The London Festival of Magic 2013
11th - 15th November 2013
Reported by Roberto Forzoni
The Magic of Magic Monday 11th November
Street & Alfresco Magic Tuesday 12th November
Mentalism Wednesday 13th November
Card & Coin Magic Thursday 14th November
Characterisation & Stagecraft Friday 15th November
Day One: The Magic of Magic
Any doubts or concerns over the uncertainty of the contents of the first day of this year’s Festival Of Magic were quickly dispelled within moments of the first session this morning and full praise must again go to coordinator of events Noel Britten.
This was without doubt one of the most inspiring and thought provoking set of sessions I have had the privilege to attend at any magic convention. It was that good. It was not about the tricks or even performance but a look at how magic could be used to enhance people’s lives. Strong stuff and if these sessions didn’t make you reflect on your own magic perhaps you need to book in a session with some of the therapist who work with some of the people engaged in these projects – or simply give up magic and go into another profession. Anyone who attended today was privileged.
Noel opened the day with a brief introduction setting the scene with the question “Why we do magic?” His thought provoking questioning and observations of the differences between an egotistical approach ie “it's all about me”…”aren’t I good” type of attitude as opposed to promoting the art was a great way to get you thinking about your own performance persona and reasons you do magic; he also spoke of perhaps adopting an “It's not about me attitude” before introducing his first guests, Jay Fortune & Richard Leigh from Magic Moments.
This was an absolutely enlightening opening session which would have made most performers with a conscience think about the reasons they do magic. A key observation, that was reinforced throughout this day, was the power that magic can have to create a special moment for someone – perhaps even to make them feel a little better in their life. The discussion looked at the differences of magician’s views of occasionally doing magic for nothing (charities / being nice) compared to those who always insisted on getting paid for their work.
Magic Moments was started six year ago when Jay was approached to use his magic to help less advantaged people. Now they do a large fund-raiser every year for a good cause, along with other community based magic. At the time Richard was directing Jay who was working in theatre in the West End, where community spirit was very common, and calling upon anyone (e.g., sound operator, tech staff etc ) to help at functions for raising money for charities seemed easy – people wanted to help; it wasn’t unusual or difficult to draw on friends and colleagues to help for good causes. When Jay approached Richard to get involved in a project it was a no brainer. “Whereas the standard magicians response was ‘we re being asked to do it for nothing’ it was never a question of how much were we getting”. They would put on a charity show on a Sunday night after having done around 8 shows that week and finishing at 10.30pm working on the charity show until early hours. People would be helping in all sorts of ways (cooking shepherds pie to bring to performers at 4am) and everyone was doing something towards an end goal, it was more community based and so self- satisfactory – better than anything they had ever done in front of a paying audiences primarily because they were doing it for personal reasons.
Magic Moments is not a charity. Jay did not like charging charities for his magic so decided to put one day a year aside for a big event for a charity close to his heart. The shows raised significant amounts of money for their charities of choice. “It’s not about the money that’s raised (Jay raises over £1million with a Christmas special), it doesn’t even have to be fund raising – if you know an old person living alone for example, why not pass by and have cup of tea and maybe show a trick (or not) – a true community spirit! “When creating a genuine magical moment for someone money doesn’t even enter your head. I was almost going back to the reason I started magic” said Richard. He recalled visiting an older lady who loved magic and remembers that he felt she gave him more (in appreciation) than he could ever have given with his magic; he recalled “All I did was turn up!”
The magic experience can become much more enlightening and almost spiritually self-satisfying. It becomes addictive to get the satisfaction of giving. If you have to ask yourself what’s in it for me – it’s not the right thing to do. Another memory was performing in a theatre for a lady suffering from cancer; the magic became a vehicle to create rapport and dialogue, and perhaps something that allowed people to simply feel comfortable enough to tell their story to a stranger; it started with one magic trick yet now they can look at how far that small trick can go in engaging people – “It’s worth more than any of the applause you will ever get”
One misconception amongst many magicians is that they should not be seen working for no renumeration; professionals simply should not work for nothing. Yet the roots of magic is as a gift commodity not done for monetary return. They would offer magic as a vehicle for engagement in diverse places such as homeless shelters with the mindset of going out to do magic where someone was feeling down and create experiences to connect. Magic was that powerful that it should be used to help people. Richard followed up with the fact that it doesn’t have to be big magic…its about one person doing something for someone else. Magic is about transformation – we use tricks as a vehicle to transform peoples state.
A terrific start to a week of (International) Magic.
A video interview with Croatian magician Jozo
Jozo spoke about how fate had shaped his career and led him into doing magic for others in ways he would never have imagined. Just as he was about to turn professional war broke out in Croatia; he wanted to do shows so started performing free shows for refugees - kids who had no money and lots of time on their hands. Even though at the time he had little material and was a little reluctant to repeat the same shows to the same people he was constantly asked when he was coming back. He realised that he had made an impact and started working at schools and teaching kids “doing something more worthy with magic than just doing shows”. During the country’s troubled time, the young audiences were very grateful and the magic brought some joy into their otherwise difficult lives. Venues included pretty regular places such as abandon warehouses and hospitals, where he would do two years of shows for children’s with various disabilities.
Jozo started another project in the last couple of years with young cancer patients; children who believed they did not have a future – for them there was no tomorrow; He recalled a reunion some time after one of his shows when children were crying and hugging each other; he wanted to do something different and wanted to get the ill children mixing with regular children so each could have an understanding and appreciation of each other; it was all very emotional with children and parents crying. The shows were funded with the help of friends inside and outside of the magic community and Jozo recalled something fellow magician Silly Billy had said to him “Everything I have got in life came from magic. It’s time to give something back”
Overall there were many stresses of working along side terminally ill children; after one show it took him two weeks just to get back to feeling normal again; yet the rewards for doing it was immense. It was a great feeling of gratification. The most beautiful thing in the world
David Owen & Richard McDougal spoke about their work with – Breathe “A magical approach to therapy” and shared some of the work they have undertaken at Guys and Great Ormond Street Hospitals. Their talk included a number of really emotive video footage of their work with children in therapy, explaining how the project uses magic as a psychological tool. The aim is to achieve magical results that go well beyond magical tricks and during the process they learned a number of lessons about how magic has extraordinary power to motivate people (in their case young patients), leading to some fascinating lessons on what is really important when you perform magic.
One of the flagship projects is a two-week workshop once a year alongside occupational therapists. Much of their work is with children suffering from hemiplegia, a condition that can impair one half of the body (including limiting hand movement on one side or cause difficulty sequencing or focusing). For all the patients, these difficulties affect every day tasks that we would take for granted, as well as negatively effecting their self-esteem (at school, for example) and what people think of them. Breathe, as with similar projects, has demonstrated how Magic can help with physical and cognitive skills including sequencing (breaking tricks down), improving dexterity and with performing in front of audiences, also giving them an opportunity to enhance their self-esteem. There is a wonderful synergy between what magic does and how it can help the children and the strangely addictive properties of magic would enhance the children’s learning and progress; for example after a six hour day with Breath therapists children were encouraged to practice for 10 minutes at night to demonstrate something the next day, yet would invariably practice voluntarily for 90 minutes; something regular therapy could not replicate. So the children would gain confidence from being able to do a trick, their hand movements would improves which gave them more confidence, so they practiced even more. The motivation of magic.
David and Richard explained how everything about the project had to have high standards, from the magic to the presentations, to the delivery and videos used. An interesting point was how everything from start to finish at Breath was specifically designed to be part of the therapy. Nothing was left to chance; from hand-shaking on arrival to chosen the tupperware magic box (that was intentionally tough to open!); all of the tricks had to have a challenge even to just open the box and clearly there was a therapeutic rationale for every content in the ‘magic box’. Performance enhanced the therapy with simple things like encouraging all the children to extend their arms for showing props etc. Everything was in the detail, from teaching how to do the effect (after being sworn to secrecy) and how to show the starting point, have clarity and focus, use pause and timing to demonstrate when the magic happens, and always with extended arms and finger waves to create the magical moment!
Whilst the primary aim was to improve physical capability, the ‘spin-off’ was to enhance self-esteem – whereby the children actually felt special in a positive way, perhaps for the first time in their lives. The magic helped the children by enabling them to transform their own lives. Magic doesn’t get better than that.
For further information check out www.breatheahr.org
Session Four: Paul Zenon
Paul discussed how his charity, Wonderbus which he started around seven years ago engages with senior citizens with magic, variety shows and other meaningful types of interactions. He was inspired to start the charity after giving a eulogy at his grandmother’s funeral and bumping into an old friend, Dot, who used to run coach trips for the factory children (including Paul) to see pantomines. Along with some friends (whilst drinking in a pub) they decided to organise a charity variety event at the Comedy Store in London – Paul Zenon’s grey matter – including playing bingo in the interval, and raised £1500 in the process. Their work included taking a minibus with old people to a panto in Bradford, including a meal (with sherry). An old fashion variety show followed with Harry Hill, Lee Mack at the Theatre Royale Brighton, the show went so well they ended up touring the country and raised a lot of money for the charity. Paul explained how older people tend to have a tough deal, and little option in terms of entertainment – Everyone who works on the Wunderus are volunteers – except for the odd admin staff, Paul spoke about some of the challenges of working with older people and selecting material (“swearing less, slowing down and do what I normally do!”). Collecting money for older people’s charity is generally harder than children’s or animal charities. Most of his shows are variety type as opposed to magic. He calls on favours from friends and treats them well. Some advice for working with older people included don’t patronise them or look for big reactions to satisfy your ego. Benefit include knowing you’ve done something nice. Well done Paul Zenon.
For further information check out www.thewonderbus.org
Another piece of inspiration followed. Mahdi, who has no hands and limited use of his arms, spoke about how he got into magic, the inspiration to go from school drop out to reading huge psychology texts and becoming an avid student, and then passing this knowledge and inspiration to others. He explained that he had never seen a real magician – but had only heard of magic. He know he would be challenged because of his physical impairment and was inspired by watching a Derren Brown show and really believing that what he saw was real magic using psychological techniques and hypnosis. At around 15 years of age and after moving to a new neighbourhood and losing his friends he ended up devoting more time to magic, and inspired by Derren was reading huge volumes of psychology text. He was doing poorly at school with no motivation to learn yet he was reading these huge books to try and emulate Derren Brown. It didn’t quite work out the way he wanted but some of his learnings were put to good use in various memory demonstrations including an impressive recall of memorising every licence plate in a street and then getting school friends to ‘impromptly’ telephone colleagues walking home (down the street) and asking them to say what was near them – when they said a car he asked them to describe it and had great fun in telling them the number plate and the contents of the car– he felt he had a power that made him feel special. After his first 30 minute show with no resources, books, DVDs or even cards he amazed a group of colleagues and felt great. His closer was to simply ask someone to think of a card and announce the card to his surprised spectator. At 17 he started to do card magic and would stay up all night practicing (he didn’t want anyone to see him practice). Reading the books and gaining confidence from magic inspired him to study and go from underachiever to high achiever. He went on to speak about giving this feeling of power and the feeling of being special to patients in hospitals or inmates at prisons working along side Hocus Pocus programme Bill Kalush at Conjuruing Arts Centre
At his first convention Mahdi met Juan Tamiriz and was inspired to start busking the streets doing card magic in Toronto. He ended up performing at Juans Tamiriz’s 75th Birthday party show! Mahdi gave some demonstrates of his card magic – he’s back on Thrusday for the card day.
A panel session ended the magicians part of day with some questions and answers.
An excellent show with four outstanding and diverse performers.
Terry Ward gave
a real lively start to the show demonstrating some very clever card effects with
even better audience interaction and finishing with an escape effect with three
spectators ending with a card to any number effect beautifully executed. Slick
and smooth. Edward Hilsum followed with two delightful effects from his new
show; Edward’s ‘sands’ effect has to be seen. Jon Armstrong (who first was
inspired to do magic by seeing Terry Wrad perform at Disney some 20 years ago) followed after the interval with some clever card demonstration and an amusing
bar bet effect; great interaction and delivery. Steve Best finished the evening
and I’m still laughing some three hours later. If you haven’t seen Steve before
go see him perform.
An exceptional start to what looks like being a strong week of magic, performance and interaction.
© Roberto Forzoni, November 2013