Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Year-End Review, Murder By Magic and REVIEW: Spots DVD & Script by Michael Ross, Produced & Directed by Bill Abbott

Howdy Everyone!

Cris Johnson here and I have to say I'm excited...tomorrow is my LAST show til after the New Year, so I finally get some tough off to finish setting up my wonderful new hypnosis office!

A couple of notes on upcoming week I'll be doing my annual 'top ten' of 2012. as with years past, since I do not review ALL the new stuff out there, this list is hardly scientific or all-inclusive, but simply a list of the goodies I liked best for the year.

Then, I'll be reviewing the following: Black Box by John Kennedy, Blank Night by John Archer and Rubik's Nightmare DVD. Those of you who are regular readers of this blog, you may remember that several months ago I mentioned reviewing the Black Box. I'll admit that I've been dragging my feet on reviewing that one because I glanced at the instruction sheet and found the type size too damn small. the instructions also seemed confusing to me at first glance. So this may not bode well for the review but I'm FINALLY going to get to it!!

Also, today is December 19th, and Murder By Magic will be GONE at the end of the month so if you've been thinking about getting this, order ASAP!!!!

OK, now on to this week's review: Spots by Michael Ross and directed by Bill Abbott. It's available for $49.95 from Hocus Pocus.

AD COPY: "When I was 14 years old I saw Michael Ross perform at the anniversary party of a local magic shop here in Toronto. One of the pieces he performed was his original presentation and handling for the spot card that baffled me completely. Even though I had a version of the same prop at home, Michael seemed to make the spots appear like magic and more incredibly with audience members on all sides of him! I am so proud to offer this complete package with Norm Nielsen's beautiful handmade Dynamo spot card and Michaels unparalleled routine. I have added this routine to my show and now you can too." - Bill Abbott

The Effect
The performer explains that he will place the audience under a mild hypnotic spell and demonstrate an optical illusion in the form of a card with four(?) sides. True to form the magician proceeds to show a large black domino-like card with white spots. One spot on one side, four on the other, then three on the third(?) side and six (?) on the other! This is shown two more times and then the performer explains the psychological and manual manipulation that creates the illusion of a four sided card. Due to the way the card is held the spots are either displayed or covered by the fingers and the minds of the audience create the illusion of a four sided card. Then things get strange when the performer shows that the illusions have become a reality and spots start magically appearing at every turn of the card. Finally in one final turn of the card, it is suddenly filled with white dots bringing the routine (and hypnotic spell!) to a mind blowing conclusion!

An Introduction
The spot card has been an unsung standard in the repertoire of many professional performers, including magic superstar David Copperfield. Michael Ross, under the stage name of Merlin, has developed the perfect fusion of elegant technique and engaging performance unlike any other spot card routine. With Michael's handling you can perform this up close and completely surrounded as Michael often has in the over 30 years of performing this routine. On the street, at a house party or for 2500 on a theatre stage, Spots is truly a pack small play anywhere routine.

SPOTS Pro Package Includes:
- Printed scripts for both the adult routine and the family routine.

A 60 minute DVD featuring:

A Live Performance
Michael performs the routine for an adult audience at an intimate private party. You will experience how Spots plays for a modern audience of professionals in a house party environment.

A Personal History
Michael shares his initial inspiration for the optical illusion presentation from a Pavel effect and his discontent with the traditional spot card handling that led to SPOTS Michael's original spot card technique.

Routines, Audiences & Venues
Michael has performed this routine for every kind of audience and in every kind of environment. Children audiences, family audiences, corporate audiences, comedy clubs and even silently to music. Michael explains how he has used SPOTS as a great segue piece, a lead in into the Invisible Deck or to the Torn & Restored Newspaper effect. The idea, the premise and the patter sets everything up for the tricks he performs during his show. Michael dissects the guaranteed laugh points during the routine, how to play the optical illusion sequence to get a laugh and then how to get two steps ahead of the audience into the multiple spots.

An Audience Proven Routine
This is a not a trick that Michael has performed on dozens of show, or hundreds of shows but a staple in his repertoire he has performed for thousands of shows over the course of 30 years. Michael explains how SPOTS became an audience tested and audience proven effect over years of experience.

Why The Dynamo Card?
Initially using the Tenyo's What's Next spot card Michael explains why he switched to the Nielsen Dynamo spot card due to visibility under various stage lighting, better audience sight lines and the deceptive nature of the method at close quarters. Michael has used the Dynamo card in 5,000 seat venues and up close in house party venues, and it works these environments and everything in between.

The SPOTS Method & Handling
Michael shows how the standard handling and method for the spot card had to be re-worked to achieve the impact that he wanted the trick to have on his audiences. He explains how to hold the card so it doesn't block the audience's view of your face and how to be sure everyone can view the changes and transformations from any angle, even from behind! The surrounded handling is explained and demonstrated so that all the secret movements become invisible no matter where your audience is situated. Even if you don't ever perform this surrounded Michael explains why learning the 'surrounded technique' makes for a better rehearsal experience and overall theatrical competence. Vertical and horizontal positioning of the card for psychological reasons is clarified and explained to get maximum impact from the audiences viewpoint. Getting precise spot movement and how to adjust on the fly if needed is demonstrated in detail.

Walk-Through from The Performers View
A complete routine sequence from the performer's point of view to nail the necessary hand positions perfectly for rehearsal. Every nuance of how to perform the routine and the important "why's" of every aspect are also explained.

Practice Sequence from the Front & from Behind
The routine sequence performed silently from the front (audience view) and then from behind (performer's view), to practice along with. This will help you get the hand positions into your physical memory and get you up and running that much faster.

Adding Glue or Wax to Perfect Your Technique
Michael explains how he used drops of glue or wax when he first performed the routine to help line up the spots by feel under fire. This may be of great help when adapting the routine into your repertoire for the first few performances.

Adult Routine Studio Performance
The entire routine utilizing the adult script (included) is performed for the camera in the studio.

Family Routine Studio Performance
The complete family routine with family script (included) is performed for the camera in the studio.

Set-Up & Prop Placement
Pre-show spot set-up for both sides of the cards and how to get the card in and out of the bag without upsetting the set-up. How and where to place the card before your performance to ensure a safe, secure and exposure-free placement of the prop.

Care & Cleaning
Using the card's felt carrying case Michael shows how to get rid of unwanted fingerprints on the card before performance that sometimes show up under stage lighting.

Conversation with Bill Abbott
Bill Abbott and Michael Ross discuss their professional relationship over the years and how Michael's performance of SPOTS made a strong impact on Bill early on in his performance career. A wide variety of topics are touched on and commented on including; performance commitment vs. strong material, how audiences sometimes resent applause cues, producing laughs by expressing an audience's inner thoughts, letting an audience enjoy the moment, SPOTS as a 'tester' routine for audiences, and much, much more.

NOTE: The SPOTS package is supplied with scrript and DVD only and DOES NOT include dynamo spot card!

WHAT YOU RECEIVE: a 60 minute DVD and printed scripts.

QUALITY OF DVD: Like most of Bill Abbott's DVDs, this is a high quality release. The lighting, camera angles, etc are all fantastic. Just great stuff.

MY THOUGHTS: Since this is a DVD release without any physical props, I'm going to skip all of the separate categories on angles, etc. In short, this DVD is about performing the old "What's Next,' "Spot" card, whatever version is out there, this performance will work just fine.

Full Disclosure: I originally bought Spots from Bill Abbott directly months ago and at that time, he included The Nielsen Magic spot card and I feel it's the best out there. Royal Magic has a cheesy version out there which will not last long - trust me. A friend of mine, decades ago, fooled me badly with the Whats Next card, but the Nielsen one is superb.

I had performed this here and there as a young magician but like most classic stuff, I set it aside without a tremendous amount of thought...with so many of us, we're so quick to ditch the classics when we're younger!

Anyway, the reason I bought Spots is because I have always had a fondness for the effect but never cared for the "supplied" handlings. Michael Ross' handling is AMAZING and he fooled me badly with the effect even though I owned a version of the prop. That, dear readers, is a GREAT feeling!

The DVD covers 'care & feeding' of your prop, angles, prop management, performance theory and a lot of somewhat esoteric stuff, some of which I agree with and some I definitely don't but it's good food for the brain.

As with most of Abbott's releases, at the end of the instruction part of the DVD he includes a "conversation with" whomever is the subject of the DVD. Often, this is where the best stuff is hidden. I found Michael Ross to be an engaging, intelligent guy who obviously takes this stuff very seriously.

Back to his handling for a moment - if you have ever received the so-so reactions to this effect (as I have) I can assure you that Ross' handling will work in any situation. I've used his handling at a few birthday parties, in front of 500 kids at a school and all points in between. I've had people  three quarters of the way around me (I avoid surrounded performances) and I've always had complete confidence that I would NOT get busted.

I really love and appreciate the amount of thought that went into a classic that many of us would toss aside.

Okay, that's the good stuff, but now I want to discuss the negative - for me personally, I felt Michael's scripting was lacking. There was not anything wrong with it per se, but it did not jump out at me, either. There's a couple of somewhat amusing lines and in truth the family and adult scripts are nearly identical - by omitting a reference to drinking, you've almost got his family script.

There's a few set up lines outlining the effect to follow and then it's mostly exposition - "Four spots on this side, three on this side," etc. Just very basic stuff.

I don't mean to pick on Michael and it's obvious that he put a lot of time into this effect, having performed it thousands of times, and I know in a given show that not every effect I do will necessarily have Pultitzer prize scripting, but in my humble opinion, this release is absolutely worth buying for the handling alone - Ross has really made some great innovations. His scripting is just OK. Nothing wrong with it but not earth-shattering, clever or even memorable.

The 'extras' such as the care and feeding, prop management, and especially the conversation with Abbott are all worthy things to search out on the DVD.

RATING: 8 out 10 - great handling, great value.

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