Note ye ed's email address:

Matt Field and Will Houstoun, past and current editors of The Magic Circular.

February 2012

Happy Valentine's Day to all the lovely ladies in magic as well as those in the real world. We love you all. It has been a special February, with a first trip to London and its brilliant Magic Circle, a trip to Columbus, Ohio, for the 81st Magi-fest, and a fine new e-book from John Guastaferro. I shall also mention a special birthday party in Little Egypt.

Now, where did I stash those chocolates ...

MEMBERS ONLY -- It was Chapter Seven of Will Dexter's Everybody's Book of Magic that first introduced me to the Magic Circle. Penned back in 1955, the book observed that one of the Circle's young members "with the shock of fair hair and the wry smile" was "regarded as one of tomorrow's masters of sleight of hand." His name was Alex Elmsley. I have ever since regarded the Magic Circle and its environs as holy ground, hence could not have been more pleased to have been hosted on a visit to the Magic Circle by Matt Field, the Monday before Valentine's Day.

A spiral staircase takes you down and down and ...

Despite a move to a permanent location and such modern amenities as a Dyson hand dryer in the loo, the Magic Circle of today closely resembles that of Dexter's description. Mondays are still meeting nights, and plenty of business is at hand any given week. You are greeted (scrutinized?) by a uniformed porter who authorizes your admission and signs you in (and, later, out, to comply with the fire code), and you drop off your jacket in a cloak room with attendant. From there you can access several floors via a beautiful spiral staircase.

A figurine of Carlton oversees his domain in the museum.

The library, which has grown to exceed 10,000 books (some amazingly rare), was abuzz. It is part lending library and part research library, and I observed one young lady researcher taking handwritten notes from the books open on her table. There is a fabulous museum that includes, among its treasures, a recreation of a turn-of-the-last-century magic shop window display. There is the super secret Inner Sanctum, a locked magicians-only horde of magical apparatus and ephemera to which Matt kindly arranged my access. One room was set up for the rigors of an examination. Some brave soul was applying for membership, and the Magic Circle still insists on live performance to make your case for acceptance. Prince Charles once went through this ordeal with a Cups and Balls routine. A beautiful 162-seat theatre serves to make the Magic Circle known to the public, when magic shows are offered throughout the year. The Devant Room, the one with the astrological symbols in the carpet design, is also available for corporate functions. (Note: the public can rent all four main rooms -- the Museum, the Theatre, the Devant Room, and the Club Room. If you access the Magic Circle web site and then click Venue Hire, you can find a virtual tour of the place.)

A modern theatre makes viewing magic shows a pleasure.

But whether it's your home town magic club or the Magic Castle in Hollywood or the Magic Circle in London, it's not merely the accumulation of stuff and facilities that makes it memorable, but the people. Matt Field recently completed a 6.5-year stint as the editor of The Magic Circular, the beautiful glossy color magazine that serves as house organ to the club and which is exclusive to its 1500 members. He has turned over the reins to Will Houstoun, who is going to have to find the time between the rehearsal regimen that makes him a world class cardician and his PhD studies (on Hoffman!) to pump out an issue every thirty days. Both Matt and Will were on hand to welcome me and guide me through the labyrinthine premises. In the Club Room with full bar I had the good fortune to meet Magic Circle prez Jack Delvin, legend in residence Alan Shaxon, and genius in residence Angelo Carbone. Museum curator (and sometime jeweler) Lionel Russell showed us a nifty spring apart wristwatch and shared a grisly bizarre magic idea. Chris Wood fooled me with a Calling the Colors routine and taught me a great ten-card poker deal. And others became part of an exchange of card tricks and ideas. Some were in for the 7:30 lecture (lectures seem to be a weekly event at the Magic Circle, this one being on ventriloquism), others just to socialize.

Beyond this door, secrets lie.

The week marked my first trip to England, and while I enjoyed Hampton Court, the British Museum, Oxford, the cathedrals, and other such venues, the Magic Circle was the highlight. The members are proud of their club and club house, and well they should be. A big thanks to Matt Field for making my visit possible.

ABBREVIATED -- On the one hand, first-year executive director Ron Spangler put together a first-rate 81st edition of Magi-fest, with stellar performance and lecture talent, a nicely eclectic and accessible dealer room, and innovative ideas such as a movie (Vincent Price in The Mad Magician), reasonably priced on site food, and an after hours party featuring eats and Disney street performer Brian Staron. On the other, I wasn't having the fun I normally do, weighed the idea of saving a night's lodging, and went home a day early, something I've never done at a magic convention. My leaving had to do with why I attend magic conventions in the first place, which is to congregate late into the evening with card guys. Two elements are necessary for this serendipitous groupfest to occur. First, you need a critical mass of like-minded magicians. This year, my favorite friends and idols from past Magi-fests simply weren't there. (I'll spare you the names.) Attendance was down in general, but I particularly missed expected regulars. Second, you need a place to gather, and it must be near or in a bar. I don't know why; it just does. (Perhaps this is why the Magic Castle is magical heaven.) Tables set aside in some cavernous ball room never seem to suffice, despite best intentions. It's just too sterile. Magic thrives best in nooks and crannies. Perhaps if we had been forced into the Renaissance bar this year it could have worked (the bar and surrounding fireplace and sofas were inviting, as was the food and beverage service), but it just didn't seem to be happening. Some of the best moments I've had in magic, I've had at Magi-fest, but those were at the Crowne Plaza, where we magicians owned the place for the weekend. (The gold standard for social serendipity was the central bar at the Galt for the combined IBM/SAM Convention in Louisville.)

Food was handy.

But enough of my whining. On the positive side, Ron assembled some excellent talent, even including his daughter, Kelly, with a sweetly original linking ring routine. Among the highlights: I had just reviewed David Acer's More Power to You, and it was a kick to see all that come to life in closeup and lecture. A bespectacled, gangly young man with graying locks, David looks like a magical, slightly goofy Einstein. Francis Menotti, who died on stage (no, not that way; there was a knife in his back!), also shined in both closeup and lecture. One card trick in particular fried me, so much that I wanted to catch a repeat of his closeup show. Alas, this common practice (I think Mike Powers and I once caught Shawn Farquhar's act three times trying to figure out his Card to Sealed Card Case) was denied by the Red Coats guarding the doors and inspecting tickets. (Another knock to this hotel; the Mariott had at least one closeup room large enough to handle overflow crowds. The Renaissance didn't.) David Roth is the living legend of coin magic, with a lovely delivery that is always a pleasure to behold. In closeup he presented his classics: The Portable Hole, The Purse and Glass, The Tuning Fork, and The Planet. His subsequent lecture attracted and informed a large audience. Ivan Pecel is an amazing juggler who attempted stunts I've never seen or imagined, such as juggling three balls behind his back. Bravo! I enjoyed Disney World's Brian Staron and his nutty visual comedy, and I do regret missing his late night recreation of his Disney street magic. I'll try to catch him at the Boardwalk, where he works four nights a week. I also enjoyed a one-ahead routine by the very funny Derek Hughes; his word force, one I've often wondered about, looked great. And then there was Rich Bloch, who was maybe too good for this convention, maybe too good for magic. Some years back, when I interviewed Amazing Johnathan for a Genii cover story, I asked him to name his favorite male magician (comic), and he named Rich Bloch. Over the years, every time I've seen Rich, I've come to appreciate that response more and more. He killed this weekend in both closeup and lecture (I didn't witness his stage turn) with razor sharp, sophisticated humor, as well as with magician-fooling effects. Fortunately, many of his items were explained in his superb lecture notes, I Hate Rope Tricks. I rarely buy lecture notes anymore, but these were dandy.

More cups than in Bill Palmer's garage.

Speaking of shopping, I loved the dealer room. Harry Allen always seems to drag his entire store up from Daytona. Richard Kaufman offered three great bonus books for multi-year subscriptions and of course was happy to discuss the first Genii bash, coming in Orlando in October. Eric Jones is the face of Ellusionist and was happy to demo my favorite effect from Woody Aragon's book. Michael Lair had a fascinating way to vanish a lighter. Mark Mason brought enough gaffed coins over from England to open a small bank branch. If you couldn't find the coin you wanted, Jamie Schoolcraft would make you one. Tony Miller keeps inventing wallets for you to find cards in. Chris Smith kept ripping his car key into innocent dollar bills. Kozmo performed street magic to enliven his DVD magazine signups. Pat Przysiecki sells closeup stages to the stars. Dazzling Magic sold me the perfect gift for a young nephew in London. Walking past Losander's booth, where furniture floated in midair, you couldn't help but feel you were in a scene from Harry Potter. Andy Greget's book nook probably outstocks the Hogwarts library, just as Rings and Things seemed to have more cups and balls on display than you would find in Bill Palmer's garage. And yet the set I bought was a unique one from Bob Little. And so on. A nice place to get your exercise walking laps around the merchandise.

Colored cups, plastic fruit, rubber eight balls. Anyone have a routine?

TEMPERATURE RISING -- One of my magical highlights of 2011 was the Jeff McBride show, lecture, and seminar in Indianapolis. As we waited for the show to start, some of those milling about in the lobby of the little Theater on the Square performed card tricks. I was particularly taken by the impact of one, performed by a mature magician for a younger one. It was a stunning take on Bro. John Hamman's Signed Card, and I recognized it as Mr. E Takes a Stroll, from John Guastaferro's One Degree. It is a fine trick that begs to be performed, as do the dozen tricks in the newest collection from Mr. Guastaferro, an e-book titled Ready, Set, GuastaferrO.

As loyal readers may recall from the essay "Mental Block" in One Degree, John likes grouping and arranging card tricks into easily recalled combinations. Ready, Set ... employs a similar logic. The tricks are grouped into five categories; students can easily select tricks from those categories and string them into a coherent act. As the author says, it's all about connecting the dots.

The tricks themselves are straightforward stunners with satisfying methods, often using little touches and ideas (that special one degree) that can be exploited in other effects. My favorite was Assembly Line, in which jacks vanish from packets held by three spectators to assemble in the packet held by the fourth. What a perfect walk around idea! Bound to Triumph and Untouchable are two really fine new Triumph effects, the emphasis on the magic happening in the spectators' hands. (An idea in Bound will creep into many of my Triumph routines.) In Twist of Fate, as the text describes, the future is predicted, then altered. This one may influence you to finally start doing a top change (nicely covered!). In Spectral, a card vanishes from a packet of 15 and then reappears in a ribbon spread of the packet, between any two cards of the spectator's choice. And the spec first loses the card and then does the spreading. And so on. As with the first book, it's all strong stuff, well within the skill set of most magicians.

More cool magic.

My life is such that I read great books, review them, and then move on to the next great book. Reviewing Ready, Set, ... prompted me to dig out and revisit One Degree. I'm glad it did. That was a really special book and deserves more time at the top of the heap, particularly the essays. The latest, available from as an instant download, is $19.95. Twelve effects, 60 pages, 13,000 words, 35 color photos. Check the web site for complete trick descriptions.

CENTURY MARK -- This has little to do with magic, but a lot to do with Little Egypt. When I write for publication (this sheet, magazine articles, books, whatever), I try to adhere to the rules of proper grammar. I do not mean those now spelled out in, say, The Chicago Manual of Style, but, rather, the first rules I encountered, rules we were commanded to copy down in longhand in a lined notebook. The authoritarian eighth-grade teacher who laid out these rules for us was a lady named Hermene Clarke, and I am pleased to report that Hermene celebrated her 100th birthday on February 18. Cairo, Illinois, where she taught from 1931-1972, threw a three-hour birthday bash for her, once again placing her behind a desk to rule over a dozen or so former students seated before her. (Many more filled the hall.)

Hermene Clarke rules again from her desk.

I regret to have missed this party because of my trip to London, but the reports are that all went well. She always had a container of Jergens hand lotion on her desk, and on one occasion some daring trickster filled it with Elmer's Glue. Although she hoped the villain would finally confess at her party, he didn't, very likely because she has survived him. As to herself, she feels fine, drives a sporty little car to neighboring towns, and was looking forward to a new iPad for Christmas. She was feared when we were young, and she is cherished now that we are not. Happy birthday, Hermene.

Indocilis Privata Loqui

Little Egypt Magic is the erratically updated web site of Steve Bryant, spawned (the site, not Steve) by a former internet magazine known as The Little Egypt Gazette/for magicians only.

Steve Bryant is an obscure magician and writer who generates this site from an iMac in Bloomington, Indiana. He frequently journeys to and performs magic in Little Egypt, the local name for extreme southern Illinois, where the towns bear such names as Cairo, Thebes, and Karnak.

Past issues of this web site: Index to Past Issues

Hermene Clarke photo courtesy of Lynda Gustafson.

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