The Whispering Imps

whisperingimps2015For more than a hundred years, these mischievous little pranksters have been the naughty and clever sidekicks to magicians.  Their likenesses were first caught on paper in 1894, when Harry Kellar, known then as “America’s Greatest Magician,” commissioned an advertising poster featuring his personal devilment advisors.  One is peeking over his right shoulder and the other sprite is whispering a new mystical trick into Kellar’s left ear as the renowned magician considers its shrewd words.

When Kellar retired, he bequeathed the illustrious title of “America’s Greatest Magician” to his successor Howard Thurston. Evidently, Kellar also passed along his clever counselors as they next appeared in the same poses on Thurston’s posters. During his “Wonder Show of the Universe,” Thurston explained to the children in his audience that his imps were named Hocus Pocus and Conjurokus – and that Hocus Pocus was a real troublemaker!

Soon, Thurston’s competitors of the day, such as The Great Blackstone and The Great Raymond, began recruiting their own elvish entourage- similarly featuring them on posters of their own.

The imps eventually found themselves sailing across the ocean to Europe.  And perhaps they became a little seasick as they are seen in a verdant hue in this poster from the legendary Professor Benevol.

But no matter what their color, the rascals were always playful. Check out this particularly humorous moment in a poster from the great Raymond which shows the “King of Mystery” lighting his cigar with the heat from the tip of a little imp’s tail!

And so, in-keeping true with the long-held tradition, I am proud to say I have managed to attract a couple of convivial imps myself.   It hasn’t always been easy, but my mischief-makers have been keeping me company as I’ve traveled the world for over a decade. Below, you can see our first happy portrait together back in 2003.

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SANCA Summer Circus Festival

SANCA is Ten!

This summer I was invited to perform and teach a workshop at a ten day circus festival called, “SANCA is Ten!,” hosted by the School of Acrobatics and New Circus Arts in Seattle.  This was a particularly special opportunity for me, because I had been among the first students and instructors at SANCA when it was just beginning, well, ten years ago. Since that time it has gone on to be easily the largest circus school in the United States, housing a Flying Trapeze tent and occupying nearly a full industrial block in South Seattle.

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SANCA is an important place, not only because of its size, but also its mission.  It was founded by (real life superhero) Jo Montgomery, a pediatric nurse practitioner at Seattle Children’s Hospital, with an eye on combating childhood obesity.  SANCA has gone far beyond merely addressing childhood obesity, though, and enriches the lives of children and adults of all shapes, sizes, and levels of ability and disability on a daily basis. Additionally, on any given day, world class circus artists, both emerging and established, can be found training or teaching (or both).

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After a performance one evening, a family introduced themselves and said that about eight years ago at a SANCA outreach program, I taught their two year old daughter (who has a disability) to throw a ball. She’s been going to SANCA ever since and has even taken up the German Wheel, far surpassing her Dr.’s expectations!  It was very nice of them to let me know. It is easy for things like that to get lost in the shuffle, but it is a great reminder of the power of circus, both physically and psychologically.

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While I was there, I was fortunate to be living at the Museum of Curious Things founded and curated by my longtime friend Matt Baker.  It is a well put together exhibition, and houses, among many other strange things, a teddy bear made of belly button lint and a beak of a dodo bird.  Waking up every morning next to a Jackalope was an adventure, even by my standards!

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After a show on another night, I received a great comment from the critically acclaimed dancer and choreographer, KT Niehoff.  She said, “I liked it because you went one step too far, and then went a giant leap further.”  A few nights later she brought her God-son to the show and gave me another memorable comment.  She said, ”Thanks for rocking my God-son’s world. I’m never going to hear the end of it.”

You’re welcome, KT. You are welcome!

FixedI also celebrated my birthday while I was there, and it was a treat to spend it with some old dear friends, Chuck Johnson (my first and greatest Coach) and Jo Montgomery, as well as Ben and Rachel (Duo Madrona), Mick Holsbeke, and Matt Baker, who have all gone on to be the toast of the Cabaret, Circus, and Variety scenes.

Duo Madrona and I were once in a small troupe called the Banana Moon Circus, and Rachel whipped up a Banana Cream pie for old time’s sake.

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It was an opportunity to see new work from both old friends and new friends; It was a treat to see “A Book is not a Ladder,” the new show by The Acrobatic Conundrum (which really got me thinking about the role of text in contemporary circus) and “BONKERS!!” by IMPulse Circus Collective (which lived up to its title, allowing their quirky personalities to shine).  I also had a memorable experience collaborating a bit with a promising (and always up for anything) young clown named Zach Holmberg.

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I’d also like to thank Chelsea & Co, John Cornicello, and Circus Now Seattle (a wonderful Circus Advocacy group), for the photographs and support, in general.  And a special thanks to magican Louie Foxx, for (just like the old days) saving me at the last minute with his knowledge, generosity, and awesome collection of stuff!

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Looking back on the whole festival experience brings to mind the famous line from one of my favorite movies, It’s a Wonderful Life.  ”Remember, no man is poor who has friends.”  So, congratulations SANCA, and thank you, for enriching my life, and the lives of so many others, for ten years.  And, thanks for the wings!

friends1Chuck and JoLove, Scotty

The Infernal Bar Act

From the sand-swept Khan el Kalili market in ancient Cairo, to a secret magic emporium in the outskirts of Paris, to a tucked-away arcade in Venice, Professor Scotty Walsh has explored the continents to bring you one of the most obscure, bewildering and wholly satisfying illusions in the world.

Known then as La Bouteille Inépuisable, or The Inexhaustible Bottle, the act was first publicly performed in Paris by the Father of Modern Magic, Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin. As audience members gasped and shouted orders, Houdin conjured a variety of colorful libations from but a single, seemingly endless, bottle.

At the dawn of the 20th century, renowned British Magician, David Devant presented his version of the illusion with a glistening silver kettle (allegedly at the suggestion of his wife) in order to heighten the effect’s sophistication. Two decades later, the feat of spirited spirits crossed the Atlantic to satiate unquenched Prohibition-Era crowds. The desired beverages being the new American concoctions of the era known as cocktails, and the receptacle of choice, a shaker.

Since that time, however, the refreshing spectacle has been largely lost; resurfacing only now and then, here and there. But finally, through intensive, extensive, and demanding research, Scotty Walsh has discovered the keys to unlocking this centuries-old and well-guarded secret. At much personal and financial cost, he has procured the proper shaker – promising a plethora of cocktails and spirits.

And who better to pour the spirits than the Devil’s Bartender? The Extraordinary Ryss is no longer living, and Professor Scotty Walsh has taken up the dead magician’s wand and shaker, and claims the honor of successor by right of skill and fitness.

Therefore, whether from the Infernal Shaker or the Obliging Kettle of Inebriation and Sobriety, the Infernal Bar Act represents a crowning achievement in a lifetime of magical pursuits for Professor Walsh, and an evening of lively spirit-filled entertainment for you and your worldly, sophisticated, and thirsty friends.

Now, who’d like a Martini?

Scotty Walsh & Co.

The New Wonder Show of the Universe

First there were Kellar, Thurston, and Blackstone…

But they are all dead.

Now -

There is Silverstone.

August 11, 2012, Tuscany

Dear Friends—

As many of you know, I have been studying the ancient art of magic since I was eight years old.  I regret wasting the first seven years, but well, that’s life.  I was bitten by the magic bug after witnessing a performance by the janitor at my elementary school (an excellent magician, by the way) by the name of Mike the Magic Janitor.  I now enjoy the privilege of having a similar effect (I hope!) on many children around the world.

I am pleased to announce that I am now beginning year two of a three year process to create a full evening show entitled Silverstone: The New Wonder Show of the Universe.   This show will open to the public in 2014, and will pay homage to America’s Master Magicians such as Kellar, Thurston, Blackstone, and Houdini, as well as introduce classical magic to a generation most familiar with the TV magic of Criss Angel.  Without question, this is my most ambitious project to date, both in terms of business and the arts, but I believe that I am prepared to tackle it successfully.

In addition to the elegant and comical parlor room tricks which I have developed over the past 20+ years, this show will also include full-scale illusions such as a beautiful but shocking version of the 100-year-old classic, Sawing a Lady in Half!  I also intend to recreate The Great Blackstone’s Dancing Handkerchief and Enchanted Garden, Houdini’s Milk Can Escape, Thurston’s Eggs Extraordinary, and many other classic, and rarely-seen-today, illusions, including An Obliging Tea KettlePlaying Cards and Billiard Balls Manipulated at the FingertipsHand ShadowsWitty Paper Folding, and perhaps, most importantly, The Waters of Shangri-La, in which, after being watered, a small flower will grow and bloom into my junior assistant and daughter, Lulu!

BACKGROUND AND PHILOSOPHY

Near the turn of the previous century, Harry Kellar was undisputedly America’s greatest and favorite magician.  Perhaps America’s first master magician, Kellar poured drinks from an Inexhaustible Bottle, conjured spirits inside an empty cabinet, and caused a lit lamp to vanish from its perch, but his most remarkable feat was the Levitation of the Princess Karnack.

In 1908, Kellar passed his mantle of America’s Greatest Magician to Howard Thurston.  Thurston followed in Kellar’s footsteps but also worked hard to modernize Kellar’s by then considered old-fashioned approach to magic.  Titling his performance “The Wonder Show of the Universe” and with his own daughter Jane serving as a loyal assistant, he performed card manipulations at the fingertips, levitated and then vanished Princess Karnack, sawed a lady in half and, in a sign of the times, vanished a new Ford Whippet automobile.

Thurston’s chosen successor was a magician with the stage name of Dante.  However, it was one of Thurston’s rivals who ultimately emerged as the magician most favored by the public.  After Thurston’s death in 1936, Harry Blackstone became America’s greatest magician and declared himself The World’s Master Magician. Blackstone vanished bird cages at his fingertips, transformed a girl into flowers, caused a borrowed handkerchief to come to life, and levitated an illuminated light bulb over the heads of his audience.

In 1982, Lance Burton competed at the world’s top magic competition, the Fédération Internationale des Sociétés Magiques (FISM) and won the top award, the”Grande Prix.” The youngest person ever to win that award, Burton was also the first American to do so. Later, in 1991, he wrote, produced, and directed his own show at the Hacienda Hotel in Las Vegas which ran for five years.  He subsequently performed a spectacular new show at the Monte Carlo resort in Las Vegas for an additional 14 years, retiring in 2010. Burton is most remembered for sculpting doves at his fingertips, manipulating fans of cards, swashbuckling magical sword fights, and for his flying Corvette illusion.

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Unfortunately, today, the traditional and classical style of stage magic is virtually extinct as a form of popular theater and entertainment.  Extreme street magic flourishes on television and over-produced illusion shows rule Las Vegas. It is time, then, for 21st century magic to be re-souled.  Howard Thurston said, “You can fool the eyes and minds of the audience, but you cannot fool their hearts.”

And, that, dear readers, is the aim of the upcoming New Wonder Show of the Universe. It has been written that art can only exist when trembles of the future exist within it.  In this time of crisis, cultural, as much as economic, nothing trembles of the future more than the past.

Sincerely,

The Great Egg Trick

In the first decade of the 1900s, Master Magician Howard Thurston created a masterpiece.

Initially, searching for some small bit of magic that could play “in one” (in front of the curtain while the stage was being reset), he decided to ask a young boy from the audience to join him on stage.  Thurston then proceeded to produce a large number of eggs from the air handing each one down to the boy who, of course, was unable to hold them all – resulting in splattered eggs on the stage floor.

The result had the crowd roaring with so much laughter that Thurston, to ensure proper hilarity, often used dubious methods – like purposefully holding the egg just far enough that the boy would have to reach for it –  to ensure plenty of eggs were dropped.

The comical effect became so popular that the son of President Teddy Roosevelt was once called up as Thurston’s helpless helper.  Later, Thurston hit upon the idea of adding a girl into the mix. Bringing a girl up onto the stage, Thurston now first handed the egg to the girl, who, in turn, would pass it on to the boy. With each hand-to-hand transfer, the odds of dropping increased, along with the comedy.  Thurston then layered on elements of verbal humor between the two young participants.  He whispered instructions to the kids so when asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, the boy would always respond, “a policeman.”  The girl responded that she wanted to be “a policeman’s wife.”  And, as a final touch, when the unsuspecting couple walked together up the stairs to the stage, the orchestra further delighted the crowd by striking up Mendelssohn’s Wedding March.

David Devant, who promoted his show with the slogan, “all done by kindness” and, as illustrated by this 1910 poster showcasing, not the entertainer, but his audience, was (and still is) far ahead of his time, was considered Thurston’s brilliant British counterpart.

The two magicians were friends and often swapped tricks.  With Devant, The Egg Trick,  or, Boy, Girl and Eggs, as he referred to it privately, became an absolute sensation.

In fact, Devant is noted for performing this trick at a command performance for British royalty and prompting Queen Alexandra to laugh out loud.

Below is an illustration of a magician fooling “Burt and Ruth” from the venerable 1920 correspondence course of magic written by Dr. Harlan Tarbell, The Tarbell Course.  Nearly 100 years old and still the definitive text for stage and parlor magic.

In spite of its world-wide success, owing probably to the fact that eggs are difficult to work with and messy, this trick is rarely performed today.

Yet, when the proper efforts are made, and despite all of the changes in our society over the past 100 years, this trick still plays as strong as ever.  Perhaps, the more things change, the more they remain the same.  A thousand years from now, Virgina, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, wherever there are girls, and boys, and eggs, magicians will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Scotty Walsh & Co.