Friday, 29 November 2013

Ira Glass, great advice on Creativity

For those with nothing but a faint song in their hearts, a little candle with a fragile flame of enthusiasm telling them that the Way of the Showman is for them. For anyone starting out on their creative adventures the advice from Master Storyteller Ira Glass is awesome. I wish someone had told me. It might have saved me from laying in the dark nights of Norway wondering if I would ever make work I would be proud of. I did hundreds of shows with my dad. Kids shows in shopping centres and at christmas tree parties was were I cut my teeth but our material was not something I could bring with me to show my punk friends. It took a long time, but it did happen in the end.

You become a Creative because you have good taste, good enough to know that for a long time, sometimes a very long time, you can tell your work is not good enough for yourself to like it. Stay with it! The act gets better!

Friday, 15 November 2013

The Way of the Showman - IV - Act Analysis

Act Analysis

Here I delve into some of my thoughts and ideas, frustrations and triumphs surrounding my physical
comedy spectacle. I guess if I was a musician this would be on my greatest hits album.
Yet again this has been dug from the Archives of treasures in the studios of Carnival Cinema.

It is always interesting for me to watch these episodes, so expertly put together by my good friend and collaborater Hamish McCormick. Somehow he manage to surprise me every time, even though I am in the clips. I guess I have said and done all those things over the years but most of it was so in the moment I have all but forgotten it. Due to his persistent presence he has captured my life in all its ridiculous and glorious detail. Like how I almost loose my famous cool ":-)" as I struggle to come to terms with the changes imposed on my act by a television program I'm about to attend.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

38 years of Magic and Bullshit

Penn & Teller - Young and handsome.
Here at the Illuminated Showman we follow the exploits and thoughts of the dynamic duo Penn & Teller with great interest. For not only are these fine magicians great Showmen but also, at least one of them... is a great magic thinker. Teller has as refreshingly a thought on what the art of magic is as the tricks are which he dreams up. In this interview moderated by Matt Donnely the two Showmen shine in their respective ways.
"Magic can be an intellectual artform because it has a built in irony. The idea of magic is that there is trickery there. The process happening inside spectators is an unwilling suspension of disbelief."

I find this very interesting. Rather than the approach which Penn describes as the style of Doug Henning: This is a dream I had... and then they mutilate some girls. This approach of just come with me on this journey, suspend your disbelief and let yourself slip back into a state of wonder and childlikeness, is just not enough, they claim. Do magicians perhaps use this ruse as a get out of jail free card for not creating effects that connect with Crowds deeply enough for it to matter to them? Or is is a denial of what Teller described as the unwilling suspension of disbelief? The dynamic duo certainly seems to favour the latter. 
An style which does not deal with the fact that people expect trickery when watching a magician is simply delusional. Teller further thinks that this is one of magics greatest qualities that it deals with what truth is. Questioning truth and reality is a cornerstone of rational thinking and with it deeply important for all. If one treat magic in this way, which any one who have acctually seen Penn & Tellers work will know that they utilize this philosophy in all that they do, and with great results. Their magic is fresh and honest. You cant help but feel that even though they are constantly fooling you they are not treating you as an idiot. They believe their audience to be made up of thinking individuals. With these key concepts, laid out so well in this interview, one gets a powerful philosophic tool to apply to ones conjuring. With this simple idea you can make your magic both fundamentally interesting and promote questioning rational thinking.

"Watching magic you are always looking with your eyes whilst measuring it against what you know."

Steve Martin on the Power of tricks.

Teller believes that it is the way magic tricks stimulate the thinking process by showing seemingly impossible things whilst the spectators also knows that this is impossible is fundamental to the appeal of magic. He paraphrases Steve Martin:

Steve Martin magic is the lowest art form, something you can do if you have no talent elsewhere.
“I had loved magic tricks from the time I was six or seven. I bought books on magic. I did magic acts for my parents and their friends. I was aiming for show business from early days, and magic was the poor man's way of getting in: you buy a trick for $2, and you've got an act.”
STEVE MARTIN, Time Magazine, Aug. 24, 1987

"Anyone can do the crappiest magic trick and it still be interesting or have some sort of intellectual component... People get work doing terrible tricks with horrible narratives. "

If you have mastered tricks, be they magic or circus style skills like juggling or balancing or sideshow style tricks such as the human blockhead or swordswallowing you have an act even if you have no presentation. In many shows this would be all the performer had and the Management would hire a talker which could present the person with the tricky skills. But the point is tricks sell. 
When walking down a midway if you here that a man will be swallowing a fragile neon glass tube you don't ask who it is that will do it. If you hear a girl will get stark naked inside this tent you don't need to know who you just want to know how much the ticket is. This is the nature of tricks.

Here he is of course talking of what we here at the Illuminated Showman have written about as the Power of Tricks. The tricks in themselves has a power which truly captivates us. Even when done without narratives, as pure demonstrations of some new found skill, like finding a selected card, have some fascination for us. Thus we can buy a two dollar trick and with no skills of Showmanship go forth and if nothing else gain some attention and notoriety. 

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Nate Staniforth - Magician

Last night as I couldn't sleep I remembered I had been pointed towards a link to a clip about Magician Nate Staniforth by Brian Daly. SO I checked it out. And it was really great. His straight forward and articulate style captured me. He pulls no punches. He does not soften his magic by making silly jokes. Unapolagettically he sells mystery.

Then I watched this. It is the teaser trailer for a web series Nate is doing.

And finally here is a 15min talk he gave in 2011 for Tedx in Iowa. For some reason I cant link to it but you can click this link here.
"What is it about magic and magicians that draws us in? What makes us suspend and challenge our perception of reality? In this TEDx Talk Magician Nate Staniforth shares his passion for using illusion to create a feeling of astonishment and amazement, and how vital this emotion is to the human condition."

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

The Way of the Showman - II - Sideshow #1


Sideshow Part One

In 1998 I found myself thrown into a crazy world of street performers, freaks, homeless people, angry locals, all night parties, and general mind altering experiences. Travelling with to brilliant, vibrant, and inspiring fellows from Australia with a freshly broken heart I watched the world explode in every direction.
I played streetshows at the Edinburgh Fringe and this was before anyone controlled what we did. So it was a little more chaotic, to put it mildly. Amongst all the crazy people handing out flyers me and my
fellow travellers the Space Cowboy and Shep Huntly were invited to see a Freakshow which performed as part of the festival. The show was called the Kamikaze Freakshow and was run by the crazy power engine and freakshow fanatic John Kamikaze. I was blown away by the shows great fusion of theatrics and hardcore sideshow stunts. John did an unprotected neon swallow, sat for an hour pre show "pinning up" as he called it, putting 350 hatpins and hyperdermic needles through his flesh. This was just his costume.
I had dabbled in some human pincushioning and had put three pins through myself. This was dedication on a whole other level. So when we were all partying and dancing in the wee hours of the night and I was sporting some of my flexi stuff on the dance floor and suitably affected Kamikaze, whom we had met and come to fear and love, asked me to join his family, and carried away by the moment I said yes.
Next day he came up onto the High Street, the Royal Mile and saw my show. He was still interested in adopting me. I had been whisked away from a messy break up by Shep Huntly and the Space Cowboy only weeks before and from my brokenhearted haze the world was offering up opportunities faster than I could contemplate them. So I had decided to just say yes to whatever life threw at me.

I had previously had a love of the Sideshow. I had experienced the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow and marvelled at the Enigma, Mr Lifto and Mat the Tube. I also had befriended Håvve, the Head of Pain Sollution, an awesome fakir/sideshow outfit from Oslo Norway, but I had never seen anything like the Kamikaze's.
Before long the Freakshow had run away with me and I found myself sleeping literally on the floor in John Kamikaze's little house in Pilton, Edinburgh. Sharing the house with Pinky Pinky, (Baby Dee)-  a hermaphrodite which had been performing with every sideshow and freak establishment in the States, Danny Powertool - a dwarf penile phenomenon lifting unimaginably heavy weights with his privates, and Chris Tanner a musician from Melbourne part of the Freak band. It was a crazy time. Crazy shows.
I read Geek Love at the time, and my strange headspace and living space made the book loose some of its impact. The twisted characters of the book blended in so naturally with my real life new family that it wasnt until a few years later, when I reread the most awesome Freakshow novel of all time that I discovered just how twisted it really was. Those who know that book  will appreciate how strange my life was at the time...

The Adventures of CF Melbourne Comedy festival - 06
This first real episode of The Way of the Showman web series shows some scenes from that crazy time of my life. 1998 seems like a very long time ago. I seem like another person, yet still so much the same. Same block of marble but so much less finished. Life keeps chipping away at me and it still very much is.
The episode also shows bits of my first full solo show called the Adventures of Captain Frodo from 2006, already 7 years ago... wowsa. Time flies and it is great to have Hamish McCormick digging through the extensive archives of Carnival Cinema to dig up and create these gems from the past.

I hope you enjoy episode 1.

More episodes:
Part III - Sideshow #2

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

The Way of the Showman Web series -Teaser

After a freak, sneak, peek into the Carnival archives only a few days ago with the fine collaboration
twixt Carnival Cinema, C. W. Stoneking and yours truly we get a teaser of what's to come. As always the editing and filming is done by my friend and faithful companion Hamish McCormick and I must say it is looking mighty fine!

The background for this web series is a ten year long, ever morphing dream shared by McCormick and myself. Every meeting, every skype chat, or long distance phone call (whilst I'm out on the road peddling my unique brand of Showmanship and he is holding the fort in Brunswick, Melbourne,) invariably ends in deep conversation about the details of the current state of the "project." It has been a merchandize DVD, an art film, a bio pic, a film, and an endless topic of creative conversation. What on earth do we do with all this great footage?
Now finally it is really coming together! 

Hamish has followed me, literally around the world, always with his faithful camera rig handy and documented my trials and tribulations. He was there when I fell off the cans. He was there when La Clique broke into the West End in London. He was there when for the first time I took a crew of artists back to Norway, to my hometown of Haugesund. He was there when I worked with Circus Oz, when I worked with the Happy Sideshow, La Soiree, at the Circus Festival in Tasmania, when I got my first home loan approved, when I did my first solo show, and on it goes.

Now over the next future we will share my life with you. It will be a video diary from my life on the road going back a decade and told in no particular order. It will be slices of life, my life, served up like pieces of fine layer cake.


Tuesday, 20 August 2013

The Way of the Showman - a brand new Series

This fine piece of fusion art is created by Hamish McCormick the brain and power behind Carnival Cinema. Over the last 11 years this fine film maker has followed yours truly around with a video camera and pretty much captured way more than the highlights of my life and career. As an ongoing series he will produce videos spanning a decade and fitting all matters of styles and contents. I will be posting them here on the Illuminated Showman and they will also be appearing over at the Carnival Chronicles.

The film below has been filmed in several sessions over a few years and the track is by the extraordinary blues man and raconteur C.W. Stoneking.

I truly hope you like this first installment in the series in The Way of the Showman - the Life and Times of Captain Frodo.

C.W. Stoneking, Blues man and singing showman.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Commentary on Lesson 68 - Failure

"Character is created by encountering and overcoming failure."
After a comment from a fellow Craft man I thought I would divulge some deeper thoughts on failure and the importance of overcoming it. (Flanagan, this one is for you.)

Those who have seen my Tennis act will be aware of the emphasis I put on chaos and apparent failure and struggle. It is, or should at least be commonly known that making the audience believe you are in some kind of trouble raises their level of attention. If they really believe that the handstand artist had to awkwardly jump down to avoid coming crashing head first onto the stage the Crowd will be on the edge of their seats for his second seat. It will also make his second and successful attempt all the more triumphant. This is, as they say, an old circus trick.
On the other hand, if you appear to pretend to be failing but they can tell that it is nothing but
charades the whole exercise quickly becomes embarrassing. To both the Showman and the Crowd. A clown who pretends to be bad at what he does but fails to convince his crowd its real, fails doubly. He dies two deaths. Not only is he bad, he is bad at being bad. In this case two wrongs don't make a right.
Pretending to be bad at something needs the most amount of care and rehearsal. Chaos needs to be very carefully practiced and planned.
Most Novice Showmen which sees a more experienced Showman perform a great failure act such as the "bad clown" or the "bad magician" fail to grasp that do be a "bad clown" one actually have to be a good clown and a great Showman. It is not enough to be bad. If you act bad you will be bad and the amount of work available for bad showmen is not enough to get by on. So one has to be good, or perhaps indeed great, to be bad, that is: it is not easy to be bad.
It is often said that people love to see a magician screw up. This is not entirely true, if it is true at all. The only way a Crowd would want to see you actually fail was if you were an asshole. In
that case they would like to see you humiliated. But in any other case it is painful to watch someone die on stage. We are not talking about a Ricky Gervais kind of ironic fail or knowingly being bad, we are talking the magician which with his un-ironic attitude and self important behavior which then spectacularly blunders his tricks. If the Man is unlikable the Show will have to be of exceptional entertainment value, but such is rarely the case. 
Dariel Fitzkee sums up the reason for this in his brilliant exposition Showmanship for Magicians as: "People are more interested in people than in anything else." Darwin Ortiz writes in Strong Magic: "Character fascinates people, and character is revealed under pressure. Most of the time you can maintain a facade in dealing with the world. But, when things go wrong, that's when the real you emerges."

With this in mind the idea that people like watching Showmen in trouble gets a different meaning. No longer are we talking about genuine failure, but the overcoming of obstacles. They want to see you challenged, not to die miserably. (Of course there are master Showmen out there who no doubt can pull of acts where they genuinely fail and still are loved, but isn't perhaps even the likes of Neil Hamburger and Tony Clifton wins in one way or the other? Since they have transcended the fail.)
The bottom line is that Crowds wants to see how you deal with pressure and mounting challenges and the more they like you the more they want you to succeed and therefor the more they will be captivated by a situation that apparently is going awry. 
So the advice for the Novice Showman is to not rely on failure since you first need to have the Crowd with you before you can begin laying on the next layer of attention getting technique. Real emotion needs to be stirred in the Crowd, positivity towards you, to be specific before you should delve too deeply into failure.
For an audience to see you in trouble doesn't provide entertainment, it only creates the conditions for entertainment. It generates audience interest. The next question is how you get yourself our of trouble. If you do it by applying your magical skill (if you are a magician) - by doing something impossible - the audience will be pleased. And the more hopeless your situation seems, the more emotionally gratifying it is for the audience when you triumph.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Lessons from the Way of the Showman - 68

Character is created by encountering and overcoming failure.


Tuesday, 11 June 2013


Pic by Rob Woodcox.
Showman is made up of two words; Show and Man. (So far I hope I have lost none of you.) Both are equally important aspects of attention for those who have chosen the Way of the Showman.
Often the individual Showmen lets one overshadow the other. As a young man, with little other to dig my fingers and mind into than Shows and the creation of acts, I found myself totally immersed in the Show aspects. Spending so much time pondering upon the finer details of timing applied to a particular physical slapstick gag, applying myself to mastering a push off double lift, or attempting to discover a synthesis of Albanian folk dance and utter ridiculousness. These days, as a first time father, the Man aspects have taken over. I have solo shows coming up in Norway soon so I am busy translating and creating a new stupid magic routine, but the majority of my brain power and time goes into my family.
Shep Huntly has been known to remind fellow performers to nurture a life beyond the Shows. Remember to have other hobbies, and this is very important. Even though it is hard to believe at times there is more to life than shows.

As I am drawn towards the Man side of the Way I have been thinking of play. The importance of
playing. The role of play in teaching us about the world. As the swedish clown without borders clown professor Nalleslavski says, the key to clowning is in Play and Connecting with the Crowd. That is it. Play, with the attention the Crowd gives you, get on stage, find the game, enjoy the game and play it.
Play is not just for children, but it is, if possible, even more important for them. Play is the child's work. This is a key insight. We work, if you can call creating and doing shows work, but at least it seems to fall into that category by being what you do to make a living even if your main purpose is to create a life.
Play is the child's work. They need it. They thrive in it. IF it is right.

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:s
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man.

The Child is the father of the Man and they both find meaning through their "work," the first in Play the second in finding a Way to Play at work.

The following is from an article in the Atlantic by Esther Entin, and the thoughts come from an article in the Journal of Play by Peter Gray.   

When children are in charge of their own play, it provides a foundation for their future mental health as older children and adults. Gray mentions five main benefits:

1. Play gives children a chance to find and develop a connection to their own self-identified and self-guided interests.

As they choose the activities that make up free play, kids learn to direct themselves and pursue and elaborate on their interests in a way that can sustain them throughout life. Gray notes that: " school, children work for grades and praise and in adult-directed sports, they work for praise and trophies.... In free play, children do what they want to do, and the learning and psychological growth that results are byproducts, not conscious goals of the activity."

2. It is through play that children first learn how to make decisions, solve problems, exert self control, and follow rules.

As children direct their own free play and solve the problems that come up, they must exert control over themselves and must, at times, accept restrictions on their own behavior and follow the rules if they want to be accepted and successful in the game.

As children negotiate both their physical and social environments through play, they can gain a sense of mastery over their world, Gray contends. It is this aspect of play that offers enormous psychological benefits, helping to protect children from anxiety and depression.

"Children who do not have the opportunity to control their own actions, to make and follow through on their own decisions, to solve their own problems, and to learn how to follow rules in the course of play grow up feeling that they are not in control of their own lives and fate. They grow up feeling that they are dependent on luck and on the goodwill and whims of others...."

Anxiety and depression often occur when an individual feels a lack of control over his or her own life. "Those who believe that they master their own fate are much less likely to become anxious or depressed than those who believe that they are victims of circumstances beyond their control." Gray believes that the loss of playtime lessons about one's ability to exert control over some life circumstances set the scene for anxiety and depression.

3. Children learn to handle their emotions, including anger and fear, during play.

In free play, children put themselves into both physically and socially challenging situations and learn to control the emotions that arise from these stressors. They role play, swing, slide, and climb trees ... and "such activities are fun to the degree that they are moderately frightening ... nobody but the child himself or herself knows the right dose."

Gray suggests that the reduced ability to regulate emotions may be a key factor in the development of some anxiety disorders. "Individuals suffering from anxiety disorders describe losing emotional control as one of their greatest fears. They are afraid of their own fear, and therefore small degrees of fear generated by mildly threatening situations lead to high degrees of fear generated by the person's fear of losing control." Adults who did not have the opportunity to experience and cope with moderately challenging emotional situations during play are more at risk for feeling anxious and overwhelmed by emotion-provoking situations in adult life.

4. Play helps children make friends and learn to get along with each other as equals.

Social play is a natural means of making friends and learning to treat one another fairly. Since play is voluntary and playmates may abandon the game at any time if they feel uncomfortable, children learn to be aware of their playmates' needs and attempt to meet them in order to maintain the play.

Gray believes that "learning to get along and cooperate with others as equals may be the most crucial evolutionary function of human social play ... and that social play is nature's means of teaching young humans that they are not special. Even those who are more skilled at the game's actions ... must consider the needs and wishes of the others as equal to their own, or else the others will exclude them." Gray cites increasing social isolation as a potential precursor to psychopathology and notes that the decline in play may be "both a consequence and a cause of the increased social isolation and loneliness in the culture."

5. Most importantly, play is a source of happiness.

When children are asked about the activities that bring them happiness, they say they are happier when playing with friends than in any other situation. Perhaps you felt this way when remembering your own childhood play experiences at the beginning of this article.

Gray sees the loss of play time as a double whammy: we have not only taken away the joys of free play, we have replaced them with emotionally stressful activities. "[A]s a society, we have come to the conclusion that to protect children from danger and to educate them, we must deprive them of the very activity that makes them happiest and place them for ever more hours in settings where they are more or less continually directed and evaluated by adults, setting almost designed to produce anxiety and depression."
Let the kids out in to the world without plans, let them make their own plans, let them discover themselves through play and you will get great creative Showmen and ShowWomen.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Lessons from the Way of the showman - 67

A sign that you have become a Master Showman is: When nervousness no longer exist.
There is always a particular energy present before a show. The Novice calls this nervousness, the Master calls the same energy Inspiration.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Searching for Sugar Man - Never give up

For any artist who has ever had their dreams broken, who has not found an audience, who has given so much of their heart but not gotten any response:
Watch Searching for Sugar Man.

Don't ever give up hope. Somewhere out there you might be bigger than Elvis!

Saturday, 1 June 2013

The Power of Stories

For those of you who don't already listen to Ira Glass's This American Life might not know the man talking in the film clip below. This American Life is a brilliant story telling show that is absolutely well worth checking out. In some ways the lecture Ira gives below gives the flavour of his radio show.
His topic is stories.
”Narrative,” he says, “is basically a machine that’s raising questions and answering them.”  
He talks about how to keep your listeners attention and how that then can get your point across with a story which grabs and keeps your attention.

Towards the end as he gives his thoughts on 1001 nights we get a glimpse of the true power of stories to change people and sometimes even save lives. This is inspirational and important stuff for Showmen in all genders and walks of life.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Derren Brown creates "religious experience..."

Derren Brown, Master Showman.
The fact that the new arch deacon of British atheism even contemplates the idea of creating  religious
experiences in people might seem contradictory or at best inflammatory to some people. But, as most faithful readers of this blog will know the leap is not such a strange one at all.

Here at the Illuminated Showman we believe the archetype of the Showman to have originated in the Shaman. The Shaman was a leader figure from a time so far back there was no separation between the societies' roles of priest and doctor. The shaman served as both of these. He, or she, was also, at heart, what we here on this blog  call Showmen, with a capital S. Someone who knows there is real power in the actions of Showmen. Real powers which can create real change in real people that will make positive contributions to the Crowds who experience them and hence in the world at large.

In light of this, the fact that Derren Brown uses the Craft of Showmanship to create a genuine religious experience in a devoted atheist, is not such an unlikely event. There is no doubt that Derren Brown is a Master Showman and that he wields his Craft in the most effortless and powerful way. To such an extent that in the beginning of his career even yours truly, found himself taken in by his expertly way of creating the illusion of giving away the Methods to his Effects. I too thought that surely this man is something other, perhaps something more, than a conjurer. With such fabulous confidence he presents his unique take on mentalism that it becomes almost unrecognisable as magic. His blend of psychological subtleties and magic and hypnotism is very fine indeed.

As I have written about, in detail, there is great power in lies. There is no particular bestowed upon things simply because they are true. (Unless you count the results created by science based medicine vs the medicine which is called alternative medicine. A medicine which would fall in under the domain of fellow craftsmen of Showmanship.) Truth has no added power because of its truthiness. Unless the person is a staunch rationalist which would be moved by "truth" in similar ways people might be moved or biased by god, crystal healing, or homeopathy.
Derren Brown is a Showman and he performs "tricks" but that does not make his powers any less real. The emotions of the woman which is "converted" in the video below is real. She has what would be described as a religious experience by any person leaning in that direction. Since she is not religious she has trouble classifying it. What do we atheists and Showmen of all denominations and sexes call this type of experience?

I have had such an experience. Entering the lobby of the Natural History Museum in New York City I was moved to tears by the enormous display of dinosaurs in the grand hall of science. A predator attacking a giant Brachiosaurus with a child and the mother rearing up in defense. It is a stunning depiction of the world of the Deep Past.
To me the well of emotion, the deep connection, the perspective - rendering me feeling as unique yet insignificant as a snowflake - was so powerful and so real it made me cry. There is no doubt, if I was a believer I would call it a religious experience. A deeply felt experience of god's creation. But since I am not a believer it was instead a real experience of the real world.

It is a great show and I hope you enjoy it.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Carnival Evolution

"The sight of a feather in a peacock's tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick."
Charles Darwin

Crowds are our clay. 
We mold minds and souls.
We manifest
the crowd's dreams,
and make them real.

In that same Way
Crowds shape Showmen;

Material, rides and skills.

The Carnival itself
is the sum 
of human desires.
The way the peahen shaped
the peacocks tail
crowds shaped the carnival.

desire the future known.
Some seek speed and thrills.
Some seduction
Others sex 
Some want terrors and horror
but still stay safe
Some want to fight
Others to watch. 
Some want delicious fat fried food,
sugary drinks and doughnuts. 
All want crowds of people 
on grounds where different rules apply
where the playing fields are leveled.
Where anything and anyone is fair game
A fair-ground.

It is flesh, it is blood, it is piss and cum.
It's circular.

It's circus.

We want the new,
the strange,
the exotic and extraordinary - 
but we want it behind strong perimeter fences 
and gone tomorrow -
taking the escapades and transgressions of the night
away with it. 
Leaving nothing behind but
dead grass 
trampled popcorn 
and memories
fading like the carnival posters.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Project Alpha

"What would happen if two young Conjurors posing as psychics were introduced into a well-funded university parapsychology laboratory?"

"Generous funding doesn’t make scientists smart . . . Nor are they able to detect trickery without help."

James Randi.

In 1979 James Randi enlisted the help of two young magicians to demonstrate something which by now, at least in the circles of Showmen is taken as axiomatic; the supernatural abilities of psychics disappear if there are magicians present during the experiments. Most scientists and researchers still believe today that they are to educated to be fooled by "simple" trickery. This of course is absolutely wrong. There is no such thing as simple trickery. A trick is only simple after the secret has been revealed. Jim Steinmeyer claims that "magicians guard an empty safe. There are few secrets that they posess that go beyond grade-school science class, little technology more complex than a rubber band, a square of black fabric or a length of thread." Well, that might be so but these tricks non-the-less are effective enough to become the seeds of religions.
A CONTROVERSY is rippling through the borderlands of science over how best to aid the quest for truth in the marshy backwater of psychic research.
The debate was touched off by a brilliant hoax in which two teenage tricksters, working under cover for more than three years at the behest of James Randi, a magician and psychic debunker of international repute, fooled researchers at Washington University into believing they had paranormal powers.
The ostensible aim of Mr. Randi's hoax was to make psychic researchers rely more widely on the advice of magicians, a goal advocated by many scientists as a sensible way of routing out trickery and self-deception. But even critics of parapsychology are now crying overkill. Some scientists say Mr. Randi, during a press conference in January sponsored by Discover magazine, and on a recent NBC television special, ''Magic or Miracle,'' has exaggerated his victory over the ''classic fatheads'' and set back relations between skeptical scientists and those probing the paranormal.
At best, Mr. Randi's hoax is a masterful triumph of the scientific method - as exercised by a magician - over the crude dabbling of scientists who should be more adept at what they do. At worst, it is an example of science victimized by showmanship. 
''The worst we can say'' about the McDonnell laboratory, Mr. Randi said, ''is that they were far too confident of their abilities to detect fraud, and refused outside assistance because those who offered it lacked academic credentials.'' 

Phillips did indeed present a tape to the parapsychology community and in it he states that Schaefer was able to corroborate his findings and even found more abilities in reference to our "powers".  This is direct evidence of him stating he believed what we did was real.
 Banachek from Michel Prescott's blog
Parapsychologists have been lamenting for decades that they are unable to conduct proper research due to the lack of adequate funding, but I felt strongly that the problem lay in their strong pro-psychic bias. The first hypothesis, therefore, was that no amount of financial support would remove that impediment to improvement in the quality of their work. Moreover, I have always been in accord with many others in the field – such as Stanley Krippner, current president of the Para psychological Association – who insisted that qualified, experienced conjurors were essential for design, implementation, and evaluation of experiments in parapsychology, especially where deception – involuntary or deliberate – by subjects or experimenters, might be possible. So the second hypothesis was that parapsychologists would resist the accepting expert conjuring assistance in designing proper control procedures and, as a result, would fail to detect various kinds of simple magic tricks.

I do believe that the parapsychologists are searching (or searched) for what we Showmen have presented. For it is Showmen which provides evidence for the Supernatural. Showmen everywhere has their fingers on societies pulse and are constantly searching for new collective dreams to fulfill. In the same way that we have worked out how to thrill by physically slinging people around in roller coasters, carousels, and ferris wheels Showmen has provided intellectual, emotional and metaphysical thrills in fortune tellers, mind readers, and spiritualist seances.
As David Berglas, the International Man of Mystery, said in an interview on the Magic NewsWire: "When they ask to see another trick I say No, you haven't finished thinking about that one. The more they talk and think about it, the more impossible it becomes." I believe the manifestations of the supernatural, the so called proofs have all been provided by Showmen. Project Alpha is merely an example of where the Showmen revealed themselves as what they were. With the explicit aim to show researchers how difficult it is to rule out deception from any laboratory trials.
Whether this taught anyone any lessons is hard to say, but perhaps some scientists realized that the powers of manipulating minds is so great in magicians that they will look at the necessity of including them in future studies of the so called paranormal.
Only showmen can debunk other showmen. The tricks of deception are so many and so clever, as well as deceptively simple that no amounts of PhD's, degrees or professorships can detect them. What we need is a well versed old fashioned Master Showman on the research team since in all studies of this nature, the parapsychology and the supernatural, is square within the explicit field of expertise for Showmen.

If one truly love mysteries and genuinely want to explore the limits of our understanding we first need to know that what we are dealing with is a mystery. I love mystery. As a kid I loved the mysteries surrounding the bermuda triangle, the pyramids, the extinction of the dinosaurs, the giant statues of the Easter Islands, but even as a kid I negan finding literature which gave rational explanations of these things. I might have wished for UFO's to have been involved in creating the pyramids and Easter Island statues, but the truth - the fact that we humans managed to create these wonders without the help of aliens or any supernatural means where also fascinating. Human kind were more amazing than I had previously imagined. The feats of engineering they successfully achieved were astounding. Instead of thinking that we needed help from above, (aliens of gods,) we could do it ourselves. My exploration of the mysterious was revealing to me a similar experiene as my own life was. I no longer needed my parents help for everything. I could do more than both I and my parents thought I could. I could do it all on my own and if I could what couldn't mankind do?
But I still loved mysteries and kept searching going from one unexplained mystery to the next as their mysterious nature withered away turning innocence into experience.

The following two clips are a conversation between Michael Edwards and James Randi about what happened back in the early eighties during Project Alpha.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Some Crazy Contortion

I found this sweet contortion clip by random. The title etc is in Russian so I know very little about him. When I run his name, Мухтар Гусенгаджиев, through the google translate I get Mukhtar Gusengadzhiev. From there I found some pictures, and this is what Limbermen have to say about him:

An excellent male frontbender, currently lives in Russia.
The first 5 pictures are from Alexander Zhukov's World of Contortion.
Thanks to Lee for the framegrabbs.
He's was apperaing in the theater play "Genesi, from the museum of sleep" which is currently playing here then has has been a part in Cirque du Soleil's Zumanity in Las Vegas.
The clip below is from the french TV show Le Plus Grand Cabaret du Monde, (the biggest cabaret in the world...)

And finally here he is from a Cirque de Soleil TV show.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Jim Jarmusch on Stealing

Jim Jarmusch.
“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery - celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from - it’s where you take them to.”
Jim Jarmusch.

Tom Waits, John Lurie, Roberto Benigni.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Is Magic Art?

This film created by Dan and Dave features interviews with the cream of modern magicians, all contemplating and giving their thoughtful responses to the question of Art and Craft.

Is Magic Art? from Dan and Dave on Vimeo.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Penn and Teller Go Public

Penn and Teller Go Public.
This was the first TV (PBS) special by the dynamic duo, a filmed version of their off Broadway show of same name.  It was also the first show I saw of them. I was still so young that I remember being scared about the knife through the hand trick. I watched the show over and over as Dad and I recorded any magic related TV program. As Norway still only had one! channel back then the tape did not fill up so quickly, that is until they started showing Paul Daniel's series. Don't get me wrong I love Paul Daniels too, but there is a massive gap in style between him and Penn and Teller, and I was and some may say I still am closer to the dynamic duo's side of the fence.

In 1994 as part of a sweet little festival called Spontan Festivalen, (Spontaneity Festival) in my hometown of Haugesund I did a version (tribute... {on getting started, originality}) to Penn and Tellers straight jacket escape hanging from a tree having a friend reading a Norwegian poem. If you want to be good you got to take inspiration from the great. Hunter Thompson typed out the entire Great Gatsby, to feel what it was like to type a great novel...

What a killer first show! The routines they did back in 1985 already made them the most unique, eccentric and cool voice of magic.
"Penn reads "Casey at the Bat" while Teller escapes from a straight jacket, Penn does a not-wimpy card trick, Teller gives the illusion of reality with a cigarette, Penn eats fire, and the guys show you a trick you can do at home, if you don't mind taping over Masterpiece Theatre."

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Helpers, Healers, and Guides

It has always been true that, in seeking guidance, the many have depended on the few. In every time, in every place, there is always a "creative minority" to whom others turn for leadership, for guidance, for courage, for understanding, for beauty. These few who guide stand before the many, not as the ideal bearers of final truths, but simply as the most extraordinarily human members of the community.
The world's oldest profession is that of the shaman or first professional, the shaman is ancestor not only to both the modern medicine man or doctor and the religion is priest or divine, but also ancestor in direct lineage to a host of other professional types. It would seem odd that both the doctor, the most secular-minded, and the divine, the most sacred-minded of modern helpers of people, should derive from the same source. But we can readily understand the seeming paradox when we recognize the basic nature and function of the primitive medicine man of shaman.

The origin of Showmen are found in the shaman. The shaman was the first incarnation of the One Who Faces the Other Way. In these early prehistoric times men, and no doubt woman too, discovered the true power of shared attention. In developing and studying shared attention we as a species became who we are. The preoccupation eventually hard wired us for culture.

Showmanship: more than 'Mere entertainment' - a power to Change

That something "more" which is created in the interaction between a group, led by One Who Faces the Other Way, is a strange power. It is an example of something from nothing. Creatio ex nihil. A whole that become greater than the sum of its parts. All of this "extra" comes through process. Like when wood is ignited, an astounding amount of energy in the form of heat is released. In reality the heat does not come from nowhere, but looking at wood you would not believe such great energy could be released.
When the Showman masters the mere Attention grabbing aspects of addressing a group he can begin to grasp the deeper and more potent aspects of his Craft. As he steps beyond the how-to and technical sides of addressing the many a new and more potent level than 'mere entertainment' appears. 
 If tuned in certain ways this power can be used for healing purposes. In medical terms this power has been called placebo. It is the strange and elusive effect which gives as many as 1/3 patients relief from symptoms. {American Cancer Society.} In the past this tool was often the only thing that could be used in healing a particular sickness. I believe that as we get a better grasp on what the placebo effect is we will find that all alternative modalities tap into it in some way. Modern medicine have, for ethical reasons, a very limited use of placebo. I can imagine litigious patients should be able to make a case against a hospital if they were given homeopathic sugar pills. There is something inherrently dubious in giving someone nothing for their pain and then saying you gave them medicine and on top of it charging them as if you had administered some kind of active ingredient.

Psychic surgery.
The placebo effect is still relied upon in pentecostal and other religious settings. When a group gets together led by a Master Showman be it in the guise of a Filipino psychic surgeon, a revivalist preacher, an acupuncture or general healer including today's doctors this power can be harnessed and used to the sick's benefit. The truth is that individuals does receive benefits from these sessions. But in case of serious illness one should not rely on Showmen of the entertaining or religious/new age kind.
With the advance of science based medicine we have outgrown most uses of performance rituals to heal our pathological illnesses. Although much research is currently being done and more is needed to establish exactly what the mechanisms are for this effect. When it comes to the types of illnesses treated by today's psychologists there can still be found a use for the Craft of the Showman.

The Showman's ancestor's task was to make occasions special. Not in the way of modern day when we Showmen appear in jaunty hats at children's parties, but to make a passage from one phase of life to the next. Birth, sexual maturation, becoming a hunter, a woman, a man, or in death, in victory and triumph as well as in defeat and loss of face the many (the Crowd), needs to stand together facing someone who can channel their attention and guide them. The One Facing the Other Way creates gravitas, he makes the occasion something more. Words will be spoken, songs will be sung, there might be dance, there might be tricks and magical appearances but most importantly the One must make the Many feel. Feel as one, and feel the experience. The hearts of the Many must be caressed and kindled hope of dreams fulfilled, of healing, of certainty in the face of chaos. The One is a light in the darkness of a cave shining as bright as any flame. 
Perhaps that is why so many feels it natural to include a Showman, in the form of magicians, jugglers, comedians, and musicians in their celebrations. They know that they belong, we know that we belong, but most have forgotten why. In the deep recesses of our neolithic minds we have the feeling that the fire we feel thumping in our chests does not belong in the corner entertaining the children, it belongs at the center stage, leading the Crowd.

This power speaks directly to our hearts and creates a loophole in the worlds organization. It is the trickster and the leader, the chosen one who against all odds pulls the sword from the stone the one who might become a charismatic leader. (The following is an excerpt from Sheldon B Kopp's book Guru.)

Charismatic Leaders

Among the best of the helpers, the healers, and the guides are those who can be described as "charismatic." To have charisma is to possess the gift of grace. The Greek origin of the word lelates to the Graces of mythology, those lovely godesses of talent who brought joy, brilliance, and beauty into the lives of men.
It is not enough then that a Guru be a gifted magician. His talents must not be used merely as a celebration of his powers, no matter how remarkable. His gifts  fin meaning only when they are used in the service of offering an opportunity to another. 
Max Weber introduced a sociological meaning to the concept when he developed his "value-neutral" image of such extraordinary men. He delineated three bases for the authority underlying leadership in a community. These included Traditional, characterized by "patriarchal... domination"; Bureucratic, a legalistic defining of authority; and finally Charismatic.
Charismatic leadership always stands over against the other two bases, as it is "strange to all rule and tradition." The charismatic leader comes to power as one to whom others submit because of their belief in his extraordinary personal gifts. He may be a prophet, a shaman, a magical sorcerer, or even a leader of hunting expeditions. His followers are committed to belief in his having qualities far beyond those of other men, qualities that in the past were valued as being supernatural.
It does not matter whether these extraordinary personal qualities of the charismatic leader are actual, alleged or presumed. Such a leader arises when the people need him, at a time when the old order is to be challenged, when he has reason to stand in opposition to the traditional powers.
Perhaps each in his own way can help to free the people whom he guides.
It is, indeed, the guru's own freedom that inspires others to be free and may point the way. One of the sources of charisma has been described as lying in "the apparent unpredictability of the leader's behavior and his seeming indifference to the most awesome obstacles and dangers. THis combination of unpredictable arbitrariness with naive fearlessness is very similar to the innocent spontaneity of the child...
...[T]he central quality in this spontaneity is that such a man trusts himself. It is not so much that he is responding i ways which are beyond other men (or lesser therapists). Rather it seems that he is past worrying about how he is doing. No longer expecting to be unafraid or certain or perfect, he gives himself over to being just as he is at the moment. He accepts his fear, lives with his uncertainty, finds his imperfection sufficient.
Unconcerned with being more than he is at any iven moment and satisfied to be able to do what he can, he is able to do far more than he could if he were still distracted by the question of how well he was doing. Of course, disciples of such a gifted guru will at first be awed by the difference between his seeming confidence and poiwer, on the one hand, and their own helplessness and inadequacy, on the other. The guru then tries to help his follower to see that there is no differnce between them, except as the follwer diminishes himself to give the power to the guru. THe follower maintains the imbalance to avoid the awful reponsibility of being equal to everyone else in the world and completely on his own, while retaining the hope that the guru will take care of him. To maintain his own freedom, the guru must try to free the disciple from himself.
Of course, any form of personal power is subject to abuse. The trust of others is a responsibility just because there is a temptation to exploit it. Some gurus are corrupt, and those that are not may become corrupt. In time any form of help that works, ultimately does become corrupt. Each type of guru can only be effective for a time whitin a given setting. The success of every kind of gifted guru inevitably contains within it the seeds of its own failure.
Yet, nothing else lasts. Why, then, should we expect more of those to whom we turn for guidance than we are capable of ourselves? In this ambiguous world, made up as it is of moments, fragments, bits and pieces, we must learn to take love where we find it. And then we must learn to grieve its passing so that we may make room for the next moment.

Sheldon B Kopp