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The Handcuff King

7 Mar

Literary Review of Canada

Can there really be an untold story of the great Harry Houdini?

Believe it or not … yes.

The Metamorphosis: The Apprenticeship of Harry Houdini, by Bruce MacNab (Goose Lane), follows the early career of Harry Houdini and his young bride, Bess, during their second year of marriage as they make their mark (or not) with the Marco Magic Company, touring through Atlantic Canada during the summer of 1896. As the book’s foreword by Patrick Culliton points out, “The time in Houdini’s life when he was finding his way as a performer, the years 1891-1899, generally receive minimal coverage, despite the fact that they are among the most interesting years of a most interesting life.”

Until now.

But, does MacNab really reveal all? What skeletons, if any, does he unearth as he peers into the past of these struggling artists? Can there really be that much more on Houdini after hundreds of biographies?

Perhaps.

Maybe this will sway you – one way or the other: David Ben, artistic director of Magicana, has penned a review, “The Handcuff King” for the Literary Review of Canada which has just been released (March 2012: Vol. 21, No. 2, p. 27). According to Ben: “Part biography, part travelogue, part magic book, Bruce MacNab’s The Metamorphosis: The Apprenticeship of Harry Houdini follows the exploits of Houdini as he laid the groundwork for becoming a 20th-century icon.”

Track down your copy of the Literary Review of Canada and find out what Ben has to say about MacNab’s first stab at magic history, story telling and ghost chasing the great Harry Houdini.

2012 in review

3 Jan

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 9,200 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 15 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Before he disappears….

27 Aug

Kelly Wong as Harry Houdini in Ragtime. Photo by David Cooper.

As September approaches, it is time to catch up on those things we didn’t quite get to during the summer. High on David Ben’s list (David is the Artistic Director of Magicana) is seeing Ragtime at the Shaw Festival.

Though David is a huge fan of the original work, having seen it at its world premiere in Toronto some years ago, he is an even greater fan of the musical as developed and presented by the magical team at the Shaw Festival.

David had a first-hand glimpse during pre-produciton as he was retained to coach Kelly Wong, the actor who plays “Houdini”, prepare for the role. Jackie Maxwell, director of Ragtime, expanded Houdini’s role for this particular production, and it pays off in spades.

Kelly approached Houdini with the same sort of dedication and focus that the master mystifier would have displayed himself. Kelly was given several challenging tasks including escaping from a straight jacket while hanging upside-down, while singing – something that not even Houdini had the courage to attempt (singing, that is!).

All in all, Ragtime is truly an ensemble piece presented by some of the finest actors, musicians and designers, and in one of the most beautiful settings – Niagara-on-the-Lake – anywhere in the world.

Be sure to catch Ragtime, before it disappears!

Shaw Festival 2012

RAGTIME

FESTIVAL THEATRE | April 10 – October 14
@Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON

CBC News Interview featuring Richard Turner

18 Jun

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Magic world standoff over tricks of the trade

CBC News  Posted: Jun 16, 2012 12:16 AM ET  Last Updated: Jun 16, 2012 12:15 AM ET

WATCH CBC News interview

Professional magicians dazzle audiences, but in the age of Google and instant answers, might tell-all books and video explainers forever expose what’s up performers’ sleeves?
According to Alex Stone, author of Fooling Houdini and a practising magician who has competed in The Magic Olympics, it’s high time to reveal the magic world’s secrets to the public.
“There’s often as much beauty to the methods, to the ideas behind it, as there is to the tricks themselves,” Stone told CBC’s Eli Glasner.
However, professional practitioners say there are more than just simple tricks to the venerable trade.
“You can go on YouTube and find out the secret, but that doesn’t make you a magician,” said Julie Eng, one of the organizers of the Mind over Matter – Magicana series in Toronto as part of 2012’s Luminato.

Toronto Star reviews ‘From the Dark’

17 Jun
Juan Esteban Varela in From the Dark - Photo by Aaron Harris / for the Toronto Star

JUAN ESTEBAN VARELA | From the Dark
Aaron Harris/For the Toronto Star

The Toronto Star’s staff reporter, Alyshah Hasham, reviews her experience of a magic show in total darkness, by Chilean magician Juan Esteban Varela, where even the performer is blindfolded.

Luminato: ‘From the Dark’ — A magic show performed in total darkness

By Alyshah Hasham
Staff Reporter
Jun 16, 2012

Traditional magic tricks are all about the grand reveal.

Before your very eyes, promises the magician, the dove will disappear.

But how do you perform a vanishing trick when your audience is unable to see?

That’s the premise of renowned Chilean magician Juan Esteban Varela’s “From the Dark” — a magic show where both magician and the audience are blindfolded.”

Under the fluorescent lights in the lobby of Hart House Theatre I slip on a black blindfold, “surrendering my sight” to Maria Zambrano, the appointed guide for our group of 10.

The reassuring sliver of light around my nose fades as we queue in pairs to enter the darkness of the theatre.

One hand resting on the shoulder in front of us, we shuffle carefully toward Maria’s voice.

The theatre sounds crowded, but when I end up alone for a moment, waiting to be gently herded to my seat, I can’t tell whether the closest person is a foot or 10 feet away. It’s oddly paralyzing.

“If screaming starts we’ll leave,” the optimistic woman on my right tells her friend as we settle in. “For now, let’s embrace the madness.”

It is a magic show after all — though what that entails is the subject of much speculation as we wait in the darkness.

Varela told me earlier in the day that there would be some divination, some card tricks. Oh, and that somehow he’d make something disappear.

In the two years he has been doing this show, he once performed for the King of Spain and his sister Margarita, who has been blind since birth. After the show, she emotionally told him that that was the first time she understood what it meant for something to vanish before.

As I consider this, Maria places a small box on my lap, and tells me to strap it onto my leg.

Inside are various props including cards and a coin. We are all magician assistants in this show it seems.

Finally a hush. Varela speaks. He is sitting on the stage in front of us, he says, himself blindfolded to share this journey.

The theatre is dominated by his voice, which leads us through tricks performed with our own hands and the props from the box. He guesses which hand of a volunteer holds the medallion he gave her, confirmed by its metallic thud when dropped onto a table.

“I don’t want the spectator to have any other explanation,” Varela told me before the show. “They can’t say it happened so fast I didn’t see it. I want them to have no defence for the astonishment. I want the impossible to be a little more impossible.”

It took him 10 years to develop the show, which began as a way to share magic with people who are blind (the Luminato Festival performance is presented in collaboration with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind).

Over time it became a show for anyone, using blindfolds to allow the performance to take place inside the minds of the audience. That’s why Michael Weber, the director of the Canadian premiere of “From the Dark” ensures the theatre is never seen at all.

For Varela, the challenge is giving up the control of sight, being unable to study the faces of his audience and relying on their vocal cues.

As an illusionist he demands trust from the audience. But when you are all blindfolded, the trust has to go both ways.

And trust me, under your very nose, something does vanish.


Last chance!

Varela is performing this unique experience, From The Dark, as part of the Mind Over Matter magic series for Luminato 2012. Magicana is delighted to be presenting this Canadian premier under the direction of Michael Weber.

The show plays Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at Hart House Theatre, 7 Hart House Circle, Toronto. It lasts 75 minutes with no intermission. Admission is $35. Limited seats available. UofTtix Box Office / 416.978.8849 /www.uofttix.ca

 

Card-mechanic, Richard Turner is The Cheat!

13 Jun

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Richard Turner continues to WOW them at the TIFF in his show, The Cheat! Here are a few photos by David Linsell from Richard’s June 12 show. You still have time to catch this extraordinary card-mechanic (who also happens to be blind!) tonight and tomorrow at 7:15 PM.

There only a few days left to see The Cheat!

Richard Turner will be presenting his show, The Cheat, June 12–14 @ 7:15 PM The RBC Lobby at TIFF Bell Lightbox, 350 King Street West as part of the Mind Over Matter magic series for the Luminato festival. This is a FREE 45-minute show for all to enjoy!

Follow @sharingwonder for updates

There is only one!

12 Jun

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Richard Turner  is a card mechanic and is here in Toronto as part of the Luminato festival presenting FREE shows at the lobby of the TIFF (King and John). Yesterday, Eli Glasner, arts reporter from CBC News, stopped by to talk to Richard before his first show for Luminato. Follow us @sharingwonder to find out when that will be aired!

After a successful first show at the TIFF lobby yesterday, Richard was up bright and early to visit  Global Toronto’s The Morning Show and demonstrated  his amazing card manipulating abilities to Liza Fromer and Dave Gerry.

What makes Richard unique is not only his extraordinary skill but also that he has overcome the challenges of being completely blind!

 

Can’t be true? Well see for yourself!

Richard Turner will be presenting his show, The Cheat, June 12–14 @ 7:15 PM The RBC Lobby at TIFF Bell Lightbox, 350 King Street West as part of the Mind Over Matter magic series for the Luminato festival. This is a FREE 45-minute show for all to enjoy!

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