Archive for the 'magic' Category

Performance Terror Revisited: Shine a Light!


If you get a chance to go see the new Rolling Stones movie directed by Martin Scorcese, get out and do it. If you have any interest in performing magic before a live paying audience, you’ll find this film quite illuminating.

Besides seeing the band in a way never possible before, you’ll get to watch Mick, Keith, Ronnie, Charlie and Martin preparing for a long evening’s work.

Pay close attention to the sound check and presidential meet and greet. Mick is so uncomfortable about the number of cameras onstage and in the crowd, he can’t help mentioning it to Bill Clinton. Jagger worries that so many cameras will ruin the energy of the crowd. Bill isn’t worried about the cameras. Bill doesn’t have to rock. He’s only the MC.


The Hollywood Bowl: As you can see, it’s really too intimate for the Stones


Why is Mick worried?

The Beacon theatre is TINY by Rolling Stones standards – 2800 seats. I’ve seen the Stones play big rooms, like RFK Stadium in D.C., and relatively intimate rooms like the Hollywood Bowl, with only 20 something thousand seats.  For the Rolling Stones, playing the Beacon Theatre is like Copperfield playing the close-up room at the Magic Castle.

Mick Jagger really doesn’t need to worry about whether he’ll get a strong reaction in a 3,000 seat venue. But like any entertainer who cares about his work, he frets about any little thing that can spoil the crowd – even a little crowd.

And that’s just one of the things you can learn from watching this intimate film about one of the least intimate bands of all time.

Try and see the film in IMAX if you can. Much will be lost on a little screen.  And as Scorsese suggests at the beginning of his first great rock and roll film The Last Waltz, make sure you watch this  movie LOUD!

Your Turn

What did YOU get out of Shine the Light?  Go see it, then let me know!


Secret Pictures from the Batcave: Make your Magic One of a Kind!

Recently I found myself in a top secret design facility. Actually, I was in the workshop of a serious prop builder in Van Nuys. This is the kind of guy that can, and does, build Klingon spaceships. Not fan model kits either. He builds the real props for the real shows. When he makes the Enterprise, he really makes the Enterprise.

While we were waiting for my new &#*@!? to come out of the oven, he showed me some priceless antiques on loan to him for the purposes of making collector’s replicas. Here they are!

This is a communicator from the original Star Trek series. I learned that the owner of this piece recently turned down 100,000 dollars for it. Got to love the millionaire Trekkers!

Notice the wild blinking lights and gizmos on this special tricorder prop from The Next Generation series (blechhhh!). Again, this one was actually used a bunch in the show.

My builder genius, who we’ll call Q, informed me that virtually all the weird props we see on screen are hollow plastic shells with no lights or insides, like the communicator in the first photo. The prop department makes just one fully rigged model for each type of prop, so they can use it for the occasional close-up. Movie folks call this fully tricked out model The Hero. Unlike the communicator, The Hero was heavy in my hands. I’m sure it was because off all the dilithium inside.

Your Turn

Think carefully – How happy are you with your store bought props? Let me know. I think we may find an area here where many of us have similar experiences. I’ll read all your comments pronto!

Secrets you can’t find on the Internet

There are some secrets you can still only learn in person.

The technological advancements of the last twenty years have made it easier than ever to connect with magicians from around around the globe. Thanks to Internet magic dealers, web communities and, you can begin an  effective apprenticeship in magic without ever stepping foot inside a genuine retail magic store.

And that’s a shame, because even in the information age, you still need access to a real magic store if you want to become a great magician.


denny and me

Denny Haney: Backstage with me last week at The Magic Castle

The first night I walked into the Denny & Lee Magic Studio, I didn’t leave until four am. In that store I met the real pros and heard their real stories about life in  magic. Thanks in large part to Denny and his shop, I found a career in magic. 


If you want to be a great magician – find a real magic shop

There are guys out there who can paint the oral history of magic for you like no book can. They can tell you the real stories behind the names and faces you find in the books on the shelves.

For the most part, the real old timers aren’t with us anymore. But luckily, most of them had students and friends – magicians who’ve heard the tales and love to share them.

Most of these guys don’t blog. And they don’t hang out on  the magic cafe. The only way to find these magicians is to go to the clubhouse – the magic shop. If you go in and hang out long enough, you’ll eventually bump into people who can show you the mysteries you seek.

Find your store! 

But first you have to find a magic store. And not just any magic store will do. To take advantage of the advice in this post, you’ll need a great magic store. And in the age of the Internet, real shops with good stock and a solid sense of community can be hard to find. In fact, most of you will have to travel some distance to find a shop you can count on.  

Below follows a list of my three favorite magic stores in the country. I’ve listed one on each coast and another in the center of the country

Pick any one of these stores and become a genuine, in store customer. In the process, you may find more than a shop – you just might find a community where you belong. 

Each on of these shops has a strong web presence. But remember, for optimum results, you’ll have to walk through the front door. 

Many readers submitted info on their favorite shops – you can read their comments here.

Three Great Shops

Denny & Lee Magic Studio

Midwest Magic

Grand Illusions

Wayne Houchin at The Magic Castle

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Hanging with Houchin in the real world Monday night at the Magic Castle

My friend Wayne Houchin performed for the first time last week at the Magic Castle.  He spent the week proving that as good as magic can look on the Internet, it’s no substitute for the live experience.

Wayne grew up going to Grand Illusions, a great shop run by Steve Johnson in Sacramento, California. In fact, almost every great magician I know spent some time in a real magic shop along the way.

I need a good magic shop. Can you help?

Real magic stores are a rare thing in this day and age. Have you ever seen one? If so, tell us about it. What is YOUR favorite magic store. Tell us where it is and what experiences you’ve had there that make it special.  I’m working on my own list – in the mean time, tell us what YOU think.

Bill Goodwin Speaks – Three Classic Magic Books

Less than a week ago, many of you sent questions  for Billy Goodwin, the Magic Castle librarian and one of the finest card men in the world. I promised I would get him to answer one of the questions. Here it is………..

From Dave Atkins

To Mr. Goodwin I would ask: as the librarian of the Magic Castle, if some magician was going to make the library disappear, which three books would you try to save before he did it?

I love this question. We decided, for the sake of this discussion, to assume that the Magic Castle library is the ONLY library in the world. We’re not concerned with a given book’s value on Ebay. We only care about the value of the information inside.

Three books blessed by bill…

Here are Billy’s choices in no particular order. He wanted me to stress that this was a very unfair question. Bill is a librarian. He wants to save ALL the books.

Here they are:

  • Expert Card Technique – Hugard and Braue’s classic text was the second book on card magic  I ever purchased. I still haven’t learned everything in it – frankly, no one has. This book, available in Dover paperback, may provide you more value for the money than any other card book ever written.
  • The Complete Walton Volumes 1 & 2 – Already Billy is cheating here. He found a way to save an extra book. What can you do? Roy Walton is one of the kindest men I’ve ever met.  You’ll go back to this book  constantly over years and it will always offer you something new and give you wood for your practice oven.  It also may be the greatest repository of material regarding cover passes and half passes ever created. If you’re interested in material on these two topics, the Complete Walton should be your first stop.
  • The Complete Works of Alex Elmsley Volumes 1 & 2– Like the last entry, this two volume set compiles the complete works (or close-enough) of one of the great sleight-of-hand minds of all time. If you’re only familiar with Alex Elmsley as the creator of the most used and abused false count in the history of magic, you definitely need to acquire these books. They contain tricks of every size, shape and style – a veritable wealth of information.  Again, this is a book that all serious magic students must read.

The first in a series…

Any time Billy talks about magic he says something worth hearing. I’ll be going back to the original post to pick new questions for Billy to answer when I see him. If you want to add a question to the list, go for it. Here’s a link to the post – go leave a comment. 

If you want to see Billy Goodwin exposed at my place, click here.


Bill Goodwin Exposed – Let’s ask the Oracle

I had a lot of fun with the Bill Goodwin post a couple days ago. After I posted you knew I would be asking Bill Goodwin one of your questions.  Lee Asher knew as well – he even thought it was a good idea. The only reader of this blog not to know anything about our plan to ask Bill Goodwin a mystery question was……well, Bill Goodwin. 

I made the post after Bill left home for his evening’s work at the Magic Castle. On purpose.

Can’t anyone keep a secret anymore?

About 9:30pm, half an hour before Goodwin’s expected arrival, it occurred to me the odds were pretty small that Billy would make it through his entire evening at the castle without talking to a single person who knew what was coming. 

Hanging out in the Castle Library around 8:30, Larry Horowitz decided he had to check his email. He gave Billy the news that some ‘magic star’ was coming to my house later. Thanks Larry – you’re off the list.

Poor Billy spent an hour excited to find out who was going to be here.  When he arrived, boy was he surprised…

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Billy LOVES the spotlight!


I had a hard time getting him to choose a question to answer – he wanted to spend most of his time learning hardcore sleight of hand…..


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Billy Goodwin sure does like the passes, sleights and tricks in The Paper Engine…just look at that smile on his face. He LOVES the new edition.


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In fact, we  had a late night over here. I finally went to bed, and when I awoke to ask Billy one of your questions, I found him truly happy, surrounded by great magic.

The Question 

Billy chose a question by Dave Atkins – for those of you who didn’t have your question asked, don’t worry. Next time Billy comes over he’ll pick a new one – eventually, we’ll squeeze it all out of him. You know how it is with real experts: they tip the secrets – they just do it slowly. Our only worry is that after this kind of embarrassment, Bill decides never to visit again. Here’s the question:

From Dave Atkins –

To Mr. Goodwin I would ask: as the librarian of the Magic Castle, if some magician was going to make the library disappear, which three books would you try to save before he did it?

That’s a great question! We decided to pretend, for the discussion, that the Magic Castle library is the ONLY magic library in the world. Under those circumstances, Mr. Librarian, which three books would you save?

What’s your answer?

Billy answered the question, and I’ll share that answer in my next post. In the meantime, post a comment with YOUR answer. What three books would you save if a giant comet were coming to destroy all the magic books on earth? I can’t wait to see what answers you give!



Aaron Fisher on Tension in Card Magic: an excerpt from The Paper Engine

This is the new edition of The Paper Engine. Scroll down for an excerpt from the book….enjoy!



The paper is still perfect.

The photos are still crisp.

The price is now better than ever.

The Paper engine.

Now available for the first time in Paperback.

Join the Revolution

click here.


 Please Note: This excerpt appears in the book just after the description of the Gravity Half Pass. This is NOT the full description of the Gravity Half Pass – to  fully understand the technique you’ll need the full description. As you read this article think about how the ideas in it relate to your sleight of hand on the whole – not just the perfect half pass.

If The Paper Engine has had any effect on the amount of tension in your card work, post a comment below and tell us about it.


Thoughts and Commentary: The Gravity Half Pass

Tension can be the Achilles heel of any advanced card-worker. Any time a muscle contracts, there is at least a small degree of tension and this can be detected by audiences, if only subconsciously. Most advanced card techniques are highly susceptible to tension. A friend once quipped that he could tell whether a certain card expert was dealing tops, seconds, or bottoms by the number of veins throbbing in his forehead. While this was a mild exaggeration, it was not unfounded. It does not matter that the worker in question has visually deceptive techniques; audiences can feel the tension and instinctively sense trickery. One way to alleviate tension in the performance of sleight-of-hand is through design.


The best way to remove muscle tension is to eliminate the muscle’s participation in the action — find another way to get the job done. For example, assume you are standing on the roof of a building, holding a set of keys. If your goal is to loan the keys to your friend on the sidewalk below, you can either carry them down or drop them to him. It is more efficient to drop an object than to carry it. Several items in this book (including the half pass) allow gravity to manipulate the cards, keeping the manipulation on the performer’s part to a minimum.


As the sleight commences and the cards begin to revolve, the only pressure exerted is that necessary to modulate the action. One doesn’t want to lose control, or go too fast, or not stop at the right time. Pressure is only exerted to focus the moving energy — energy initiated by gravity. This is similar to the steering technique my driving instructor called controlled slippage. Turning the wheel while going into a turn can require difficult, hand-over-hand action. Muscles pull, readjust, and then pull again. Coming out of a turn, however, is far easier. One no longer has to pull, but only allow the wheel to adjust.


Humans should not trifle with the forces of nature. As Spalding Gray quoted Athol Fugard in Swimming to Cambodia, The sea’s a lovely lady when you play in her, but, if you play with her, she’s a bitch.” keep this in mind if you choose to invoke natural forces, such as gravity in your technique, great care should be taken in the initiation of the reversal (the left-hand action). In a standard handling, with the left fingers reversing the cards, pressure can be added or released as needed. In this method there is only one chance to release your control over the packet and then only one chance to re-establish it.


The gravity half pass should never be rushed. If the sleight is hurried, the pack tends to overshot the right palm entirely. This sort of thing is to be avoided, so take care. Gravity is your friend, but it can also kill.


Those interested in further study of the half pass should know that perhaps the greatest exponent of half-pass applications is Scotland’s famed card expert, Roy Walton. His routines with both the standard half pass and his spread half pass are vital explorations into the subject. Careful study of his work is mandatory for any serious student of card magic.