Let me start by telling you a little bit about me:
I'm 31, and have been interested in close-up magic since I was a child. I recently had another "go" at performing at a Halloween party and soon realized that performing for adults is very different to performing as a child. Gone now is my 8-year old cuteness, and my non-cynical junior audiences. Suddenly magic has become really hard!
What can I do about it?
Go take some lessons perhaps...
On Friday 2nd February I traveled with Kirsty (my "beautiful assistant") to Las Vegas to attend the second Jeff McBride Master class of 2001. This was the first time I had attended the class, and the first time I met Jeff. Since I was merely an amateur magician, and a recent convert to the cause, I was somewhat apprehensive...
What if someone discovered that I couldn't back-palm a Bengal tiger? Or worse, what if I didn't get on with anyone? Or worse still, what if I just *agreed* with everyone, on everything...?
For those who don't know, Jeff McBride is a performer with a unique perspective on the magical art. True he is one of the most respected sleight of hand artists in the world, but more than this the study of magic has become his way of life, and for those around him. He lives in Las Vegas.
Eugene Burger is widely accepted as a master of close up magic, not though digital dexterity or special effects, but though his ability to weave an engrossing storyline and really entertain his audiences. He is the author of many books on magical theory, and is in constant demand as a teacher and lecturer. He lives in Chicago.
Tobias Beckwith is Jeff's friend and manager. Although he never intended to manage anyone when he began his career in theatre, he has many years of experience in representing performers and artists.
If it hadn't been for Tobias's support , Jeff's enthusiasm and Eugene's wisdom, the Masterclass would not even exist.
DAY ONE :
After being driven around in a taxi for about 45 minutes I began to seriously doubt the ability of my driver to find Jeff's house. It seems that a great many Las Vegas taxi drivers only need to know the location of the airport and the strip to earn a living — here's a tip — get a map that shows the location of Jeff's place and get about 20 copies made, even before you book the class.
Eventually, I arrived and walked up to the door of what was quite a large, but "normal" house (for some reason I was half expecting a Siegfried and Roy style Jungle Palace extravaganza). I knocked on the door and was greeted by a smiling Jeff McBride...
"Hi, I'm Jeff" he said.
"Err.. Hello, My name's Steve, I'm here for the... class?" I replied (confident as ever).
"Of course you are! Come on in, let me show you around..."
My first impression is that Jeff is a very friendly guy — he quickly makes you feel at ease. Initially I put this down to his training, but as the weekend progressed it became apparent that this is truly part of his personality.
After a quick tour and registration Jeff took me to the back garden and officially announced my arrival to the other attendees. I remember spying Eugene Burger in the back garden. Well actually I heard his gravelly voice cutting through the conversation and decided to hover within earshot to hear what the man had to say. I was a little apprehensive about meeting Eugene. Many times he had been described as a great scholar and a deep thinker. I was concerned that I was going to sound like a dunce. Maybe I did, but he was a very warm and friendly person, just as willing to discuss card sleights as he was the inner meanings of magic.
Soon we began with the Opening Circle where a wand (a "talking stick" to be more specific) is passed around from individual to individual and we introduce ourselves and mention briefly why we are here and what we hope to gain. This is a useful exercise and helps to break the ice.
After this, we then moved on to Works in Progress section. Now it's important to point out that this is really designed for stage performers, not close-up magicians like myself. Jeff is a stage guy, and Eugene is the man to talk to about close-up. It was very interesting to watch other performers, both professional and amateur. (I'd also like to mention that one guy absolutely *amazed* me with his skill at performance — especially after I learned he was only 15!).
Then we went outside with Tobias Beckwith for a participatory demonstration of Theatrical Movement. Now I'd read mixed reviews about this particular part of the class. Some people had mentioned that they didn't see a lot of point to this section, and I have to add — it is a little strange. However, I found it quite useful, it was relaxing *and* another great ice breaker that really started to bond the group together.
We then broke for dinner.
After dinner Jeff left to prepare for his show at Caesar's Magical Empire. Eugene gave an interesting lecture on the transformation of a Trickster to a Magician. It was here that I first became aware of a difference between the two, and the idea that there are 4 stages of magical development. I don't want to give too much away but I encourage you to read some of Eugene's books on the topic.
I particularly liked this section as I was the volunteer seated next to Eugene during his performance. I remember having that inane spectator grin on my face — the same one you see on all close up magic videos — as Eugene worked his mojo right under my nose. (And yes, he did explain how the effects worked afterwards!)
After this we all went to Caesar's to witness Jeff's show — this was great for me as I'd never seen him perform live before. It was only his 35 minute set — not the full show, but a very enjoyable experience all the same.
So that was the end of day one, as much as I would have liked to go out for a drink with the rest of the gang, I thought it a better move to go back to my hotel and get some sleep.
DAY TWO :
Having put my brain finally into gear I managed to arrange a "cab-pool" between myself and two other attendees. Fortunately for all of us *this* cab driver knew a little bit more about residential Las Vegas and so we arrived early.
Rather than hang around looking useless we had a bit of a magic jam session outside Jeff's house (during which somebody dropped my wand — yes, you know who you are :-) ). Jeff came out to hurry us inside — apparently our street magic wasn't up to Las Vegas municipal code.
To begin day two we again sat around in a circle and described what had been learned the previous day. We then ran through more of the works in progress, concentrating on Passion Pieces — works that introduce more of the performers personality and experiences into the magic.
Following the dinner break Tobias Beckwith gave a very informative lecture on the business of magic. How to sell yourself, and produce promotional literature. Although I had no immediate use for this I wrote down every word and filed it for later (when I hit the big time :-) ).
Jeff had to a leave at this point for his final night at Caesar's so Eugene took over with a lecture on "Personality and Performance". I found this very useful and applicable to my own situation. Eugene covered topics such as "The 4 things you need to know to perform card magic" and "tying action to storyline". He then went on to perform "Thought Sender" (It was at this point that I felt $20 disappear from my wallet for the manuscript!).
Eugene is a very clever man when it comes to presenting magical effects. Even though some of them are freely available in magic books, the whole concept of good presentation really comes alive when you see him perform.
Afterwards we wrapped up and I hit the bar at Bally's casino with Trey, another member of the group. [I even managed to earn a bit of money in tips with some close up magic too — but that's another story].
The final day, Sunday. After another quick jam session we assembled for the last opening circle. Here we only had one sentence each to describe how we felt. This is not the *easiest* thing to do. I think my contribution was along the lines of "Last night I performed my first Las Vegas gig."
On then to the final set of Works in Progress. Afterwards Jeff gave a talk on being a magician 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. A controversial view, as why would a working performer be giving away the goods for free? Not something I have to worry about — as I need the practice. I've made it a rule now to perform at least one piece of magic per day, for someone new. (As I write this it's 7pm and I've still not done my piece!)
Then we met our special guests, at this Masterclass it was Johnny Thompson and Lance Burton. They stopped for a Q&A session and then posed for photographs.
And then, as quickly as is it had begun, it was all over...
Handshakes all round (and more than the odd hug), exchanges of business cards, a quick entry written in Jeff's book of magical musings and I jumped into the front of a newly rented convertible Chrysler.
As the sun set over Las Vegas we drove up the strip.
Everyone should do that at least once...
You are encouraged to make written notes throughout the class, and as Eugene Burger said at the beginning — "The more notes you have, the happier you will be". This can be a little difficult as I found myself trying to watch, listen and write all at the same time.
One of the things that was mentioned more than once is that the class is a "safe environment" for magicians to get together and discuss ideas, and I think this was one of the strongest and most useful aspects of the three days.
I guess I was hoping that I could get Jeff to explain to me all those tricky moves he does on his manipulation tapes, along with some of the finer points of the Symphony of Rings, but this is not what the course is about. In fact very few sleights or mechanisms of magic are discussed. Many *secrets* of the magic art are discussed however, and I would love to share them all with you here, but I can't. You really have to attend for yourself.
Who is the class for?
The class really is for anyone with an interest in people and psychology. One attendee was not a magician at all, but a financial consultant from Canada. I learned a great deal, more importantly what I learned what I have to do to take my magic to the next level. I think most importantly of all I got to hang out with some like-minded people and made some new friends along the way.
What did I gain from it?
Confidence to perform , and more than this confidence in life. I began to see that life has a lot more to offer than just the day to day humdrum affair. An affirmation that what I like to do *is* a good thing, and has a place in the modern world. The reassurance that there are like minded souls out there, not just me.
I also learned that people really do like magic, they like to be entertained, but on another level it creates a communication and friendship between two strangers faster than anything else I know.
Would I go back?
Yes — but not for a while. I learned a lot about stagecraft, audience psychology and my own specific weaknesses. More importantly I picked up a very strong magical vibe, that I hope I will be with me for a long time to come.
I know that to get "stage two" benefits from the Masterclass, I need to develop an act that I can perform and have critiqued. Fortunately Eugene Burger doesn't live too far away from me and I'll be giving him a call real soon.