The subject for this month’s Inventor’s Notebook was inspired by Club Secretary Joaquin Ayala, Ph.D. Ex Libris column in the August Newsletter. If you haven’t read it I encourage you to do so.
Although I always loved watching magic, my interest in practicing magic started when I received Mattel’s Magic Showstoppers Showcase for Christmas. The magic kit came in a briefcase style case that folded up cleverly to form a performing platform. It came with a two part small plastic top hat. You can see the brim and the cylinder in the upper left of the case. I later built a square circle and used the cylinder as the secret chamber. It also included an Adams style Magic Coin Box which would provide inspiration in the future.
I was living in Sault Ste. Marie at the time, or Sault Ste. Siberia as I liked to call it. It just so happened that one of my Dad’s friends was Jack McCabe, a drama professor at Lake Superior State College, a child actor and a show business biographer… most famous for writing the definitive biographies of Laurel and Hardy. I hung out with his kids who because of their Father’s background in “Show Business” were much more worldly than me. They had real magic apparatus… a zombie, an appearing cane and a comedy funnel and ice pick. They introduced me to Tannen’s and Abbott’s Magic Catalogs. From that point forward, Abbott’s and the UPS Driver were my best friends.
My first purchases from Abbotts were a Ravel Chop Cup, Ravel aluminum Cups and Balls, and an Invisible Deck. Later I would add 10 inch Linking Rings and Color Changing Knives. One Christmas my Dad surprised me with a Zombie from Romig Magic on Nine Mile in Ferndale Michigan. I also built magic. I built a die box, a tipover box and a square circle.
Although my Father was the Public Relations Director for LSSU, he had a part-time job doing Public Relations for Grand Hotel and Mackinac Island. This gave me lots of opportunity to see live magic at the Grand Hotel’s Terrace Room night club. I first saw Karrell Fox perform the Invisible Deck and the Chop Cup at Grand Hotel. I assembled and sold a magic kit called Grand Magic that was sold in the Grand Hotel Gift Shop. It was tricks that could be performed with a match box. The Grand Hotel logo match boxes were ubiquitous in the hotel at the time (as was smoking).
As I graduated from college, got married and had kids, magic faded into the background it was probably 20 years later that I pulled that dusty suitcase out of the basement. The call had gone out for performers for a talent show to raise money for Special Olympics, an activity my Son Bill took great advantage of. What was my talent? It was magic of course. I started thinking about what could I perform that could include Bill. Wouldn’t it be funny if I messed up and he did all the magic? I still had those beautiful 10 inch linking rings. I sketched up a quick story board cartoon style and shared it with my Brother. He laughed out loud as he read it, so I knew I had a winner. Four months later and after lots of practice, we had an act. You can read more about that act on and how I developed it on my Brother’s Blog.
As I was developing the act, and exploring options, I had an exchange with Pop Hayden on the Magic Café. He provided insight that I remember and apply to this day. That is, what is the motivation for Bill and I being on stage and the concept of making the audience feel as if they are witnessing what is happening live in real-time, and not “acting out a play” of something that happened somewhere else. Pop wrote:
“You have to find a situation in which they would plausibly be on stage going through these motions…. The better story would be one that included the audience and made sense of the event in real time… The weaker and easier approach is to put the father/son or teacher/student presentation in “story time”–that is, acting as if the father and son were not on stage in front of this particular audience–acting out a little play that supposedly is happening somewhere else or at some other time. That is theatrical story-telling, and I think it is inherently weaker…”
If you study Pop’s Four Ring Routine, you will see this is exactly what he does with the spectator. The audience can believe that this is happening for the first time with this particular spectator and the magician is oblivious. That makes the effect so much stronger and more entertaining. And by the way, the fact that Pop can pull that off with a different spectator every time is a tribute to his greatness.
If you look at Johnny “The Great Tomsoni” Thomson and his interaction with his wife Pam you will see that they create a situation like Pop describes. You feel you are experiencing their interaction as it is occurring live. You may know deep down inside that it is a scripted routine, but you allow yourself to suspend that belief.
I shared a video of our performance with Pop and his response was “that is too good to only perform one time”. That got me thinking. Isn’t there a magic club in Ann Arbor? I reached out. Maybe we could perform it for them. That was the start of our association with the Ann Arbor Magic Club and my return to magic as a full-time hobby.
That was an annual talent show. I had set the bar high for Bill and I. How were we going to top that next year? As I re-immersed myself in magic, I found one performer, inventor and author that I really connected with. Tommy Wonder. I was fascinated by his Nest of Boxes routine where the watch finally is found inside an alarm clock. I purchased his set of two books which were reviewed in August’s Ex Libris… The Book of Wonder Vol I and II.
I learned so many things from Tommy Wonder and those books. Perhaps the most significant was something that I had done intuitively for the linking rings routine. The concept he calls a “Mind Movie”. The idea that you think of the story you want to tell in detail and then you figure out how to do it. The method comes after the story, not before. My story board for the linking rings was just that. I knew the story I wanted to tell, and then I set about figuring out the methods.
I continue to be fascinated by Tommy’s nest of boxes. In his book he covers three methods. I was inspired by his performance and wondered if I could come up with my own method and a “mind movie” that would do justice to his principles. In his performance the auction table collapses as a throw away gag as Max Maven sweeps it off stage. Could I expand on that and make it central to the act? Here is the story board I produced. Remember, at this time I had no idea of what the method would be.
Click on picture for a larger image
I began experimenting on a method. Eight cash boxes and 4 months later I had built a special table, we had a method adapted from my youth and we had a routine that was true to the story board, my original Mind Movie.
I hope I have inspired you to explore the teachings of Tommy Wonder, a great magician and amazing inventor that the Magic World lost much too soon.