In January this year I had very little work on, it was an incredibly slow start to the year. Meaning that I was stuck at home in my bedroom. I kind of got into a bit of a bad space and really hated my room and the fact I was stuck in it.
Feeling claustrophobic which is unusual for me because I was a box jumper for nearly ten years of my life, I didn’t feel creative at all. Just depressed.
… unlike a book, a theatre has one special characteristic. It is always possible to start again.
The Empty Space by Peter Brook page 157
Along comes a pandemic just two months later meaning I would be stuck in my room permanently for the foreseeable. I realised quite quickly that I can either see this as a prison or an opportunity to liberate myself creatively and use the space and time I’ve been given for me.
Self indulgence is not a normal Arkane trait however I have chosen to take this spare time I have been given to be selfish. To do everything I can to improve as a person and performer. To read, to write, study and explore. One of the things that I did (without my parents permission) was completely rearrange my room. If you read last weeks blog post you will know that I successfully created a miniature theatre space to perform and practice in.
Why all the effort?
To play needs much work. But when we experience the work as play, then it is not work anymore.
The Empty Space by Peter Brook page 157
The original idea was to make any performances I do feel like a proper theatrical production however it ended up being much more than this. Every morning I wake up and see the space I created, I want to get up and practice. I bought myself a proper close up mat so that I enjoy flinging cards on it. Creating a special place for me to do what I love has honestly changed my lockdown life, and made me creative in ways I never knew were possible.
Try to make a unique space to practice, perform and imagine in. If you feel joy during the process, the work you create will reflect that.
Thanks to some friends being intrigued about it, I put together my first iMovie describing how I created my home Arkane Magic Studio. If you have ten minutes to spare please watch it. I hope in creating something selfishly for me, I will pass on some knowledge to you.
***CAUTION: If you thought I was a bit crazy, after watching this I hope we are still friends.***
There is no doubt that a theatre can be a very special place. It is like a magnifying glass, and also like a reducing glass. It is a small world, so it can easily be a pretty one.
We all have had to come to terms with this anomaly that entered our world. I’m talking about COVID-19 a.k.a Coronavirus.
When lockdown began I didn’t want to believe what was actually happening.
All my bookings were immediately cancelled. (About 3,000 pounds in total). The prospect of any future ones put on hold for the foreseeable.
In the beginning I crumbled. I couldn’t face the prospect of not doing the one thing I love whilst this virus swept the world. Staying in my bedroom was consuming all my happiness. A ticking time bomb ready to go off at any second. And I did! I was emotional, cried, was angry and sad. A whole spectrum of emotions flooded in.
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. But the one most responsive to change.”
Charles Darwin, 1809.
In the beginning I was not ready for change. I convinced myself that magic is a live medium. It could never work any other way, right?
After 2 weeks of misery, a customer got in touch. She asked the question I was avoiding answering.
“Hello we have seen some groups offering performances for their families online. As the FizzWizzPop show is so interactive, could you perform a show online for our group?”
I froze on the spot. And what came out in response was complete and utter honesty.
“I don’t see any reason why I cannot perform for you. I must admit I’ve never done that before. I agree with you that my show is interactive enough to hold the attention of an audience on screen. But… (and there was a big but) I cannot offer you this service for free. There must be some sort of fee because well, I’ve lost everything with the virus and I have no work for the foreseeable and if you want me to perform I have to be paid something, I’m so sorry to have to ask for this at this time.”
Even though I knew that other companies were offering free activities. Right now, I couldn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I do think there are certain projects that you should perform for free. Like helping family, colleagues in the business, charities, people who are in need of some cheering up.
Should we give everything away?
If everything becomes a free for all for the public like music, magic, songs, dance classes where does it lead? What tone does this set when things get back to normal? I think in a way it devalues our art if everything becomes complimentary.
If you decide to offer activities free to help when does that stop? Perhaps there should be a period of time you offer free stuff.
We must remember to support ourselves too. Balance here is key!
“You have got to fill a pocket or two.”
When I started out my business in magic I performed at loads of events, for free. It got to a point where people began to take advantage of my generosity. I even performed at a charity event that in the end turned out to be a regular family get together.
I had to set a policy that I would only offer a free charity performance once a year. And it was my decision what I supported and when.
Things then changed for the better. Not only did I gain lots from performing at these free events, I met likeminded people and learnt stuff too. I believe it’s important that you get something out of offering things for free. Whether that’s just a feeling of helpfulness. Using the experience to try out a new routine or making connections for future events.
Back to the customer
Not only did this customer wish to pay for my services. She actively wanted to continue to support facilitators during this time. Finishing the call she agreed to pay me £30 more than I asked for.
Before that phone call, I had literally given up all hope of working again.
A day later I was asked to perform Magic for a zoom birthday party.
Changing Rooms – Lawrence Llewelyn-Bowen have at it!
As my first party was a kids show, I wanted to use my FizzWizzPop backdrop. Thankfully it fit in my bedroom. I chose effects that were really interactive. Colour changes, numbers tricks and a game with a magical ending. I agreed with the customer that it was best that she set up the meeting on Zoom. On the day, I agreed not to login until all the party guests were online.
Then FizzWizzPop’s face would hit the big screen. A magical entrance if there ever was one!
It took me a full hour to prepare for this show. I had all the tricks set up on my bed ready to go and easy to access. To my surprise is was not only a success, the show made people laugh and smile LOTS! The mums and dads in each household sat and watched with their kids. Even granny and grandad got involved. It felt like something everyone needed. In a way, it felt like we were together in the same room.
Don’t forget to make a wish!
Prior to the zoom session I thought it might be nice for everyone to sing happy birthday together. And for the cake be brought out to the birthday child. The mum and dad were delighted with this idea. I verbally warned the parents that I was on my last trick. And as I finished the effect, the cake came out, we sang the song and FizzWizzPop said her goodbyes.
Zoom has opened up collective thinking!
In just the space of two weeks I have not only performed shows as FizzWizzPop. I presented a Magic workshop with Clare The Party Professor another fab entertainer based in Northern Ireland. I never normally get the chance to work with her because we are both so busy.
Now we can put our skills together creating something unique for children to enjoy.
Prohibition or Pandemic… nothing stops Chicago Magic!
The most recent collaboration I have joined is performing with the amazing team at The Chicago Magic Lounge. A place I actual performed at last July 2019. What a joy it was!
When they were shut down, Joey, Cynthia and the team decided that they needed to continue supporting their staff. That people out there needed magic more than ever.
The result of this is that they are keeping Chicago Magic going by creating a unique Virtual Cocktail Hour!
All guests can buy tickets and experience what they would at the real lounge, on screen. Four top class magicians, a cocktail class and discovering the history of magic in Chicago.
I am grateful that the Chicago Magic Lounge wanted to collaborate with me. I feel like part of an amazing family.
After my first show alongside Luis Carreon, The Amazing Bibik and Justin Purcell a guest commented,
“I was able to sign up myself, my parents in Florida and my sisters in TN and FL for the show tonight – we loved it and wanted to say thank you. My mom said she felt like she was actually with other people.”
In the space of just one week my attitude to this horrible situation was turned upside down.
Remember if you must go through a path with puddles. Make sure you jump, splash and enjoy creating chaos along the way!
As I enter my forth week of isolation in my bunker a.k.a my bedroom, I’m beginning to feel slightly askew. I’m not sleeping or eating properly and I feel really all over the place. Kind of like Alice when she made it to Wonderland.
The one thing that has truly kept me going this whole time is my family, friends and magic. I was chatting with my friend and colleague John Carey over the weekend and he said something that made me extremely thankful for this wonderful world we have as magicians. He told me to remember,
“At least we have magic!”
Unlike others who don’t have something like this in their lives. We, magicians have a focus, a drive and a skill that requires feeding. There are alway things to practice, people to work and jam with and an opulent history of literature to browse.
It’s the time to let your imagination soar…
This week I was surprised by the arrival of a book I have wanted for quite sometime. The book I got was Pure Imagination by Andi Gladwin Scott Robinson. Every time I spotted this delightfully delicious looking book it kept enticing me to buy it. So I did, as an Isolation treat for myself.
So far I have only worked on the first two effects and I cannot believe the mileage I have got out them. These weird and imaginative effects are fuelling my creativity. The amalgamation of unusual material and the strange mindset I am in works beautifully.
Curiouser and curiouser…
“Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it!
I have a major problem as a performer and isolation is really bringing this out in me BIG TIME! I am sadly a perfectionist.
The more material I read and discover, the more I challenge myself. The more I challenge myself the more things I find I cannot do and when I do them, even with all the hours practicing in a day, to me, it’s still imperfect.
One of my personal goals during this apocalypse is to help myself let go of this perfect ideal. As at times it really drags me down and I feel that I’m not good enough (for what exactly, I wish I knew).
One of the ways I am trying to do this is by creating and working with loads of different magic that is alien for me. If I force myself out of my comfort zone daily, I have to stand up and face this perfection problem head on. And I can either curl up into a ball and melt into the wall or I can get up and do something about it.
Learning these strange effects from Pure Imagination has allowed me to think outside box. Challenging my thinking as to how I would present them in my own way. So far they have been far from perfect. Yet, the ideas are original and my own. Here is my version of the effect ‘Toy’ inspired by a theme of Light and Dark.
“Have i gone mad?
I’m afraid so, but let me tell you something, the best people usualy are.”
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Falling down the rabbit hole…
For me, in isolation, there’s a pattern forming. I create a mess, clean and then mess it up again. My room is daily like the hole of Calcutta. Yet it is so worth it for the amount of stuff I have experimented with over the last four weeks. Don’t be afraid of mess. Embrace your inner demon and trash your room for magic!
The second effect from Scott’s book The Willy Wonka Card Trick I admit I struggled with, and still do. Big shout out to Scott for sending me through video tutorials helping me to see visually what exactly it is and where all my fingers should go. This little piece is amazing – but I need to work at it.
It’s so important to find what works for you.
If however I am going to perform this effect, I had to find a reason for it and why. And not just because it’s SO COOL to do. So after a few days pondering it and practicing it. I actually came up with an idea that suited me to use the effect. The Idea I came up with was: Find a Lady. Here’s my process as to how I got to this idea.
If I’m going to make something momentarily disappear what is the thinking behind it? Well, the queen that is used in find a lady card tricks needs to know sneaky ways to vanish right? That fits perfectly with Scott’s vanish effect – for me.
Once I had this idea, I began to concoct a story and over the space of three hours this evening. Relating to what I said earlier… it’s not perfect. Although I grit my teeth when I say this, I’m ok that it is not perfect because I am now going to work on it till it is.
If I think about the process in which this tiny effect began and went on to what I produced this evening, it’s mind-blowing. Here’s the step by step Arkane creative process.
Read Scott Robinson’s effect.
Practiced it – failed!
Scott Reached out and assisted.
With visuals I understood the handling.
Found a reason to use the effect with Find a Lady premise.
Jammed with Tom Stone. He suggested that I have three tens and I produce the queen from them.
Had no idea how to do that. Failed, again!
Played around and got a method to change a ten into a queen, nailed it!
Added in a sign to point out “Find a Lady.”
Practiced and recorded and watched back the routine over the course of three full hours to realise that the envelope is the key, but I’m not sure why.
EUREKA – The queen must return to the envelope!
My process in a nutshell.
However the frustration, time and effort to put this altogether truly was trying, and I did want to give up. Kind of like I didn’t want to write this blog post this week either. Hence why I’m publishing it at 4am this morning.
You can do anything you set your mind too. Make the impossible possible. Don’t aim for perfection. Do the best you can and learn to let it go.
When I was studying my degree in drama I was given the opportunity to stage manage a venue at the Belfast Festival, this venue was the Elmwood Hall. Primarily a music venue, the acts that generally were staged here in the festival were bands, musicians, speakers and sometimes comedians made an appearance too. I was so lucky as I got to meet and watch some amazingly talented people from Jack Whitehall (whom almost got me fired because he insisted on me taking him for a carryout just before his performance). E.S.T, Ed Byrne, Fascinating Aida, to Michael Palin (whom I had no clue how famous he was at the time and wondered why people were queuing for autographs out the back of the venue).
Across the three years I stage managed this amazing venue I met and worked with a performer whom I’d never come across before. An extremely talented musician and comedian that now we all know and love worldwide. He’s a actor, writer and all round talented, loveable guy. Tim Minchin.
This guy from start to finish ROCKED Elmwood Hall. It was like an awakening for me. Tim was so unbelievably talented and funny. He was able to creatively combine (and was friggin’ good at) all his skills as a songwriter, musician and personality to create an experience that I will, quite frankly never forget. His song’s had lyrics that were laugh out loud hilarity yet had poignant messages for us all to take home and unpack.
The reason I am writing this post is to remind you that when we pursue a career in something, it is good to find inspiration within the field. But when we are open to looking elsewhere the doors to creativity and what you can achieve burst wide open. The moment I witnessed Tim Minchin storm that stage was the moment I realised I need to keep my eyes peeled everywhere I go. You never know when that spark of creativity will smack you in the face. However, this is a smack you will gratefully receive with open arms.
Can we find inspiration during the apocalypse?
One word, Yes! There has been an implosion on the internet of sharing magic which is wonderful. And in the beginning of it all I wanted to watch and be a part of everything. It felt like I was in the best sweet shop in Sweden and was allowed to take everything I wanted.
However, this is just not possible. I’ve seen online so many people saying their exhausted keeping up online. It is exhausting having so much stimulation every day. And yes it is positive but if you exhaust yourself you won’t enjoy it and might retreat.
A solution which I have found – though I’m no expert – that works for me is to pick and choose what you want to be a part of, watch and learn from. And don’t guilt yourself for the coming days because you didn’t log in and say hi, or contribute to something. We can’t do everything. We don’t in normal life. But there seems to be this pressure building online to be a part of things and I don’t think its good. We need to breathe and take each day as it comes. And know that it’s ok to say no.
Rest so that you are ready to play.
On Friday last, I wasn’t feeling great. I had a bit of a sore throat (and I’m sure you all know when we get any symptoms of anything now your brain is automatically set to panic mode). This turned my mood inward and I didn’t feel like doing, watching or being magic that day.
I wasn’t massively enthused to do so, but it took my mind of everything going on for two full hours. After it I not only was in better form, but I got up out of bed and I began working on magic. I didn’t force myself to it, it just, happened. And I created this original piece of magic.
I had never been more inventive or open to creating as I was in that next hour. And it didn’t take me long to come up with this effect either.
If I had sat and forced myself to work on magic, it wouldn’t have come.
So, advice for creatively surviving this time in Isolation
Give yourself time. It’s ok to have a day off or two.
Don’t guilt yourself into doing everything, everyday for everyone.
Use this time to be a little bit selfish for yourself. Pick and choose what you can be a part off and can’t each day – don’t overdo it.
Leave stuff around your house, your bedroom that you can stumble upon and spark some creativity.
Keep looking for inspiration.
Watch, observe and help others when you are fit to do so.
Do things, little and often. You’ll feel like you get so much more done by the end of each week.
Be selfish, just a little for you. It’s ok to do stuff just for you, even for a day.
Keep laughing and smiling. We will get through this, together and hopefully be ready to take magic to the next level!
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.
You have an idea – remember anything is possible. Imagine without limits.
Explore the effect fully, understand all you need to know to perform it and let it take shape in your mind.
By thinking the effect you get a clearer notion of what it might look like.
Run through the effect physically. Gather the props and use them during your “fantasy rehearsal” – Tommy Wonder The Books of Wonder Page 53.
By doing this Tommy writes you discover all the awkward spots, the things that do not work.
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!”
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…
Why The AAA? Because alliteration is exactly what we need in times of crisis.
Read every single book you have on the shelf.
Talk to your family daily, let them vent, you vent get it out. Make sure they know we are all in this together.
Arts and Crafts – making things can take your mind of everything even for a little while.
Learn something new. A fact, a sum, a skill something you never believed you could do.
Practice Magic like your life depends on it.
Patience is needed more than ever. Give yourself time to reflect and be still and think before you speak or do.
Think of others.
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…
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
Make sure the writing is legible for you to read back again.
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.
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!
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.
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 in a dingy bar as the man who loudly spoke those vulgar words 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.”
The man who sat and spoke to me that day was Marco Fida and I am eternally grateful for his push.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!?!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 (the performance start around the 2 minute mark in the video below).
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.