I had convinced myself that there was not to be a new blog post this week. Yet here I am writing one.
This last week I was creating a lot of new things and sadly I lost faith in myself. I feel right now I am in fight or flight mode but in typical Nikola style I have battled on through. Hurrah!
Tonight I completed the first draft changes of my lecture notes, which has literally been the steepest learning curve I have had to face. (Kudos to all the lecturers out there who over the years have put out notes, books and have taught. No-one really knows the hard work that goes into it until you do it yourself). I was very close to giving up as I just got into my head that I couldn’t do what was required of me. But I took my time and took it a page at a time and at 11pm it now makes a lot more sense than it did a week ago. I’ve come to realise that my first set of lecture notes will be far from perfect, but I’m trying.
I just wanted to give a big shout out to Will Houston who has singlehandedly battled to help me make sense of my jibber jabber for you all to enjoy. His words of advice have also made me laugh out loud along the way too. I am so grateful for people like this in magic. Thank you!
Even though this week has been a tough week I have done a lot. Alongside overhauling my lecture notes which will ultimately help me to provide a better lecture in two weeks time, I have begun to play with one of the oldest magic tricks, Cups and Balls.
It’s a load of Balls!
I’ve never really had a chance to properly play around with this effect until now and I’ve been surprised at how much fun I’ve been having with it. The routine I’ve been playing about with requires more balls than the usual four for the standard cups and balls routine. When I realised this went to purchase six balls and found out that most dealers sell the balls either individually (which can be expensive) or in sets of four which meant I need to buy two sets of four (very expensive).
I also wanted the balls to be a bit weighty and when I tried to find balls with a rubber centre they were out of my price league right now. So what to do when you can afford them? You make your own.
I began by using pom moms which were very cheap and cheerful however, extremely light which meant I had to be delicate when moving the cups around. Ok to practice for a day or two but I needed something a bit sturdier.
I watched a video online of how to make up a monkey fist or monkey paw knot. Used in the past as a knot for rock climbing and a hand to hand weapon, I decided this would make a perfect ball for my cups and balls routine.
An hour after having a few goes and loosing faith I managed to make some up.
And I’ve been practicing with them ever since. They are weighty, sturdy and they don’t roll much because of the texture on the outside. I believe I’ve found my new self made cups and balls balls.
I’ve made a load of them up in different colours and if any of you might like to buy them in sets of 6 (as I truly believe this is how they should be sold in order to do all sorts of routines and maybe have a spare) I’ll have them with me to purchase at my lectures this year.
For a post I did not intend to write I did it. A lesson that things happen when you least expect it, even from yourself. It’s easy to be pessimistic when you look at something as a whole, break it up into manageable chunks and you’ll get there. Eventually!
The pressure is building up – I can feel it in my bones. However, I am trying to do a bit every day so that I’m not sitting curled into a ball rocking at Blackpool Magic Convention the weekend before.
Doing something for the first time is a challenge and it’s scary – as heck! Sadly though it’s the only way we improve and move on as people and performers. So I’ve got to do it.
Taking a leaf out of others books…
This last week I booked a miniature lecture tour for Tom Stone across Ireland and in Glasgow and although it was my responsibility to get him to all the places on time, I used the week to watch and observe his lectures. How he presented himself, how he talked to people, what he discussed, how relaxed he was etc. Magicians seemed to enjoy listening to Tom talk theory of magic and his striking vanish seemed to impress them greatly too!
***Some advice – do not practice this move when tired, practicing one evening I hit myself in the face this week.***
Whilst attending Vanishing Inc’s The Session – which I have to say is one of the best ways to kick start the year magically – I was not just observing the lectures for material but I was watching the performers closely and observing their diverse teaching styles across the weekend. It’s quite strange when you do this instead of just watching tricks.
One thing I observed with the lectures I enjoyed most was that the performers who took their time to explain why they perform the way they do, I took the most away from. All the lecturers had a message of sorts. Like a hidden agenda for themselves. They all seemed to have a belief. A reason behind what they do.
Passion and Beer mats!
For example Javi’s passion for magic came across when he described his ‘Followers’ routine. It was about creating a reaction from the action. He makes a statement when he begins, “I hate magic!” and then through his performance of this Oil and Water effect he explains why.
His performance takes on a life of its own. Simultaneously we see him annoyed, surprised and frustrated. The magic continues to happen even though he tries everything to ‘mess’ it up.
Javi of course explained after how to achieve the effect in his lecture, but for me the why was more important. The ‘why’ is why (excuse the pun) this trick is so memorable and magical.
It’s interesting watching performers and lecturers and noting different teaching styles. Javi could barely sit down for a moment where at Denis Behr’s lecture he spent most of the time at the table – sipping his pint, relaxed. But by no means had Denis any less passion for what he was doing, he just had a different style of teaching and engaging his audience.
It was my first time seeing Denis and I was lucky to get a little session where he went through his ‘Herbert’ routine with me. It was awesome!!! On a side note: Since I discovered it last year I am forever on his amazing website The Conjuring Archive. You should visit it and use it as a reference tool for your work. Thank you Denis for having the initiative to create this wondrous resource and introducing Herbert to me.
Method in the madness
This post came to be because I am wondering what kind of lecturer I will be? And what do I hope people will take away from hearing me speak and seeing me perform? It’s super hard when you feel like you are at the beginning of your journey to appear knowledgable. I suppose we are all learning.
I am the kind of person that wants to give my best, always. So when things are not so perfect or comes together quickly I get disheartened. I’m slowly realising that good things take time. I am not going to be an expert overnight. And my first lecture mightn’t be perfect – for me. However I am doing all that I can to make it fun for myself, to teach others and in turn hopefully it will be fun for people to listen and watch.
Why “The Chaos within?”
When I was asked to put together my first lecture, I thought my friend was barking mad for asking me. I took his request seriously and sat down and thought what could I possibly lecture on?
In 2019 I put together not only an award winning act but an act I took to the Magic Castle close up room. I began to think that talking about this act I created recently might be intriguing for people to hear about.
Once I was set on dissecting my act I began to do just that. I took the act apart, performed, photographed, wrote everything down that I did last year to piece together all five original routines.
Pattern and design
I seen a little pattern emerge. Everything I created in the last year had structure at the heart of it. I used a structure to create the performance and then I broke it up to make it more interesting. It’s difficult to explain this process in this post quickly, however this message of finding structure in creation will be at the heart of my first ever lecture in 2020.
On a more personal note…
The last two years have been extremely chaotic for me getting my life back on track. Creating more structure in my own life has helped make my life less chaotic. By controlling my own chaos within I have been able to focus on making good magic. A pattern I intend to keep following – all the way to FISM (Well one day, gotta keep reminding myself of my goals). Hence the name ‘The Chaos Within’ came into existence.
I am patiently looking forward to the new chaos that learning to teach will bring into my life.
If you would like to book Nikola Arkane “The Chaos Within” lecture for your local magic club, event, convention from March 2020 onwards please get in touch via email email@example.com.
Some of you might not agree with or like what I’m about to discuss in this blog post.
Performing in the magic industry more, I have noticed dozen’s of shows around the world that are filling theatres with magic. This is a good thing right? Magic in the spotlight, audiences paying to see world class magical entertainment?
In nearly all of the fliers, photos and shows half the population are not being represented. The amount of shows going on around the world that features all male magician casts is astonishing. As a women in this industry this makes me sad. This image is steadily changing – thankfully.
Providing a platform for people to look up too.
We all need to look up to people.
I think something wonderful will happen when this industry is more equally represented by men and women.
There are glimpses of this happening already. I’m just returning home after attending The Session with Vanishing Inc and it was wonderful for me to see and listen to the fabulous Laura London talking on the main stage.
Thank you to Andi, Josh and the team at Vanishing Inc team for beginning to make this happen for us women in the field!
I am biased. Seeing shows advertised online that have no women on the bill I begin asking questions like…where have all the women gone?
Why isn’t there at least one female (that’s not an assistant) in these shows? A women who is actually performing and headlining as her own person. Being the star too. Sharing the stage with her fellow male colleagues.
***I encourage you all to have a closer look at Magic advertising again. I guarantee you will not be able to unsee the trend I have mentioned above. Once its noticed.***
I’m not saying that everyone out there is not trying to integrate. However today, when there are more girls than ever in the industry is it not time we saw more diversity in shows?
I’m putting this out there to suggest that maybe we can all help to facilitate this change. This will make a better industry. One where no one feels left out, or inadequate for being different.
Are females different? And is that a good or bad thing?
For many years I felt completely inadequate to my male colleagues. I’m not sure if this was down to tradition, they’re doing or my own. Or whether this feeling came completely from a societal issue. It’s only been in the last year where I’ve had the confidence and skills to really push and believe in myself. To the point I now don’t consider myself a female magician, I am just a magician who happens to be a woman.
Attempting the impossible takes courage.
I also got thinking that maybe these feelings are felt by men too in our industry. That it’s not just a ‘woman thing.’ Maybe in magic there is just a big acceptance curve and everyone feels inadequate at some point not just because of what sex they are.
I do feel like I have something more to prove. Entering any historically male dominated industry has its challenges.
This post began because of something that made me upset recently. I’ve just took you all on a long winded journey to get to the point behind this post.
Hope you enjoyed the ride!
Palming is alarming
I am always looking to improve my skills as a magician practicing little things in the background that hopefully will come to fruition before I’m old. I decided this year it is time to begin seriously thinking about palming and getting more technically skilled as a performer..
I’ve tried palming before, loads, and over the years I’ve been told by an uncountable number of male magicians, (sorry guys I love you all dearly but to this point it has been men telling me this only), anyone can learn to palm. It’s not the size of your hands that matters its the technique. It’s true anyone can learn to palm. But the right tools can help you learn faster.
What if your hand is a fraction of the size of a normal male one? (Or person in my case). Thanks goes to Denis Behr from Germany for acquiescing to my weird request to take a picture of his hand beside mine after just meeting me!
My hands are tiny. Since starting magic I have done everything with a poker sized deck as that is the standard in magic. However, I have to admit there was another reason. I felt I would be considered inferior to everyone else if I used a smaller pack of cards.
On a side note: I’ve been told many times over the years too that to be a proper magician I must be seen to use poker sized cards. FACT!
Why has size become such a revered thing?
When I began learning this technique, it was completely impossible for me to palm or hide a poke sized card – which is normal for any sleight. Technically I couldn’t retain the position at all, and even if I changed the way I held the card it would fly out of my hand. I would need to create a brand new handling that would be awkward and take years. It also might be one I would never master – why? Because right now my hands are small. I can feel you all going well just practice more, and I get that.
Regardless of practice and method I got very upset because I realised that my option right now was to use bridge sized cards. And to make matters worse, because of what others have said to me in the past, I got into my head that I was now a complete failure.
I cried. How could I ever perform for other (male) magicians using a bridge size pack of cards. when they were using the superior poker sized deck?
***Another side note too (which did not make me feel any better) Bicycle bridge sized cards are not red they are pink – I kid you not. They don’t even look like proper bicycles. The time and effort that goes into printing them clearly is not the same for a poker sized deck. Set them side by side and have a look yourself.***
Taking the lead!
The time that this all came to pass I was in Sweden with Tom – who is extremely knowledgeable in magic as I’m sure some of you know. After helping me to get all my failure out, he showed me something that I will never forget.
He sat me down and played a clip of Alex Elmsley doing his four card trick (which I discussed in last Monday’s post).
Can you guess what cards he was holding in his hands? Bicycle of course! But they were one hundred percent, undeniably Bridge sized playing cards. Tom laughed and told me quite a few of my idols used them too including Tommy Wonder.
Years ago you couldn’t get Poker cards in Europe and everyone used Bridge. It’s only been in the recent years that bigger sized cards have become a trend in magic.
Suddenly I felt that having small hands was not a problem or a disaster that it was a normal thing.
It gets better…
To help me feel like a proper magician and not a failure in magic, Tom very kindly made me my very own bridge size Arkane Deck. He used my logo and made the deck proper red in colour. And it is the BEST gift I’ve been given, ever!
Would you like a sneak peak? Let me introduce you to the very first Arkane Deck!
Even though they are expensive as hell right now to buy I will be using and buying them for the rest of my career. I absolutely love them.
The moral of this post is…
Never give up. The only person you should compare yourself to is you. It doesn’t matter if you are a girl or a boy, have big hands or small ones. Don’t hold yourself to ransom because you do things differently to others.
We are magicians. We all love magic and that’s the real secret.
The way you do something may be totally different to someone else, but that doesn’t make it better or superior. It makes it unique.
We are all unique in this world and in magic, so let’s celebrate that1
I write a bit about this in my book ‘Becoming FizzWizzPop.’ Taking tricks and making them my own is an exercise I love to do. It’s challenging to invent something and the rewards of it are pretty neat too. I’ve been doing this for years in my kids show.
I got into the magic industry through being an actor first. I didn’t know or have many magicians to copy or look up to. If I bought an effect, I read it and thought, well that’s dull. Let’s invent a new version!
I’m sure you will agree with me that there are so many magic tricks out there to buy. We have Books, tapes, dvd’s the internet and we can be bombarded by it at times.
If I see something that intrigues me in magic I don’t purchase it immediately. I begin pondering if I had this prop, gimmick or effect what would I do with it? And if I keep on coming back to the idea to the point I need the prop in my hand I’ll buy it…or make it myself.
I came across the Alex Elmsley’s books on a shelf. (Which by the way are fantastic if you haven’t got your hands on them yet).
The very first trick in his book, “The 4 Card Trick” intrigued me greatly. It was a simple and strong effect.
By performing the Four card trick I would be able to practice it. And (more importantly) perfect the ‘Ghost Count’ or ‘Elmsley Count’ as it later became known.
I began performing the trick as it was described in The Collected works of Alex Elmsley, (Page 21) and wondered how I could make this little piece unique and my own.
On the Hunt for Ideas…
At the time I was still a box jumper. (Being squished into boxes for those who don’t recognise the terminology).
I thought wouldn’t it be cool if the Ghost Count actually hid a girl like an illusion did.
Once I had this idea the story and moves fell into place.
The other three cards became the box and the girl was placed into it to perform the trick. This allowed me to talk about something I was very familiar with and yet I was performing a new type of magic that was alien at the time – card magic.
Keeping it simple is key!
It’s something to consider. If you are looking to make a trick new and unique, you don’t have to look far. Simple is better.
Search for something you know and can easily talk about. That way you can focus on performing the moves and not worry about what you are saying. It will be more natural.
The tools I needed to make my idea come to life.
I knew at the time that blank playing cards were a thing but I’d never owned them before.
I bought some and drew a stick girl on one and began to perform the trick with the new patter I’d came up with.
People really connected with the piece. The story I was telling was an honest one. The audience appeared to find it interesting to hear about my near death experiences in boxes and it actually became a hook.
Something Old. Something New…
I forgot about this trick for sometime and upon clearing out my card drawer – yes I have a card drawer – I came across the little packet trick again.
Upon seeing it, I couldn’t help but smile at the memory of this little piece I’d created all those years ago.
I sat and tried to recreate the routine. Once I figured it out again I remembered how good it was. I got thinking…
Long story short I have went and got this effect properly printed up and I intend to demo and sell it at my lecture in February at the Pentacle Magic Club and on the Arkane Shop website. I think it’s a neat little packet trick that perhaps others might enjoy performing it too.
The final blog post of the year will be an introspective one.
Having more than one day off this week – (who am I kidding? Those who know me know that I never rest – for too long).
I decided to recap 2019 for myself as it is sometimes easy to forget the things we do. And I wanted to look back, learn and grow from this year continuing into 2020 with a bang!
2019 has been a very eventful year. A year of travel, growth and a year of learning to re-wire my brain – for the better.
A new name and upping the game this year
This year I took my new namesake“Nikola Arkane” seriously and I am proud to say it is who I am now.
Slowly I’m trying to pursue and make a name for myself in the magic industry. Discovering who Nikola Arkane is as a character has been the greatest journey this year. This character has a lot of me in there.
And over this year she has gained in confidence. Become more knowledgable and began performing globally. All thanks to support from you out there who chose to have a little faith in me.
You, seeing something inside me, made me begin to believe in myself! (It has only taken ten years in the making).
In just one year
I performed in five different countries. Ireland, England, Norway, Sweden and America (twice).
I entered my first solo stage competition.
I won the International Brotherhood of Magicians British Ring Close up Competition 2019 and the Ali Bongo Micro Marathon.
I achieved one of my lifelong goals performing at the world famous Magic Castle in Hollywood in two rooms: The Close up Gallery and The Parlour of Prestidigitation as FizzWizzPop!
I wrote my very first book on performing for children, Becoming Magic.
I begun performing at corporate events. Something I was terrified off a year ago.
I have been invited to perform my first ever lecture in February 2020 for the Pentacle Magic Club in Cambridge which I am piecing together lecture notes from scratch. Drawing my own pictures. Learning how to write up effects.
What a year! A year of magic and wonder that I could not have predicted the year previous.
That’s just it. Life is a journey. It has ups. It has downs. This year I’ve just become better at riding the wave and pushing myself to achieve my goals.
Mindset is key
One of the things that has helped me along the way is saying yes to everything! No challenge is too big. Completing a goal is the only objective. Every goal is possible if you put your heart and soul into it, I truly believe that after this year. If I can do it you can too. Just say yes!
3 things I’ve changed in 2019
I’ve begun to put myself first.
My wants and dreams have been prioritised.
I’ve become independent as a person and performer.
It is amazing to see what you can achieve in just a year with very small changes.
In 2019 I received messages, hugs, jokes, pictures, emails, smiles, visits, adventures and more from family and friends, that’s blood family and magic family and just friends and people I have met. I really could not be where I am without you all.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you!
So, to summarise 2019 taught me…
Positive mind makes positive creations
Creating magic with a positive attitude opens doors.
Ideas flow more fluidly – thanks to my trusty notebook by my side.
I am truly excited in life and in love with magic!
Happy New Year!
May 2020 kick our butts.
And…show us the way to find more wonder in our lives and in magic.
I decided to try out two of the effects from her lecture notes FAY PRESTO: Performers Workshop Manual. “Take Charge” and her “Burnt and Restored Napkin.”. Both of these effects require the use of fire.
I was slightly apprehensive in using fire for the first time. Fay advised me that the only way to work with flame is to do it. You will burn yourself. It’s inevitable. After you do a few times you’ll learn quickly how to avoid it.
Go out in a blaze of glory…
I arrived at the event and the group were absolutely lovely. A mixture of ages and they were all up for fun.
My performance at the drinks reception went down well. Feeling relaxed I decided to to try a brand new set at the tables. Opening with the “Take Charge” effect; where a piece of string magically changes into a piece of jewellery .
The new set was going rather well. Fay’s production was getting an amazing response – as Fay says “they pay attention.”
I arrived early at my next table noticing the group were finishing their meal. Loitering around a bit I patiently waited to perform.
Unbeknownst to myself I began playing around with the flash string in my hand between my fingers.
Arriving at the table, I lit the flash string and WOOSH! Up it went, so did my fingers. In the interim period waiting to perform I had managed to wrap the string right around my middle finger.
The reaction was astounding! The flame appeared twice the normal size. Due to the heat engulfing my skin . The immediate pain was unbearable!
Attempting to be a professional. I put out the flame, ripped the remainder of the encrusted string off my fingertips and continued my performance. Dr theatre and my acting skills kicked in big time.
“The Magician is an actor playing the role of a magician.”
Close up Damage Control
Upon leaving this table I went straight to the bathroom to access the damage. I’d taken the skin completely off one finger and gave myself a massive under the skin blister on the other.
In order to continue the gig I needed to get the wound covered up, fast.
The venue had no first aid kit – TYPICAL!
They did however find a long plaster strip. Hurrah!
But they had no scissors.
Using a knife we cut off enough mesh to cover the wound.
I continued the event in a lot of pain.
Unprepared for working with fire.
Arriving back to my hotel – at midnight – the only thing I could do was douse toilet paper with cold water and cover the wound completely. Hoping that I slept the night through with the pain.
Slowly I came to the realisation that I was abroad with no pain relief, plasters or anything to treat myself. I felt kind of stupid and it could have been a lot worse.
Working with flash products and flames is a serious thing. We should treat fire with respect and be prepared for all outcomes.
A Pyrotechnician to the rescue.
Luckily, my trustee proof reader of Becoming Magic and friend, Ottar Kraemer, is a professional Pyrotechnician. He works with fire on a regular basis in Stockholm, Sweden. Upon discovering that I had burnt myself he was on the case. He gave me great advice on what I needed and how to assist the healing process.
Growing up and learning from mistakes
The big lesson I have learnt is if you work with fire, you need to carry a burn kit. In fact working with our hands it is probably a good idea to carry plasters with you just incase. If anything happens and you need some first aid you simply cannot rely on venues to provide this for you.
With our unsocial working hours, shops may not be open when you need them to be. Or in my case have what you need in stock.
Some advice from the burn expert
Normal plasters are not good for burns as they are designed to dry wounds out I.e stop bleeding.
A burn is completely different, you need to keep the wound hydrated for it to heel.
Here are a few items Ottar gifted me on my birthday as a “please never burn yourself again! Or at least if you do I know you are equipped to help yourself!”
Burn gel – for minor burns. Relieves pain and cools the wound.
Burn plasters or hydrogel plasters – these keep burn wounds moist and relieves pain. Can be kept on a wound for 48 hours. This plaster was my saviour and helped my wound to heal faster with little scarring.
Non-woven skin friendly adhesive dressing strip – to cover everything up and allow movement.
Ibuprofen – (not in this picture) but trust me when you burn yourself as I did pain relief is essential.
The moral of this Arkane blog post is don’t play with fire! If you do be prepared for drama if you are as accident prone as I am.
Christmas is the season of giving so here is another treat for you all.
Colouring tricks are great for younger audiences. I go into more detail on this in my book, Becoming Magic in the chapter ‘Kids will be Kids.’ When I first got into magic I used to use the flick Colouring book however, I personally don’t rate this effect for a few reasons. This effect is overused and generally kids from around 7 years old upward know the method.
Many years ago I bought a colouring in trick from Practical Magic (a fantastic resource for children’s magic tricks in the UK) that intrigued me greatly.
I have searched high and low for the instruction’s of this trick – which I believe was titled ‘Over the Rainbow!” Sadly they are now lost in a magical abyss.
FizzWizzPop has been performing this effect for many years so I am not exactly sure what is mine in terms of innovation. However, I owe this little trick to the late Jeremy le Poidevin. He sold this to me at an Irish Magic Convention and it’s a cracking wee effect for family shows and seasonal performances.
What is required to colour in the Rainbow?
Slightly oversized A4 Z folder. (See pictures below).
A stand for the Z folder to sit facing the audience from the beginning of my show.
Two images: A line drawing and one coloured in. The Rainbow image came with the trick. Over the years I have adapted it for both my Halloween show: Making a rainbow pumpkin. And my Christmas show: Using a Christmas tree.
A Hank Ball
7 Square 9 inch silks/hankies in Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue and Purple.
1 White 18 inch hankie
Preparation – The Z folder
Begin by placing the coloured image in one side and the line drawing in the other side of the Z folder. The pictures have to face the correct way. (See pictures above – flap opens downwards on both sides).
Preparation – The Hank Ball
This unusual little gimmick is a bit alien to look at. Funnily enough, I remember it came with no instructions (exactly why we all LOVE magic right?). Through playing and working with it I have found a few subtleties. I thought it best to make a little video tutorial for it below.
The key I found to successfully loading the hank ball is Direction.
When loading the Hank ball you must stuff each hanky in one after the other in the same direction.
Using my right hand I push the hankies into the ball in an Anticlockwise direction.
There is also a method to make each handkerchief naturally reveal itself. You can watch this on the video below. Kids tend to recognise the colours of the rainbow in this order – R, O, Y, G, B, P. So load the hankies from last colour to the first.
This is usually the second effect in my Christmas show. It works good at this point because it is visually magical. In the beginning of any show you have to guide the audience to experience magic. Providing a trick where they actually make the magic happen solidifies a sensation of realness. They are more willing to be convinced and to believe what they are seeing is real.
This trick is what I like to call a ‘group effect.’ The Magic happens because the whole group get involved to solve the puzzle.
When the tree is coloured in at the end of this effect it normally gets a loud cheer.
I believe this is because the audience feel they have accomplished the magic all together. Nothing is more powerful than teamwork in a magic effect – hence if performed correctly it gets a strong reaction.
What to say and do next…
“Not only am I a Magician, I am also an artist.”
Lift the Z folder and hold it to your chest. “Today I drew a Christmas picture for you all and I wonder if I describe it can anyone guess what it is.”
Try to think up really abstract ways to describe the picture inside, as you don’t want the group to get it in one guess – that’s just no fun at all!
“This thing is wide. This thing is tall. It’s hairy – no furry. It’s green and has something shiny on top.” Usually by this stage the kids are screaming Christmas tree at you.
“I‘ am good at drawing but not colouring in.” Next. you begin to fish for answers to a series of questions revealing all the colours that are about to appear. For example what colour is a Christmas tree? (Green) The star on top? (Yellow) etc. Decorations red, orange, blue etc.
The 1st Reveal
“Would you like to see my tree – now don’t laugh…Tada! Isn’t is gorgeous?”
You reveal the drawing and begin reciting off all the colours until the children make it very clear that nothing happened.
Here you can make reference to the Grinch that he has stolen the colours from my drawing. The idea now is to get the boys and girls to help you get the colours back. “We need some colours…”
As you go and search for colours in your case you pick up the hank ball and silk. Remark on the white hanky, “White’s a colour but not the one we are looking for.”
Load the hank ball into the white silk as shown in the video above. Then ask the kids to look for colours on their clothing – “Anyone see any red?”
“Take a bit of red from your clothing and throw it to the hanky.” This section should be playful, get adults involved too. Find all the colours and get them thrown at the hanky.
“We have the colours, we need the magic, point at the hanky and say the magic word – FizzWizzPop!”
Reveal the first hanky from the ball. Do this extremely slowly, you want to highlight the madness and wonder of what has just happened. Your audience just made a red hanky appear – from nowhere. “Well I need someone to hold onto this for me.” You repeat this reveal process seven times giving out all the coloured hankies.
Time to use the hankies to colour in the Tree
“Itis time to colour in my tree”
Open the Z folder showing the blank Christmas tree drawing.
“Who has the red hanky?” I go to the child with the red hanky asking them to rub their hanky all over the front of the wallet. “Perfectly done, just like Picasso.” I repeat this process for all the hankies – you can have a lot of improvised fun with each child/adult who are holding the hankies here.
“We’ve used all the colours, now you tell me did we do it, did we colour it in.”
Open up the Z folder to reveal that it did not work. It is important here that your disappointment is genuine. This down beat will heighten the response to the change – big time.
Sadly, I look and bring focus to the picture and folder in my hand.
Snap the folder closed bringing it vertically down by your side. This brings the coloured picture inside the folder to the front. (The one you just shown is now at the back).
If you execute this sudden movement at the same time you look up at the audience they will not notice the switch.
You immediately continue speaking.
“We forgot the colours” say this line as you place the Z folder back onto the stand ready to show the coloured picture.
Collect the hankies, pick up the folder, give it one final rub with all the hankies. “Point at the picture, it is now time to use the magic word to colour it in – FizzWizzPop.”
“I don’t want to look, can you guys tell me…” Let the front of the Z folder swing down…“Did we do it?”
When the audience see’s that they have coloured the picture, it gets a natural applause. One that I have never had to cue.
“I’m going to take this home and it will remind me of all you lovely boys and girls who helped me colour in my drawing.”
When it came to this blog post I wasn’t sure what to write as I didn’t have much time to plan this one. I’ve had a tough week working long days and driving long hours. The first sign that it’s CHRISTMAS!
This year has been all about pushing it and I am pleased to say that I already have my first goal for 2020. I have been asked by the Pentacle Magic Club in Cambridge to lecture for them next February. I decided that the best thing to focus on would be something recent.
My journey in to close up magic and my Magic Castle act.
Alongside the lecture, I was thinking it would be good to write a set of lecture notes. for two reasons.
So that I actually know what I’m talking about and teaching.
So that everyone who attends the lecture who wishes to can take a memory from the lecture and perhaps take the effects home with them.
I thought writing a book was hard, think again Arkane. Creating my first lecture notes has been a challenge. A good one. Going through my act discovering the simplest way to explain the effects, learning to use appropriate technical terms for material and the hardest challenge, drawing. I asked a few magic friends some advice on whether I should make the effort and draw images or just include pictures – to my horror everyone came back saying lines drawings are better.
Win, Lose or Draw
I say horror because I haven’t drawn anything since I was 17 apart from slaying at Pictionary the game. So I got out my HB pencils, some calligraphy pens and set to work.
The results after a few hours practicing wasn’t too bad. I ended up using a combination of techniques. Line tracing so that I knew exactly where the parts of the image went and then free hand with the details.
This has been the most rewarding part of piecing together my lecture notes as I’ve found a love for something I used to do and began using it again alongside my magic.
So the journey continues. Once these images are finalised and the proof reading is complete ill move onto the next scary phase. Piecing all these materials into a pamphlet in the software, In Design.
Don’t worry. Im not about to give you a brief history of the troubles according to my ma. What I wish to talk about is the art of dying onstage.
David Acer has a wonderful article on this topic in his book ‘Random Acts of Magic’ on Bombing.
When you bomb at something in performance it means that it was a complete and utter failure. A fiasco of a show.
Performers who want to become better sadly must bomb. It is a necessary evil that everyone must face when new material is being developed. You have to try out the good, the bad and the ugly in front of an audience to see if it works or not. More importantly we must find out what can be done to make material work.
If at first you don’t succeed…
Coming up with new material is tricky.
We become so used to material that we enjoy performing and of course the material we are familiar with. Forgetting that it has taken some time to get it working. We let slip the bad performances and savour the good ones.
It is no wonder it becomes quite difficult encouraging ourselves to mentally and physically develop new material. It is far easier to keep performing the same old material, feeling the comfort in knowing it works.
Aim to do at least one brave thing everyday!
I crave new material. So this last year I have challenged myself – or rather forced myself to get out of my comfort zone. Performing all kinds of magic that’s new to me and that I have always wished to perform. And it brings challenges that sometimes even I am not prepared for.
This month I got quite excited about an idea. I envisioned building a snowman on stage and ending the piece by making a huge snowstorm surge from the palm of my hands. Sounds magical right? Memorable even.
It was memorable. But for all the wrong reasons and I was reminded that new material can go horribly, brutally wrong.
My desire to create wonder turned to dust.
My wish to create a snowy heaven on stage fell apart before my eyes and it scared me. I was upset. So much so that I felt I might not be able to try out new material again. I haven’t felt this bad since I performed my very first magic show. Which you can read about in my book Becoming Magic. Or at least that’s how my brain saw it.
The reality was, it wasn’t that bad. And the feeling of sheer terror lasted for around 24 hours. Inside my head, it felt like an age. Upon reflection, this pain and angst was a very fleeting feeling.
If you ever find yourself feeling this way too, the disappointment will pass. The real lesson comes in how you deal with the failure after it. Your response to bombing on stage will hopefully shape you as a performer for the better.
Oh epic big hole, swallow me up please…
No matter your experience, knowledge and the sheer amount of practice put in – you will continue to bomb throughout your career.
Nothing could have prevented me from bombing that night and looking back at the horror, I needed it. It was a reminder that as a performer, I am not invincible.
So some advice for me and others…
Be Kind: learn not to be too hard on yourself. It is way too easy to tear chunks out of your self esteem and performance after something bad happens. Try putting it into perspective. This is one show out of many and that effect will never be that bad again – let’s hope!
Release the shame: If you need to cry, weep. It is ok to be sad and if you are, really go for it. Only when the sadness is fully out of your system can you move on to the steps below.
Reflect: Go through the routine when you are ready to and access it constructively. Ask yourself, ‘why did things go wrong?’ In most cases there is normally a good reason for it. Consider that sometimes it is also out of your control when it does.
Push on: After my disaster of a performance last week, I immediately had to go and perform walk around magic for families for a full hour. Professionalism dies hard and I did it, even though every fibre in my body did not want me to. Upon returning home and doing all of the steps above, I was then able to properly move on. After a full day of moping first.
“It’s not the end of the world if a trick goes wrong.”
– Nikola Arkane 2019
I have to remind myself that performing magic should be fun, lighthearted and above all not taken too seriously – apart from practicing it! You might feel like your world has tumbled down when it happens, but really, only you know what you intended that particular performance to be.
So to be a successful performer we have to take the good with the bad and get good at dusting ourselves off and moving on.
You can read more stories and advice like this in my book, Becoming FizzWizzPop! A companion I have created for performers and magicians.
Entertaining children is not easy. (See my last post). After a full weekend of performing as FizzWizzPop I’m usually exhausted come Monday. My weekend ended with a challenging party. Emotionally for the family and for me as a performer. Normally, I don’t get an opportunity to speak about this.
I am lucky to have worked with and perform regularly for children of all abilities. Including some that are dealing with life limiting illnesses. For 3 years I performed with Belfast’s children’s theatre company, Cahoots NI in a show called “Magic Menu.” This was a performance designed to visit children at their bedsides in hospitals as a form of respite. Through this project I also regularly entertained groups whom visited the Belfast Children’s Hospice.
The upmost care went into learning how to interact with staff, families and of course, creating and performing a show that was both suitable and entertaining for these wonderfully brave children.
Performing in this situation is a privilege but sometimes it can be emotionally hard. Your job is primarily to entertain with magic however, this audience are dealing daily with a huge struggle that effects everyone emotionally. Particularly when you are invited to perform in their personal spaces. Homes, wards, bedrooms are safe havens for these children.
Working in an environment like this you have to become an expert of controlling emotion. Focusing solely on the show, your performance and the magic. This can be tricky. Especially during your show when you see an adult tearing up, a child crying in pain, or when a doctor needs to get in to treat a child during a trick. There can be many interruptions. You can just throw performance flow out the window.
Then there’s the knowledge that some children will get better and some will not. This can be emotionally difficult to get your head around.
I approach this by performing in the moment with that family and child. I try to engage them as much or as little as I can. This show is all about the child and the family you have came to visit. Use your performance to get everyone involved entertaining them whilst you are there.
***It’s worth noting that there should be no set time limit for this type of show.***
A visit of this kind can last 5 or 30 minutes. Over time you will become better at judging this. My advice, don’t set a time limit. Every situation you walk into is different. Every child is different. If you manage to interact with a child and family for 10 minutes and the atmosphere lightens you have done something wonderful.
This is a concept that took me a while to get my head around. I used to think if I didn’t perform for a set amount of time that I had failed the family. I soon realised that visits like these are not about me, it is all about them.
***This might surprise you but you don’t have to perform the whole time you are there.***
Just being there changes the atmosphere. The family you are visiting want to make sure you are ok. Being there brings the focus to you for a change and this is part of the relief too. Just sitting with the child or spending time with their siblings. Having a cup of tea and a conversation with the family can also become part of the visit and the respite.
In terms of a show, how to approach creating a show for a visit like this one?
I started by using songs that everyone knows and can attempt to sing. Singing a song in the beginning and at the end is a nice way to bring everyone together.
Visual is key
Visual tricks are great. Get everyone involved by using more than one person to hold props. If everyone is part of a jigsaw that finally pieces together at the end of your effect you have used magic to make a connection with everyone In the room. I do this in my show with a colouring-in trick. I make loads of coloured handkerchiefs appear and give them to everyone to hold. Then we use the magic word together and the picture is coloured in.
Finding ways to bring an audience together really works in this environment. If you think about it, when something sad, bad or scary happens to someone close to us we tend to gather and support one another. The effect above exploits this and unites everyone together displaying a families strength working as a team.
Playing with the senses
Textures, colours and music are great too for these audiences. Some children may have very little interaction verbally due to their condition, or with everything they have been through. Designing tricks in your show that make them instinctively react is an idea to play with. I always think the more visual, musical and sensory you can make this type of show the better. I use lots of gentle theatrical music, lights (Rocco’s d’lites are so magical in this setting). Also material, silks and sponges for them to touch are great conversation starters.
Do you need to change?
I don’t change my show or character – I’m still me – but I am more sensitive to the situation I’m in. I lower my voice, I pace myself and I engage a lot with eye contact. It’s always good to begin gentle and work up from there.
I have visited homes of sick children performing Bish, Bash, Bosh (the not so dangerous version of Smash and Stab). I have witnessed in living rooms. children yelling at me not to smack a cup and save the egg. Be brave and play the environment. The child will guide you.
When you enter a home, ward or hospice, there may be some strange rituals you will have to do before performing. These are in place to protect the patient.
Sanitising hands before entering – for infection purposes. It is good to do this before entering and leaving. In hospitals and hospices it is the norm, but some parents might ask you to do this before you enter their home. Be aware of it and don’t make it a thing.
The venue you are visiting could be dealing with an airborne infection. Be prepared to be asked to wear rubber gloves and an apron whilst you work.
Visits can be cancelled suddenly too. Being flexible is key. Offering to reschedule dates and times means the child will still get to spend time with you.
Following rituals of the household – Removing shoes upon entering a home (worth noting make sure you have appropriate socks on underneath your shoes). Tying your hair back or something that might appear odd. As you are entering the family home, make the visit easier on you and the family and comply where possible.
***Performing anywhere you can***
You might not be able to perform beside a child or even hand props to the child to hold. I have performed in the doorway of a side ward to a child before and still managed to get them smiling. I suppose what I’m trying to say in all the situations above is be flexible and open to change. The performance spaces you will be working in are weird and if you are aware of this it can add to your performance.
Kindness is key…
Be kind to yourself after these visits. This work is tiring by nature. If you know that you are performing one of these visits (I would recommend scheduling two maximum per day), give yourself time. Space to sit, breath or go have a cup of tea. It’s vital you break visits up so that emotionally it does not get on top of you. Don’t plan mad evenings after visits. Chill out after, watch some t.v and relax. It is important that you counter this physical and emotionally draining performance – albeit so rewarding – with some down time for you.
This is not an easy topic to talk about, however one I feel worth writing about. I wish to share my knowledge and hope you find use of it. My goal is to help equip you to work and play with these wonderfully heroic families. They are dealing with things we all pray we never have to face. Magic has helped me bring joy and wonder to so many lives including my own. I hope it does for you too.
If you wish to find out more tips of mine, check out my book Becoming FizzWizzPop as a companion to making an creating your own entertaining magic show for children.