Monday, 31 December 2012

Alan Moore an Illuminated Showman

Alan Moor is a comic book writer. Amongst his most famous are Watchmen, V for Vendetta and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  I was watching the documentary The Mindscape of Alan Moore and as he spoke I found myself amazed at how similar our thinking was. He truly is an Illuminated Showman. He too believes that what artists (showmen) does originated in the Shaman, he to believe that we can do real magic, he believes... Just read it for yourselves.
The below quote from the movie summarizes so many of my views it is scary. In the doco he talks about how there comes a time when the world is ripe for a new idea. Like when the steam engine was invented several people came up with it within a few weeks. Perhaps this is one of those. Perhaps we read the same books. Perhaps we both struggle with acceptance of art forms that all too easily are dismissed as "mere entertainment." Read on Illuminated friends and fellow travelers of the Way the words below are spoken by a true Master Showman.

You have to be very careful with what you say because if you suddenly declare yourself a magician, without any knowledge of what that entitles, you might wake up and find that is exactly what you are.
There is some confusion as to what Magic actually is. I think this can be cleared up if we look at the very earliest descriptions of Magic. Magic, in its earliest form is often referred to as "The Art." I believe this is completely literal. I believe that Magick is art, and the art, whether that is writing, music, sculpture or any other form is literally Magic. Art is, like Magic, the science of manipulating symbols, words or images, to achieve changes in consciousness.
The very language of Magic seems to be talking as much about writing or art as of supernatural events. A Grimoir for example the book of spells is just a fancy way of saying grammar. Indeed to cast a spell is simply to spell, to manipulate words to change peoples consciousness. I believe this is why an artist or writer is the closest thing in the contemporary world to a shaman.

I believe that all culture must have arisen from cult. Originally all the facets of our culture whether they be in the art or science were the province of the shaman. The fact that in present times this magical power have degenerated to the level of cheap entertainment and manipulation is a tragedy. At the moment the people who are using shamanism and Magic to shape our culture are advertisers. Rather than to trying to wise people up their shamanism is used as an opiate to tranquielize people. To make people more manipulable. Their magic box of tv and by words and by jingles they can make people all over the world to think the same banal words and thoughts all at exactly the same time.
In all of magic there is an incredibly large linguistic component. The Bardic tradition of magick would place a Bard as being much higher and more fearsome than a magician. A magician might curse you and theat might make you hens lay funny, or you might have a child born with a clump foot. If a bard were to place, not a curse upon, but a satire upon you then that could destroy you. If it was a clever satire it might not just destroy you in the eyes of your associates, it would destroy you in the eyes of your family, it would destroy you in your own eyes. If it was a finely worded and clever satire, that might survive and be remembered for decades, even centuries, then years after you were dead people still might be reading it and laughing at you and your wretchedness and absurdity.

Writers and people who had command of words were respected and feared as people who manipulated Magic. In latter times I think the artist and writers have allowed themselves to be sold down the river, they have accepted the prevailing belief that art and writing are merely forms of entertainment, they are not seen as transformative forces that can change a human being, that can change a society. They are seen as simple entertainment. Things with which we can fill twenty minutes half an hour while we are waiting to die.

It is not the job of the artists to give the audience what they want. If the audience knew what they needed then they wouldn't be the audience, they would be the artists. It is the job Artists to give the audience what they need.

Alan Moore

In 1993, on his fortieth birthday, Moore openly declared his dedication to being a ceremonial magician, something he saw as "a logical end step to my career as a writer".[40] According to a 2001 interview, his inspiration for doing this came when he was writing From Hell in the early 1990s, a book containing much Freemasonic and occult symbolism: "One word balloon in From Hell completely hijacked my life… A character says something like, 'The one place gods inarguably exist is in the human mind'. After I wrote that, I realised I'd accidentally made a true statement, and now I'd have to rearrange my entire life around it. The only thing that seemed to really be appropriate was to become a magician."[58]

A clip from a BBC interview with this unique voice of magic and Illuminated Showmanship, Alan Moore.

The Mindscape of Alan Moore (the movie link above) is a 2003 feature documentary which chronicles the life and work of Alan Moore, author of several acclaimed graphic novels, including From Hell, Watchmen and V for Vendetta.

The Mindscape of Alan Moore is Shadowsnake's first completed feature project, part One of the Shamanautical / 5 Elements series. It is the directorial debut of DeZ Vylenz. It is the only feature film production on which Alan Moore has collaborated, with permission to use his work.

Alan Moore presents the story of his development as an artist, starting with his childhood and working through to his comics career and impact on that medium, and his emerging interest in magic.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Austin Kleon - Steal Like an Artist

I have previously blogged a post with the title steal like an artist, and this title was artistically stolen from Austin Kleon, the guy in the talk below.
Kleon is an interesting dude, with ideas I very much concur with. In the clip he describes one of his own "original" ideas: What he calls Newspaper Blackout... Someone then tells him that his idea actually was someone elses. Austin Kleon then traces the history of his "Original" idea back almost 300 years.
The ideas he talks about are also similar to what I wrote about in my post about Originality. I find it refreshing to hear someone talk about inspiration/stealing like this. It will cure any one suffering from writers block or show-material-constipation.
Where do you get your ideas? The honest artist answer is I steal them. How does an artist look at the world. Well, first you figure out what's worth stealing and then you move on to the next thing.
There's an economic theory out there that says: if you average the wages of your five closest friends you will be close to your own. The same is true for ideas. You are only as good as the stuff you surround yourself with.
If you try to devour the history of what you do in one sitting you're going to choke. So I think the best thing to do is to start chewing on one thinker you really love. Completely saturate yourself with their work, find out everything there is to know about their work. Then you find three thinkers that influenced your favorite thinker and find out everything you can about them. And repeat that as many times as you can. Build your own family tree and climb it as far up as you can. And once you have a family tree it is time to start your own branch. Seeing yourself as part of a lineage makes you feel less alone.
Austin Kleon.
So go on, read books, watch films of all the best artists and get those creative juices flowing. Go forth and surround yourself with all the best stuff and steal, transform and make your own fusion of all the art you love.

If you like his ideas, his art and his approach to creativity there is a longer and slightly more detailed talk here.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

the Trick that fooled Houdini

Dai Vernon aka the Professor.
I have recently become the father to a little girl and that has taken over my life to such an extent that I rarely find time to blog and when I do it is posts of a shorter nature.
With my short attention span I have found my interest in magic rekindled, and of late particularly card magic. It is all leading towards my next show which in my head currently has the title: Captain Frodo's Real Magic.
Parts of my research will be appearing and has already graced the pages of this Illuminated Blog.

Houdini Fooled 

"In 1922, Harry Houdini was the most famous magician in the world. The forty-eight year old Houdini was so confident in his knowledge of magic that he had an open challenge to all fellow magicians - 'show me any trick three times in a row and I'll be able to tell you how you did it.' At the Great Northern Hotel in Chicago, Dai Vernon took the great Houdini up on his challenge. But Vernon would not repeat his trick three times in a row - Dai Vernon repeated it SEVEN TIMES and Houdini could not get it!
The trick Dai Vernon chose to fool Houdini with was his own version of the classic ambitious card routine, so named because the spectator's chosen card always wants to get to the top of the deck. Vernon had Houdini choose a card and then sign the chosen card with his initials 'HH'. Houdini returned his card to middle of the deck and, with a snap of Vernon's fingers, it magically appeared on the top. Houdini was astounded and Vernon repeated the trick. And then again, for the third time. 'You must have a dupilcate card!' Houdini guesses, Vernon calmly points outs: 'With your initials, Harry?' Houdini then suggests that Vernon must have used a well-known mentalist's device. But Vernon points out that Houdini's initials are written in ink. 'They make them in ink now!' Houdini splutters but no magician in the room has ever heard of these devices using ink. 'Harry you are fooled!' cries Sam Margules, a Magic Show producer and former assistant of the Whirlwind Illusionist , Horace Goldin."
Tommy Wonder.
Below is a clip of the dutch Master Magician Tommy Wonder performing the trick know today as the Ambitious Card Routine, but apparantly it has also been called the trick that fooled Houdini. Regardless of what it is called this performance stands out as an absolute triumph. It has been said that every magician has their own version of this trick, but it is my belief and experience that it rarely if ever gets a reaction like Tommy Wonder gets, and even more seldom a well deserved standing ovation.
It is a perfect illustration of the old dictum: It is not what you do but how you do it that matters.

Below is a video that came up whilst I was searching for the video above. It is not the Ambitious card Routine but either way it is a nice story to a sweet and very clean trick.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Lennart Green

Lennart Green doctor turned card magician.
Green's act [is] an heroic display of skill masked by well feigned clumsiness. 
Alex Stone, Fooling Houdini.

In 1998 a fumbling swedish doctor arrive on the international magic scene as he took the stage in the close up competition of the FISM or world championship of magic. As Lennart Green began his act he seemed like a likely candidate for disqualification due to lack of training, but as he continued he stumped the judges. The esteemed master magicians judging him became convinced that Lennart was using a trick deck, since there was no other way that he could have done the unbelievable things he did. SO in the end they did disqualify him, not for incompetence but for cheating the magicians.
As it was Lennart hadn't used a trick deck. He had instead been practicing and developing an entire new method for handling cards that would completely alter what magicians believed what could be done with a deck of card.
At the next FISM Lennart Green entered again, performed pretty much the same act, and won.
Here he is. Enjoy.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Inventing The Impossible

I have previously posted about Marco Tempest and his inclusion of modern technology in his magic performances. In the video below he give a little insight into his philosophy on creating magic effects and how they cross over with technology.
To start it off he reminds us of Arthur C Clarke's third law:
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
And goes on to describe how people like Robert Houdin and others also tread this line in the golden age of magic.
Magic is a unique tool for previsualizing the future. Magicians show their audiences what it would be like to fly, read minds, have super powers, teleport, disappear and reappear. Magicians are prototyping the future every day.
Marco Tempest

The final illusion he performs is picked straight out of David Brin's latest book Existence. Glasses that can be worn and that shows you a digitally enhanced world. It gives you a map overlay, a yellow brick road, if you will, leading you straight to where you are going or even telling you who the people are that passes you. This is a technology which is currently being developed by google, (check a teaser here) but with magic we can see glimpses of the future now. It might still be crude, but so was the first brick sized mobile phone i had in 1994.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Steve Martin Funny Man

This guy was a real Showman, still is in some ways, but here we see him doing our kind of material. In a time when there were no avenue for his work he carved it out on the folk music scene. All respects, and what a demon on the banjo.

"I don't have to leave.
I lied."

Monday, 19 November 2012

The Art of Tommy Cooper

Tommy Cooper, master of fumbling and rambling magic. This is a great little documentary about a large child.
Tommy Cooper was a national comedy institution whose catchphrases still remain in the language today. This bumbling giant with outsized feet and hands, whose mere entrance on stage had audiences erupting with uncontrollable laughter, was born in Caerphilly in 1921.
This programme looks at the life and art of the man in the fez, whose clumsy, fumbling stage magic tricks hid a real talent as a magician. His private life was complicated and often difficult, but as far as his audiences were concerned, he was first and foremost a clown whose confusion with the mechanisms of everyday life made for hilarious viewing.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Dai Vernon: The Spirit Of Magic

Dai Vernon is to magic what James Joyce was to the novel and Einstein to physics.
Max Maven

This is a documentary about the 'Professor' a huge influence of modern magic. Its a bit of a warts and all look at the obsession of a Showman with his Craft.
When Cliff Green, asked Vernon, "What kind of magic do you do?" Vernon responded by asking the boy to name a card. Upon pulling a pack of cards from his pocket, Vernon turned over the top card of the deck to reveal the named card and replied to the speechless Green, "That's the kind of magic I do. What kind of magic do you do?"

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Limbless Magicians

This card trick, known as Oil and Water, is a piece of card magic which is irritatingly simple yet ingenious. As you watch the magician mix red and black cards in what must be the most straight forward and revealing way possible only to still leave you baffled as the magician reveals that the cards are separate again, three reds and three blacks separated like oil and water.

I believe I saw Rene Lavand for the first time as a guest on the Paul Daniels Magic Show and he did this routine. I was amazed, so amazed infact that even though I had recorded the program on a VHS tape and watched it hundreds of times before I noticed that Lavand only had One Arm. When I finally noticed I loved it even more.

Then just the other day I discovered, through the Deceptology blog, a magician named Mahdi Gilbert which has no hands. Here he is performing the same trick as above.

Monday, 12 November 2012

a New World


First there was language.
We expressed truth.
As we saw it.
As it was.
Who was there?
What happened?
- When.

Then there were stories
We expressed other truths.
As we saw it.
As it was -
Imagined in our minds,
Shaped by us,
Not just the world.
More exciting.
More meaningful.
Greater explanations.

Old stories improved by telling.
Reshaped by Crowd reactions.
The teller’s thoughts coloured it.
The hero emerged
No longer just a man
Something more,
So much more.

Without stories
Diverging from the true,
Without the first fictions
There was no religion.


A cave.
A fire.
A Shaman stands.
The others look up.
He waits for attention
Eyes meets eyes,
the flickering light
changes the space.
His mouth opens
The beginning: The word.

Friday, 9 November 2012

A 'real' mind reader...

Dave is an extremely gifted clairvoyant who finds out specific financial information.

Mysteries of Magic

The Impossible made Possible

This is a great documentary series from 1997 directed by Mel Morpeth. It features magic luminaries like Penn and Teller and this series was apparently the first time the ever silent Teller publicly let himself be interviewed. I particularly like the first and last of the episodes. The first is on the history of magic, the second on illusions and the third and last is about death defying stunts.

The Learning Channel is known for its informative programs, and the Mysteries of Magic series is no exception. The first DVD in the trio, The Masters of Mystery, takes the viewer on a magical journey from the campfires of ancient tribes to the bright neon lights of Las Vegas and delivers a concise history of illusionists throughout history. Featuring interviews with top magicians of today (such as Lance Burton, Eugene Burger, and Jeff McBride), The Masters of Mystery uncovers the origins of the many modern tricks that still make audiences wonder "How did they do that?" Beginning with the magicians of ancient Egypt who translated age-old beliefs into physical acts of illusion, the DVD offers us a glimpse into the religious ceremonies that gave early magic makers their first platform for performance.
Using clips from modern television specials, the disc provides a definitive history of the classic "Cups and Balls" routine, possibly the oldest magic trick ever recorded. We are also educated about the book The Discovery of Witchcraft, written by a magician to expose the tricks of the trade in order to save many wizards of the time from being burned at the stake.
Technically, the DVD doesn't offer much. In fact, the greatest trick involved may be getting the disc out of the box it comes in--and the menu selection is a bit lacking in extras. The content, however, provides plenty of insight into the medium without revealing any secrets. --Zachary Lively

The old theory that magical illusions are all done with smoke and mirrors is proven in The Impossible Made Possible. This episode of the Learning Channel's Mysteries of Magic series explores the origins of some of magic's most intriguing illusions.
Beginning with the 1790s multimedia show phantasmagoria--a performance using a simple magic lantern and wall projections--the documentary provides insight into the early special effects that made magicians legendary. Peppered with interview segments conducted with many modern artists, the DVD shows us how magicians of the past harnessed the powers of sound, light, optical illusions, and even narcotics to bewilder their audiences.
The program also features the "Allied Arts," which are illusions such as fire-eating and -breathing, and a clip from an old Laurel and Hardy film spotlighting the funny and engaging performance of a regurgitationist. There are marvelous and entrancing automatons, tricks from the early days of electricity, and finally, the invention that eventually brought the death of the music hall performer: motion pictures.
Aside from a simple scene-access menu and a brief summation of the factoids behind the production of the program, the DVD has little to offer technically. It is the content, however, that makes the disc truly magical. --Zachary Lively

Part three of the Mysteries of Magic series examines the fearless magicians who risk their lives for their art and to entertain the audience. Features the sword basket, guillotine, and cannonball escape tricks. ~ Heather M. Fierst, Rovi
In this final episode we get to hear the history of one of the most famous illusions of all time the 'sawing a lady in half', including footage of Richiardi's infamous most gory and grotesque version.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Creating Art FOR the Crowd

--> ..."the reason she'd never heard of me was because I was famous." 

Neil Stephenson, writer and honorary Showman.
{from an online interview (slashdot) with the author Neal Stephenson. It touches on the intersection between art and entertainment, writers as Showmen and about Showman/writer and Crowd. It is about what Stephenson calls Beowulf writers writing not for church or wealthy patrons but directly for the Crowd and masses. He speaks up for Illuminated Showmen everywhere by giving a fiery defense of creating art for the masses. He refuses the word Commercial artist and calls them Beowulf artists...}

[A] while back, I went to a writers' conference. I was making chitchat with another writer, a critically acclaimed literary novelist who taught at a university. She had never heard of me. After we'd exchanged a bit of of small talk, she asked me "And where do you teach?" just as naturally as one Slashdotter would ask another "And which distro do you use?"
I was taken aback. "I don't teach anywhere," I said.
Her turn to be taken aback. "Then what do you do?"
"I'm...a writer," I said. Which admittedly was a stupid thing to say, since she already knew that. 
"Yes, but what do you do?"

I couldn't think of how to answer the question---I'd already answered it!

"You can't make a living out of being a writer, so how do you make money?" she tried.

"From...being a writer," I stammered.

At this point she finally got it, and her whole affect changed. She wasn't snobbish about it. But it was obvious that, in her mind, the sort of writer who actually made a living from it was an entirely different creature from the sort she generally associated with.

And once I got over the excruciating awkwardness of this conversation, I began to think she was right in thinking so. One way to classify artists is by to whom they are accountable.
Dante holding his most famous book.
The great artists of the Italian Renaissance were accountable to wealthy entities who became their patrons or gave them commissions. In many cases there was no other way to arrange it. There is only one Sistine Chapel. Not just anyone could walk in and start daubing paint on the ceiling. Someone had to be the gatekeeper---to hire an artist and give him a set of more or less restrictive limits within which he was allowed to be creative. So the artist was, in the end, accountable to the Church. The Church's goal was to build a magnificent structure that would stand there forever and provide inspiration to the Christians who walked into it, and they had to make sure that Michelangelo would carry out his work accordingly.

Similar arrangements were made by writers. After Dante was banished from Florence he found a patron in the Prince of Verona, for example. And if you look at many old books of the Baroque period you find the opening pages filled with florid expressions of gratitude from the authors to their patrons. It's the same as in a modern book when it says "this work was supported by a grant from the XYZ Foundation."

Nowadays we have different ways of supporting artists. Some painters, for example, make a living selling their work to wealthy collectors. In other cases, musicians or artists will find appointments at universities or other cultural institutions. But in both such cases there is a kind of accountability at work.
A wealthy art collector who pays a lot of money for a painting does not like to see his money evaporate. He wants to feel some confidence that if he or an heir decides to sell the painting later, they'll be able to get an amount of money that is at least in the same ballpark. But that price is going to be set by the market---it depends on the perceived value of the painting in the art world. And that in turn is a function of how the artist is esteemed by critics and by other collectors. So art criticism does two things at once: it's culture, but it's also economics.

There is also a kind of accountability in the case of, say, a composer who has a faculty job at a university. The trustees of the university have got a fiduciary responsibility not to throw away money. It's not the same as hiring a laborer in factory, whose output can be easily reduced to dollars and cents. Rather, the trustees have to justify the composer's salary by pointing to intangibles. And one of those intangibles is the degree of respect accorded that composer by critics, musicians, and other experts in the field: how often his works are performed by symphony orchestras, for example.
Accountability in the writing profession has been bifurcated for many centuries. I already mentioned that Dante and other writers were supported by patrons at least as far back as the Renaissance. But I doubt that Beowulf was written on commission. Probably there was a collection of legends and tales that had been passed along in an oral tradition---which is just a fancy way of saying that lots of people liked those stories and wanted to hear them told. And at some point perhaps there was an especially well-liked storyteller who pulled a few such tales together and fashioned them into the what we now know as Beowulf. Maybe there was a king or other wealthy patron who then caused the tale to be written down by a scribe. But I doubt it was created at the behest of a king. It was created at the behest of lots and lots of intoxicated Frisians sitting around the fire wanting to hear a yarn. And there was no grand purpose behind its creation, as there was with the painting of the Sistine Chapel.
The novel is a very new form of art. It was unthinkable until the invention of printing and impractical until a significant fraction of the population became literate. But when the conditions were right, it suddenly became huge. The great serialized novelists of the 19th Century were like rock stars or movie stars. The printing press and the apparatus of publishing had given these creators a means to bypass traditional arbiters and gatekeepers of culture and connect directly to a mass audience. And the economics worked out such that they didn't need to land a commission or find a patron in order to put bread on the table. The creators of those novels were therefore able to have a connection with a mass audience and a livelihood fundamentally different from other types of artists.

Nowadays, rock stars and movie stars are making all the money. But the publishing industry still works for some lucky novelists who find a way to establish a connection with a readership sufficiently large to put bread on their tables. It's conventional to refer to these as "commercial" novelists, but I hate that term, so I'm going to call them Beowulf writers.

But this is not true for a great many other writers who are every bit as talented and worthy of finding readers. And so, in addition, we have got an alternate system that makes it possible for those writers to pursue their careers and make their voices heard. Just as Renaissance princes supported writers like Dante because they felt it was the right thing to do, there are many affluent persons in modern society who, by making donations to cultural institutions like universities, support all sorts of artists, including writers. Usually they are called "literary" as opposed to "commercial" but I hate that term too, so I'm going to call them Dante writers. And this is what I mean when I speak of a bifurcated system.

Like all tricks for dividing people into two groups, this is simplistic, and needs to be taken with a grain of salt. But there is a cultural difference between these two types of writers, rooted in to whom they are accountable, and it explains what MosesJones is complaining about. Beowulf writers and Dante writers appear to have the same job, but in fact there is a quite radical difference between them---hence the odd conversation that I had with my fellow author at the writer's conference. Because she'd never heard of me, she made the quite reasonable assumption that I was a Dante writer---one so new or obscure that she'd never seen me mentioned in a journal of literary criticism, and never bumped into me at a conference. Therefore, I couldn't be making any money at it. Therefore, I was most likely teaching somewhere. All perfectly logical. In order to set her straight, I had to let her know that the reason she'd never heard of me was because I was famous.

All of this places someone like me in critical limbo. As everyone knows, there are literary critics, and journals that publish their work, and I imagine they have the same dual role as art critics. That is, they are engaging in intellectual discourse for its own sake. But they are also performing an economic function by making judgments. These judgments, taken collectively, eventually determine who's deemed worthy of receiving fellowships, teaching appointments, etc.

The relationship between that critical apparatus and Beowulf writers is famously awkward and leads to all sorts of peculiar misunderstandings. Occasionally I'll take a hit from a critic for being somehow arrogant or egomaniacal, which is difficult to understand from my point of view sitting here and just trying to write about whatever I find interesting. To begin with, it's not clear why they think I'm any more arrogant than anyone else who writes a book and actually expects that someone's going to read it. Secondly, I don't understand why they think that this is relevant enough to rate mention in a review. After all, if I'm going to eat at a restaurant, I don't care about the chef's personality flaws---I just want to eat good food. I was slagged for entitling my latest book "The System of the World" by one critic who found that title arrogant. That criticism is simply wrong; the critic has completely misunderstood why I chose that title. Why on earth would anyone think it was arrogant? Well, on the Dante side of the bifurcation it's implicit that authority comes from the top down, and you need to get in the habit of deferring to people who are older and grander than you. In that world, apparently one must never select a grand-sounding title for one's book until one has reached Nobel Prize status. But on my side, if I'm trying to write a book about a bunch of historical figures who were consciously trying to understand and invent the System of the World, then this is an obvious choice for the title of the book. The same argument, I believe, explains why the accusation of having a big ego is considered relevant for inclusion in a book review. Considering the economic function of these reviews (explained above) it is worth pointing out which writers are and are not suited for participating in the somewhat hierarchical and political community of Dante writers. Egomaniacs would only create trouble.

Mind you, much of the authority and seniority in that world is benevolent, or at least well-intentioned. If you are trying to become a writer by taking expensive classes in that subject, you want your teacher to know more about it than you and to behave like a teacher. And so you might hear advice along the lines of "I don't think you're ready to tackle Y yet, you need to spend a few more years honing your skills with X" and the like. All perfectly reasonable. But people on the Beowulf side may never have taken a writing class in their life. They just tend to lunge at whatever looks interesting to them, write whatever they please, and let the chips fall where they may. So we may seem not merely arrogant, but completely unhinged. It reminds me somewhat of the split between Christians and Faeries depicted in Susannah Clarke's wonderful book "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell." The faeries do whatever they want and strike the Christians (humans) as ludicrously irresponsible and "barely sane." They don't seem to deserve or appreciate their freedom.
Later at the writer's conference, I introduced myself to someone who was responsible for organizing it, and she looked at me keenly and said, "Ah, yes, you're the one who's going to bring in our males 18-32." And sure enough, when we got to the venue, there were the males 18-32, looking quite out of place compared to the baseline lit-festival crowd. They stood at long lines at the microphones and asked me one question after another while ignoring the Dante writers sitting at the table with me. Some of the males 18-32 were so out of place that they seemed to have warped in from the Land of Faerie, and had the organizers wondering whether they should summon the police. But in the end they were more or less reasonable people who just wanted to talk about books and were as mystified by the literary people as the literary people were by them. "
  It is well worth clicking over to Slashdot and read the full interview.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Penn and Teller in India

This is an episode from Penn and Teller's mini series called Magic and Mystery tour. There are so many things that are great about this show that I just urge you to check it out.
The journey they take as magicians to meet fellow crafts men living in rather simple ways is very interesting. They set out to discover the Indian Rope trick but the show is much more than that. It's a respectful look at street magicians in India. To put the two intrepid suit wearing magicians in touch with the apparently lowly caste of gypsies to which the street magicians belong they have the author of the superb study of Indian Street Magic; the Net of Magic by Lee Siegel.

It is a beautiful and insightful look at the history and origin of Magic by two of my favorite magicians. Enjoy.

The quest for the Indian Rope Trick

Friday, 2 November 2012

The Great Escape

 This is a nice interview with Yours Truly, which also is the first to mention the Illuminated Showman blog by name. Thanks to The Music.
Paul Ransom has always wondered where a contortionist’s bendy spine may take them. He finally gets to ask La Soiree’s Captain Frodo.
Whenever anyone says ‘contortionist’ the first thing that springs to mind is, well, y’know, I mean, do they, would they? Have you? The man on the other end of the line laughs and teasingly responds, “It’s best left to the imagination. I do make a comment about that and do a quick demonstration during my tennis act, so…“

The contortionist in question is Captain Frodo, a Norwegian-born, Melbourne-based blogger, philosopher and bendy showman. As part of the record-busting nu-circ juggernaut that is La Soiree, Frodo has shoved himself through tennis racket heads and travelled the world.

“It is a pretty obscure thing,” he admits of his incredible, double-jointed career. As the child of a professional magician though, a life on the stage was always likely. “I guess every kid thinks their dad can do everything, but my dad kinda could; producing candies at parties and all that sorta stuff,” he recalls. “So yeah, I wanted to be in the show even before I even really knew what that was. I just knew that you went out on stage and stood around for a while. Only later I realised you actually had to do something.”

Encouraged by his father, the young Frodo developed his own magic act based around torn up newspapers. However, before long a developing Houdini obsession led him to contortionism. “I just wanted to do an escape act,” he explains. “Before that I hadn’t been aware of the full range I had with my shoulders and so the first performance I did that was contortion-based was an escape from a straightjacket my dad ordered from America. It was only later I realised that some of that stuff I was doing inside the jacket was actually more exciting than the escape.”

If it all sounds like a vaudevillian throwback, perhaps it is. As Captain Frodo would have it, “I can’t help but see a similarity to the ‘20s, the golden days of circus and the Depression that came afterwards.”

Either way, the astounding success of La Soiree shows no sign of abating. Having already broken Opera House records and had their Melbourne Festival season blow out past six weeks, the burlesque cabaret circus continues to connect with audiences. According to Frodo, it’s because it’s more real. “You don’t have to suspend your disbelief like you do in a theatre. It’s very visceral,” he argues. “Perhaps in hard times people can enjoy the freedom that you see in the show. Y’know, it’s like anything’s possible.”

As an erstwhile philosophy student (and creator of The Illuminated Showman blog), Frodo clearly thinks deeply about being on stage. “Finding myself in an occupation that, when people first hear what you do, they go, ‘But do you have a real job?’ I wanted to demonstrate that what we do is actually as deep or as shallow as you make it.”

Flanked by fellow freaks such as David ‘Bath Boy’ O’Mer, Mario: Queen Of The Circus and lycra diva Le Gateau Chocolat, Frodo is in no doubt about the undiluted power of real entertainment. “With the world becoming more digital, people realise, ‘Ah, that’s how it feels’. Y’know, you sit there, the lights go down and master showmen give you the most polished ten minutes of their life and it’s an experience that happens now.“

WHAT: La Soiree
WHEN & WHERE: Until Thursday 29 November (extended season), Forum

Paul Ransom

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Learned pigs and Fireproof Woman

Based on Ricky Jay's book of the same title, this special was made up of a combination of magic, juggling, amazing feats, stunts, and performances, including a musical performance on wine glasses, a human calculator who could determine cube-routes of numbers in her head, and an antique acrobatic clockwork doll.

This is an hour long variety show, cheesy but with some great stuff in there including Ricky Jay, Steve Martin, Michael Moschen, Jamie Turner. It reminds me of a Muppet show episode.

Ricky Jay is one of the world's great sleight-of-hand artists. He is also a most unusual and talented scholar, specializing in the bizarre, exotic, and fantastic side of the human species. The youngest magician to have appeared on television, Jay has become well known for his astonishing stage show as well as for his cameos in such movies as Glengarry Glen Ross and, most recently, Boogie Nights.
Jay's unparalleled collection of books, posters, photographs, programs, broadsides, and, most important, data about unjustifiably forgotten entertainers all over the world made this unique book possible. An investigation into the inspired world of sideshows, circuses, and singularly talented performers, Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women is history of the most unusual -- and irresistible -- sort.

Postapocalyptic Teller

A strange post-apocalyptic dream starring Teller.

Friday, 26 October 2012

The Way of the Showman

The way of the showman
is the way between
Between real and imagined
Between the illuminated entrance
and the "Exit Only" sign

Along the midway
there are rides, carousels and carnies
You choose which one you get on
Some rides go round and round
and round and round
When you get off are back where you started?
Some says that is going nowhere
But you don't get on a ride
to go anywhere.
You get on for the experience.
You don't enter the carnival
because you want to get to the end

Or as T S Elliot said:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time

Life is a Carnival
You don't know what's waiting
around the bend by the ghost train
Or behind the sideshow tent
But you know
it's gonna be interesting,
weird and beautiful -
In its own unique way.

Such is the Way of the Showman
Join us
You will love it

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Ricky Jay and his 52 Assistants

I first saw Ricky Jay on the Paul Daniels show. The routine he performed was a card throwing routine. He threw playing cards with great precision and force. I was amazed I had never seen anything like it. I later found out he has also written a book on the subject; Cards as Weapons.

I was first made aware of this remarkable show when a friend in Edinburgh sent me a DVD taped of a tape of a tape... This is a great combination of well crafted patter, remarkable skills, unusual feats and solid showmanship.

I hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

So You Want to be a Writer

I really like Charles Bukowski's poetry. This is a poem about the fire inside, advice to those who want to tread the Way of the Showman.
Or as the person posting the clip below says in his description:
"This is Charles Bukowski telling Charles Bukowski how to write like Charles Bukowski."
I dont know if I believe you need to have a starry furnace in your belly to find a purposeful existence from expressing them through art. If it makes you happy, its a start, and if you persist it will eventually make others happy too.

so you want to be a writer

if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.
if you’re trying to write like somebody
forget about it.

if you have to wait for it to roar out of
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready.

don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.

{via BrainPickings}

Monday, 22 October 2012

Showmen, turn on immunosystems

Here at the Illuminated Showman we are very interested in the Placebo effect. We do believe that this strange and highly interesting phenomenon of self healing is an important key not only to the origin of Showmen but the genuine healing properties of showmanship.
The early Shamans, which we believe to have been proto-showmen using the very special and intimate connections of showmanship to actually heal the sick. The shamans role was that of healer, spiritual leader or guide so a mix between priest and doctor as well as a form of sacred entertainer. {You can read more about this Showman / Shaman link here the power of tricks, truth in reality and deception.}
I do believe that an understanding of the nature of the Placebo effect will explain in one big swoop why the whole arsenal of alternative medicine has some effect in healing people. The theory below, that there might be an on/off switch controlled by our minds that can turn on a full immune-system response or not seems to shed some light on a possible mechanism for this strange effect.
"There is a simple explanation, says Trimmer: the immune system is costly to run - so costly that a strong and sustained response could dangerously drain an animal's energy reserves. In other words, as long as the infection is not lethal, it pays to wait for a sign that fighting it will not endanger the animal in other ways."
As unique performers we do not have the luxury of being able to take sick days. During a run of shows at a festival we cant ring in and say we cant make it. Often, particularly in smaller companies or for certain in solo shows not showing up is not an option. SO I have myself experienced that I might feel a little under the weather during a season but as soon as it ends it becomes a full blown flu or something akin to it. There are even cases when I think I am well as can be only to find the first week of my holiday being hampered by a bug of some sort. If what the researchers below is true it would explain this phenomenon of "sickness on days off".
From an evolutionary stand point it makes a lot of sense to get sick, or to "give in to" the sickness when some stressor vanishes. The mechanism would of course have been more important when the stressor was a dangerous mammoth hunt, where not only your own life and those of the hunters was in danger but the possible starvation of the whole clan.

{It turns out that this idea was first proposed by Nicholas Humphrey which has recently been featured on this site.}

 The article below is from the {New Scientist}

Evolution could explain the placebo effect

 {06 September 2012 by Colin Barras}
ON THE face of it, the placebo effect makes no sense. Someone suffering from a low-level infection will recover just as nicely whether they take an active drug or a simple sugar pill. This suggests people are able to heal themselves unaided - so why wait for a sugar pill to prompt recovery?
New evidence from a computer model offers a possible evolutionary explanation, and suggests that the immune system has an on-off switch controlled by the mind.
It all starts with the observation that something similar to the placebo effect occurs in many animals, says Peter Trimmer, a biologist at the University of Bristol, UK. For instance, Siberian hamsters do little to fight an infection if the lights above their lab cage mimic the short days and long nights of winter. But changing the lighting pattern to give the impression of summer causes them to mount a full immune response.
Likewise, those people who think they are taking a drug but are really receiving a placebo can have a response which is twice that of those who receive no pills (Annals of Family Medicine, In Siberian hamsters and people, intervention creates a mental cue that kick-starts the immune response.
There is a simple explanation, says Trimmer: the immune system is costly to run - so costly that a strong and sustained response could dangerously drain an animal's energy reserves. In other words, as long as the infection is not lethal, it pays to wait for a sign that fighting it will not endanger the animal in other ways.
Nicholas Humphrey, a retired psychologist formerly at the London School of Economics, first proposed this idea a decade ago, but only now has evidence to support it emerged from a computer model designed by Trimmer and his colleagues.
According to Humphrey's picture, the Siberian hamster subconsciously acts on a cue that it is summer because food supplies to sustain an immune response are plentiful at that time of year. We subconsciously respond to treatment - even a sham one - because it comes with assurances that it will weaken the infection, allowing our immune response to succeed rapidly without straining the body's resources.
Trimmer's simulation is built on this assumption - that animals need to spend vital resources on fighting low-level infections. The model revealed that, in challenging environments, animals lived longer and sired more offspring if they endured infections without mounting an immune response. In more favourable environments, it was best for animals to mount an immune response and return to health as quickly as possible (Evolution and Human Behavior, The results show a clear evolutionary benefit to switching the immune system on and off depending on environmental conditions.
"I'm pleased to see that my theory stands up to computational modelling," says Humphrey. If the idea is right, he adds, it means we have misunderstood the nature of placebos. Farming and other innovations in the past 10,000 years mean that many people have a stable food supply and can safely mount a full immune response at any time - but our subconscious switch has not yet adapted to this. A placebo tricks the mind into thinking it is an ideal time to switch on an immune response, says Humphrey.
Paul Enck at the University of Tübingen in Germany says it is an intriguing idea, but points out that there are many different placebo responses, depending on the disease. It is unlikely that a single mechanism explains them all, he says.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Beat Magazine interviews the Captain

[Captain Frodo] puts on a master class of physical comedy, as if the black and white films of Buster Keaton had come alive and actually were funny.  

JACK FRANKLIN, Beat Magazine

The following is from an interview with yours truly from Beat Magazine in Melbourne in preparation for La Soiree's season in Melbourne starting October 11th with its first preview.  (reading the direct transcription of my words from an interview they do sound convoluted... They would benefit for some editing...)

David O'mer from La Soiree.
"La Soirée (rebadged from its Spiegeltent days of La Clique) is an absolutely wonderful, horrifying, impossible, astounding joy. It is a circus to stretch the sensibilities, a sideshow that has been given a full reign. It is as bawdy as it is sinfully beautiful. It is a true cabaret, not some grubby burlesque but a good old-fashioned variety show with full frontal nudity, coarse language and adult concepts are all expected, sometimes before you even make it to your seat. A rotating cast of miscreants form the rogue’s gallery that passes for a cast, each bringing a unique talent to bare in front of an ever more shocked and shrieking (with laughter or approval) audience. From the famous Bath Boy with his tight, wet, denim acrobatics through to the corpulent showstopper in spandex, Le Gateau Chocolat – no two acts are the same or even remotely similar to anything you have seen.
The show is about the personality of each performer: Captain Frodo, Frodo is his real name by the way, could be called just simple contortionist but that would be huge undersell. He first performed aged ten alongside his father, a magician, and the years of performance and showmanship shine brightly. He puts on a master class of physical comedy, as if the black and white films of Buster Keaton had come alive and actually were funny.   
“I had been doing contortion stuff for a long time and you need to find your own angle on everything,” he says of his act. “Because of the stuff I have been given by nature, my act is a very visceral experience for people. People find it very challenging to watch. When you are doing it as a street show and people haven’t paid and are committed to sitting through something, then if what you do is too challenging to watch they cover their kids’ eyes or walk away. So to develop a character that is a bit slapstick in they style of Chaplin is a good thing since in that context ,if somebody gets a brick in the head it’s funny where as in real life it is a tragedy. So I have found a way to present something that by its very nature makes people uneasy and makes it palatable.
If you can get the crowd on your side, they will go with you much further than they thought. When you do take the crowd with you, when they give up their apprehension, their pleasure and excitement is shocking and exciting to them.   “There might be people that disappear hankies, squeeze through tennis rackets or juggle knives better than us but the acts in this show transcend their talent so that it becomes about a story and a character, transporting the crowd to places they wouldn’t even have thought they would enjoy – it might have sounded vulgar or repulsive to them – but we change the rules to make it safe to enjoy.”
La Soirée will be delighting those brave enough to attend at The Forum Theatre from Thursday October 11 through to Sunday November 18.

Bikini Kill - Carnival

This is a song about the seedy underbelly of the carnival
The part that only the kids know about
This is a song about 16 year old girls giving carnies head
For free rides and hits of pot

I wanna go, I wanna go
I wanna go to the carnival
But it costs $16 yeah
I wanna go to the carnival
But I know it costs $16 now

Round, round, round...
Gonna lose $20 while I'm there
See the girls with the feathered hair
They're wearing plastic, not real leather
Boots that go way up to there

Round, round, round...
It's by the Lacey mall,
That's where you'll find me, yeah.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Freak Cards

These gorgeous trading cards of famous freaks are the creations of symbolist painter Gail Potocki. Most posters and cards made of freaks seem to only use them for their sensationalist value, these paintings on the other hand transcends their physical uniqueness.
The printing of the cards was done by the Century Guild and I believe there still are copies available. Click over and check them out here.
Gail Potocki also has a book out called The Union of Hope and Sadness which is worth checking out.