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Mat Ricardo's "London Varieties" is back and in the west end!


Mat Ricardo sez,

Last year I started a monthly variety show in a small East London venue. It was a little personal project that let me show my vision of what a variety show could be. Well, happily, it was a bit of a success - all the shows pretty much sold out, we got nominated for some awards, and The Stage named us the best light-entertainment show of the year. We were very pleasantly surprised to find out that there was a passionate audience for the kind of shenanigans I staged!

So for the 2013 season things are getting bigger and crazier. "Mat Ricardo's London Varieties" will run a season of six shows, once a month, and we're in a London West End theatre! I've been working hard for the last few months putting together the absolute best variety bills you could wish for. Some big names, some not so well-known, but every single performer is the absolute best at what they do. Magicians, circus performers, acrobats, clowns, comedians, singers, dancers, purveyors of thrills, skills, spectacle, beauty and silliness - every single one of them a top-of-their-game headliner through and through.

There hasn't been a real, knock-down, drag-out, no-apologies variety show in a West End theatre since the heydays of my heroes in the 60's and 70's, and this is a real labour of love - a childhood dream come true for me, but also something special for the performers and for all the fans of variety who have seen something they love go out of fashion. Well, we're back, and we're taking no prisoners!

The opening night is Feb 28th, at the Leicester Square Theatre, London, at 9.30pm.

"Mat Ricardo's London Varieties" comes to London's West End!

Tickets

(Thanks, Mat!)

The science of magic

The old cups-and-balls "shell game" trick so effectively exploits the human brain's ability to be deceived that, even when the cups are see-through, you can still get played. Maggie

Sleights of Mind: the secrets of neuromagic


Last month, I blogged a fascinating profile of Apollo Robbins, a stage pickpocket with an almost supernatural facility for manipulating attention and vision to allow him to literally relieve you of your watch, eyeglasses, and the contents of your wallet without you even noticing it, even after you've been told that he's planning on doing exactly that.

The profile mentioned that Robbins had consulted on a book called Sleights of Mind, written by a pair of neuroscientists named Stephen L Macknick and Susana Martinez-Conde (a husband and wife team, who also hired science writer Sandra Blakeslee to help with the prose, to very good effect). Macknick and Martinez-Conde are working scientists who had a key insight: the way that magicians manipulate our blind spots, our attention, our awareness, our intuitions and our assumptions reveal an awful lot about our neurological functions. Indeed, conjurers, pickpockets, ventriloquists and other performers are essentially practicing applied neuroscience, working out ways to systematically fool our perceptions and make seemingly impossible things happen before our eyes.

The book is a marvellous read, a very well-balanced mix of summaries of published scientific insights into visual and attention systems; accounts of the meetings between illusionists and scientists that the authors organized; histories of magic tricks; exposure of psychic frauds and fakes; and a tale about the couple's quest to craft a neuroscience-based magic act that would gain them full membership to the exclusive Magic Castle in Los Angeles.

I really can't overstate the charm and delight of Sleights of Mind -- from the introduction to the extensive footnotes, it is a truly great popular science text on one of my favorite subjects. The accompanying website is full of supplemental videos, showing how illusions work as mechanical effects, scientific principles and bravura performances. The performers who assisted the authors -- James Randi, Penn and Teller, Derren Brown, and, of course, Apollo Robbins -- are all justly famed for their skill, and the book is worth a read just for the insight it provides into their work. But it goes so much farther, providing both a theoretical underpinning in the neuroscience of perception and consciousness, and practical advice on how to apply this to your everyday life.

One interesting note: the authors mention a book called The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception, which reprints the secret (and long-lost) training documents that magician John Mulholland created for the Agency in 1952, which were used at the height of the Cold War by US spies to deceive their Soviet counterparts -- for example, details of how to use the "big move" of lighting a cigarette to disguise the "small move" of slipping drugs into a rival's drink. I haven't read this yet, but I've just ordered it.

Sleights of Mind: What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals About Our Everyday Deceptions

Apollo Robbins, pickpocket -- mindbending live performance

Last month, I linked to a great Atlantic New Yorker profile of Apollo Robbins, a stage pickpocket who pulls off the most audacious fingersmithing you've ever seen, manipulating attention with such a fine touch that he leaves even jaded magicians slack-jawed.

Here's a great example of Robbins's schtick, from an NBC news show. I've been reading Sleights of Mind, a book on the neuroscience of vision, attention, optical illusion and magic, for which Robbins was extensively interviewed, and this video really helped me understand what the writers are talking about.

Supernatural pickpocketing skills!! Awesome to watch! - by Apollo Robbins (via Kottke)

Magic, copyright, and internal enforcement mechanisms

Sara Crasson sez, "With the posts about magic recently, I thought you might be interested in an article I wrote about how intellectual property law applies to magicians (among other performers). In writing it, I thought I would establish that current protections were of limited benefit to magicians and then finish the piece by proposing enhanced protections that would help magicians, but as I thought about it, I got turned around. The article concludes with a section analyzing how the lack of legal protection benefits the art as a whole, how restricting access to magical techniques could make it impossible for magicians to create new tricks, and how internal social enforcement mechanisms could help reduce what magicians consider impermissible copying."

THE LIMITED PROTECTIONS OF INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY LAW FOR THE VARIETY ARTS: PROTECTING ZACCHINI, HOUDINI, AND CIRQUE DU SOLEIL [PDF] [Moorad Sports Law Journal at Villanova Law School]

How the public perceives magic

Conjuror Paul Wilson sez, "I've released the third film in our Unreal Works series, examining the real world of magic and magicians. 'The Perception Of Magic' discusses the public's idea of magic, how it's changing and what magicians can do to elevate the image of their art."

The Perception Of Magic

Is magic art?

Conjurer Paul Wilson sez, "Last Friday I uploaded the first of a series of short films and interviews featuring some of the world's finest magicians. These performers, inventors and thinkers include legendary professionals, modern masters and highly respected amateurs within the world of conjuring. The first episode addresses the question of magic as an art form. The experience of watching a magician ranges from the painful to the wonderful and everything in-between. At its best, magic is a truly powerful medium that can create unforgettable effects in the minds of an audience, from thousands of people in a theatre to a small group around a table. Future episodes will feature other aspects of magic and will hopefully offer fresh insight into our world."

Is magic an art?

Excellent drive-thru "invisible driver" prank, caught on video

Self-described "Magician Prankster!" Magic Of Rahat produced this clever video demonstrating an effective "invisible driver" prank to play on hapless fast food attendants. (thanks, Joe Sabia!)

Apollo Robbins: profile of a pickpocket

The New Yorker's profile of Apollo Robbins is one of the most interesting things I've read all year (ha). Robbins is a self-trained virtuoso pickpocket who once managed to lift a pen out of Penn Jillette's pocket, steal the ink cartridge, and return the pen, all while he was demurely insisting to Jillette that he wasn't really comfortable performing in front of magicians.

Josh grew increasingly befuddled, as Robbins continued to make the coin vanish and reappear—on his shoulder, in his pocket, under his watchband. In the middle of this, Robbins started stealing Josh’s stuff. Josh’s watch seemed to melt off his wrist, and Robbins held it up behind his back for everyone to see. Then he took Josh’s wallet, his sunglasses, and his phone. Robbins dances around his victims, gently guiding them into place, floating in and out of their personal space. By the time they comprehend what has happened, Robbins is waiting with a look that says, “I understand what you must be feeling.” Robbins’s simplest improvisations have the dreamlike quality of a casual encounter gone subtly awry. He struck up a conversation with a young man, who told him, “We’re going to Penn and Teller after this.”

“Oh, then you’ll probably want these,” Robbins said, handing over a pair of tickets that had recently been in the young man’s wallet.

When Robbins hits his stride, it starts to seem as if the only possible explanation is an ability to start and stop time. At the Rio, a man’s cell phone disappeared from his jacket and was replaced by a piece of fried chicken; the cigarettes from a pack in one man’s breast pocket materialized loose in the side pocket of another; a woman’s engagement ring vanished and reappeared attached to a key ring in her husband’s pants; a man’s driver’s license disappeared from his wallet and turned up inside a sealed bag of M&M’s in his wife’s purse.

After the performance, Robbins and I had dinner at the bar. “A lot of magic is designed to appeal to people visually, but what I’m trying to affect is their minds, their moods, their perceptions,” he told me. “My goal isn’t to hurt them or to bewilder them with a puzzle but to challenge their maps of reality.”

My fascination with the profile doesn't just come from the recounting of Robbins's many impressive deeds (though they are impressive, and if I ever had cause to book a magician for a gig, he'd be it), but also the struggle that Robbins has had in coming up with ways to maximize his prodigious talent.

Reading further down, I noticed that Apollo Robbins collaborated with neuroscientists on a book called Sleights of Mind: What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals About Our Everyday Deceptions, which I've ordered. I was also unsurprised to learn that Robbins had consulted on the late, lamented caper-show Leverage, which explains quite a lot about why that show was so good.

A Pickpocket’s Tale [Adam Green/The New Yorker] (via Making Light)

Augmented reality card routine

MagicPeaceLove sez, "'Virtual Magician' Marco Tempest is a pioneer in fusing the magical with the technological and he blows it out of the water with this augmented card routine recently posted at TED. The routine is an updated version of a classic called 'Sam the Bellhop,' in which a clever narrative story follows random cards dealt face-up one-by-one from a shuffled deck. Tempest, however, spins a much more poetic narrative and the augmented reality element is a wonder to behold."

Marco Tempest tells the secret story of a deck of cards (Thanks, MagicPeaceLove)

Extreme card flourishes

MagicPeaceLove sez, "The Virts, a trio of skilled cardistes from Singapore, up the ante of ECM (Extreme Card Manipulation) with a beautifully shot & edited short promo showing off their Extreme Card Prowess. The closing set, an unbroken, 25-second take, is a dazzling display of technical virtuosity with a deck of cards."

What's the best deck for card flourishing? (Thanks, @magicpeacelove!)

Houdini on pickpockets

HuffPo posts "Pickpockets at Work," an essay from Melville House's reprint of Harry Houdini's wonderful collection, The Right Way to Do Wrong: A Unique Selection of Writings by History's Greatest Escape Artist , which includes an introduction by Teller.

In the outskirts of London, among the small shops, a rather unusual trick has been played frequently upon unsuspecting shopkeepers. Two men in earnest argument over some matter enter a small grocery store and approach the proprietor who is behind his till. One man says to the proprietor, “My friend and I have gotten into an argument over a peculiar matter which we believe you can settle for us. I have bet him that my hat,” taking off an old-fashioned stove-pipe hat, “will hold more than four quarts of molasses, while he contends that it will hold hardly three quarts. We are willing to buy the molasses of you will fill this hat and prove the question to decide the bet.” The shopkeeper good-humoredly agrees, and brings the hat brimful with sticky molasses, at which one of the thieves slaps it over the shopkeeper’s head, and before he can extricate himself and call for help they have robbed the till and disappeared.

The Right Way to Do Wrong: A Unique Selection of Writings by History's Greatest Escape Artist (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

The Magical Professor

Todd Landman is a professor of government at the University of Essex. He's also a talented stage magician and mentalist. Now, Landman has combined his love of teaching with his passion for illusion to become the world's first official Visiting Professor of Performance Magic, an appointment at England's University of Huddersfield's new Magic Research Group. Oh, if only I could audit. From the University:

NewImage

Landman… delves deeply into the history and heritage of magic and believes that it enables the world to be viewed with a fresh sense of wonder.

“We are trying to rescue magic from its worst faults – which is cheesy guys in cheesy ties with rabbits in hats!” he says. “We are interested in the deeper side of things.”

He has a special fascination for renaissance men such as Dr John Dee and Sir Isaac Newton – scientists, astronomers and mathematicians who also practised astrology and alchemy. And today, the study of magic allows for “different ways of knowing the world”, according to Dr Landman.

"Magical mysteries of visiting prof"

Sleight of hand, without hands

Here's a video of a Mahdi Gilbert card magic show at Magic-Con 2012. Madhi's a 20 year old magician from Toronto, whose arms and hands are affected by a congenital condition. His sleights and routines are rather novel, adapted for his anatomical quirks, and his mastery is indisputable. PeaceLove, the magician who sent in this video, notes that the second half is better than the first. There are plenty of other videos of his work on YouTube, including this interview.

Mahdi Gilbert performs miracle at Magic-Con 2012 (Thanks, PeaceLove)

Dolphins befriend an underwater camera

So a bunch of guys go fishing, and they take a long an underwater camera, encased in a mobile, waterproof housing. Basically, their camera can move around underwater, like a little RC car.

Then this happens ...

I have a sneaky suspicion that this video might be an advertisement for camera equipment. But whatever. It's beautiful. You win this time, viral marketers.

Watch the movie on Vimeo

Via Robert Krulwich and Ed Yong.