Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Greatest Prop In Magic History

What if I told you about a prop that could cause miracles?

What if this prop could do the following:

- make objects disappear
- make objects appear
- change one object into another
- read peoples' minds
- float objects in the air
- produce flashes of light from your bare hands
- and much more

What if this prop only weighed a few ounces?

What if this prop was "invisible" to most people...even if they were staring right at it?

What if this prop only cost a few dollars?

What if this prop was easy to use?

What if this miracle prop actually existed?

Well, it does. If you haven't guessed by now, I'm taking about the THUMB TIP.

I had a conversation a couple of years ago with Peter Loughran of Master of Illusions in Canada and we both agreed that you could make a strong argument that the thumb tip was the greatest prop ever invented in the history of magic.

Think about all that is possible with a thumb tip...and then realize what a dismissive attitude most magicians have toward it! There are many times when a professional routine is put out, costing hundreds of dollars, and one of the components is the thumb tip. On more than one occasion, while watching the training DVD accompanying a prop, the pro on the DVD will apologetically introduce the thumb tip, as if he is ashamed or perhaps more accurately, he realizes many magicians, upon hearing that one of the secrets to the routine is the thumb tip, will cry out, "Oh, is THAT all?"

And mind you, the pros putting out this material put out GREAT material. I'm not going to mention their names because it's not my place to reveal their products' secrets, but the props and routines I'm tip-toeing around are GREAT routines and worth much more than what I paid.

Why do magicians sneer at thumb tips? Probably because we're so used to it, we take it for granted. Plus, many magicians out there are buying stuff looking for the "miracle" that they'll never find. No genie in a bottle exists.

It's time we look at our classic tools as they are - tools. A carpenter does not cast aside his hammer looking for something "cooler" to do the job. He uses what works.

And don't use the "Thumb tips are in all those kiddie magic sets" as an excuse either. I remember a few years ago at a school show, a student, fifth grade, after seeing my show remarked that he too was a magician. When I asked him what kind of effects he did, he looked down at his feet and mumbled using "that plastic thumb." I immediately remarked, "Oh, you can do so much with those! That's a great prop!"

He looked at me in disbelief. I then added, "I used THREE  thumb tips in the show you just saw." His jaw hung open in disbelief. And it was true - in front of 300 fifth graders, in a 45 minute show, I had used three thumb tops, all in very different ways, but in theory they could have 'seen' the tips. the fact that he was so surprised at this revelation was all the proof I needed to know I had gotten through to him and made my point crystal clear.

So, how do YOU  feel about possibly the greatest prop ever created in magic?

MARCH MADNESS SPECIAL.... order ANY of my products (stuff by Cris Johnson) at www.ProfessionalMagicProducts.com and receive FREE shipping anywhere in the USA!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

REVIEW: Levitation Impossible by Steve Fearson

Sorry it's been a while since my last post but it's been crazy-busy...aside from my performing career, I'm also seeing 12-15 clients a week in my hypnosis clinic so things are essentially a blur most of the time in my life!

This week I want to take a good look at a product that has been lighting up the internet for quite some time...it's "Levitation Impossible" by Steve Fearson. It's available for $29.95 from emagicsupply.com.

EFFECT: Basically, a crumpled up dollar bill levitates up and down and even SPINS in an upside down wineglass. The dollar and glass can be borrowed.

ANGLES: Surprisingly good for this type of effect. There is a "basic" and "advanced" version, and if you're on stage and your lighting conditions are good, you can pull off either version quite well. If lighting conditions are not in your favor, you can switch to the basic version only.

HANDLING: I will confess that I have not started working on this just yet although from my initial viewings of the online tutorial, this will take a little work to really do it justice but nothing that's going to take years to master. I'd say...basic handling a 3 out of 10 and the advanced handling 5 out of 10. Bear in mind those are just my initial impressions as I have not actually started working with this yet.

MY THOUGHTS: Unfortunately I cannot tip what you receive in the physical package that's mailed to you without revealing the method. Regardless, rest assured that the methodology is sound and very unique as well as being wonderfully low tech.

I will admit that while watching the demo video 20-30 times (like most of you!) I simply could not figure this out and while it's great to be amazed (I do cherish that feeling after watching a GOOD performance) when debating whether or not to buy something it is worrisome because so much of magic these days feels like it's aimed at those folks still infatuated with "street magic" and thus is not often practical for real-world pros like myself.

Happily, I believe this is a "worker." Steve Fearson of course has a solid reputation in the industry and this being his baby is what finally convinced me to take the plunge.

While this is obviously designed for close up presentations - tableside, not really "strolling" to groups of people standing - I think it would play well for parlor. Get a big enough wine glass, one that can really show the up & down levitation, and I think it would work. Additionally, I think this works even BETTER for parlor because most close up situations in the real world would involve the hustle-bustle of restaurant work or corporate cocktail hour events.

The "get ready" of doing the effect with a borrowed bill is by far the most challenging part of the routine...not because it's knuckle-busting difficult but merely because it's take a few seconds of work and if one is a true entertainer, then you must tell a story or otherwise ENTERTAIN the audience during the prep work for this step.

A few thoughts on the Basic & Advanced Handling differences...

I'm really torn because the Advanced Handling looks really terrific and though the Advanced Handling does indeed use what most of you reading this might suspect, it is not the "main" gimmick and the fact that the bill PK movement is happening under the glass seems to negate any use of this traditional method completely...however, the "get ready" for the advanced handling, and in particular one move, looks so unbelievably unnatural and hokey that it's almost enough to make me run from the Advanced Handling completely. That's for you to decide.

As far as the Basic Handling goes, it too looks really fantastic except for what may look to spectators as a completely unnecessary full body turn on the part of Fearson...as I start working with this effect I will see if I can eliminate that body turn. Incidentally, this body turn happens during the best part of the effect - as the bill is rotating inside the upside down glass. The body turn is done to help mask certain necessary movements but to me it kind of kills the beautiful rotation.

END THOUGHTS: All in all, I think this release has potential. I'll give it a solid 8 out of 10.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Trick Review: Cue The Magic by Angelo Carbone

I'm back with another trick review!

This time it's Cue The Magic by Angelo Carbone. It's available from many dealers online.

EFFECT: A spectator is invited onstage to become a magician. The performer assures the volunteer that a series of cue cards will make becoming a master magician easy and fun. The spectator, with urging from the performer, reads the cue cards in succession, selects a spectator, and after a lot of laughs, shows that he predicted what card the spectator would select in dramatic fashion.

WHAT YOU RECEIVE: You receive a full set of cue cards with alternate cards available, based on whether you are doing a day or night show, adult or family show, and other details. You also receive a few pages of written instructions and cards and gimmicks to accomplish the trick.

MY THOUGHTS: This is one of the most commercial tricks I've seen in years. What I mean by that is that this is a "worker." The secret is simple, elegant, and in terms of physical handling very easy. I grasped the handling in a day, but continued practicing for a few weeks before launching the routine. I'm pleased to say that the responses have been fantastic.

First, the routine is very funny, provided you are quick on your feet and can do a halfway decent job of adlibbing to the humor opportunities that come your way. I feel the best part of this routine is the by-play between you and the spectator. To paraphrase Eugene Burger, it's the journey that makes this such a fun routine. While the revelation is great and plays well (I receive gasps when the selected card is revealed), the fact is that the audience most enjoys the humor leading to the revelation.

As far as the quality of the cards go, with care they will last a long time. Additionally, the cards are shipped in a sturdy plastic envelope that will help protect your props.

The selection of the card by the spectator is 100% free choice - any card can be selected, which means there is no fishing, forcing, dual reality, or anything like that. No restrictions, so it really does seem impossible.

The angles on this are also very good. As long as no one can see directly behind you, you're covered. If audience members are off to your sides, you can hold the props closer to your body and you'll be in good shape.

Another good feature of this routine is that there is no set up. You take the cards out of the travel case and perform. It's that easy. In fact, recently a magic friend of mine came to my office to visit and wanted to see this routine. I picked up the props and did it immediately as he stood about 4 feet away from me. He was blown away and had no idea how it was done.

Resetting is also a breeze, just a few seconds and you're ready for another performance which is a great feature for cruise ship or family performers who may do several shows a day.

Finally, another thing I really appreciate about this routine is the fact that this is not a quick 30 second trick but a 5 minute full developed routine. In terms of stage work, having a pack flat, play big routine is great that also takes some time and allows you the performer a chance to flex your humor muscles.

FINAL RATING: This gets an easy 10 out of 10 from me. This is a stage worker's dream as it's very commercial, funny, adaptable for different markets, can be done in the living room or stage, is easy in terms of technique, and burns up some time. It's an almost perfect routine for nearly any market. Highly recommended.

Trick Review: MIB by Scott Alexander & Puck

Hello all,

I apologize for the delay in getting this review done, but between vacation, hypnosis clients, performing, and a bad case of the flu, I've been pretty busy.

As promised, I'm tackling MIB by Scott Alexander & Puck. It's a take-off on the classic Confabulation plot. It's available directly from both creators as well as www.hocus-pocus.com.

EFFECT: The performer gives an audience member a sealed glass bottle to hold. A rolled up paper can be clearly seen inside. Then, the performer asks the audience for suggestions for a plot of some type - a "dream vacation" is very popular. Questions pertaining to location, guests, activities and other details are solicited. The performer can be seen jotting down the answers on a whiteboard.

After enough questions are answered, the bottle in placed into an empty paper bag and broken with a hammer by the performer. Using a pair of tongs, to avoid touching the broken glass, the rolled paper is pulled out of the bag. The spectator holds one end of the paper as the performer unrolls it to close to 11 feet across the stage. The answers given are clearly seen woven through the story told on the rolled paper.

WHAT YOU GET: You receive the high-tech whiteboard, a supply of rolled paper, batteries, paper bags, tongs, a training DVD and a few other goodies.

MY THOUGHTS: This is a true revelation and THE most significant advance in the Confabulation plot since the classic prediction chest, with one of the most popular versions being the Malloy Chest. The downside of the Malloy chest, despite the prediction being written large enough to be clearly seen by big audiences, was that you needed an offstage assistant.

Other handlings of this plot were designed for one man applications, but the tradeoff was the fact that the writing was small, only visible for the one spectator who was viewing it onstage with the performer.

MIB is both one-man and written in large letters so the entire audience can read the prediction. Additionally, the predicted answers are all woven through the narrative. This is significant because most one man versions had all of the predicted answers bunched up in one corner of the prediction paper. By having the answers spread out through the body of the prediction, everything appears both organic and natural as well as more mystifying.

That alone would be enough to warrant a 'hit' with MIB, but other features really make this a winner. First, the angles are very forgiving and as long as no one is directly behind you you'll be safe. Secondly, despite this being an electronic prop, it is very quiet in operation. While it is recommended that you play music during the 'selection' phases to cover the noise, the volume of music required is not very high. Case in point: I recently performed this effect for a small group of 8 people who were VERY close. MIB is not really recommended for groups that small, but due to a miscommunication between  myself and the client, I was kind of stuck, but everything worked out just fine.

The investment price is around half of that of the Malloy prediction chest so I cannot imagine why anyone would not invest in this if they have the budget to consider the Malloy version.

INSTRUCTION: Puck & Scott Alexander have reputations for delivering quality material and explaining things very clearly and MIB is no exception. After viewing the 60 minute DVD, I was ready to go. After a couple of weeks of rehearsal I felt very confident incorporating this into my act and have never looked back.

ELECTRONICS NOTE: I recently found out that the electronics are built by Nick Wenger, who has a stellar reputation for putting out quality material. I own a bunch of other props by Nick and everything he builds is top notch.

FINAL RATING: This is an easy 10 out of 10 by me. I've been chasing the perfect one man stage Confab routine in which the whole audience can see the written prediction very clearly and this succeeds in all levels. My search is over and I can't recommend this any higher.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Different Tricks, Same Effect

I want to talk a little today about multiple methods for the same effect in magic. In years past, I’ve been pretty vocal about the fact that most of the time, just pick a method and stick with it, end of story.

For instance, let’s consider the classic 100 Bill Switch. There are a ton of published handlings out there. (For the past 15 years or so, I’ve used Kevin King’s “Money Morph” handling and that’s just my choice). But there are so many handlings that often magicians have trouble sticking with one handling for long in order to truly master a handling…and in my world, mastering it means you’ve polished it to as close to perfection as you can get and then you’ve also performed it hundreds of times for lay audiences and continued polishing it based on feedback, etc.

When you swap handlings for the latest craze, you never fine-tune an effect. It’s not drilled into your muscle memory and polished to the point where you can just DO  the effect so well, so nonchalantly that your mind is free to adjust or adlib based on conditions and opportunities presented to you.

So, pick a good handling for a given effect and stick with it.

Interestingly, for the purpose of this article, I’m going to play devil’s advocate and change my position. The reason? Whenever anyone says, “This rule is unbreakable,” I immediately start thinking of possible exceptions to said rules…even if the rule is one of my own! Let me expand on this by discussing my favorite mentalism effect, Confabulation…the plot where audience members are asked to name out loud certain random (or not so random) pieces of information, such as a brand of car, a vacation destination, a celebrity name, anything. The strongest handlings mean there are NO restrictions on what can be named in a category. Then, all of these choices are shown to have been predicted in advance by the performer, often incorporated into a story of some kind on a piece of paper.

In other areas – blogs, articles, reviews, etc. – I’ve been pretty vocal about my thoughts of this being the strongest effect in mentalism. I won’t define my criteria or defend it here – it’s just how I feel for plenty of reasons – but my love of this plot means I’ve searched for years for the perfect handling.

Now, my idea of “perfect handling” may be different than yours. In my case, “perfect handling” means  it’s one-man…no assistants. In my own handling (available in two of my “Cause & Effects” books at www.ProfessionalMagicProducts.com) I have a sealed FedEx envelope in the audience before the show starts and at the end of the show, after all of the Confab choices are made by random audience members, the FedEx envelope is opened by an audience member. There’s a smaller envelope inside. Inside that is a sealed package – two 5x7 notecards stapled together around the perimeter of the cards so nothing can get in or out. The audience member rips open this open and she herself takes from within a folded index card…which of course lists everything predicted in an amusing story.

It’s how I’ve consistently closed my corporate shows for nearly 15 years. For a $30 book (with other stuff included) it’s hard to beat…especially since the performer needs no special magic goodies or fancy sleight-of-hand skills to do it.

My only quibble with my handling is the fact that the writing is restricted to an index card, meaning you have to ‘sell’ the effect to the audience – until the card is passed around, only your onstange volunteer can read it.

So I’ve searched for ways to make the end prediction visible to a large audience…but still be one man.

For years, the holy grail of the large stage Confab solutions was/is the Prediction Chest, with an extremely popular version put out by Doug Malloy. It is fabulous but relies on an off stage assistant.

Since then, I’ve found two fantastic solutions that I now love…Paul Romhany’s wonderful (and low tech) “Dream Prediction Lite” and Scott Alexander & Puck’s wonderful “MIB.” Both are great solutions to do a larger one man Confab routine.

Now, this article is NOT intended as a pitch (well, maybe for my books…) but only to illustrate how, depending on performing conditions, you MAY need to alter your methods. I now use my simple FedEx envelope handling for audiences up to 30 people, Paul Romhany’s “Dream Prediction Lite” for audiences of 30-70 people and “MIB” for audiences typically over 70 people.

Although I’d prefer to use just one handling, by tailoring which version I use, I’m customizing my show to the needs of the audience. While I’ve used “MIB” for very small shows successfully (for just EIGHT PEOPLE – there was a miscommunication in the pre-show details!!) the reality is certain handlings of certain effects are intended for certain audience sizes.

Now, to circle back to my original point, I don’t feel learning 4 or 5 different handlings of the 100 Bill Switch really benefits you because you’re doing basically the same actions – folding a borrowed bill and causing it to change – and the handlings I’ve come across are so similar in methodology that my stance has always been, if you have one that works, why switch? This is not intended as a knock on any particular handlings...merely an observation that because there are so many great ones that choosing and sticking to one is really the way to go.

So, if you are going to learn a different handling of something you already do well, make sure you’re going to really benefit from it. In my case, by having different Confab methods in my arsenal, I choose the one based on performing conditions.

Above all else, master ONE good handling before the next. I remember Eugene Burger telling a story about a Chicago magician who had an extremely small repertoire – only 12 tricks or so – but Eugene emphasized that he had thoroughly MASTERED each one.

Finally, have FUN!


-      Cris

Cris Johnson’s website, www.ProfessionalMagicProducts.com, offers both professional magic routines, trainings, and equipment as well as business-building tools to help you take your career to the next level!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

David Blaine and Criss Angel on TV

Hello all!

As promised, this blog will no longer ONLY be about magic trick reviews although I will have them. In reality, I want to make this more well-rounded, so with that in mind, one thing I wanted to touch upon in this was some random thoughts on Magic On TV.

I saw David Blaine's Real or Magic TV special a couple of weeks after it aired, online. Overall, I feel it was an OK special. Blaine continues to be very polarizing - some people love him as evidenced by the continued craze of "street magic" effects, props, routines, etc. that continue to crop up on magic product websites.

Blaine was a trailblazer in his heyday and really did usher in a new era for magic. Whether that's good or bad is up to you. Personally, I respect the guy for showing magic can succeed on TV without a multi-million dollar production like David Copperfield. Like other people, I thought Blaine's "levitation" on his first TV special was very dishonest, but that's TV.

In "Real or Magic," the hook this time was that the majority of the time his spectators were celebrities. Harrison Ford probably had the funniest reaction as he told Blaine to "Get the **** out of my house." Will Smith and his family were featured many times and it was startling to me just how much Smith's charisma came bursting through the TV even though it wasn't "his" show.

Nevertheless, with most of Blaine's effects, I had a feeling of "been there, done that." Blaine big effect was shoving a needle through his arm. If you haven't seen the special, it was NOT accomplished like Harry Anderson's version of the effect as this looked like it was so deep that it appeared to go through the bone. Was it real? Since Blaine does a lot of "endurance" stunts, his goal with this effect was to leave people guessing.

In my humble opinion, Blaine's biggest problem continues to be a lack of charisma. While he tries to come off as morose or creepy, I often just find him boring, even though he clearly has a great amount of skill.

I also recently caught a few episodes of Criss Angel's show "BeLIEve." To preface this, I've never been a Criss Angel fan. In particular, his Mindfreak episode with hypnosis made me angry as his use of it could have seriously injured people. Even if the hypnotized subjects were all plants, the show still showed hypnosis in a negative light, making it difficult for guys like me to convince clients that hypnosis is not evil, dangerous, etc. So I don't like Criss Angel for that reason.

On to "BeLIEve..."

The episode I caught the tale end of was the one where Criss is trying to literally raise the dead! There was a corpse wheeled into a room, a group of solemn-looking onlookers, psychics, doctors, etc. There was a death certificate, etc. People freaked out when the corpse's heart started beating and blood or some such oozed out of the mouth...to the point that some people ran out of the room.

Was it in bad taste? Of course. But the whole premise (that a doctor of any kind would sign off on this) was so silly that I found it quite funny. Rather than being "edgy," I just found it laughable and pathetic. I love Bizarre magic as much as the next guy, but this was just over the top awful.

Another episode I saw was devoted to levitation and the big stunt was Criss was going to levitate retired NBA player Shaq. When it came time for the big levitation, Shaq not only levitated but he floated so high in the air that he was able to float OVER Criss' house and back down. There were close-up camera shots right next to Shaq as he crossed the roof, etc.

So now we're getting into a way of presenting "magic" that does not even try to hide that it's done in a way that could not be replicated on stage or in public. Blaine caused an uproar over using peoples' reactions to the Balducci self-levitation spliced in with shots of him floating in the air via cables by a crane, etc. I wasn't too fond of it myself.

But Criss' show is total fiction and it doesn't try to hide it as he presents "magic" that is far too fantastical to believe he could do it in the settings he presents it. Is this good for magic?

It depends on your view. Personally, I felt like I was watching special effects, like something from the "Avengers" or "Iron Man." If you enjoy it, great, but Iron Man only exists onscreen. My view of magic as an artform is that it should be performed for real people, not "in the know," whether that's a stage or on the street. Once you take that away and have everyone in the scene "in on it," you don't have a performance art you have special effects and while special effects are awesome, it's just not the same thing.

In the next blog entry, I will review the great MIB effect from Puck & Scott Alexander.

Don't forget - the 50% off sale on my stuff at www.ProfessionalMagicProducts.com ends at the end of January!

til next time...


Friday, December 13, 2013

Holiday SALE on ALL Cris Johnson Products!

Starting TODAY (December 13, 2013) until NEXT FRIDAY (December 20, 2013), you can take 25% off of ANY of my (Cris Johnson) products!

Simply email me at crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net and let me know what you're interested in. I will then email you your discounted total along with shipping charges.

You can then Paypal me the total to crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net and I'll rush your goodies right out to you. Take advantage of my holiday madness now.:)