If you've been following my television show and live concerts since the mid-eighties, or my current web-series and live appearances, you'll notice a very similar look, or style, in my knee-high boots, shirts and vests (or waistcoats) with small variations very consciously planned as "Easter Eggs", for we nerds and trivia buffs out there! Who really cares? The answer, friends, fans, and nostalgia aficionados, is surprisingly more than we could imagine!
The Look Comes Together
From 1981-1987, sporting an afro and aviator glasses, I was performing in traditional, formal-wear magicians' garb, ie)-tuxedo with/without tails, tuxedo-shirt and tie, (either red or black tie with matching cummerbund) silver-tinsel waistcoat with tuxedo-pants, tuxedo-shirt and tie, or even tuxedo-pants, tuxedo-shirt and tie with gold-tinsel tuxedo-jacket!
I was completely ignoring the trend towards the more colorful "hippie-garb" popularized by magician Doug Henning, or the more relaxed (yet semi-formal) '80's-style of David Copperfield.
I had to be me, and if I couldn't me myself, then I'd at least be the more broadly accepted, cliché-magician in formal-wear. I even added silver-trim around the collar of my black tux and swapped out black buttons for silver buttons, after seeing many magicians with that style performing at "Magie Montreal", a major magic convention. It was all a "good-enough" fit for me, but it was still not entirely "me". I tried wearing Kaftans, (I was deep into Eastern spirituality and meditation) sometimes even a silk red Chinese shirt, not quite me, but getting there.
My original television show, "Kiddie Cabaret" (circa 1985-1988) featuring myself as a circus "ring leader" surrounded by clowns (literally) and puppets, and featuring blackout-skits a la "Laugh-In" was coming to an end; I was growing into another person, and as such, my first marriage was wrapping up too.
During the PBS special, Art Garfunkel was wearing a vest, unbuttoned, over his poet-shirt. (a poet-shirt looks Shakespearean, with puffy-sleeves, like in the "Seinfeld" pirate/puffy-shirt episode, but more understated; you know the style!) I still love that "Minstrel" style! Around that same time, I was enjoying the mystical interpretation of the Robin Hood tale which was airing on TV, what with Clannad's moody, atmospheric soundtrack; I knew had to buy every single Clannad album available, and I did! You may have heard of Irish songstress "Enya"? She used to sing with her family, who called themselves "Clannad" before she went solo.
Again, I digress.
Merlin's Magic Castle
When my first marriage broke up, all of the clowns departed my TV-show, leaving me with Darrell Scarrett (a clown and puppeteer from that show) who decided to stick with me during the transition.
As I was already evolving into some sort of "wizard"/medieval character any way, (my professional name was already "Merlin", later changed to "Michael Merlin", "Magic Mike Merlin", then finally "Magic Mike") I decided that the "show must go on", and one week in July of 1988, "Kiddie Cabaret" went off the air, and the following week "Merlin's Magic Castle" debuted! It was too soon for me to paint the now-famous castle set and props, so we used "Chroma Key", a technique that turns a drawing/sketch/image into a background image; I used a cut-and-paste (old school, I might add) of a children's book castle interior, making it different enough to avoid copyright issues, and voila, the illusion of me sitting in a castle was complete! I was wearing a wizard's costume that I had recently commissioned, replete with shoulder pads! (after all, it was the eighties)
The show had puppet characters that Darrell had brought in from the Kiddie Cabaret series, and a regular guest to the castle included folk musicians, and "Ding-Bat", a screwball clown who talked to toasters and other inanimate objects. In time, "Ding-Bat" flew the coupe, I had painted an actual castle set, and I was evolving into a more medieval, "Robin Hood"-like character.
I decided that this "minstrel" image was "me", after all, I was also playing guitar and singing semi-professionally for many years! I also decided that I would add some live music into my shows which I'd play on my 6-string Ovation guitar! I started writing songs that both kids would like, and adults could relate to; Cat Stevens' "If You Want To Sing Out" (from the movie "Harold and Maude") and the "Reading Rainbow" television theme-song heavily influenced my style; I began singing these songs on my own TV-show, as well as wearing the minstrel-style poet-shirt (custom sewn by a private Winnipeg seamstress) and paisley-vest. By 1989 my "medieval" boots were actually brown cowboy boots; I shortly thereafter found a great pair of brown, suede knee-high boots (on sale at a Winnipeg mall!) which I still occasionally include in my costume, although I've added extra flaps and straps since those days. I started off wearing a moustache and "Geraldo" glasses with the costume, but shaved and began wearing contacts for the first time, thus eliminating any visual "barriers" to my audience they might have created. I also grew my hair out, a bit.
The home-made pouch hanging from my belt was replaced with a more authentic one, as well as a brand-new poet-shirt, both of which I purchased at a Renaissance fair in St. Paul/Minneapolis; in those days, the fair was held every weekend in July and August.
Inspired by the "Robin Hood" 1980's series, I sewed a brown suede hood which I added to the ensemble.
For some reason (perhaps "inspiration" from David Copperfield) by 1992 I dropped the period-style in favor of wearing the poet-shirt tucked into tuxedo-pants; I began wearing white dress-shirts tucked into either tuxedo-pants or tight black jeans and black biker-boots.
Another reason for dropping the medieval/period-look, was because I felt that a more contemporary style suited my regular weekly appearances on CTV-Winnipeg's "S'Kiddlebits" with Joey Gregorash, whose set was a contemporary attic; I decided to adapt a more contemporary look to my castle and also my garb there: rather than medieval days, the time was my castle "now"...not as much fun, as I eliminated the swords, cauldrons etc., but nonetheless an "evolution" of sorts at the time. I renamed the TV-show "Magic Mike & Company".
By 1994, both my own TV-show (which lasted 9 years total) and Joey's show were cancelled.
I decided that after having grown up for years in a cold, wintery climate (Montreal, then Toronto) and in the case of Winnipeg, for 6 months of the year for 13 years, that I would seek gainful employment in the more temperate climate of Vancouver, on the west coast of Canada. (notorious for it's 9 months of rain, but milder temperatures)
In my move to Vancouver, I kept only the shirt, pouch, and boots, which are still in mint condition after 23 years, and I still wear them to this day in my current shows, alternating them with three other shirts/costumes...not a bad investment!
For some of my early Vancouver shows, (1994- 2005) I added a gold paisley vest and formal trousers, sometimes tucking my pants into my knee-high brown boots.
For those early Vancouver shows, (which included some malls, corporate, as well as kids shows) I also wore everything from a collarless white formal shirt tucked into either formal black pants, or black jeans, to suits and ties, to black tux, white shirt and white bow-tie. On other occasions, bolo-tie with short, black formal jacket combined with a white or black tuxedo shirt.
These variations in dress reflected my lack of personal direction; I know longer felt like the "Magic Mike" of old, so to speak; I was no longer a practicing graphic designer, (except for my own personal projects) nor caricature artist; (though still writing and illustrating my own self-published childrens' books) I had morphed into an alternative wellness practitioner and clinical hypnotherapist; as I earned my bachelors and masters degrees, I became qualified to be a metaphysical minister and author of self-help books. I started to phase out the magic shows in favor of eventually doing spiritual counselling. I forgot to just have fun!
After an eight-year hiatus from magic to earn a bachelors and masters degree, and three doctorates, (2005-2013) I resumed my magic career with a vengeance, resurrecting my magicians' supplies business, this time completely on the web: http://merryminstrelmajick.weebly.com Simultaneously I began to have a clearer picture of myself by the time I authored my third self-help book: I could see my "new-old" onstage persona and costumes again! This also coincided with the brand-new, updated versions of my original TV-show, in the form of a web-series and podcast! Full circle, but even better than before!
My generic costume (except at corporate events) today includes the poet-shirt (I alternate between the original Minneapolis Renaissance Fair one, a "witchy", pointy-sleeved, high-collar "vampire"-style shirt locally made, another one (sort of a combination of the poet's and vampire one) also locally made, as well as the white, collarless formal one, combined with a red-velour waistcoat with gold buttons worn over formal black pants or tight black jeans, with black cowboy boots, or pants tucked into my original brown suede knee-highs, or my newly-acquired black suede, or black leather knee-highs. The overall look and feel being visually consistent from show-to-show. I will sometimes appear at family shows wearing what I call "Magic Mike 1990": poet-shirt over pants with belt and pouch over that, my newly-sewn brown suede hood, and knee-high brown-suede boots. I've added a "dragon's tooth" on a leather string that I wear around my neck. In lieu of the tooth, I wear a replica of "Lily Munster's" oversized bat on a chain pendant. I usually wear either a goth-style ring on my right index finger, or a replica of Dracula's ring, styled from the old movie Dracula. I add a bat-stud earring in my left ear lobe to complete the "bat theme", as I also have written and perform an audience-participation, "trending" song called "The Bat"! As a lifelong fan of magic and old-school spooky horror movies, my "Magic Mike Likey" onstage identity is now whole and complete!
Ironic that my original "Magic Mike's Castle" persona existed long before other magicians started calling themselves "Magic Mike ____", long before other wizards such as Harry Potter, or even the male stripper, "Magic Mike". I'm sure that as a result of all of this, there are numerous advantageous marketing opportunities that I've not yet explored!
Visit the official castle website: http://magicmikescastle.weebly.com