I’ve turned 60 on the 1st May, and that’s my birthday present to you, who are on my private list: Four workers I’ve had in my repertoire and honed for over a 30+-years period of my professional life, performing them (almost) all over the world, for top companies and exclusive privates, at first-rate fees. You get all the details of presentation and working, plus a lifetime I’ve dedicated to the study and practice of the art and science of magic.
Penguin started this project called “The Act” about a year ago with the idea of asking professionals to perform and discuss the act they are doing for real audiences (not like lectures, which are mostly done for magicians). Only few have abided by this rule, preferring not to tip what they really do, but rather novel stuff that sells. I must be one of the very few who has performed and explained in the greatest detail I’ve been capable of, what I have been doing, and am still doing, for paying audiences worldwide.
Get it now for € 24.95 at almost 40% off the regular price, for the next 48 hours only. After that it will be € 39.95, still a steal.
I’m very pleased to know that a small “family” has formed who is reading this little newsletter (you can join HERE http://eepurl.com/bMyVIf) of mine – we are now close to 800. Obviously, not being a dealer of things magical, I cannot send you one every week with lots of new stuff. I’m sure you are already receiving your share of that and don’t need one more.
Therefore, in each of my posts, I focus on one subject or question sent in by readers and which I judge to be of general interest. How do I know what is of “general interest”? Easy: if I find it interesting, I assume many others will, too 🙂 That’s also my way of choosing a gift for friends: I only give away things I would like to receive myself. Come to think of it, that might be the best philosophy of how to treat assisting spectators…
This reminds me of what Dan Harlan recently said: “Roberto, what I like about you is that regardless of what subject we touch on, you find a philosophical implication.”
On to this month’s topic:
Ask Roberto: Mentors in Magic & How to Practice Magic
Roger Curtis wrote in to ask two questions:
1. Most professionals refer to having had a mentor(s) in their formative years. How in the current climate would you suggest an amateur learns in the most effective way as whilst books are hugely informative, you still need someone to guide you along the right path?
2. What is the most effective way to practice? How do professionals practice?
These are two BIG questions if we consider all the implications, nonetheless I’ll try to answer to the best of my capacities and within the limitations of this newsletter. And always remember: all you get is my opinion…
What’s a Mentor And How to Find One
Almost 50 years ago, when I started out in magic, you needed mentors to provide you with information, nowadays there is an overabundance of information and (almost) all is available for (far too) little money, so you need mentors to steer you away from the unnecessary towards the essential.
What has remained the same, however, is that associating with people who know more than you and whom you admire is one of the best ways to advance, in any discipline. I had the enormous luck of meeting one of the very few “universal geniuses” in magic, Juan Tamariz, who became my mentor early in my life – that was in 1978, I was 19, and I had been into magic for 6 years. I still visit him every year for a week, and I learn (a lot!). Most mentors, though, are “specialist geniuses”, a term I use most respectfully. It means that some are great inventors, others knowledgeable historians and collectors, other gifted technicians, still others blessed performer, but few are all of that and still fewer look at magic holistically. That’s why you normally need several mentors.
Parallel to having mentors look for exchange of ideas with kindred spirits, people at your level whom you like personally. It’s not necessary that they specialize in the same topics. If you’re a card person, you can get together with a mentalist or a children’s entertainer, provided your ethos is similar. Keep the group small, and get together physically, if possible, although the virtual world offers amazing new possibilities. Discuss all practical questions, and if you are in close-up always keep the instruments in your hands.
The first ten years are all about acquiring the basic skills, mastering the instrument, gaining virtuosity. I’s fine and necessary to discuss philosophical and historical issues, presentation, communication, misdirection, timing, and all these things, but most of all discuss tricks and techniques, for these are the most important things. Unfortunately, as yesterday so today, some believe a lousy trick barely adequately done can be compensated by “presentation”. This has led to the (in my opinion) false belief that presentation is everything. But besides the person (not persona!!!), the most important things are a very good trick, plus an impeccable execution (see “Formula for Success in Magic”, entry for 10th NOV in Hidden Agenda). Once you have that sorted out, the rest will follow. So do a lot of hands-on in these groups. I believe that we become what we do, and if all we do is mostly chatter (keep forum-time to a minimum), we won’t progress humanly and artistically.
How do you find mentors? In the pre-Internet age I went to club meetings in my own city and wherever I travelled to, I attended all conventions near and far I could afford, and respectfully approached those I admired. If I went to a city for educational or vacational purposes, I’d immediately look up “magician” in the local phone book and call them asking if they would like to meet. In this way I met some wonderful people who are friends to this very day. I could write a book on this… And of course once you have one good mentor, he will introduce you to others. It obviously helps if you are polite, sincere and talented. But if you were not, you would not even ask this question!
You could also answer your question by looking at other disciplines. For instance ask: How would you progress in music if you played an instrument? No question, you would take lessons with a music teacher, at least that’s the way it is taught here in Switzerland. You buy the instrument and the scores, you take a lesson, you practice, you take another lesson, you keep practicing, and so on. Same thing when you learn how to drive a car, boat, plane etc. In some disciplines you have to go through a specific curriculum that ends with an exam to be allowed to practice that particular occupation: medicine, engineering etc. Now, magic is as much a profession as any other, but there is no official, formal education. In spite of this, the craft (and art) itself is based on instruments and the basic mastery of it. I’m reminded of Dr. Jacob Daley who took lessons from Dai Vernon.
Big subject, food for thought.
How Professionals Practice
As for your second question, I will give you a number of things you can do when practicing magic, and refer you to sources for information, but I believe there is one thing that towers over all others, and it is enjoyment. There might be several important things when studying magic, but joy and passion will always be first. If you enjoy practicing, it will not be work, but will add to the quality of your life and become one of those things that make you grow as a person and an artist. A joyful practice adds a new dimension to what you are doing and to who you are, and the total will be more than the sum of its parts. The ensuing enthusiasm that will emanate from your performance gives it that extra quality, which cannot be put into words, but is seen and felt by any intelligent audience. So, the very practical down-to-earth pieces of advice I’m about to give you now, should be understood in this larger context.
You ask how “professionals” practice. I never thought about this, I simply live magic the whole day, and I practice similarly as I did when magic was a hobby. But then I might not be your typical “professional”. But one thing is clear: a professional focuses above all on performance material, maybe organized into an act, depending from the venues he performs, and then he will practice just that. Once he has the techniques, the construction and the text down, he will start to rehearse, i.e. to “practice holistically”, as if he was performing for a real audience. René Lavand was a master of this. I’ve always found this difficult and have compensated by going through my performances mentally (sitting and listening to music, when traveling, in bed etc.).
You can do it the way described if you are not a professional, but you still want to perform. However, I insist, that you should only do it in this “efficient” way if you enjoy it: as an amateur you have the privilege that you do not need to make a living from magic! Do you really need to be “efficient”?
The Ten Secrets of Practice
However, I believe that a far more relevant implication of your question is that as an amateur, who wants to perform, you have very little time, as you have a job, maybe a family, and several other obligations. When a professional can devote the complete day to his activity, you may only have an hour per day, and that’s a lot. Therefore, if you insist in being “efficient”, here are my “Ten Suggestions for Effective Practice & Rehearsal”:
Understand before you practice, and once you’ve understood practice. Only correct practice makes perfect.
Don’t practice in one long session, but in shorter sets: 3 sets of 20 minutes are better than 1 hour. This is true for practicing techniques, as it is true for rehearsing an “act”. If you are a very busy person, you might want to get up 20 minutes earlier, do one practice session, and then start into your day (what a great way to start a day). When you come home, do a “relaxation practice session” (what a great way to end a working day). If it doesn’t work for you, do it differently.
Practice a specific set 5 days a week, and pause for 2 days. Practice for 3 weeks, and pause for 1 week. Your subconscious will assimilate and help “install” the skill.
Organize tricks in sets of three. Not only will you remember more tricks better, you’ll also make their performance more substantial and meaningful. As an example of how this can be done on a higher level see my DVD project Favorites.
If practicing a trick that requires a set-up, rather than keep resetting the same deck, have 3-5 decks ready already set up, and then use one after the other.
If you want to practice e.g. a Double Lift, a Coin Vanish and a Rope Flourish Knot, rather than practicing each 10 times, us the “First Time Practice” strategy: pick up the deck, do the Double Lift once, and then set the deck back on the table. Pick up the coin, do the vanish once, and then set the coin down. Do the same with the rope, just once. Then start over again. This prepares you for the use of the technique in the real situation, where you have to “hit” the technique on the very first attempt.
Once you’ve practiced enough and think you got it down correctly, go back to the original description (read or watch it again). If it is a good description from a Master, I guarantee you will find details you left out or you changed to the worse (I just went back to Ganson’s description of “Twisting the Aces” in More Inner Secrets of Card Magic and found two details I had ignored for 30 years and that made me understand the trick better). This reminds me of Al Baker, who said, “Nothing ruins a trick more than so-called improvements.” You can only improve on a Master when you have become a Master yourself. Don’t underestimate yourself, but don’t overestimate yourself either.
Each time you practice or rehearse something, try to do it a little better than before. Beware, though, of over-improvement (see Secret #8).
Use mental practice regularly. Relax, close your eyes, and then run through the flawless execution of a sleight, or of a trick, or of a complete act.
Remember St. Exupéry who said, “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” Or simply trust whoever said, “Less is more.” Reread this once a day if you are on a convention organizing committee.
You’ll find a lot of information regarding the practice and study of magic in both of my Agendas, Secret Agenda and Hidden Agenda(e.g. entry for 1st SEPT “Practice”). Secret Agenda is also available as a PDF-Ebook, which is fantastic, as you can search for “practice” or any other term you need; it is available BY CLICKING HERE.
See Secret Twitter, a PDF-Ebook with lots of information about the subject.
in Ask Roberto, available as a printed book and as a PDF-Ebook, I devote several lengthy essays to the subject (p. 16 “How to Study”, p. 20 “Fear of Starting to Perform”, p. 101 “Why Do Magic?”, p. 115 “Practice”, and several more)
And possibly the most important of all these: read my essay titled “The Study of Card Conjuring”, Chapter 27 “Theory” of Card College Volume 2, p. 476-485.
Besides this month’s topic, here are a few bits of information you might also be interested in:
Card College Facebook Group
Reader Patrick Humeniuk from Canada wrote in to let me know that he and a group of friends have created what they’ve called “The Sunday Card College” on Facebook. Here is the link, if you want to se what this is about, and if you want to join: https://www.facebook.com/groups/2290954474354088/ It’s obviously an excellent idea, as similarly minded people can meet and motivate each other in the serious and dedicated study of card magic. See my deliberations above!
Want a book signed to you personally?
When you order a book or DVD from me, you can ask it to be signed to your name, but you must mention this in the “comment” field of the order form, please. I do not automatically sign, as I never know who eventually gets the book/DVD.
Table of Content for Card College 1&2 – Personal Instruction
I’m glad to see that the 4-DVD-Set Card College 1&2 – Personal Instruction, which is now available as a download at a fraction of the original price, seems to be very popular and helps many to get on track when it comes to card magic. The 23 lessons are self-contained and reflect Card College volumes 1&2, but they are also a great complement to the books: the book gives far more details that can be put on a video, but the video shows you that what’s in the book is feasible, and that’s the motivational kick many need. A friend from Australia, aka EndersGame, kindly sent in a table of contents, which many of you will find useful. The first 2 pages are a pure table of contents, followed by a detailed commented table of content. This is an incredible piece of work, and I cannot thank EndersGame enough. To download the PDF CLICK HERE.
If you are interested to receive personal advice on anything related to your magic, or if you merely want to ask me questions or chat with me, you can take personal coaching lessons at my studio in Muttenz, Switzerland, or via Skype. For details contact me HERE.
Many keep asking when The Art of Switching Decks – A Guide for the Beginner and the Expert, my monograph on the subject of deck switches, is back. Well, my publisher, Penguin Magic, promises this will happen this year… I’ll let you know through the Secret Newsletter.
The Missing Link
Under this heading I propose one unusual web-link, which you’ll hopefully find inspiring, and if nothing else simply amusing. This one is about “illusions” in a very original, modern sense. Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lHJh-GV-RUY&feature=youtu.be
For suggestions of how to use such information in a magic performance, see the entry “Film Clip Prologue” for February 20 in my Hidden Agenda– to a professional who uses this idea, this alone is worth many times the price of the book.
Let your friends know, please
If you believe that this newsletter (and those before) could be of interest to your friends, please forward this Secret Newsletter to them. To get it directly, they simply have to want to sign up for it HERE.
If you’ve ever wondered why a theory is as practical as a sleight, and maybe even more so, and how it can help improve our magic, you’ll find the answer in this easy-to-read essay. CLICK HERE to download the free PDF.
Here is to the best of my knowledge the bibliography of all my published contributions to magic (and a few outside of magic…): books, articles, essays, videos, downloads and a larger etcetera.
I was frankly quite surprised myself when I saw the amount of it. Today, in looking back, it didn’t seem like work. Possibly Confucius was right, when he said: “Choose a profession you like and you will never have to work in your life.“
To read or download the PDF of the bibliography CLICK HERE.
In answer to my suggestion to ask me questions, Mal Simpson wrote in and asked:
“As far as suggestions for future topics, I’d be interested in knowing what you consider to be common mistakes which you see amateur magicians make. Thanks for all your products.”
I shall make the answer to this most interesting question the topic of today’s Secret Newsletter. However, before we get “into the middle of things”, let’s agree on something: I’m fully aware that most of you who are reading this are amateurs (in the best sense of its Latin origin ”amare” – “to love”).
By no means do I want you to think that I, as a professional of many years, am talking down to or patronizing you. I’ve been a hobbyist (since 1973), an amateur, a part-time professional and finally a professional (since 1988), and I remember, know and understand exactly all the struggles I went through. Therefore, please take the following simply as my personal opinion and experience I’m passing on to you. If you agree, you are welcome to use my advice, if you disagree find your own answer to the question I’ve touched on. In either case you should be able to profit. Here we go:
Common Mistakes Amateurs Make
Due to my books, which are now in eight languages, I have many people come up to me at magic conventions and say “thank you”, moments that are sometimes very touching. Or I join a group at a convention. And as the Vice President of my magic club in Basel, Switzerland, I’m quite active, too. In all of these cases I get to see a lot of magic, in 95% of the cases by amateurs.
Thinking about what I’ve seen in the past years, here is an attempt to classify the “mistakes” I witnessed in nine points:
Nervousness. The first thing I notice is that most people get very nervous before and during the performance. Fear not, as this is something professionals suffer from, too. The difference, however, is that professionals know how to control the “beast”, but most amateurs don’t. I will mention three things. First, “stage fright” is a natural stress mechanism that helps us to be at our best in the extraordinary situation of a performance. Understanding this will turn the enemy into a friend. Second, we take ourselves too seriously. The higher we put ourselves, the longer the fall. Compared to the tragedies of life, failing in a card trick is, well, a minor incident. Therefore, relax. Third, find a ritual that involves mental and/or physical exercise before performing. Here is a simple one: Breathe in through your nose, and then breath out through your mouth twice as long. Do this for as long as it feels comfortable. The subject is obviously much more complex. This why I wrote an essay on the topic, “Who is Afraid of the Stage?”, and you can download it as a free PDF from my web shop by clicking HERE. If there is sufficient interest I shall make this the topic of my next Secret Newsletter – let me know.
Understand & Practice. Most amateurs don’t understand the trick they are performing, and then they do not practice enough. Listen to an anonymous Zen Master, who said: “Before you practice understand, but once you’ve understood, practice.”
Presentational construction – Prologue & Epilogue. Most people I ask to do a trick for me demonstrate rather than perform. I have a full-day Masterclass on the subject of how to find a presentation for a trick, so this is a complex subject. A relatively easy way to get the process started is to think of a prologue and an epilogue. Paul Arden, the advertising guru, used to say, «No first sentence without the last sentence.» How can you implement this? Start right now: take a card trick you do, and which you usually introduce by saying, «Take a card…», or, «I have here the four aces.» Well, that’s not such a good start, is it? But that’s how many indeed do start a trick. Now try to come up with something more interesting, amusing, informative or simply more captivating to say. For instance, «In my next experiment I’m going to make all of us younger.» Or, «Who believes that women are more intuitive than men?» Or, «What you are about to see, is the result of serendipity.» Of course you have to express judgment in all cases, or as Vernon kept reminding us, «Use your head.» Once you have that first sentence, it is very probable that it will lead you to the presentational plot of the trick, and this in turn will make it easy to find a «last word», which we call an epilogue. For more on the subject see the entries for DEC 30 and DEC 31 in Secret Agenda (now available as an E-book). Make a resolution right NOW: do not ever again perform a trick that has not a well thought out presentation with a prologue and an epilogue.
The Method is Not the Effect. Dai Vernon used to say that the difference between an amateur and a professional is that the latter knows what an effect is. This can go so far, that the method is mistaken for the effect. Amateurs have a tendency to judge the quality of a trick by its novelty and intriguing method. They derive their joy of practicing magic from the methods, not from the effect it has on a spectator. This is a huge topic. It requires an understanding of what the effect is and how to pull it off. It has to do with the order of actions (do I show the card has vanished from the deck and then reproduce it, or do I reproduce it, and then show it’s gone?), the timing (where are the pauses?), the text (what do I say, when do I shut up?), how to structure the climax and several other things. Most amateurs I see perform are not aware that these questions even exist, let alone find a good solution to them.
My Reality is Not Your Reality. A child puts his hands over his eyes and says, «You can’t see me!» He thinks that his reality is the same as the other person’s reality. Unfortunately this is not only the source of great aggravation in the world, but also in magic. It goes hand in hand with what I call the «Effect-Method-Split» (inspired by Karl Jaspers’s «Subject-Object-Split»). Some performers happily talk and perform, without ever wondering what the others are thinking and feeling at the same time. But since magic culminates in astonishment, and astonishment is the result of a mental process that eliminates all causes in order to access Wonderland, it is important to understand what happens in the spectator’s mind and how he (mis-)constructs his reality. This is the Constructivist’s approach to magic, and it is the approach of all good magic since its inception, but only in the 20th century was it formalized by the Spanish School of Magic. (Read Ascanio & Tamariz, but also the theory chapters in Card College 2– it’s all there…).
Bad Choice of Tricks. This is closely related to the previous two points. Amateurs get so fascinated by the novelty of a trick and its clever method, which at second look most of the time is not at all so clever, or by a novel gimmick, that they neglect to ask the all-important question, «What is the effect?» This, however, is one of the most difficult questions, not only for amateurs, I should add. Take «Chicago Opener» from Garcia’s Million Dollar Card Secrets, in spite of its controversy an excellent source for professional material. Most of us have done this trick, or are still doing it, rightly so, as it is a very good trick. But what is the effect? Is it a color change? Is it a prediction? Is it a manipulation of the spectator’s will? By understanding the phenomenon at the basis of the trick, the latter can be given the proper presentation, otherwise you risk to confuse the issue, if the given plot (presentation) runs against the inherent plot (contained within the trick). It is similar to when verbal and body language contradict each other, when someone says, «I do magic because I want to give people something», but at the same time they are making a «taking» gesture with both hands. A good trick can be told in one sentence, is memorable, its method impenetrable, and it has a clear subtext (symbolism).
Always New Tricks. You’ve heard it before: «Amateurs perform always new tricks for the same audience, professionals perform always the same tricks for new audiences.» That’s the amateur’s dilemma (one of them…). I answer the question in Ask Roberto in detail (Question 23 – «Practice», and Question 28 “Program Construction of an Act»), but here is a summary: try to keep three very good tricks in your «long-term-repertoire», and keep practicing them on a regular basis. Use 25% of your «magic time» for that. Use the remaining 75% for anything that «amuses» you, because, after all, as an amateur magic is a hobby for you, and you should simply enjoy it without any thought to utility. In those 25% of the time, you will do what you do better, and built criteria, which you will apply to the rest of your «novel» magic, and because of this, with the years, your magic will improve, and you will grow humanly and artistically with it.
Communication, Timing & Pacing. To look, when to look, where to look and how to look is one of the fundamental tools of communication and deception. Many do this intuitively, some do it well, most do not do it so well. There is a grammar of how to look, it is a language of its own (oh my, another lecture!). Very often, when I watch someone in an informal situation do several tricks in a row, they neglect what Ascanio called «the pause of assimilation». When an effect has occurred, you should wait for the effect to register; this means that the spectator has to go through a mental process, albeit a quick one, where he realizes that this is his card, that it is impossible that you could find it, that this is incredible, even impossible, that you are a genius (what else?), and that he should tell and thank you. The amateur more often than not is more interested in showing off what he can do and knows, than to create the experience of wonder, to let the audience enjoy it, and to celebrate this moment of communion. Instead, he runs to perform the next trick, being afraid that otherwise he will miss the opportunity to do it. This also has to do with the lack of self-confidence that characterizes the inexperienced amateur, because he thinks that what he just did was not so good after all. BUT if one thinks this, why perform it in the first place? The solution is simple: only perform tricks that you feel comfortable with, because you think they are good tricks, and because you know you have mastered. If you don’t, practice more, and think.
Don’t Know When to Stop. This refers to the length of an individual trick as well as to the duration of a performance. Due to his fascination with methods, the amateur often neglects to keep a trick short. Take the «Ambitious Card», a wonderful trick, and in my opinion one of the ten best card tricks (download for free my short essay on the subject HERE). In reference to how long one should perform at all, the legendary Nate Leipzig used to say, «Leave them wanting more.» As simple as this reads, as difficult it is to live by. However, the effort it takes us to develop the necessary experience, the judgment and the sure instinct, well, all of this will make us a better and more interesting person, and this is the person (not persona!) that makes our magic unique and fascinating. A subject for life… But here is a piece of advice I read many years ago in an old magic book: arrange three tricks to form a little act, ideally around ten minutes. That’s a good length for an impromptu performance for friends, after dinner, or when having a drink. Usually that’s enough, ten minutes. If you feel that the majority of those present want more, and they explicitly ask you, then, and only then, follow up with another set of ten minutes, or just one more «closer». In order to do this, however, you need the necessary repertoire, a question we will have to leave for another time, if somebody explicitly asks…
Read chapters 1 and 2 of my Stand-up Card Magic, as many of the problems mentioned are addressed in detail, with solutions of how to solve them.
Take one trick from your repertoire and implement only ONE new insight from the reading. Then take another trick, and implement ANOTHER insight. Do this with one trick per week, three in one month. Rest on the fourth week of the month. Do this for one year. At the end of the year notice your growth as a magician and human being, without effort and lots of pleasure – send me your thanks and a bottle of wine. If you are wealthy, send money to email@example.com at Paypal.
Since we spent so much time with the “mistakes” of others, let’s end with an exercise in humility and remember what Confucius once said: “If you see a worthy man, imitate him. If you see an unworthy man, examine yourself.” Amen.
Personal Coaching Live or via Skype
If you are interested to receive personal advice on anything related to your magic, you can take personal coaching lessons at my studio in Muttenz, Switzerland, or via Skype. For details contact me from https://www.robertogiobbi.com/site/infos-contacts/
“Without a doubt, Ask Robertohas been the greatest purchase of my magical career!” (John Holt)
If you liked the answer to the above question, you will love Ask Roberto, available as a printed book, but also as an E-book. You’ll find 52 interesting questions and my detailed answers. Similar to Secret Agenda, Ask Robertois ideal to be read as an E-book on your Tablet or Smartphone.
For the next 72 hours you can get Ask Roberto (the E-book) at 20% off HERE.
Card Magic Masterclass
„Your Masterclass DVDs are getting feedback better than anything we’ve EVER produced. People LOVE it.“ (Andi Gladwin & Joshua Jay, Vanishing Inc.)
If you’re still hesitating to get Card Magic Masterclass read Shiv Duggal’s rave review from Genii magazine HERE. You can get Card Magic Masterclass as a download from Vanishing Inc. HERE, or a physical set from me HERE (ask me to autograph it to you).
A piece of advice, if I may: when studying the videos, use a notebook (paper or app) to write down the items that interest you and the insights you’ve gained. If you do not do that, most will go in and out, and you’ve simply wasted you time. How to study, make notes, and practice is another subject for discussion, if you are interested.
“You are a truly outstanding author: with each sentence you share with us a thought or trail to improve our Art. Thank you for this wonderful work!” Carlos Vaquera
Confidences, one of my favorite books, is going to be out of print soon, and likely not reprinted. Get a signed copy as long as it lasts HERE.
Card College 1&2 – Personal Instruction as Download
“This is a masterpiece of reference work!” (Andrew Peel)
The 4-DVD-Set Card College 1&2 – Personal Instructionis now definitely gone and will never again be reproduced physically. BUT you can now download the complete course as MP4 files at a third of its original price (€ 49.95), and you can even have each one of the 23 Lessons individually at € 4.95. So if you are for instance struggling with the Palm or the Top Change, two of the more difficult sleights, get the two lessons for the price of a Starbucks Coffee. I kept the price as low as my dignity allows it and hope it discourages pirated versions.
The Missing Link
Under this heading I propose one unusual web-link, which you’ll hopefully find inspiring, and if nothing else simply amusing. This one is about “trick shots”, however not from the pool table, but from real life. If you show this on your Smartphone or Tablet, you can use it to prologue a performance piece with it. Also see the entry “Film Clip Prologue” for February 20 in my Hidden Agenda– to a professional who uses this idea, this alone is worth many times the price of the book (I had to say that, since nobody else does :-). Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VRJmcxCrAOA
If you want to keep receiving my Secret Newsletter occasionally, make sure you have subscribed through my webshop HERE – simply enter your email address in the field and send. If you did not explicitly subscribe, this might be my last email to you. If you have received this mail twice, let me know by answering to this mail.
Roberto Giobbi’s latest work entitled Card Magic Masterclass has just been released by Vanishing Inc. You can obtain it as a set of five DVDs or as download. Each DVD is a thorough study devoted to one of the five basic topics of card magic: Controls, Switches, Palms, Forces and False Shuffles / Cuts.
I’m a fan of Giobbi’s work, and Card Magic Masterclass, almost nine hours long, is amazing as any product from Giobbi. The author, one of the finest Card Magic Maestros, once again manages to transmit his deep knowledge and passion of Magic.
Roberto Giobbi was one of the first writers I met during my path in studying magic, who immediately gave me material on which to work and then made me understand that Magic is not just a demonstration of skill when doing the “tricks”, but that there’s a lot more to it.
Similar to his Card College, this product shows easy-to-master techniques, no bizarre controls or confusing cardistry, an important and “clean” starting point for studying card technique. All the way through Giobbi’s depth of thought and his profound knowledge of Magic come out prominently: professional techniques are demonstrated and explained in great detail, addressing the beginner and expert alike. For even as an expert who watches this video, the focus shifts not so much on the technique, but on the additional concepts, finesse and information that Maestro Giobbi transmits so effectively and elegantly.
Elegant is also how this DVD was produced: the shots are simple, clean, with few angles and few changes, only Roberto sitting at a table explaining clearly and completely. It almost seems like sitting at a table with him, being able to talk to him, and being fascinated by his knowledge of the subject.
Detailed explanations are often placed into a larger context, giving us a holistic view of not only expert card magic, but magic in general. As an example take his discussion of Dai Vernon’s Multiple Shift, where he analyzes how to logically stage each step and make the whole procedure look natural. These insights become polyvalent tools which can then be applied to any multiple control. And it is precisely in this way that Roberto shifts the focus from technique to theory in a brilliant and engaging way.
This is not a report of the convention, nor a critical review of individual acts, but simply a bunch of pleasant personal memories of a magic gathering I found most interesting.
I’m not a native English speaker, the text has not been proof-read except by myself and Word’s spelling-checker, and everything is simply my personal opinion and not the fault of the people mentioned.
The Session started as a small gathering focusing on close-up magic and founded by Andi Gladwin years ago. Meanwhile it is produced by Andi Gladwin and Joshua Jay, with their Vanishing Inc. team. It takes place at The Thistle Hotel, just off Heathrow’s Terminal 5. A bus takes you from all terminals to the hotel for a mere £5, and for the same price you can use a sort of monorail that takes you directly to the Thistle’s parking lot (do not take with heavy rain, as you’ll be soaked by the time you cross the parking lot). A taxi is £15 and takes about 15 minutes.
Everyone would love this event to be in the heart of London, but nobody would want to pay the price this would cost. So this seems to be a good and cost-efficient solution. Also, hotel rates are cheap compared to those in London, and it is possible to survive on low-budget food, for those who need to, but there are a few other options, too.
Friday – The Mentalist’s Day
I like studying specific topics. I’ve done quite a bit of work on this myself, the Light-Trilogy or Art of Switching Decks are just that. The more you penetrate the world of magic, the more you realize that there are specialties, which in themselves are professions within the profession. I do no hesitate to compare this with music or medicine. To play the violin is another thing than playing the piano, and being a ophthalmologist is something else than being a cardiologist. So to be a mentalist is a different profession than to be a magician, but each can beget the other.
This first day of The Session, co-produced with Luke Jermay, was entirely dedicated to mentalism. I missed half of it, as we were taping for a major project (we’ll let you know about this on a separate occasion). Even as an outsider to the topic you will soon realize that even a full day can only scratch the surface of the subject. But this is the idea.
Michael Weber’s talk entitled “On Bob Cassidy Lecture” was such an instance. He performed several versions of the same trick, with different handlings and presentations, of which I found the last to be the most magical, but did not explain the method, rather encouraged people to read the book. Personally, I would have liked to know a bit more about Cassidy, the person.
Max Maven delivered a talk about the history of the Center Tear, and I found this to be one of my favorites of the convention. Not only do you learn things about a specific subject, which you did not know before, you are also taught how to approach a subject, any subject, from a historical-biographical point of view. This leads to a better understanding of techniques, effects and presentations, but also gives you roots so essential to build competence and self-confidence, integral part of what Aristotle called “Ethos” in his rhetoric. Not many can pull this off in the erudite and elegant way Maven did, but this is one of the reasons we can safely consider him one of the few geniuses in our art.
In the evening the Evasons did almost one hour as a solo event. They reminded me of what Paul Arden once said, “Good is better than original”. It was basically a Second Sight act, with several noteworthy additional effects, but all done with consummate professionalism. Although almost all in magic know about the basic principle, the Evasons managed to fool the knowledgeable audience in several instances. It was a great lesson in how to take a classic, and by devoting your life to it bring it to heights that are rarely attained. But, frankly, one couldn’t care less about all this, because they succeeded in giving their audience the present of a uniquely magical experience, and that’s what it is all about. Two standing ovations were the least the audience could then give back.
The day ended with a late-night event called “the mentalists at the card table”. How could that not draw at least a hundred people to a cozy room at around midnight. The idea was to have a performer’s table and the rest sitting and standing around it. After about fifteen minutes I left, as I couldn’t really see what was happening. What a pity, because I missed Max Maven, who I’m told did a fantastic piece. And I’m sure he knew how to work under such sub-optimal conditions. This is definitely a good idea and should be retained by the organizers for future Sessions, but the room needs very basic and simple light and sound. Also, the performers should be informed ahead of time that they would have to choose material, which plays above the table, rather than on the table…
Saturday – The Session Starts
The day started at 11am, which proves that the organizers are professional magicians. Most conventions are run by magic amateurs, and it shows with starting times around 8 or 9. But performing magicians mostly work late in the evening, and are thus more like firemen or surgeons serving on night shifts, so they cannot be expected to get up at 6 like people who work in an office.
The first event was a Session proper, with several presenters, which were given a time slot of ca. 20 minutes. I do like the idea of having a series of presentations done in front of a plenum, rather than the traditional magic convention format, where various events take place in different rooms, mostly overlapping in time. The format used at the Session is reminiscent of a scientific symposium, and in my opinion allows for the topics to be better appreciated. Of course there is still a difference, for only few of the conventioneers are professional magicians, unlike an engineers or doctors convention, where all are engineers or doctors. But that, as we all know, has some other advantages. A subject we leave for a longer essay.
Since I was waiting backstage to go on later with Joshua Jay, I saw the presenters only from the side or on the backstage screen. Ponta the Smith was very successful with his presentation on coin magic. It reminded me of the interview Truffaut did with Hitchcock, were the Master was asked about innovation in film. A the time his reply surprised me greatly (it wouldn’t now, after having been into magic for a few decades), as he said that there are no new basic plots in movies (as there aren’t in theatre or literature), but the technology has greatly improved. As an example he mentioned rear projection, which in older films is blatantly obvious, while nowadays completely new technologies can make almost anything look absolutely realistic. Well, the effects Ponta did, were coin assemblies with variations, well-known plots, but done with incredible skill and a few new techniques and gimmicks. Another subject to reflect upon.
I greatly liked Adam Rubin’s talk on how to take optical illusions and turn them into three-dimensional magic objects. Everything was surprising and innovative. This is definitively a talk more people should have a chance to witness, as it touches upon subjects we are not usually exposed to at magic conventions.
Joshua Jay interviewed me on several small and big questions, and I felt the interaction had momentum and content. We touched on several philosophical and essential issues, but I was a bit surprised that most comments and praise I received later turned around a handling of the Criss-cross Force I demonstrated. However, I shall not stop to believe that it is more important to talk about essentials than causes. On the other hand I’m reminded what Picasso once said in an interview, to the effect that when art critics meet, they talk about historical and socio-political implications of a work, while artists among themselves discuss what brushes to use and where to get the best pigments. There is a lesson everywhere…
I missed the next two lectures, as I had still to recover from three full days of taping, but later attended Paul Vigil’s show, which he repeated several times. Vigil has made himself quite a reputation with some well-written publications of professional caliber, but only few have seen him perform, at least not in Europe. Dai Vernon came to mind, who once said, “The difference between an amateur and a professional is that the latter knows what an effect is”. Irrespective of whether you agree or not with his choices, Vigil has a sharp mind and has clinically analyzed every piece he does, and he brings them over with likeability and competence. In the show I attended he missed on a few occasions, but nobody took exception to it, proving Leipzig’s adage that “people love to be fooled by a gentleman”.
A group of us, made up of Guy Hollingworth, Max Maven, Tim Trono, Joe Gallant and myself decided to jump the next two events in favor of a civilized dinner at «The Estate Grill» at Great Fosters Hotel. It’s a short taxi ride, and for the price of an unnecessary DVD and a few collector decks that can never be used in a real-life-performance, we were wined and dined at an unexpected gastronomical level. I’ve said it before, and I’ll be happy to repeat it here: gastronomy is the basis of all good magic. Because gastronomy has to do with eating, if you don’t eat you die, and if you’re dead you cannot do any good magic. Ergo gastronomy is the basis of all good magic. – q.e.d.
This is one of the several things that clearly distinguishes conventions of yesteryear from those of today. I’m the generation in-between, who had the privilege, as a very young man, to partake of the conventions of the Seventies and Eighties, and now, as a “Senior” to enjoy the company of a much younger audience at conventions run in quite a different manner. Almost nobody wears a tie and jacket anymore, which suits me well, but I very much regret that there are no formal dinners, and no commemorative programs are being printed as souvenirs. This brings to mind Dai Vernon, who showed his friend Johnny Thompson a list of all his friends who had died. When Thompson expressed his sorry, the Professor answered, “Don’t worry, I’m making new friends every day!”
We made it back to Adam Rubin’s show, which was definitively targeted at a younger New York audience that was not present. But Adam is an authentic performer with an obvious and serious love for magic, which he puts across with much enthusiasm.
Sunday – Session Day 2
The first function I was able to attend on this day was Ondrej Psenicka’s lecture. He is the creator of the Butterfly Deck, which was designed by his friend Stefan Eriksson who came on stage to briefly give his side of the story. They met at a magic course given at the University of Stockholm by Tom Stone. In my own lectures, workshops and full-day seminars I keep saying that one of the great benefits of such events are the new friendships you make with like-minded people. Ondrej and Stefan are a paramount example of this.
Ondrey has taken the edge-mark principle to the nth degree and combined it with other marking systems, resulting in his unique Butterfly Deck. Obviously working with such a deck is a specialty in magic, similar to working with threads, a memorized deck or a thumb writer; you have to dedicate weeks, months and maybe more to be able to tap into the full potential of the instrument. But regardless of whether you will ever use this, this lecture was inspirational and practical on many levels. The care Ondrej gave to the didactical aspects of the lecture is something one rarely sees. If you want to know more, get his deck and the beautifully produced book The Secret of the Butterflies. Here is a man to watch with a grand future.
One of the highlights of this year’s Session was certainly the Johnny Thompson Event. Tomsoni, without the Co., was capably interviewed by Michael Close and Paul Vigil, although the hosts only needed to mention a term that immediately served the legendary Tomsoni as a trigger. The audience was treated to some amusing and insightful anecdotes, much wisdom from an internationally working top pro, and last but by no means least to some absolutely wonderful performance pieces. It is hard to pick a favorite, but seeing Thompson do the Egg Bag restores your belief in the classics of magic. I’ve seen several world-class performers do the Egg Bag, but I like this best of all. He left everyone wanting more. The book about his life and magic, The Magic of Johnny Thompson, which is a two-volume publication, can be pre-ordered from www.magicana.com – I did.
The Session was closed by a “Gala Show” and featured a mix of acts that were hand-picked by Andi & Josh. Like most “Galas” at magic conventions it lacked the unity of a stage production, but was amply compensated by the feeling that you are part of a family affair, where the hosts want you to share their enthusiasm for their passion. This is not to say that there were no professional standards applied to the event in general and to this closing show in particular. Quite the contrary is true: every year they change and add little and big things, and if they now bring up the stage another ten inches or so, it should be as perfect as one can get in a location, where you have to bring in everything.
I greatly applaud their effort to bring fresh and new faces to be discovered by an enthusiastic and hungry crowd. But they also know how to combine this with solid and proven elements. Danny Buckler, to whom comedy comes as easy as breathing to others, conducted the final gala. As a non-native speaker of English many of his ad-libs and funny bits were lost on me, but the natives howled, and he had the audience in the palm of his hand within the first minute. The acts he capably introduced were all interesting in their own way and it would take more space than I allow myself to do justice to all of them. So I will simply mention my fellow countryman Pierric, whose original act, with which he won the Grand Prix at the FISM 2015 in Rimini, was received with great enthusiasm.
Magic at the Bar
As every night, the last function was not the last at all. During the three nights of the convention the Thistle Hotel offered three areas for late night activities: a fairly large lobby area next to the reception, a windy bar with view of Heathrow’s runway, and a downstairs area, which could use a few tables more to accommodate all those who were eager to session, cards, coins and what-have-you in hands.
Remembering from my time as a student in London and Cambridge that virtually all pubs across the Kingdom were forced (Classic or Riffle?) to close at 11pm, when in Spain people go to dinner, something similar to English Humor only the natives understand, the organizers must be praised for convincing the hotel management to keep the bar open until late. Of course this is common business sense, as from the proceedings they have probably bought a new private jet. The food & beverage manager in charge of buying the wine for the bar on the lower floor, though, must be a beer drinker… And if they were to use glassware instead of cheap plastic cups, they might even double their business, at least from me. I refuse to drink from plastic cups (when I have to pay), which is like going to the opera with earplugs.
Conventioneers received two decks of cards as a gift, one being a special The Session deck, which should make many a collector happy. And all were given a beautiful Moleskine-type of notebook, which encouraged taking notes. That was amazing in an age of all-digital, and I’m all for it. How to take notes and manage them is one of the questions I’m often asked, but we will have to leave that subject for another occasion. I did though treat the subject in at least two places, one, in Card College Volume 2, p. 476 “The Study of Card Conjuring”, two, in Ask Roberto where I have dealt with the question in several essays. Also, I have a talk on “How to Manage Notes With Evernote”, which I’d love to give at a magic convention one day, but most organizers think this is not of interest, whereas I believe the contrary to be true.
I grew up at a time where magazines, club meetings and conventions were a major complement to books and personal tuition. The digital revolution with Internet and globalization has brought a lot of changes and shifts, but an event like The Session proves beyond the shadow of a doubt, that real human beings getting together to celebrate magic and life cannot be replaced by any virtual world, yet.
When I was young and naive, I innocently approached many of the greats in our art, most of whom where very kind to me and encouraged my obvious enthusiasm. Now, after over 80 books including their translation into eight languages, many youngsters in magic who tell me they started their hobby or even professional career with one or several of my books approach me. I’m very much humbled by this, and remember Schopenhauer, who once wrote, “Meine Philosophie hat mir nie etwas eingebracht, aber sie hat mir vieles erspart”, which I like to translate with, “My philosophy has never earned me much, but it has saved me a lot.” It’s somewhat nice to be approached by Dynamo in London, who thanks me for a trick he’s doing from my Light Trilogy, or to go to Las Vegas and be approached by Penn & Teller after their show in the lobby, saying, “Hey, you must be Roberto Giobbi, we read your column in Genii!” This greatly compensates for the frustration of receiving only $4.40 from a book that costs $55.
In closing, if you have read up to here, and have not been to the convention itself, I can whole-heartedly recommend that you come to the next The Session, which will take place in January 2019, details soon to be announced here https://www.sessionconvention.com. I plan on being there, as I have in the past few years. By all means come up and say ‘Hello’, and show me your latest trick.
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