Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Ramblings on Magic clubs and an article by Ricky Jay on Susan Boyle

After many months of absence I was able to make it to the Shore City Magic Club's meeting last night. Had extra motivation as I also wanted to spend some time with one of my youth who is a club member. It's a long drive to the North Shore ....

It was a good meeting even if we had no time to perform any magic as it was the club's AGM and annual Magic Quiz night. It was good for me to again reflect on the purpose of the club, its goals etc. I am really glad that this club has been given special status as it is recognized by the NZ authorities as a non profit INC club that promotes arts and culture, especially due to its emphasis on helping children and teens. The club consists of mostly juniors. Last year, the NZ post even gave us a stack of free postage envelopes as part of its recognition of the good work of our club.

I am glad too the way our club president and secretary thinks. As part of our convention, we will be organizing lots of hospital shows etc. Really great concept as I think with a huge gathering of magicians and people of its related arts, our hospital visits / shows will be very memorable.

I am glad too that soon we will have a special later time for seniors where I can get help with my magic training.

As for the quiz, the team I was in got 2nd place (out of three :-)). Not too bad I think considering a NZ grandmaster of Magic, and Dragon Award winner Alan Watson was on the winning team. I really like Alan. He is a big star but very humble and some of the sponsorship he has been working on to help young people get help in this industry is inspiring. Ah ... if only I were 10 years younger ... no, I mean 20, no 30 .... ah rats, have to be much younger *sigh* Gosh, I am old! LOL!!

It was also nice for me as I was early (as is my habit) and while waiting for the PIC to unlock the doors, I had a chance to speak with Alan Watson and be told some "secrets" relating to our 2010 NZ Magic Convention. Our local club will be hosting the convention and our headliners so far are BIG names indeed. But not allowed to let others know yet not even most club members .... "Coincidentally" I just bought last week a book on the history of magic especially in relation to one of the headliners and the impact he has had on the art of magic (printed in the late 1970s)! He was big as far back then! Oh yeah .. bought the book 2nd hand, hard cover, in good condition and cheap from ... drum roll please .. trademe!!)

Here's an interesting article by Ricky Jay (a magician and columnist) ... on the Susan Boyle's rising and falling star. Personally I have not been following Susan Boyle story to me ... its like a repeat of the Paul Potts story and when her story made the news (I did see her sing on the show) my comment was "Typical Hollywood hype. They are going to milk her dry." (Yeah, I know she was on Britain's Got Talent" ... but Hollywood's reach to me is everywhere - even in the UK) Sad that my prediction came true.

Hmmm... on a related note, I wonder what happened to "Signature" (the UK dance duo)? I though they were great! I loved how they fused the Bhangra into Michael Jackson's songs ... "-)

The New York Times

June 2, 2009
Op-Ed Contributor

Desperately Seeking Susan

CONFLATE, if you will, the extraordinary attention lavished on the unlikely 47-year-old Scottish songstress Susan Boyle, whose rise and fall played out recently on the television program “Britain’s Got Talent,” and the reaction accorded to one Mathew Buchinger some time earlier in the Council Chambers in Edinburgh.
Buchinger demonstrated his skill on more than a half-dozen musical instruments (some of his own invention), danced a hornpipe and performed conjuring tricks with cups and balls, cards and dice. In front of the lord provost he fashioned a pen and with it produced a fine calligraphic document of the coat of arms of the city. The year was 1726. Buchinger was 52 years old, 29 inches tall — and, he had neither legs nor arms.
Because of their appearance, both Buchinger and Ms. Boyle were saddled with low expectations. This can work to the performer’s advantage: lessened anticipation coupled with high ability can bring on an exponential acceptance.
Susan Boyle’s story is not Buchinger’s. Still, for every performer, it’s all about expectation and exposure: two factors of an equation that must be balanced.
While there was nothing comparable to the tens of millions of viewers who have witnessed Ms. Boyle on YouTube, Buchinger enjoyed substantial notoriety and shares much in common with the singer. However, unlike Ms. Boyle, who claimed she had never been kissed, Buchinger had four wives and 14 children. He was heralded and discussed: the subject of stories, verse, jokes, slang expressions, souvenir prints and royal command performances. Samples of his calligraphy, fashioned by Buchinger holding a pen in between his unarticulated fin-like excrescences, are saved in the collections of the world’s most formidable institutions. He is even immortalized in a 1726 English broadside, “A Poem on Mathew Buckinger: The Greatest German Living.”
Thomas Quasthoff, the magnificent contemporary German singer whose physical appearance somewhat resembles Buchinger’s (he is a phocomelic thalidomide baby), also provoked low expectations. Like Ms. Boyle, his performance at a competition (one of a distinctly higher caliber than the suspiciously choreographed television event on which she appeared) brought him accolades.
Mr. Quasthoff has spoken of the diligent training necessary to transcend a single surprising performance with a sustained career, and Buchinger was grateful to parents who did not exhibit him as a child but rather left him with the time to develop his considerable skills.

It is not only physical appearance that colors our expectations, but also class, education and location.
Thomas Britton, a low-born 17th-century seller of charcoal, was an autodidact who became an antiquarian book and music collector and an expert on chemistry. Every Thursday evening for nearly 40 years he hosted, on the second story above his coal shop, the most important salon concerts of the day. At this unlikely venue Handel and other notables played for music lovers of all strata of society.
And two years ago the renowned classical violinist Joshua Bell performed as a busker in the Washington subway, and was almost completely ignored as he played for free.
Joni Mitchell’s classic song “For Free” told of a street clarinetist: “Nobody stopped to hear him / Though he played so sweet and high / They knew he had never / Been on their TV / So they passed his music by.”
Ah yes, television. In the 1950s, when it first truly captured our attention, the conjurer Cardini was a headline attraction and the most imitated magician of his day. His life’s work had been honed into a stage performance some 10 minutes long, and he was wary of the new medium. Cardini, who relied on a packed theater for his livelihood, knew that television could undermine his presentation. Although it could expose vast numbers to his performance, it could also lead to undesired editing, uncomely shots or the exposure of the actual magical methods employed. And the transmission could provide a primer for would-be copyists.

Perhaps Cardini anticipated the case of Steve Martin. Some years ago Mr. Martin created an act called “The Great Flydini,” in which a magician (played by Mr. Martin) lowers his fly and from that unlikely location produces a surprising slew of oddments (in the interests of disclosure I must confess I helped fashion the act with him). He performed it on TV and it now appears on YouTube, where even if it has not achieved the staggering numbers afforded Ms. Boyle, it has still elicited more than a million hits. (One viewer, a “comedian” from Holland, has egregiously performed Mr. Martin’s original act. Move by move, prop for prop, beat by beat.)
Should we have expected anything more, or less? Our first look at Ms. Boyle generated not only expectation but surprise. But as she became overexposed, our surprise diminished. The extraordinary became commonplace. This was something that Buchinger never faced and Cardini always feared.
A performing cycle that once could have taken years is herein reduced to days. She’s unknown, we’re surprised. She’s embraced, we’re disenchanted. She’s the runner-up ... next?

Ricky Jay is a sleight of hand artist, actor and author.

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