The 2005 "Beyond Bizarre" magic workshop in Las Vegas defies easy description, because the sages who organized the event sought out to transcend limiting terminology. It was a workshop about magic, certainly, since there were indeed lessons on the mechanics of tricks, but more than half the routines pushed the envelope of traditional definitions of "bizarre magic." It was a series of top-notch performances — formal shows on stage, with props and costumes and music, but also intimate demonstrations in a courtyard setting. It was a celebration of storytelling as well, and the inherent magic of language. It was an initiatory experience, with singing, dancing, sharing, and the observance of sacred rituals in honor of the earliest magician ancestors who enchanted around the campfire. It was a spiritual adventure, an invitation to uplift and expand one's soul in the safe, beautiful environment of Jeff and Abbi McBride's home. The experience to be inspiring, thought-provoking, and transformative.
Though luminary scholars of magic Jeff McBride, Eugene Burger, and Bob Neale gave formal lectures each day, the teachings were succinct and distilled, more like poetry than prose. As Gertrude Stein once said, "Now it's not enough to be bizarre; the strangeness ... has to come from the poetic gift too." There was an air of refinement about the gathering, and the lectures were epigrammatic and highly subtle. The lessons were as much felt as intellectually understood. Subtle teachings were ongoing, too. Eugene Burger had a sort of running gag — he would perform a brilliant card routine with someone, one-on-one, and as the gasps and shrieks died down his parting words were "It's the only thing I know." His subtle teaching? It to encapsulate several points simultaneously, including: "Do a single trick brilliantly and you're a brilliant magician," "To create wonderment is the one true 'trick' for a magician to master," and "Speak with humility, tongue planted firmly in cheek — that's great sleight-of-mouth."
Ultimately, since magic is about enhancing life, "Beyond Bizarre" was about life and death and the luminous mysteries in between. Bob Neale's emotional lecture concerned the mortal questions raised in John Updike's poem "Perfection Wasted": How does one come to terms with the inevitable ceasing of his own brand of magic, which had taken a whole lifetime to develop? Who could ever capture and carry on your special brand of wit and timing, "the whole act" of your entire life? The answer, of course, is that imitators and descendents aren't the same. And to face that answer head-on is quite an adventure in itself. Bob didn't lead anyone to the brink (lo, the brink comes to us of its own accord!), but he invited us to look down for a moment and consider our next step.
With so many wonderful experiences and opportunities over the course of three days, it's impossible to enumerate them all. It was such an honor to witness Jeff, Eugene, and Bob perform their craft mere inches in front of me, and then to commune with them at leisure. Any McBride fan will understand, for example, what a peak moment it was to watch Jeff's signature "Water Bowl" routine up-close and then be handed the two bowls for inspection, or to be asked to hold one of his illuminated Chinese fans as he performs in time to Abbi's exotic drumming. For a McBride fan, it just doesn't get any better than that! At least not until Jeff's invitation to browse though his extensive library of rare magic books. Or until Jeff taught what he called the most amazing routine of its kind he's ever witnessed, a virtually unknown, closely-guarded, and mind-blowing effect that he recently learned while traveling through Europe. In a word, priceless.
Likewise, imagine brainstorming one-on-one with Bob Neale — not only a magician but also a professor of psychiatry and religion — over the fine points of one's own routine. Bob covered the practical mechanics and then delved into much deeper concerns, such as how one's actions and words would affect an audience member emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. Bob would take the seed of your idea, conjure it into a mighty oak of possibilities, and then hand back an acorn for you to cultivate in your own time.
Or imagine tapping into the photographic memory of magic historian extraordinaire Eugene Burger as he happily discussed any topic you could throw at him. Where can you locate a hard-to-find prop? Who invented a particular effect? How do you find exactly the right tricks for you and recognize the wrong ones, without burning a hole in your wallet? How can you handle your mistakes along the way? How can you follow your dreams, find success, and maintain your integrity simultaneously? Eugene knew, and he was eager to share.
All three teachers redefined the meanings of "accessible," "open," "friendly," "loving," "supportive," "intuitive," "creative," and "empowering." It was also wonderful to meet and grow with my fellow participants. We were all able to perform works in progress in a supportive atmosphere, and the feedback was invaluable.
The gathering began and ended in the blink of an eye, but that profound moment would be better called a momentum. The so-called ending of the workshop merely marked a widened circle, like an expanding ripple in a pond.
I came to the workshop hoping to transform into a new kind of magician — a subtler magician who weaves wonder even in between the tricks, in all aspects of life. I am thankful to all of the participants for the boost. Standing upon their mighty shoulders, I can see a magical horizon. And the wonderful thing about a horizon is that, the faster you run toward it, the faster it runs along and widens with you.