Archive for the ‘Magicians’ Category

spookyIt always gets me psyched when I find a book I loved as a kid online.

It’s kind of like Googling the name of a childhood friend and finding him. Even if you don’t intend to look him up or anything, it’s cool to say: “Hey! I remember that guy!”

This book was called “Spooky Tricks,” by Rose Wyler and Gerald Ames. I got it out of my school library when I was in grade school.

It featured a bunch of magic tricks for kids with a ghostly, Halloween-ish theme. Such as holding your fingers up in front of your face to create the optical illusion of a floating, “phantom” finger. Or making a coin disappear. Or summoning the demon Baphomet from the depths of Hell.

Just kidding about that last one. Although these days, the mere presence of a book incorporating magic tricks and any mention of Halloween in a Catholic school library would probably be enough to make some ultraconservative types get their pristine undies in a bunch.

Anyway, it was a great book. My personal favorite trick? A written message from “Willy” the ghost.

See, the supposed assistance of a ghost named Willy was a running theme for tricks in the book. One of them involved writing a message from Willy on a piece of paper in lemon juice. (more…)

A friend of mine recently told me about how he was helping with a church fundraiser where they were selling second-hand toys. Somebody dropped off a Ouija board, and one of the church ladies freaked out – claiming it was a tool of Satan.

To calm her down, they dumped it in a trash can and that was the end of it.

Here’s my question. Why do people still worry about Ouija boards?

I’m not going to get into the feasibility of an afterlife, ghosts, or contact with the departed. That could be – and has been – the subject of many books. (I recommend “Spook” by Mary Roach. Come to think of it, I recommend anything by Mary Roach.)

I’ve got friends who believe very firmly in the validity of spirit communication and séances. I’ve got other friends who believe just as firmly in the principles of rational skepticism. Call me a vacillating chickenshit, but I’d like to remain friends with both camps.

So let’s just sum up all of the aforementioned topics in two words – it’s debatable.

But the Ouija Board, which Elijah Bond introduced in 1890, was a product of a particular movement calling itself spiritualism that originated in late 19th Century America, peaked in the early 20th Century, and unfathomably still persists in some forms to this day.

I say “unfathomably” because there’s literally no credible historic or scientific debate over the fact that this particular movement was total bullshit. (more…)

Jonathan Burns is a professional magician and contortionist. When I found that out, I formed a picture in my mind. Something mysterious and exotic.

Perhaps he’d journeyed to some remote spot in Nepal, where he’d spent years in a cave learning esoteric meditation and yogic techniques from some wizened guru before traveling back to the West so he could stun audiences with his otherworldly powers.

When I spoke to him after his performance at the Magicians Alliance of Eastern States 2012 convention, he disabused me of that notion.

How did he become a professional contortionist? Well, he was that weird kid in school who could twist his body in disturbing ways, and liked to freak out the girls with it. To his credit, he never grew out of that. And he managed to turn it into a highly entertaining act.

Seriously. At the convention, he had pretty much the entire room doubled over in laughter as he did stuff like working his entire body through a toilet seat.

Words wouldn’t do it justice, so I won’t even attempt to describe his act, other than to say it was eye-popping, endearingly child-like, and very funny. Here’s the interview and a link to his site, which includes some videos so you can see for yourself.

How long have you been performing?

I was always a bit of a ham. I was the kid who would put his leg over his head to gross out girls in gym class or perform arm pit farts at the family reunion. My parents decided to channel that energy and took me to a local magic shop when I was about 12. I picked up a bunch of tricks and would perform them for anyone who’d watch. Eventually, someone noticed and asked me to perform at their daughter’s birthday party. I gathered up all my tricks, put on a sparkly vest, and made about $20. From there I was hooked! (more…)

As I’ve mentioned here before, I’m something of an amateur musician. That “something of” modifier alludes to the fact that I’ll have to get a lot better before I can properly describe myself as “amateur.” For now, I’m just the annoying guy walking around at parties, doing the “Hey look! You’ve got a coin in your ear!” routine that makes people suddenly pretend they have to go to the bathroom as an excuse to get away from me.
I think the main reason I stick with it is because it gives me the opportunity to attend magicians’ gatherings, and see the people who really do know what they’re doing perform.

Last weekend, I attended the Magicians’ Alliance of Eastern States Convention in Cherry Hill, N.J., and had a blast. On both Friday and Saturday night, the convention staged magic shows for attendees. Wow! The word “amazing” barely covers it.

Every performer was great. As an added bonus, you could go up and talk to them afterward.

One of my favorite acts of the weekend was “The Crescent Circus” from New Orleans, featuring Nathan Kepner and Morgan Tsu-Raun. They combined stage magic, juggling and acrobatics. Their whole act was like pure, distilled entertainment value.

I’ve included a Youtube clip so you can see what I’m talking about. Nathan agreed to answer a few questions about the act, and about his journey from Central Pennsylvania to New Orleans. (more…)