Thursday, August 17, 2017

First Regular Close-Up Magic Gig

Enjoy this excerpt from I AM Magic Mike Likey! Collector’s Edition
It was 1981 or '82, and I was working for Westfair Foods ad department as their illustrator for the SuperValu (later Great Canadian Superstore) ads. I had just acquired the position two months after relocating from Toronto, having gotten married (first time around) and acquired a job as Layout/Paste-up Artist for the Downtowner newspaper, where I also had my cartoons regularly published for two years by then.
I had moved from Toronto fully expecting to also work part-time as a magician (stage and close-up) as I already had a couple of shows under my belt from the Toronto area. One Saturday night, I decided to drive around my new city, "feeling out" just the right places to approach about doing magic for them. My strategy was (and still is) to enforce the idea that magic is a strong marketing gimmick, used in most large cities to make more money for the sponsor by promoting the fact that they have a magician doing magic in their bar or restaurant, which most people get excited about. With the magic genesis relatively new at the time, (Copperfield and Henning were hot properties on TV and their specials drew high ratings) I was confident that I could convince a few places to hire me. I also had with me my "close-up magic box" filled with "miracles" to dazzle them with! I genuinely loved (and still do) magic and entertaining people, so I had the right attitude too. I passed by a place called "September's", (on Garry street, I believe) circling around the block a couple of times and then finally parking in their lot. I trusted my instincts, and armed with my close-up case, I entered the premises, determined to sell myself. The desire was just to do as much magic as I could for audiences and interacting with people, not so much the money aspect, so there (unbenounced to myself) I also had another key ingredient to success: playing down the pay!
I walked in, walked up to a server, and asked him where the owner was, saying I hoped to do magic here. He introduced me to a small, rotund European woman, who had an affable demeanor; barely able to speak English, she quickly introduced me to her son, Jiri (pronounced "Yeery") and his wife Reema. (spelled "Rima") We immediately hit it off, as I'm of European background, (my mother was an immigrant of Austrian/Russian Jewish descent, while my dad was of Polish/Jewish descent) Jiri and Rima were so pleasant and intelligent, seeing immediately the advantage of hiring me; besides, I was asking only for $50. for walk-around magic for an hour, plus a stage show. I was to start 11:00 p.m. the following Saturday-night, as they got the after-bar crowd, which in Winnipeg at the time meant that they were rowdy, fun, and friendly, perfect for magic! The following week, my first steady gig was fraught with culture-shock, as I came from a stand-up comedy background, where the "f"-bomb was used all the time; not so here! Imagine my shock when I casually dropped an "f"-bomb during a trick, and the female bar-fly I was doing the trick for responded with "EXCUSE Me?" Taken aback, I continued on, but learned quickly to go more conservatively with my audiences. When I was accused (after performing for a mixed outdoor adult audience) of having a sexist and violent show because I used a fake arm-chopper/guillotine in one routine and a brassiere for another trick, I realized again the kinds of audiences I could potentially face, so I dropped any suggestive and scary tricks from my all of my shows which (by-the-way) worked well everywhere else. Even in New Westminster, B.C., I was asked by the administration of Westminster Quay Public Market to drop the line from my show, "It's Magic Mike, not Copp-a-feel" which worked well, eliciting laughs not only in Winnipeg, but throughout North America; I guess you never know; when in doubt, go conservatively. I've long since put that "Copp-a-feel" line back in my shows when doing a particular trick. Regardless, at September's I did mainly Mentalism/Fake mind-reading culling from the amazing Kreskin's repertoire for my stage shows, doing tricks with appearing, disappearing, and color-changing canes and candles, and doves as well. My close-up magic consisted mainly of a bare-handed vanish and re-appearance of a red, silk hanky, cards that mysteriously changed to all blanks and back again, sponge "clones", and many other tricks too numerous to mention, and all housed in my close-up case. When I deviated slightly from any of my tricks or routines, the regulars demanded that I did this or that particular trick, which week-after-week, they never seemed to tire of! I guess there was a security and familiarity about always doing the same tricks for them. I'll never forget the night that I chose to substitute one finale trick for another, the howls for "The vanishing Coke bottle! Where's the vanishing Coke bottle?" I never left it out again. I used what magicians call a "bang-wand" in the routine, (a wand that fires a cap that goes "bang" and also shoots out a flame of fire!) in all of my birthday party shows as well, for the same Coke bottle trick. On one occasion, the flash-paper landed on the parent's couch, not disintegrating quickly enough, thus leaving a small burn hole. There was a pregnant pause, and a deep breath from everyone. The parents (wonderful souls that they were) later said that it was "an old couch any ways!" still giving me my pay-check. I offered to forgo my fee to pay to fix the couch, but they refused. In another birthday-party show, I remember the birthday-boy asking for the rabbit which he had seen me produce at another friend's party. My quick and thoughtless response was "Your dad wouldn't pay the extra $10. for it!" Needless to say, I received an equally-rude response back from the dad by telephone later, who argued initially with my paltry $50. fee! Oh, the perils of doing children's birthday parties...seldom from the kids themselves!
A moment about my close-up case at this point. Some magicians ascribe to the school of close-up magic where the performer carries everything on their person, crammed in pockets, but still maintaining "pocket management", or knowing and organizing where every trick is at every given moment. This is too much for me. I want to focus on entertaining my audience, not fumbling and worrying about where everything is, after all, what if I pull out one trick while pattering on about another one? At the very most, I keep my sponge-ball trick either in my pants pockets or jacket pocket. I keep my thumb-tip and hanky (or sometimes folded money) in the breast pocket of my waistcoat or jacket, and a key-chain in my back pants pocket. Everything else is housed in my close-up case, which, after approaching a table and introducing myself, I plop down on the guests' tables. It gives me a nice, felt-like surface to work on (like a "close-up stage" if you will) for any card and coin work I might do, but it also adds a central focus, also "announcing" that the "show is about to begin"! I LOVE my close-up case, which I sometimes call my "mysterious magic-box of mystery", tongue-in-cheek, for family audiences. I found my current one at Value Village, and it's a beauty! It's like a cutlery-box, around the same size, and all red-felt, with a perfect "working surface" on top; I added a 3-sided gold picture-frame to the top of it so that objects don't roll off of it. The top half tilts open, and also stays shut, secured by a small, gold, looped rope which fits over another gold rope/knot attached to the bottom half. It's beautiful and came ready made: in the world of magic, close-up cases can cost $200. or more and are made of heavy, attractive wood, but they also have nifty compartments, which can sometimes be custom-made to fit the magician's specific props. Mine cost $10. My very first close-up box/case was an actual cutlery box, with the innards removed. I had someone custom-sew a red-velour close-up mat (working surface) to fit the exact size of the top of the box. It Velcroed on and off, in case I just wanted to use the mat without the box, which would remain at what I call "home base": an area in the restaurant or bar where I could safely leave my case and other props so that I could go back to "home-base" to retrieve a new prop, or re-set another.
My second regular gig (which I got at the same time as "September's") was for "Gabby's" restaurant on Pembina highway in Winnipeg. It had a western theme, so I was forced to endure both the "Doc Holiday" moniker, as well as the western garb! Nonetheless, I received endless crucial experience in the close-up magic world, performing twice-a-week there, in addition to doing a kids' stage show Sunday afternoons. I remember on one occasion, I approached a large table of twelve people; (a magician's dream, as the management hears the exaggerated reactions thanks to the larger audience) the distinguished, grey-haired older gentleman turned around to me, quietly declaring in hushed whispers to me, "We're Jehovah's witnesses, we don't believe in magic." I was stunned. I quickly replied, "You know that it's not real magic, we're only having fun here, don't you?" He quickly dismissed me with a wave of his hand, as if saying, "Off you go, now!" Feeling hurt and rejected, I immediately mentioned this to the management and the workers in the kitchen, all of them re-assuring me that it wasn't a personal thing. It was the first time I felt helpless, for no good reason. Ah, the perils of working for the public!
From these initial steady magic-jobs, (which lasted a few years) I was asked for business-cards, and thus grew the amount of shows I did in Winnipeg to average two-hundred a year. In short fashion, I was making more from magic in my spare-time than I was with my full-time job in advertising.
I shared these stories with you because recently I did my first close-up gig in years, (usually I do stage-magic, medium-sized tricks performed for larger audiences from a slight distance and/or a stage or platform) which management loved and has invited me back for future special promotions. I'm falling in love with magic all over again!