Category Archives: Performing Arts

Dezrah The Strange vs. Amanda Fucking Palmer

It’s true, it’s true! After weeks of frantic e-mails, wishing, hoping, planning and stressing, I was accepted as pre-show entertainment for Amanda Palmer‘s “Cabaret” produced by Harvard’s ART!

I first heard about it on Amanda Palmer’s Twitter feed where she put out a call for street performers and other ne’er do-wells to help build ambiance before the show. On a “why the hell not?” sort of urge, I responded to her and miraculously she gave me the e-mail of the Asst. director.

After a little back-and-forth determining what would be appropriate for the space (glass walking out, street-magic in!) I was invited to join other potential performers at an audition last night. I was up against some serious (and seriously talented) character actors and artists including a drunken ex-pat opera singer, a conscripted Polish WWI veteran/Cubist caricaturist, a two-person, one puppet dirty old man, a beautiful bronze living statue and Meff and JoJo’s Tiny Instrument Revue!

I performed a little forkbending, my bastardized 2-cup version of the cups and balls, Sankey’s Paperclipped and closed with my “match trick” that now incorporated the animated matchbook. I got gasps and applause in all the right places and my “mistakes” were bought hook, line and sinker. I’ve never actually auditioned for anything, certainly not for something as amazing and edgy as AFP and ART’s “Cabaret”. I was terrified the entire time and my nerves showed, but I have to say that the past few months at the Piccadilly have really tightened my routines and burned the moves into my brain. I was able to just be there in the moment and forget about the mechanics.

Nerves aside, I think my set went well, but considering the character and type of performances we all saw that night, I was concerned that I wouldn’t really fit in with what they wanted. I knew for sure that I wouldn’t be hearing from them and was just grateful for the opportunity to audition. It turns out that I was wrong, HOORAY!!! Apparently my strategy of meta-weirdness, (being the most normal person in a room full of weirdos in turn makes one the weirdest person in the room), is paying off.

So now I’m just waiting for the details of my schedule and rehearsals, but the hard part is done. I’ve been paying my dues at the restaurant, getting my chops up, took a chance and somehow fell ass-backwards into awesomeness!

So, if you, or anyone you know is in Cambridge in the next 6 weeks, stop on by (and bring money)! I’ll be outside the theater, so you don’t even have to have tickets to some see me! Of course, you should really, really, REALLY see “Cabaret” but act fast, shows are selling out left and right.

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Filed under Magic, Performing Arts, spoonbending, Uncategorized

Are you still reading this? Thanks!

Wow, this blog still exists, huh? I bet you’re as surprised as I am. So, let’s get caught up:
 
Orion is doing well; he’s almost 8 months old now and roughly the size, shape and weight of a dump truck. Zoe is discovering the wonders and joys of fingernail painting and playing dress up, and Amanda is still the best wife I’ve ever had.
 
So I’ve got that going for me.
 
On the employment front, I’m coming up on my one year anniversary at Intel, halfway through my 2-year contract. At this point my thoughts are already turning to what’s next. There are a lot of changes coming to my area of the fab and I’ve yet to figure out how it will affect me and my ‘career’ with Intel. People have been impressed with the magic-based training videos I’ve done for the internal LeanTV “network”, but I’m not 100% happy with them. It’s the first time that the editing and production is completely out of my hands, and there have been some issues. WHO DOES A JUMP CUT DURING MIDDLE OF A NEWSPAPER TEAR?! Well, Ellusionist, of course, but why would anyone else?
 
That segues nicely into the magic topic…My career as a professional magician is doing as well as I could hope considering I don’t do anything to promote myself. I just did a really fun and successful show at “The Q” for their 2-year anniversary and had another fun but less technically successful show for Camp Inquiry. Lately, I’ve given up on thoughts of becoming a straight, serious mentalist. I really tried, and for awhile it’s what I thought I wanted to do. It turns out that being an entertaining and convincing mentalist requires a certain sense of decorum and seriousness to be truly effective and after 15 years of trying to NOT be an arrogant bastard, I’ve developed that pathological inability to take myself seriously.
As a result, my mentalism act always seemed lacking, and I just didn’t have fun when I tried performing it traditionally. Lately I’ve been mixing more geek magic and comic beats into the show and it’s really shaping up into something interesting. I won’t go as far as to say it’s polished or ready for prime-time, but it is a lot of fun to do. I’m more relaxed on stage and actually starting to enjoy myself. Shocking insight: I think that’s making a difference with my audiences! It turns out that audiences don’t actually enjoy watching stammering, nervous, pretentious numbskulls failing to be Max Maven. Apparently if the audience thinks the performer is having fun, they have fun too.
 
So I’m giving up on trying to blow minds and impress the audience with how amazing I am. Wow, until I just wrote that sentence, I didn’t realize that was (unconsciously) what I’d been trying to do. Self-realization +5. I guess that’s where the main criticism of magic comes from. Grown men on stage acting like little boys saying: “Look at me! Look at me! Look how cool I am!” Ugh. No wonder why so many people think they hate magic.
 
Time to grow up, get serious and HAVE FUN!!!
 
Question for any of y’all who’ve made it this far: If you’ve seen my show in the past year or so, leave a comment and let me know:

1) What was your favorite bit that you remember?

2) What was your least favorite?

 3) What would you like to see me doing on stage?

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Masters of Self-Delusion

“So Scott, as a magician, how do you feel about the new “Masters of Illusion?” on MyTV?”
 
Well, I’ll give you an answer, but you’ll need some background first.
 
The series “Masters of Illusion” is produced by the same folks that brought us  “The World’s Greatest Magic” specials in the past. If you’re around the same age as me, you grew up watching them on (insert your local broadcaster). These shows exposed our generation to the best and brightest cabaret and stage performers in the world. If you know the names Jeff McBride, Mac King, Max Maven, The Amazing Jonathan, Franz Harary, etc. it’s because:
 
a) You were sitting in your room, surrounded by magic books and practicing a one-handed fan so you could impress girls, while your peers were actually out on dates.
 
or
 
b) You saw them on one of the World’s Greatest Magic specials. 
 
The annual series set the standard for that generation of stage performers and defined what magic (on stage and screen) would be for the next 15 years. It wasn’t a radical departure from the past, but it was the first time in decades that such a wide range of styles and performers had been captured and shown to a mass audience. To say it was kind of influential would be like saying that it was kind of hard to find work during the Great Depression. The show had a massive impact on the magic world, but began to show its age after countless reruns on the various cable “Family” channels. It seemed like magic on TV would be stuck, stagnant in its stage silliness.
 
Enter David Blaine. His special “Street Magic” turned the magic world on its head. Television magic went from Mylar costumes and ritualized misogyny to gritty, real-world wonders performed for everyday people. David didn’t create a new genre of magic; he took close-up magic and remade it for the YouTube generation. He understood that audience’s gut reaction was central to sharing the magic with the viewers. He took the camera off himself and pointed it directly at the screaming, awestruck spectators. The gauntlet had been thrown, and all TV magic since then has been informed by the new direction that David Blaine had chosen. He is remembered by the public for his spectacular stunts and physical trials, but he’s more important for rewriting the rules of the magic special.

 So it was with great excitement and high expectations that I tuned into the first episode of “Masters of Illusion”. It was produced by the same team that gave us the original World’s Greatest Magic and we’ve had ten plus years of Blaine and his progeny to inspire a new generation of television magician. There was the potential to see an exciting new direction for stage performers with a nod to the past classics of magic. It should have been a wonderful thing.
 
It wasn’t, and I couldn’t have been more disappointed. It was as if Scorsese had produced Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight  and we got the over-the-top campiness of Adam West and Caesar Romero instead of the intensity and power of Christian Bale and Heath Ledger. Yes, the Adam West Batman is a classic. It was good for it’s time, but times have changed.

The performers featured on the first episode (even the ones I normally respect) just dragged out the same tired tricks, jokes and routines that they’ve always had. Some performers just trotted out the same acts that they’ve been doing on the road for years, with no thought for the challenges (and opportunities) of this newly reborn medium. It seemed as if neither the producers nor performers gave any notice to the fact that the entertainment world had changed radically in the past 20 years. They had a television audience that was primed and waiting for experimentation and innovation. Instead, they chose to give us the same dancers in distress and artificial, preening, pumped up drama. There were a few bright spots: McBride’s “lights” and a new-to-me performer named “Hillel“ who meshed performance art, clowning and magic into a creative and spectacularly weird piece that almost made the entire train wreck worth watching. Sadly, the bulk of the show felt like the zombified corpse of magic specials past.

I had hoped to catch a glimpse of the future of magic, and instead I saw that the present of magic was apparently stuck somewhere in 1982. Maybe the TRS guys can do a sit in with the guilty parties and get them up to speed.
 
If magic is to be seen as an art, its practitioners (amateurs and pros) need to start treating it as one. That doesn’t mean that it has to be serious, gritty or gruesome, but it must grow. It doesn’t have to abandon it’s rich and wonderful history, but in the world of new media, it must adapt or perish. (See Marco Tempest for a perfect example of classic magic rewritten for the 21st century) Magic on TV has had a well-deserved resurgence in popularity and respectability worldwide thanks to the efforts of David Blaine, Derren Brown and their peers, but it could only take one show like “Masters of Illusion” to kill the genre dead.

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Magical Gift Ideas (better hurry!)

Okay, it’s getting very late in the game, but here’s some gift ideas for that budding magician on your insert politically correct seasonal holiday celebration shopping list.

As an added bonus, not only is magic a fun and pretty unique hobby, it’s got the added benefit of arming it’s practicioners with some pretty hard-core critical thinking chops. It’s a lot harder to believe that people can bend metal with their minds when you learn how to do it with practice!

I can personally vouch for the power of magic education as a way to encourage critical thinking about the paranormal.

That in mind, you can’t go wrong with the following magic books for your gift target. (BTW, stay away from most magic kits! The majority of them have very cheaply made props and horribly frustrating instructions.)

Klutz Book of Magic
(great for all ages, 5 – Adult)

One of the best introductions to modern magic. No direct skeptical message, but it teaches a lot of KILLER tricks that can be mastered by kids. (the Klutz Juggling book is also terrific, off topic, but terrific)

Penn and Teller’s How to Play with Your Food
(young teen – adult depending on your personal parental style 😉

The bad boys of magic use food-themed tricks and essays to teach basic concepts of magic and skepticism. Not heavy-handed, but they teach spoon-bending and it was my first introduction to James Randi.

Magic for Dummies
(advanced middle schoolers to Adult)

A wonderful mix of tricks for close-up, casual and stage performance. If the Klutz book is a big hit, this would be my next choice for the budding magician.

Magic: The Complete Course (Book & DVD)

This book is brand new, and I haven’t purchased it yet myself, but I know Joshua Jay’s writing and dedication to magic and teaching, so I can’t imagine it being anything other than a fantastic introduction to the art for anyone. (He’s also very sympathetic to Skeptical causes)

There are also tons of books, dvd’s and props available from magic specialty dealers, but tread carefully. My favorite online retailer is http://www.penguinmagic.com but I strongly suggest that you do a google search and find your local “brick and mortar” magic shop. If they’re any good, they’ll even offer lessons, just do your homework first. 😉 (and stay away from “Magic Masters” WAYYYY OVERPRICED)

If you have any other questions about magic (for your kids or yourself) please let me know. You can links to my e-mail and social networking presences at my site: http://dezrah.googlepages.com

Merry Christmas!!!

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Why Klaus Nomi is important.

Art is not natural. Art is created, changed, edited. Art is not what happens normally and everyday. You don’t find guitar chords in nature, people don’t speak in iambic pentameter and the Mona Lisa was not etched in a rock face by a river.

Before you get all hot and bothered, back off the keyboard for a second and let me finish…Of course we find beauty and wonder in nature, that’s not what I’m talking about. Art can be beautiful, but not everything that’s beautiful is art. Got it? Art is the result of deliberate action on the part of it’s creator. Even “found art” has to be found and made notable, somehow separate from the rest of the world. You can be inspired by the experience of nature, but you still create something out of it, you change it. A poem inspired by the purple mountain’s majesty is not natural, it is created by the author. It takes action and intent to create art.

In that vein, I find it so refreshing and inspiring when I come upon an artist in any genre who is willing to take the act of creation to it’s logical conclusion. To take the artifice to dizzying heights of strangeness and absurdity. Really, weird is only defined in contrast to the normal, everyday, the natural. It takes extreme effort and dedication to take a genre so far out of it’s comfort zone that the audience can simply gasp in astonishment at the audacity and originality of the content. Performance art seems to be on the cutting edge of this, but one can find examples in all forms of expression. From Monty Python to Picasso to Frank Zappa, people have been asking “Is this art?”

We limit ourselves so much. We live the lives that are given to us, the day-in-day-out that our peers and supervisors demand of us. The lives our parents lived and fought and struggled to pass down to us. Things can be so different. It’s commonly said that Salvador Dali wondered why, when he ordered a lobster, someone didn’t deliver a flaming telephone instead.

This isn’t to say that the everyday life is worthless or meaningless. People find great contentment in it. There is nobility and happiness in being “just a fill in the blank However, without vigilance, that contentment can too easily slip into stagnation and mediocrity. Without the people at the edges, the people who say “What if?” and “Why not?”, the people who covet the strange and are brave enough to live with the consequences, the rest of us would never be open to the important changes. “The way we’ve always done things” is a powerful narcotic. Useful at times, but too much is lethal.

So here’s a toast to one of the few, the brave, the bat-shit crazy innovators and free-thinkers who showed us worlds that could be, Klaus Nomi:

For the classically inclined, Purcell’s aria “Cold Song”

Lyrics:
What power art thou, who from below
Hast made me rise unwillingly and slow
From beds of everlasting snow?
See’st thou not how stiff and wondrous old,
Far unfit to bear the bitter cold,
I can scarcely move or draw my breath?
Let me, let me freeze again to death…

Video Cover of “Lighting Strikes”

Live performance:

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Epic. Magic. Fail.

Dezrah suddenly realizes that things will not go well.

Last weekend I went to the Wedding Expo in Marlborough, MA. You’re probably wondering how things went. The only way to get my head around this is to deal with it like two separate events: The Booth and The Show. 

The Booth: Wonderful. I made a lot of great impressions on people, and got a lot of information out there. The fork-bending giveaways were a stroke of genius.  95% of the time I opened with the fork trick, and that sucked them right in. I didn’t explain that I was a magician, just asked if I could show them something different. I would proceed to do the trick and afterwards say something to the effect of “My name is Scott Dezrah Blinn, and I’m a magician. You’re going to have your ceremony, and go off for your pictures. Meanwhile, you’ll have a reception hall full of people waiting around for the next event. That’s where I come in, yadda, yadda, yadda…” By the end of the trick, I they realized a) I was a professional entertainer and b) they had a problem that I could solve. It was amazing the amount of “lightbulb” moments I saw. Overall it was good for me, and I think I did a little reputation rehab for magicians in general. 

(On the downside, there were about a half-dozen people who didn’t stop because they thought I was selling silverware. 😉

The Show: Total failure, burning humiliation. There’s nothing quite like screwing up 2 out of 3 magic effects on stage, with full lights and mic in front of 300-odd people who came to see a fashion show. 

So, what exactly happened? My stage show is almost entirely mentalism. I started with the Head-Shrinker, on the excellent advice of my friends, Jason Kallio and Frank Damelio. That was a success, I got audible, ooh’s and ah’s and everything was groovy if subdued. Next, the tossed-out-deck, a standard of mine that I have NAILED down. Total fail. Guess the card, got it wrong, tried again, got it wrong, tried the original card again, got it right, but it was too late.  After that? Contimental (a direct mind-reading demo) Total Fail, no possiblity of recovery. Turned around to realize that the MC was on his way out to pull me off stage:

 

MC comes to put Dezrah out of his misery

The MC comes to put Dezrah out of his misery

So what happened? As soon as I got out on stage, I realized a few things.

1) I was on a fashion show runway, not a traditional stage. This meant a) I was surrounded on 3 sides b) the stage was at the audience’s eye-line or higher and c) there was no way I could have a volunteer join me on stage. 

2) The stage area was on the trade show floor, there was no physical separation or divider of any kind. Also, the Best Western Royal Plaza Trade Center has bare concrete floors and a 40-ft high metal roof which meant that:

3) The audio was TERRIBLE. . Even though I had a mic, all I could hear was the chatter from the trade show floor echoing around the room. More importantly THE AUDIENCE COULDN’T HEAR ME! Without getting into methods, both of the effects require feedback and conversation between performer and audience, and very specific instructions. Realizing this, I wanted to have my volunteers join me on stage, but couldn’t because of #1Also, it meant my self-deprecating attempts to humorously defuse my failure fell on deaf ears. No magic, no funny, no entertainment. 

4) The audience had no real interest in seeing any performer. I realize that as a professional, it’s my job to make them care, but the fact is, they were there to see a fashion show. That audience is not exactly primed for magic. 

5) I had not rehearsed my effects while holding a mic. In the few times I’ve been mic’d I either had a lapel mic or a stand. This is entirely my fault, and will be addressed. 

After the show was over, I hid backstage, crouched down, fiddling with my briefcase. I was so frakking humiliated. Yes, the situation was bad, but I was to blame. A better, more prepared performer would have been able to deal with it. I was not, it was my failure. It’s a poor craftsman who blames his tools, no? There was no way I could walk back to my booth and sell for another 2 hours. 

But thankfully, Glen (a friend from the 99, and now my hero) gave me the pep talk I needed to get back out there and keep selling. It was good too, I got back into the swing of things once I did the fork routine a few times, and it kept my mind off of the show. I got a few more great contacts, and before I knew it, it was time to pack up and go. 

At first, I thought I would just pack it up. I kept telling myself that it was a sign, I’m not cut out for magic, or any other entertainment. It was time to pack up the props and put them up on ebay. 

Thankfully, I cooled down and thought about it. The show was miserable, but if I gave up and refused to learn anything from my mistakes, then I would be the failure. So, what did we learn?

1) Know your enviorment! Ask lots of questions about the venue, if possible, see it in advance. If I had known about the stage set-up, I would have thought twice about it. 

2) Get a tech rehersal! Give the mics, audio, lights, everything a test-drive. I need to get a lot more familiar with audio/lighting if I intend to continue stage work. 

3) It’s okay to say “No”.  Looking back, I never should have accepted the stage show. The fact that the venue was all wrong contributed to my failure, which certainly impacted my image. I’m sure there are people who liked me in the booth that saw the stage failure, and changed their mind about me. 

4) Be prepared! I was given a tool (Wireless Hand-held mic) that I was not used to. In reality, there was no reason I should have had a problem with it. All 3 effects are easily done with one hand, but my nervousness with the mic only added to the list of problems that created the disaster. 

5) Go to your strengths. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that I’m much better/more comfortable in smaller, more intimate settings. I need to be able to see the audience’s faces and hear them talking. Close up and parlor are my arenas. Even though the show was failing, I could have rescued some of it if I was close enough to them to read them and improvise. But the stage distance and poor audio just didn’t let that happen. 

It should also be said that I don’t blame the Wedding Expo people AT ALL. They were cordial, incredibly professional and helpful. The organizer came directly to my booth to check in and see if I needed anything and the backstage crew were amazing. It was a bunch of great people in a bad situation. In fact, I’ve since heard that everyone had issues with the audio that day, during the fasion show, the audience couldn’t even hear the names of the designers/stores that carried the dresses and such. So they had a bad day too. 

Lastly I want to say a huge thanks to Glen, who came and helped me man the booth (and gave me my “show must go on pep-talk) and my magic friends who helped prepare me for the show. Last, but not least, thanks to all of you who helped me choose my look in the last post. The suit/tie combo really helped. In fact, I actually overheard, “We should have him, look how he’s dressed! He’s not a clown or anything.” Fashion mission accomplished. 

 

 

Some final thoughts on failure:

 

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” – Samuel Beckett

“A man’s life is interesting primarily when he has failed –I well know. For it is a sign that he has tried to surpass himself.” – Georges Clemanceau

“If all else fails, immortality can always be assured by spectacular error” – John Kenneth Galbraith

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Help! Costume Comments/Advice needed!

As some of you may know, I’ve got a big show this weekend. I’m at the Wedding Expo! Yowza! I’ll be on the main stage for 10 minutes, as well as doing close up on the show floor. 

Because of this show, I have been forced into a choice that I’ve been putting off for awhile. WHAT AM I WEARING? I want to present a classy, professional image with a eccentric twist. I do not want to be seen as goofy or clownish, but a little odd and fun. It would mean the world to me if y’all left a comment or two on your favorites. Here are some pics of potential outfits:

Please let me know what you think. Thank you!

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