Should we record our Dreams?

I am a terrible sleeper. I kind of always have been. Since becoming a Magician most of my best ideas spring to mind in the middle of the night.

There is a scientific reason for this.

As humans, we’re regulated by circadian rhythms, these are physical and mental changes that take place across the day. The circadian rhythms are affected by light and darkness, they can influence our sleeping patterns, secretion of hormones, digestion and the regulation of body temperature.

Since circadian rhythms are also linked to our psychological abilities, when we’re at peak circadian arousal time, our brain power is at its highest. Allowing us to solve problems we face daily.

These circadian rhythms respond when we have less light and our body is beginning to slow down for a night’s rest. Meaning the right hemisphere of the brain can actively function and benefit our creative impulses when we’re not in our most attentive state. (See the picture above). So idea’s ooze out from our brains like the Marshmallow man except we can’t call the Ghostbusters for help to stop the ideas generating that keep us awake.

How to prepare for brain activity at night?

What we all need to do is remember to write all ideas (even silly ones) down in a notebook, so they are not forgotten. Keeping a notebook stashed beside your bed at night is just one way to make sure you write them down. The closer it is the better. The less effort you make the more chance you have of retaining those thoughts. (I once woke up with my notebook at my feet under the duvet).

Weirdly last night I came up with a method to make a topit in my denim jacket and had an idea for my cups and balls and couldn’t get back to sleep until I got up and left a cylinder on top of my table to remind me in the morning to start work on the idea. Once I had done that I was out for the count.

What to do when a puzzle cannot be solved?

When I have ideas, I dream… BIG! And lots of the time I really don’t know how to solve these problems and make my ideas real. As a magician I’m still developing, reading and learning as I grow so there’s lots of things I don’t know how to make or execute.

I like to look at problems solving in magic as a puzzle. By turning it into a game the stakes are high. And when I solve it and win it’s so much more delightful. The playfulness of a game keeps difficult problem solving fun.

One of the ways to solve a magic puzzle is to enact what you wish to achieve first in your head and then physically. This idea of using ‘pantomiming’ as a tool to create is explored in detail by Tommy Wonder. He calls this method The Mind Movie.

As Pantomiming is delivering a story without words. We magicians in rehearsals can think a trick without executing it. Giving us a better idea how to take a fantasy and make it real.

Here is a summery of Tommy Wonder’s Mind Movie method below.

  1. You have an idea – remember anything is possible. Imagine without limits.
  2. Explore the effect fully, understand all you need to know to perform it and let it take shape in your mind.
  3. By thinking the effect you get a clearer notion of what it might look like.
  4. Run through the effect physically. Gather the props and use them during your “fantasy rehearsal” – Tommy Wonder The Books of Wonder Page 53.
  5. By doing this Tommy writes you discover all the awkward spots, the things that do not work.
  6. By this stage methods are not important anymore. Solving the puzzle is. Completing the task is.

But can a fantasy ever become reality?

So let’s link back to me developing as a performer and how pantomiming helped me achieve a completely new method (for me) that worked right away.

When I create and work with a new prop I haven’t a clue how to use it. This year has been my year playing with the classic, Cups and Balls. I researched a lot of routines by watching them, reading them and I’ve picked up some ideas here and there. However working through my own routine I have found it difficult to know exactly what I wish to do next in the routine. And when I finally find what I want to do next I have no clue how to make it happen.

For the record – This kind of thinking got me absolutely no where and depressed! So please join me and chuck this ‘we have to know the method before performing the trick’ in the bin.

Two days ago I began to think outside the box – making my predicament a puzzle to be solved. I began thinking, what if I set the ball where I need it to be so that I can get used to grabbing it from that position to place under a cup. This meant I didn’t put any pressure on myself to come up with the sneaky method right away. The idea was solely to find the best place for the ball to ‘live’ until I needed it. After doing this for two days with all my new loads sitting visible on top of the table a method popped straight into my head as to how I could hide the balls in those positions.

What I’m saying here is a clear method to hide the balls (which I had no idea how to do prior to enacting my mind movie for two days solid) came to fruition without struggle. It was simple, easy and without fuss and the first prototype I made (from cardboard and tape*) worked immediately.

*On a side note making prototypes of props out of cardboard and tape is a great way to see if your idea works without spending a lot of money to make something that doesn’t work.

I hope this post is something for you to ponder over a cuppa.

I’ll now leave you with the final lines from the Wonder maker himself.

“Your audiences will be able to experience your imagination and you. They will not experience a pale recreation of someone else’s imagination, or a hobbled version of your imagination. It will be a sincere, honest sharing of your dreams with the audience. You cannot share more. That is the ultimate!”

Tommy Wonder The Books of Wonder Page 54.

The Best kept secret in Magic is?

When the world feels like it has fallen apart and no one knows what to do for the best (God this sounds like song lyrics – perhaps I’ve been influenced by reading Rob Zabrecky’s book Strange Cures this week). In society there’s a real “them” “me” and “us” attitude naturally developing. At times it is very hard to keep those feelings at bay.

I seen it this week when I was sitting in Belfast’s Royal Hospital emergency room with my mum, who had a bad chest infection being segregated from others because she could potentially have the dreaded COVID-19 (Anyone with any symptoms is treated as if they have it now FYI). All she needed was some antibiotics which she gets quite regularly because of her pulmonary fibrosis. It’s scary seeing the effects can all have on others right now.

When someone close coughs, splutters, sneezes they immediately get the Death Stir (not Death Star though it might as well be). We are all afraid. We don’t know what we should be doing. Where the answers are and it’s easy to crumble.

It took me a few days of moping to pull myself up and out the other end and I have found a few things that have seriously changed my outlook the last 48 hours and I’m going to continue using them as tools to get through this. I call these tools…

The Arkane Anarchy Approach!

Why The AAA? Because alliteration is exactly what we need in times of crisis.

  1. Breathe
  2. Exercise
  3. Read every single book you have on the shelf.
  4. Talk to your family daily, let them vent, you vent get it out. Make sure they know we are all in this together.
  5. Arts and Crafts – making things can take your mind of everything even for a little while.
  6. Learn something new. A fact, a sum, a skill something you never believed you could do.
  7. Practice Magic like your life depends on it.
  8. Patience is needed more than ever. Give yourself time to reflect and be still and think before you speak or do.
  9. Think of others.
  10. Set goals to achieve in your homes and bedrooms so that when this period of fuckwittery is finally over we have something to aim towards and fight for! (I apologise for the swearing but a necessary emphasis was needed for the tenth approach).

And remember to keep the best kept secret in Magic close at all times… But Nikola. (I hear you all cry). What is the best kept secret in magic? Dare to click the link below to find out…

https://youtu.be/42b5VDTOUYM

“Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you.”

Mark Levi Accidental Genius Page 129

***

To all of you whom I have met and are now part of my Magical family, thank you for showing me magic. Thank you for being magic. And if you don’t believe it right now I am telling you, if you are reading this now… You are magic, keep up the good work! Lots of love and kisses.

We’re in this together and that means we enter together and exit together, no excuses!

Nikola Arkane aka FizzWizzPop

How to spot a nervous wreck?

We all get nervous when we perform. Some hide it better than others. The anxiety we feel before we are about to plunge ourselves over the performing abyss is completely normal.

We are all victims of anxiety to a greater or lesser extent. Our body fuels us with adrenaline, hyping us up preparing us for what is ahead, the show must go on. But there are ways to help suppress the anxiety to a sensible level to cope before your perform.

What does being nervous actual mean physically?

Nervousness is a common feeling brought on by your body’s stress response. This involves series of hormonal and physiological responses that help prepare you to handle a perceived or imagined threat. Your body prepares to fight or flee a threat by boosting adrenaline production.

Isn’t it funny to know that when you perform you body senses that you are about to be threatened? I suppose in a way performing in front of loads of people, who you have never met before, tricks that could potentially back fire and they could laugh heckle or walk, anxiety is inevitable.

However, nerves can also give us the push to perform. The adrenaline to get out there and be the character, perform the effects and complete the task.

Will I always feel this way?

The short answer is, yes.

Nerves come in different forms. Thoughts in your head, an iffy stomach, pacing, good luck rituals etc. I have just got used to the feeling over the years and deal with it a lot better than I did in the beginning. Here are just a few of the ways I contain them and effectively use them to my advantage when I perform.

  1. Warm Ups – I warm up vocally in the car before each event. There is some advice on this in my book Becoming FizzWizzPop in the chapter “Figure of Speech” page 29. This act of warming up tells my brain that I am preparing to perform, eases anxiety and also gets my vocals ready to talk for the next hour.
  2. Arriving early to your event – I personally find that if I’m in a rush I worry about letting people down or giving them anxiety too. Being late or rushing to events just adds to the anxiety when you get there. Try to prepare by leaving enough time to settle into your environment before you perform. I normally like to give myself ten minutes to relax, drink water and feel the space before each show.
  3. Talking to people before you perform – I find that settling into your environment truly eases nerves. And one of those things for me is making conversation with the people and kids I’m about to perform for. Remember you mightn’t be the only one who is nervous. The birthday child might not know you are coming. The delegates may be surprised when you arrive at their table. So making conversation with your audience I feel helps break the ice before you unleash your epic magic.
  4. Don’t overthink it trust yourself – When I was studying theatre at university I remember a director telling me that if something goes wrong, no one knows but you (and of course the director) that something has gone wrong. It’s the first time the audience has seen the show so they do not and can not predict what is about to happen. It’s just your feelings inside that it didn’t turn out the way you wanted something too that make you feel bad. If you apply this knowledge to your performance what you thought was wrong was meant to happen. Making it easier to move on.

You know nothing Nikola Arkane…

Last weekend I performed my magic show for a boys 1st birthday. I always worry when I’m asked to perform at 1st birthday parties because usually children are very young at these parties (usually 3 and under). It’s nice that adults wish to do something for this celebration but sometimes it is impossible to perform your show because you need interaction and it’s very hard to get responses from this age group apart from movements, smiles, giggles. Over the years I have worked around this by involving adults in these types of shows, making it more of a family show and (as I mentioned in a previous blog post) bringing the magic down to the audience rather than expecting them to come to me.

At this party, one of my effects went really, really wrong.

In this particular routine I turn a sponge Oreo into loads of Oreo biscuits. The show was going really great up until that point considering it was really difficult with the age range. What happened was I didn’t set the prop correctly and when I went to change the sponge to biscuits the pan dropped and the biscuits spilled and smashed all over the area where I was performing.

Now this normally would be a complete disaster… however I found myself looking up at the audience and calm saying “SURPRISE” everyone laughed. It completely broke the tension. I finished it off with “The surprise came a little earlier than expected but that’s magic.” I quickly tidied up the mess and moved on immediately.

This situation took me by surprise. What I mean is how easily I coped with it. I know that if I had been performing a brand new effect and it went wrong it would’ve stayed with me for days. However, because I’d performed this effect for years it somehow didn’t phase me. I just moved on. I still got comments from the family after the show that it was so much fun, and amazing. The mistake didn’t effect them. It would’ve only effected me, if I had let it.

So, nerves are a normal part of being human. We all get them. Try to think and use them to your advantage rather than letting anxiety control you.

5 must read books in magic

Last week marked World Book day and I thought it might be nice to go with the theme of reading for this weeks post.

Magic naturally feeds into another one of my loves… Books! As a little girl my dad used to read to my sister and I nightly. This joy of listening to stories and tales led to me becoming a teenage bookworm and a magic book junkie. Becoming an author last year was an incredibly proud moment for myself and looking back on the first proper book I created I am humbled by the amount of people who have already supported me on this venture. From the bottom of my heart thank you!!!

Regarding books, we all have different tastes and for me I have some books, thankfully in my possession that I could not live without, which I have read more than once. They have also really provided so much joy in studies as a magician. I would now like to share with you my top 5 magic books and I challenge you, my followers to list your Top 5 books too. I warn you all, it’s pretty darn hard to nominate just five books, well it was for me!

Hearing some of the books that have inspired you perhaps might encourage me to add to my ever growing library (shelf) in my tiny room in Belfast. So please post comments below on books you love.

1. The Books of Wonder – Tommy Wonder

I was recommended this book by Tom Stone when I first met him in January 2018 and I was not disappointed. Full of unique magic, detailed descriptions and most importantly advice on performance. Not just the performance of his effects, but how to become a good performer. How to craft talent.

Talent is like a raw diamond. An uncut diamond is not particularly interesting, but once it is polished to perfection it becomes a thing of beauty.

Tommy Wonder

This is such an inspirational read. I wish I knew about Tommy’s work years ago. Now that I know of it, his lessons will continue to be used and remain with me on my journey forever.

2. The Glorious Deception: The double life of William Robinson aka Chung Ling Soo the marvellous Chinese conjurer by Jim Steinmeyer

There are some books that you have to read for research and yet they become etched in your mind. The story told in this book is so compelling and beautiful (as to be expected by its author). I have read this book more than once and will most likely read it again. Out of all the Jim Steinmeyer books (of which there are now quite a few) get it, read it and put it on your shelf to read over and over again, you won’t be disappointed.

3. Karl Fulves’ Self-Working collection.

These books are my encyclopaedia of my bookshelf. I was donated these books by my librarian and father in magic aka Mr George Bleeks. I have around ten in total and I would not be without them. All sorts of little gems are in these pages. From Card magic to paper magic, to coin magic to mental magic, Fulves covers such a wide range of material that you’re bound to find something new in there that is very old, brilliant and worth reinventing.

4. Redivider by Phil Goldstein

If you’re expecting this book to contain monumental mentalism, put it down. If your looking for flashy flourishes, put it down. If, on the other hand, you’re interested in quirky methods combined with whimsical plots, PUT IT UP.

Phil Goldstein Redivider Page 3

This book is my favourite magic book of all time that I have read EVER! I have never laughed out loud so much from reading a magic book (at the commentary). Or enjoyed trying out the content – of which I was able to try everything, right away which is unusual for me with most magic books. This book is approachable and pleasurable, surprisingly just like its author. I highly recommend it!

Click HERE for a little Arkane treat!

5. The Arkane notebooks.

If you had said to me two years ago I would be where I am in magic, I would have highly doubted your optimism. Yet, here I am. And one of the reasons why I have created so much material, achieved my goals and continue on my journey is because of my notebooks. These contain all my ideas that come to me, no matter what time of day it is. I have a notebook beside my bed, I carry one when I’m travelling always in my bag. If I didn’t have these books with me the ideas that swoosh into my brain would disappear as soon as they swooshed in there.

I also didn’t think of myself as a creative person until I began writing my thoughts down. After filling nearly four notebooks in the last two years, the evidence outweighs my beliefs. I can honestly say I have good ideas, bad ones, crazy notions that may never come to pass but regardless of what I think, all my thoughts go down in these sacred Arkane scriptures. I return to them quite frequently and read over them. It’s kind of like a weird magic diary I keep. I never thought as a teenage girl I would be writing down the secrets of Nikola Arkane’s thoughts in books but that’s what I will continue to do because it feeds my creativity.

Some advice if you decide to take up keeping a notebook, which you should, trust me!

  1. Make sure the writing is legible for you to read back again.
  2. Write it out so that you can understand it. If you cannot understand what you mean when you go back and read it, it’s pretty pointless to write in the first place.
  3. Alway carry it with you. You literally never know when ideas with pop up. And you can try your best to remember it but you won’t. Within a few seconds a good idea vanishes in a puff of smoke. POW!
  4. Don’t be afraid to draw and illustrate your ideas. Sometimes if you wish to build something it might be a good idea to sketch what you’re thinking. Even if you think you are not a good artist, the idea will be down on paper and you can pass it onto someone else who might be able to interpret it for you.

I hope you all enjoyed reading why these books are the top five reads on my shelf? I look forward to reading yours.

Honourable Harassment

To celebrate International Women’s day 2020

Here is an essay on my journey as a women into Close Up magic.

When I recount the true story as to how I began performing close up magic out loud in company people usually cringe upon hearing it, especially men. I presume this is the case because they recognise the truth first or second hand within the story I’m telling. 

Why should we feel guilt for telling the truth about how we have been treated by people when performing in our careers?

As females we wish to look our best so we wear nice clothes, put on make up, do our hair, wear heels to feel feminine and yet sometimes for all the effort we put in we are made to feel objectified and not taken as seriously as our male equivalent. After years of experiencing this, I wonder if these feelings of guilt and inadequacy are real or just inside my head?

I did. Feel guilt that is…

For being a girl. From the moment I first performed magic in public I was treated differently. I will never forget how I was immediately spoken down too, felt up, followed by men (with their children) trying to make me notice them and persuade me to give them my phone number. How I was told in my first year of performing – in front of children – that it would be nice to hear how I sounded when I orgasmed (I was told this as the man speaking those vulgar words extremely loudly in a dingy bar stroked the small of my back)! These are just a few of the reasons why as soon as I began my journey into close up performance I put a halt to it, permanently!

I just couldn’t face trying to be taken seriously as a female magician performing magic for “adults” when I was being treated so unkindly and sexualised for essentially, being a girl. Looking back now I wonder why I was made to feel so uncomfortable and why those men thought it was ok to speak to me this way!?

I can’t answer for the guys, but my short answer is I was young. I didn’t have the life experience nor the confidence to ignore or respond appropriately to the comments or actions. I didn’t have the ability to just walk away without it effecting me and getting upset. So I did what anyone would expect me to do, I walked away and delved into kids magic instead. It appeared to be an ideal environment allowing me to avoid sexism, uncomfortable situations and a safe place where I could develop as a performer without being judged or treated differently for being a girl by adults – mostly men.

This new path did not stop my love of close up material, particularly card magic. Alongside performing for children I continued to watch, read and practice with cards – never daring to perform my tricks in real life for fear of being objectified like I was all those years ago. Close up magic became a hobby that I secretly loved but dreaded being asked to perform.

Attempting to break the wheel…

In an attempt to break myself out of this bad habit I’d formed, I took on some free walk-around close up events – even though I was petrified I don’t normally give up on things too easily. None of these were successful. My most recent memory of one close up event I attended was that I arrived, felt physically sick and shaken to the point I could not even pick up a pack of cards and had to call the customer reporting that I was too ill to complete the engagement. It’s worth noting at the time of that phone call I was already standing at the doorway to the venue. My memories of being harassed emotionally and physically at the beginning of my career paralysed me to the point where I could not bring myself to perform for adults no matter which gender they were. 

Times were a changing…

In 2018, 10 years into performing my kids character and 15 years into performing magic in family homes, hospitals, schools and theatres globally, the urge to perform close up magic again was at the fore. I had an itch and for some reason it would not fade. I decided to attend Vanishing Inc’s Magic Convention ‘The Session’ on my friend Andi Gladwin’s guarantee that I would leave inspired!

I was beyond inspired. Attending that convention was like magic therapy for my soul. I got to see Paul Vigil, Max Maven, Tom Stone and witnessed the late legend Johnny Thompson performing. All masters of close up performance. There may not have been a surplus of female performers there however I realised that I wanted more than anything to perform and get to the level these magicians were at in their careers. 

As the convention was at its end, I found myself sitting in the foyer with all the performers from the weekend. A man I hadn’t met before offered me a seat beside him. He began asking me who I was and why had I come to The Session.

I found myself retelling the story of how I came into magic, my love of card magic and how I was frightened to ever perform again in a close up setting because of the harassment I experienced as a young girl entering the magic industry. I remember him looking at me, sitting silent for what felt like an age before responding, 

“You cannot let this experience in the past prevent you from performing close up again. These experiences, important though they seem, are singular and perhaps might never happen ever again in the same way. You have so much more experience now as a performer and you might surprise yourself at how you handle the situation now compared to then.”

Marco Fida

The man who sat and spoke to me that day was Marco Fida and I am eternally grateful for his push.

Marco Fida

Marco made me laugh about the past and realise that I should not let bad memories spoil or limit my future as a magician. Through someone else’s insight I was able to take a step back and realise that a long time had elapsed since my initial dabbling into card magic. I had grown up, toured countries performing all kinds of magic on stage and perhaps there was no better time to throw myself back into the fire and see if this time I would make it out unscathed.

Even though I knew I had changed as a performer and that I had more life experience as a person, I was still hesitant at the thought of performing close up for adults. I continued making the excuses for a while; telling bookers that I wasn’t free to perform on particular dates – anything to avoid facing my fears. Luckily I met THE definitive performer in the UK Close up Magic scene, who just happened to be a woman – and an inspirational one at that! I came under the radar of and became friends with none other than the wonderfully talented close up legend, Fay Presto.

Fay Presto photo by Olav Holten from Mystique Stockholm

Meeting Fay in person is really a once in lifetime opportunity. I am so pleased to say I’ve had the pleasure of spending a lot of time with this lady and her generosity and encouragement over the last two years has been the making of me as a person and performer. She has mentored me unofficially, investing her time and energy into giving me the tools I needed to thrust myself into the business of Close Up magic. Every time I spoke to Fay there was something worth taking note of.

The best piece of advice she gave me this year was “You need to fuck up to give some soul to a piece of magic”. Being a woman you will get unnecessary attention, but try to use it to your advantage, rather than always look upon ones gender as I negative thing. “Sex sells, but style is more expensive”, and if you are good looking and talented at what you do use it and take advantage of what you have been gifted with. 

After being with Fay I was ready to face my fears at the first close up event I performed at. I built myself up so much over the week prior to the event I was ready for anything happening and was determined to complete it. Oddly, after all the deep breathing, chanting and crossing fingers prior to the event, it turned out to be a very uneventful occasion. No touching, no weird comments just smiles, laughter and joy. 

My first close up event after years of not performing them.

What on earth had happened? Why did everything click into place at that moment? And why was I no longer treated differently? 

Perhaps I was finally ready to become a Close Up performer. Maybe I stopped thinking that it was me who was different.

Nikola Arkane

I got some of the best advice in the business, saw first hand how another woman worked her magic and I had done a lot of the hard work learning my craft performing for children. From that event on I never said no to close up work again.

Beginning to work my magic…

Within a few months I was booked to perform at an event in Sweden for nurses and doctors alongside Tom Stone, Martin Hansson and Leif Olberius – which wasn’t nerve wracking at all!! As if performing in a different country was not pressure enough, knowing that I would be observed by people attending the event and three extremely talented magicians, well that would be enough to frighten any new performer away. I decided not to let the pressure get to me. Instead I focused on my material and tried my best to have fun at the tables. The time flew in, I was laughing, the people were smiling and it wasn’t that bad performing alongside these experienced performers after all. To the lay people I was one of them; a talented, experienced performer performing magic at their event too.

Looking back on this event, I realise that I was unique in that situation being the only girl performing that evening. My initial perception of being the only girl magician in situations was slowly morphing from a defeatist place to a more constructive one.

My close up journey did not stop there. I was asked to perform in Oslo, Norway, at Davido’s Magic Club working alongside twenty close up and stage magicians. Even though English was not the audiences native language, I was able to charm them with my personality and choice of material. Using my theatrical knowledge I brought people in close to witness colour changing cards, vanishing coins and to end the night I performed my first solo piece on stage. After I took my bow and the applause died down, I returned to the audience to watch the remainder of the show. Sitting on the steps gazing up at the stage, I realised this was the life I had always dreamed of. All my fears slowly slipped away into the night.

I performed the Irish Link for the first time at the Magic Club in Oslo Norway.

After spending a full week as a guest at the Magic Castle Hollywood LA in March 2019 – it literally felt like my home – I got to see performances everyday, hang and talk magic with magicians daily. I got so inspired by material and the level of skill I saw that I realised what my next goal had to be. I wanted to get booked to perform at the Castle myself. 

Me, a girl from Ireland, who’s only been performing close up magic properly for a year could potentially be a performer at this prestigious venue. Impossible!?!

Nikola Arkane

To me it seemed inconceivable to me… but not to everyone I’d met that week – they were more than encouraging. Everyone kept saying “All you have to do is get an act together and send it through to Jack Goldfinger”. As daunting as that sounds, that’s exactly what I did!

In order to make my dreams come true I had to become my own hero…

A week after returning home from the Magic Castle as a guest, I set a date and time period to build and perform my close up act. With help from friends I borrowed a space to perform my act in and got someone to record it. Looking back now the stress I put myself under in that short space of time was bonkers. I cried – lots – and there were a few days I truly believed I would not complete the task I set myself. My plan was to get as many non magicians to come see my close up act as possible, trying to replicate the audience that I would actually be performing for. Tickets were free. Thirty people came to support me. The feedback was positive. I’d done what I’d set out to do. The first performance wasn’t without error, I knew that but upon watching back the recording I decided I needed the act recorded again. 

This time I performed it for an audience at Belfast MagiCon 2019. When I had the initial idea, I was told by the organiser that I was not allowed to perform my act as an official part of the convention, so I organised it in a small room as a rogue performance inspired by my friend who told me to do it anyway. I am a rebel at heart!

Upon announcing the show the room filled with conventioneers eagerly awaiting to see what magic was in store. My peers were surprised at what they saw. I was hugged, kissed and praised but I was tired, emotional and drained. As I bid my audience farewell, I now had two recordings of my act and two performances under my belt. I felt good. I did it! Now it was time to send my videos off to Jack and await his response.

The wait…

I waited. And waited and waited some more for what felt like an eternity (it was actually only two weeks before I got a response).

In the meantime thanks to Fay Presto singing my praises to the manager at The Chicago Magic Lounge, magician Benjamin Barnes, I was booked for four nights in July to perform close up magic. I couldn’t believe it! I hopped off an eight hour flight, had an hour to beautify myself and BAM I went straight into performance mode. 

I didn’t have any time to get nervous – although on the plane I was thinking ‘what is happening with my life right now?!’ – I was escorted via a tiny laundrette with twirling washing machines into the new home for Chicago’s elite magicians.

Looking at the beautiful theatre I could tell immediately that the space was designed by magicians with magic in mind. So much care had been taken. Backstage there was a shelf with brand new bicycle packs, sharpies and a box filled with used cards if any performer needed to make a gaff. The technicians looking after the performers were also magicians so they knew exactly what was required in terms of technically staging a magic show. We had a Magic Host (Super Shauna) whose job it was to direct each of the close up performers to the tables. This guaranteed that every person in the audience had seen a little bit of close up magic before the show. A wonderful concept! As a performer this took all the stress out of deciding which table I was going to perform at and allowed me to arrive and delve straight into the magic without any prior judgement.

The working environment was unlike any I’d ever experienced before. You have to juggle performing magic whilst waiters are serving drinks and food to the tables at the same time. You have to work in tiny hallways with very little room and be aware of people moving around you whilst trying to keep the attention of the spectators you are engaging. 

After four nights working there I thrived in the environment. I learnt quickly, tried different material each night and by the last night I had tricks that suited the venue and accentuated my personality. I believe I came up with a routine of three tricks that were engaging and the guests enjoyed watching amongst the chaotic environment surrounding them. My last set consisted of a coin trick and two card tricks (finally I’m performing card magic again!) One of the tricks I learnt from a visit to Magic Inc in Chicago (which is THE best magic shop I’ve visited EVER!). 

Lessons learnt at the Lounge.

From my time performing at the Lounge I discovered that it’s not actually the tricks that matter when performing close up, it’s you. You have your personality, your charm and wit and by using those tools you can make sure the audience watching are engaged and having fun.

A performance becomes magical when you feel magical inside.

Nikola Arkane

I will never forget the first tap on the shoulder from a customer I just performed for, handing me my first tip in close up – I thought only Fay Presto could produce that kind of magic. Performing for Don, one of the owners and his guests twice across the week was nerve wrecking but incredibly fun. Getting to hang with Danny Orleans and his wife Jan, The New Bad Boys in Magic Danny and Eric, Tom Stone, Tony Cabral, Luis Carreon, Devon Brown, Ryan Plunkett, Gozner and many more. Being thanked personally by Joey the other owner and Benjamin for coming to play with them. 

In the Chicago Magic lounge dressing room with The Bad Boys of Magic, Tom Stone, Jan Rose, Luis Carreon and Jeff Bibik.

Upon returning from performing at the Chicago Magic Lounge and reflecting on this intense year of pushing myself to achieve my goals and face my fears, I went into rehearsals for and attended the IBM British Ring Eastbourne Magic Convention. There I entered all three competitions and won two of them. The Ali Bongo Micro Magic competition in a normal setting voted by the public and the IBM British Ring Close up Competition 2019. The first girl in 37 years to win.

The moment the winner was announced at Eastbourne IBM convention 2019.

A nice little accolade to achieve just before being invited to perform a week at the Magic Castle in Holywood in the Close up Gallery. I can now say officially I have been to and performed at the Magic Castle as an Early Close Up performer. Every show sold out and the response from both magicians, lay people, men and women, was just so magical.

I met new friends and people got to see what I’m made of. The whole week I was not treated as simply a girl, but a magician.

Nikola Arkane

Since then I now have the confidence to just be unapologetically me. And people are now booking me because of the work I have put into the magic I do.

I was lucky to be booked to perform at my first convention after the Magic Castle, Magic Weekend 2019 in Lund, Sweden, alongside Fay Presto and Alana from Germany in a Ted Talk style performance by Gay Ljungberg. It’s an amazing thing to be given the opportunity to talk magic alongside women that not only inspire me, but encourage me to follow my dreams. We as women need to be there for one another. Help each other to grow and share with one another. Become giants for others to stand upon.

So, I did it!

My reaction after my first week performing at the Magic Castle, with the lovely Say Jay Hynes who was my rock the entire week.

In a matter of months I did the honourable thing to myself…

I changed my attitude to performing for adults.

I stopped harassing myself with the thought that being a girl made me different. In the end perhaps the bad thoughts have always just been my own fears manifesting from inside my head. That feeling of inadequacy because of my gender (pushed upon me by the society I’m living in) got exaggerated to the point I could not face my fears. And I let it. I had to change.

Magic historically is recognised as a man’s business. In fact, most industries are. We cannot blame the actual magic business alone for helping to sell this fallacy. Regardless what industry we are in the treatment of men and women socially is inconsistent. This is the case for many reasons and has been influenced by history, written material, law and general ignorance.

Change takes time

Society’s acceptance of gender equality is changing slowly. What this means for the magic industry is that the acceptance of female magicians is developing at an even slower pace. It’s good to remember that we hold ourselves to the norms society has created for us.

If society cannot change, change your attitude within it so that it shines on the surface through your performance regardless of what gender you are. People will see that and learn to love you for who you are. Your talents, skills and personality are key.

The truth is women have always been performing magic, perhaps not recognised in the same way as their male counterparts are but historically the magic world would simply not be what it is today without the contribution from both men and women together. Never forget that!

And I believe, something truly wondrous will happen when that contribution is equal.

Should we believe all we perceive?

Seeing is believing right? I remember hearing adults saying this from a very young age. However, we never remember the rest of the actual quote because it’s long forgotten..

“Seeing is Believing, but feeling is the truth.”

Thomas Fuller. 17th Centrury English Clergyman.
Assisting Javi Benitez with his ‘El Hilo’ at Mystique Stockholm October 2018.

This is just one of the origins of this phrase. Upon researching the idiom, it actually dates back to Ancient Greece.

The saying means… We cannot believe something unless we see it for real.

When we apply this term to performing magic it can be quite arbitrary because what we believe we see can be tainted by our thoughts and opinions.

What I like to call our inner dialogue.

An inspirational girl beside an inspirational wall! 🙂

A fork in the road… Let us deviate from this post.

When I think, I think with a voice. A voice in my head. This may sound strange or you might recognise this feeling?

This week I discovered that not everybody has a voice they can hear inside their heads. Here is an article on this worth reading below.

https://www.iflscience.com/brain/people-are-weirded-out-to-discover-that-some-people-dont-have-an-internal-monologue/?fbclid=IwAR21-s8noIuZQY3DzMngu_3hL8tg1nqM1VkFKEJmmikZgz29E_zcv-g_kBo

When does seeing what you do matter more than thinking?

An example of this is when I am creating or learning something new. A move, routine or effect. Something that feels alien. Like learning to grasp a pack of cards in a different way to execute a sleight. Or forcing myself to look up at a point in my routine when I’m doing two other things with each hand, it just doesn’t feel right. And perhaps it never will.

I remember when I used to Ice Skate. A little unknown fact about me was I used to skate three times a week for three whole years as a hobby. However I had to give it up because I got good (Grade 8) and getting good meant jumps, spins, routining and the more dangerous stuff. I was petrified of braking something and not being able to continue magic.

I remember something my teacher told me when I was learning to skate backwards. (I hated it). I didn’t mind so much on corners because your feet and body crossed over giving you stability. Also, everything just felt wrong on my left foot and better on the right.

My instructor Phil told me that all his life, a left mohawk (One foot turn) never ever felt the same as it did skating it on the right, and he’d been skating for years, he was an olympian. So this made me think that sometimes our brain just doesn’t like it when we do something one way compared to another. We have certain preferences that even we aren’t aware of.

Magic is all about multitasking with props and your mind. And when something feels awkward it is easy to give up and think that you’ll never be able to do it. It will always feel wrong. But that is only a feeling… what happens when we see what we are doing. When we have a visual alongside the mental image our perception of what we are trying to achieve changes.

Push the record button…

Recently I was learning the turnover pass (as you do) and it felt so strange in my hands. I liked the continuous motion created when performing it but it felt like I was turning over a tonne of bricks.

I knew this sleight might be useful but I never thought I’d actually get used to doing it. More importantly my head told me that it probably looks as bad as it feels.

How wrong was I!

Upon reflecting and recording this move and watching it back after a few hours of practice I couldn’t believe the difference in what my head was telling me, to what I seen on camera i.e: the real thing. It looked brilliant and so different to what I had imagined it to look like. If I just went with my thoughts alone I would have gave up.

My advice is that we should all actively record and watch back our practice sessions. It is a way to improve and not give up so easily because our heads told us we weren’t good enough.

What if I don’t like watching myself?

Sadly it is a necessary evil to get over. So get over it! If you want to improve you should use every tool at your disposal and videoing your rehearsals and performances to watch back are a must. Actually, the worst thing to get used to is hearing your own voice. It sounds nothing like what you believe you sound like.

Soon it becomes quite normal seeing yourself and you slowly begin to see past you being on camera and just watch the movements. Which will then guide you to change the choreography, patter, all of which will enhance your performance.

Years ago magicians did not have this tool and still produced amazing magic. Imagine what we could do if we used this tool to help us reach our full potential in magic.

“A dream is a wish your heart makes.” The Wishing fountain on the oldest street in LA September 2019.

I will end this little blog with a variation on the quote from above which I really like from the movie, The Polar Express.

“Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.”

The Conductor. The Polar Express. 2004.

It is hard to see and believe the magic we can do just from our feelings alone. Have a little faith, courage and an open mind. Anything is possible.

What is real magic?

After Blackpool I was slightly disheartened magically. I was inspired but in honestly I could not enjoy it much because of the slightly hostile environment there. I suppose that’s bound to happen when people attend an event in their 1000’s.

After Blackpool I had some pressure too, I was booked to perform my first lecture at the Pentacle Magic club in Cambridge and you may think well she’s performed in the Magic Castle, a lecture should not be a problem. However, I’m a bit of a weirdo. I take every event I attend very seriously. And I sometimes put so much pressure on myself that sadly I can’t enjoy what I’m doing… and I fell victim to this bad trait of mine this week.

However, after performing the lecture, which was a bit of a blur I began to get feedback on it from the people who attended. Which made me realise that they wouldn’t be saying good things if the lecture wasn’t good. So I have made my peace with my emotions and gave myself a pat on the back for reaching yet another goal in magic.

No Fear!

I think teaching a lecture scared me so much because for such a long time I’ve been petrified of Close Up magic. I think that my fears transferred to this because it was a close up lecture.

There are so many knowledgable people in this field and even though I’m an expert on my act it’s so hard to know if people will find what I talk about interesting or worth watching.

Just Believe…

Faith is something I struggle with… not religion, but faith in myself. I feel like I’m on a constant roller coaster with ups and downs and it’s so hard at the moment when I’m trying to essentially find myself and my character when I perform.

I know this will take a while. It took my ten years to discover FizzWizzPop! Anything worthwhile takes time.

It takes a child to remind me what wonder is.

Hannah’s 5th Birthday in Belfast

Yesterday I performed at Hannah’s birthday party, she was celebrating turning 5. Sometimes when I perform as FizzWizzPop I become the character, I can feel that I’m not myself. But a better version of me that revels in creating wonder for people. Who is confident, knows what she is doing and is just there to make people smile.

I’ve got to remember that whether on or off stage, I am that person. I am FizzWizzPop and Nikola Arkane and I have to find my confidence just like I have when performing for children.

Hannah’s 5th Birthday party in Belfast

It took me to attend a child’s birthday party for me to realise this. It took children to make me realise this.

Magic should be magical. It’s a feeling you create that surrounds you. It’s not performing every trick under the sun. Showing off to your friends. But performing for real people. They give you the confidence to shine.

I’ve just got to learn to let the confidence out some time in normal life as well as on stage.

Effort or effortless

This is a weird topic so here is a weird picture….

Danny D’Ortiz sucking on my finger at the Session 2019

I watch a lot of magic videos as I’m sure you all do. They vary in standard. I believe it is always good to watch different kinds of magic.

I watched a video lately where I saw a magician really struggling to perform an effect. At one point it was hard to watch. I persevered until the end of the video and I am glad I did. Not because of the ending but because it got me thinking.

As magicians it is our job to make magic look smooth and effortless. Yet the things we are attempting to do are completely impossible. So my question in this post is this. Is it better to show the struggle we go through to achieve an effect or should we complete it flawlessly? Or is there a balance to be found between the two?

Showing effort in magic can make us appear human

Sometimes when I see magic performed it is too perfect. If it looks super easy it appears as if we are actually getting one over on the audience. Other times I watch people perform effects that are so sleight heavy I’m not sure where exactly the magic has happened.

When performers focus on difficult moves more than emphasising the moment when the magic occurs, well it’s complete sabotage to the Magic!

Pretending to struggle to achieve ones goal can add to the drama. However, physically struggling to execute an effect can take away from the magic. This could mean you might need more practice. Or you need to get to a point where you don’t focus on the move’s but the magic moment.

I’m not talking about Quality Streets Magic Moment song from the tele ad!

Quality Street are a big Chocolate brand in the UK sold at Christmas time.

We as Magicians need to know exactly when the moment of magic happens. If we recognise when the magic happens, displaying it clearly to the audience the presentation you make will be genuine.

For example, when you close your hand around a ball tapping it with your wand how does it actually vanish? Yes there’s a technique to make it happen, but what does it feel like? The Vanish? By feeling the vanish and emphasising the moment when it happens, the magic becomes real. And when you open your hand to reveal it is gone, the spectator will feel the magic.

I sometimes forget to do this myself. Hey I’m learning too, that’s why I am posting this.

To summerise…

  • Get the effect to the point you no longer think of the moves but you can focus on your performance.
  • Remember there is a magic moment in every effect we perform.
  • Magic should not be easy to execute. There is a journey in making something change, vanish or appear.
  • Find a balance between acting a struggle and actually struggling.
  • The clearer you are at displaying your emotions when this moment happens the better.

Finding the right balance in effort to make a trick happen will create a stronger effect.

There’s a Star…man!

And for those who know me it’s not David Bowie. It’s this man…

At Blackpool this year I got to meet and see the incredibly talented Sergio Mago Starman lecturing his first of many lectures to come.

You may or may not know him even though he is a FISM champ but he has become recognised for his charmingly magical videos on Instagram.

https://www.instagram.com/magostarman/

Sergio’s lecture was described as a masterclass in micro magic but it was so much more. He told us that we all need to free our minds. Stop thinking how to do something but play with the situation to create the magic that is already there. It’s kind of weird because I wrote this post last night before seeing his lecture and as soon as I watched it today I realised it kind of related to what I’ve been trying to communicate in this post.

He pointed out that magic is a form of communication. And most of the time that communication is done very quickly, once the move’s done the trick is over – magician takes bow. But for him it is far better to play the game. Build a rhythm, work with the objects at hand and make it relatable to you.

I don’t want to give away too much of Sergio’s lecture because I know he will clearly be doing it for many others as it is so good. But if there was one thing I took away from him was honesty. Real magic doesn’t exist. But if it did the reason it would is because of our minds believing it is real.

Our minds bring the magic to life. If your audience doesn’t believe the character they won’t believe the magic. Put the effort into your performance. Keep it simple.

One final push to victory!

Just eight days to doomsday!!!

I am performing my very first lecture for Magicians and I have never felt more alive and petrified in my life. When you love magic as much as me it can be both joyous and painful on a daily basis.

But if it were easy, everyone would be doing it, right?

Why a lecture?

I thought doing a lecture would be a good learning curve (I truly could never have imagined how steep that arc would be). Through all the challenges I have managed to complete every task I set myself to bring this lecture to life. And a few extras thrown in for good measure.

  • I tackled InDesign.
  • Drew my own images.
  • Wrote up my effects with some help from others.
  • Made homemade products to sell.
  • I learnt how to make a monkey fist. Evidently learning this skill gave me something else to focus on other than writing my lecture notes.
  • Prepared my act and created an order to the lecture I wish to present.

After what feels like an age of preparation the only thing left to do is to perform it.

Nikola Arkane Magic Castle Performance

What will my first lecture entail?

In ‘The Chaos Within‘ Lecture I will explain how I created a 20 minute close up show by breaking down my Magic Castle performance.

I will dissect 5 effects. Explaining why each effect works.

  • Why I created the effects I did?
  • Why I placed them in the particular order?
  • Why I performed some with music and some not?
  • Why I think it’s important to be theatrical?
  • Why I like to create emotion alongside the actual effects?

I’m also aiming to integrate magical techniques that help achieve strong misdirection. Or ‘Direction’ as Tommy Wonder called it. Hopefully after seeing my effects working you might consider using the tools I discuss to make the magic you perform stronger. And more importantly, unique.

The price to pay for originality

My goal was to create a performance that was original. My own take on effects and I even tried to invent new combinations of tricks.

I find it hard performing tricks as their creator made them. And patter that isn’t mine just sounds wrong. So I always try to be original. It may not always be original and good but it sure is fun to develop.

Last week, whilst raiding some card magic boxes, my boyfriend Tom decided to show me a load of old tricks he used to perform. One effect stood out for me and I asked him to teach me it. As you can imagine, he made it look super easy. A winning FISM routine, performed by Tom Stone, no wonder I was inspired!

The effect he presented was based around Colour Changing cards.

A little Arkane aside thought

I’m putting this out there. I believe having the ability to change an objects colour is one of the strongest effects we can perform as magicians. No matter what age we are we all relate to colour and respond to it.

I’m not sure why. Chemically in my head the sight of something changing colour gets me all giddy.

And throughout the history of magic, colour changing effects keep on popping up. Colour changing decks, Colour Changing Sponge Balls, dye tube tricks, paddle effects the list goes on.

Back to the effect Tom showed me. The trick was Daryl’s ‘Cardboard Chameleons.’

No wonder I immediately fell in love with it. From my magical birth I have adored Daryl’s magic. I even won my first club competition performing ‘The Hole Thing.’

Daryl performing ‘The Hole Thing!’

A man and magician I wish I got the chance to meet.

Daryl had a style that I quite enjoy. His magic is really well thought out. His tricks begin strong, pack a punch throughout and he is able to deliver a surprising end to all his effects I’ve seen. Some of Daryl’s tricks though are sleight of hand heavy. Hey! He was talented guy.

So you won’t be surprised when I tell you that it took Tom about an hour to break the effect down. Whilst I made notes and practiced each bit individually.

When thinking about the performance of his effect. The same problem I have every time I learn a new trick presented itself. The need to find my own interpretation of it to make it my own and feel comfortable performing it surfaced.

Usually these performance ideas come to me in the middle of the night. Just one of the reasons why I stash a notebook beside my bed for scribbling.

My interpretation of the chameleon cards would involve me confessing to a serious addiction…it’s not what you’re thinking. I would admit that I’m addicted to a card game.

I related the plot in the Daryl’s piece to playing the game Snap. I absolutely LOVE playing it but over the years people have not wanted to engage in the fiendish game of pairing cards with me. As least after they’ve tried once. Perhaps this is because I’m hellishly good at it. Or they end up with broken fingers from my enthusiastic slapping!

Daryl’s colour changing card effect now made complete sense.

Two very important things for me as a performer are finding the logic and the reason why I am doing something.

It is not there yet but here is a link if you wish to watch a rather raw version of this very difficult card trick.

https://vimeo.com/390367056

Learning to use what is already within yourself!

My first lecture note booklet

I want to use this lecture to inspire people to use all the information within themselves to create stories they can relate too. Then the emotions felt by the audience will be real. I have learnt to use everything within me to bring this project to life for you and I truly hope if you purchase this work you enjoy its contents.

I’m so passionate about magic and I thoroughly enjoyed creating this Close-Up act. I hope these feelings come across in my notes and in my presentation on the 18th February at The Pentacle Magic Club in Cambridge. I will keep you posted.

Onwards!

Oh mummy I'm scundered!

Lots of you who read my blog are probably wondering what the above title means? Being ‘scundered’ is a very colloquial term used in Belfast and Northern Ireland.

People say it when they are really embarrassed about something. Or if they are terribly shy.

I performed a magic show last week for a little girls 4th birthday party and I could see before starting my show that she was extremely scundered. Shy to the point she was clinging onto mummy in the beginning of me show.

Shyness is an interesting topic to discuss because we all as performers come across audience members who are shy.

FizzWizzPop Birthday party introducing the star of the show

It’s particularly interesting when it is a birthday child.

When you are hired for a birthday party it’s very much expected that parents wish to see their children involved in the show that they have paid for.

How do we handle the situation when a child simply does not wish to participate?

Always Ask

Just because a child is outwardly displaying sheer terror at being asked to help does not mean they do not wish to participate. (I have been surprised on many occasions).

You must at least ask them, regardless If they say no. The next and most important thing then is how you handle their response.

If the child says yes ‘hoorah!’

If the child says no to helping there are several ways of handling it. Here are a few of my own suggestions.

Substitute

When I first began performing for children I saw no other option but to continue performing the show as rehearsed. To keep the show moving, I had to get another volunteer up to perform the trick, fast.

This solution worked. The show could continue however, in my opinion it wasn’t the most personal approach. Or memorable one.

Yes, another child is delighted to get up instead of the birthday child. Seemingly the problem is solved. However, the most important child in the room does not leave the show feeling in any way fulfilled. Remember it is their special day after all.

Seated Star!

During On of my shows recently by chance, a child did not wish to come up and help me. I chose to try and perform the trick without the birthday child up. Interacting solely with said child whilst they were sitting in the audience. I was surprised that my script did not change much just my focus.

This option allowed the child to be highly involved. Make decisions, answer questions without having to stand in-front of their peers. I could tell that this method impressed parents too. Especially ones who understood just how ‘scundered’ their children could be. And to my surprise after the show the child completely opened up to me. We played games and she showed me her cake, normal activity resumed because of this relaxed approach.

Miniture magic display

I have quite a bit of experience working in Bedside Theatre. A style of performance designed for very sick children to experience in hospitals, hospices and their homes. It was from my experience working in this environment that this third approach came into play for FizzWizzPop.

In the FizzWizzPop Magic show, the birthday trick is all about the process of giving a gift to the child.

I began pondering what would change if I brought the gift down to the child? Letting them open it on the floor amongst the audience?

In practice this changes the dynamic of a show

If you wish to create a moment like this in your show you must be fearless. The odds of loosing group focus is extremely high. However, the risk is one worth taking for a shy birthday child to feel fully involved in a show.

I also found performing a miniature magic show on the floor created excitement and more magic than expected.

When an item is set in the centre of a group of children, anything can happen. Upon my first try doing this I was amazed that all the kids jumped in closer to see what was going on, laughter happened where it hadn’t before. I was able to look the birthday child right in the eyes. It was something quite beautiful to behold. And this shy feeling completely evaporated. We were all experiencing the magic close together.

The potential disaster of not using the birthday child, or upsetting them can be easily avoided by tweaking things slightly to get them involved.

I always like to think of the impression I leave children after they watch FizzWizzPop perform. I want it to be a totally positive one. And if they are too afraid to help, I don’t want them to somehow think it is their fault. So I try to work it that they are still at the heart of the magic. Such a small change to mindset can make such a difference to the people you involve in your magic shows.

Connect with your audience and more memorable it can be

Ultimately, it will make you feel fulfilled too.