk Works yourself, and let the magic of imagination go to work!
David Morey

Sharpen Your Saw!

Dear Friends,
Our guest contributor this month is George Parker, a long-time friend and contributor to the Magic & Mystery School. An international corporate magician and speaker, and an expert in creativity and self-transformation, George shares his insights on how revisiting past choices can help keep our magic, and our lives, fresh and vibrant.

Sharpen Your Saw!
On one of my regular trips to see Eugene Burger in Chicago, he once told me he had improved his Gypsy Thread routine. This piece had been in his repertoire for decades, and it was already published as “The Thread of Life and Death” in Spirit Theater (Kaufman and Greenberg, 1986, pages 156-163).
I asked Eugene, “Okay, you improved the routine you have been doing for decades?!?!” “Yes,” he said, “I finish like this now!” Eugene held an imaginary thread between his fingers and thumbs with his palms up, and then he turned his palms out and opened to the audience. Immediately I knew he was right. Of course that’s better!! By adding that subtle detail, he created stronger magic by hiding the method deeper, as Larry Hass would phrase it.
In other words, Eugene had sharpened his saw. Stephen Covey uses that metaphor in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (1989) to express the need to revisit past behavior, choices, and habits, and to do some house cleaning to prevent their magic from fading away. I will mention three reasons I can think of why this “fading away” can happen. They are, I think, as relevant for performance magic as for life magic, and I will refer to both.
1.  Our belief in our own routines can diminish. If we don’t really care anymore, we deliver lackluster performances. The magic declines. This can happen in life as well. You don’t need to care about running errands or doing chores. But there are parts of our life that need your full attention to stay fresh.
2. You change over the course of your life. What worked when you were fifteen might not work at all when you are twenty-five. With performance magic, scripts that worked great when you were thirty-two might not be the right choice when you are fifty-eight. In life, we need to clean up our “act” as well, and regularly renew the way we think and act to stay current and spiritually alive.
3. New methods will be invented. Not all new methods are better. But some clever inventions might improve our magic. We need to keep studying, and might well run into improvements like Eugene did. Stay curious in life, and take in information. It may open doors you didn’t see as doors before. That new level of consciousness may help you to improve the quality of your life.
You will find that sometimes our response to the call of the saw is: “I don’t have time to sharpen my saw because I’m so busy with sawing!” If you are tired, don’t care anymore, or you feel the magic is slipping away, it’s probably time to sharpen your saw in some aspect of your life. I include a GIF to help you remember to sharpen your saw. Good luck!
George Parker

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

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