This is not something I’ve written much about, but in my 20s I worked, lived, and traveled as a full-time street performer. It is a rewarding, but challenging line of work, and I was lucky to be shown the ropes in Seattle by a pair of jugglers (Matt Baker and Alex Zerbe) performing as The Brothers from Different Mothers, and a magician / underground legend named Tom Frank. The Brothers taught me how to build and work a large circle show, while Tom introduced me to some of the finer points of the artistry and philosophy of the busking lifestyle. This is kind of funny, since Tom denies caring about theory or philosophy.
Nevertheless, he lives it and radiates it. Tom was mentored by, perhaps, the most legendary of American street magicians, the great Jim Cellini. Among many of Cellini’s pieces of wisdom, which I still carry with me everyday almost 20 years later: “Just being there with your shit is half the battle.”
In New Orleans, I learned some additional pointers from the brilliant Jimmy Talksalot who introduced me to the writing of John Fante and taught me how to street perform in the French Quarter without winding up in jail. I spent part of that summer taking notes about street performing, magic, and all things strange, from the one and only Harry Anderson. When Harry found out I was living in a cheap hotel next to a guy that sounded like he was dying of tuberculosis, he let me come stay in his guest quarters for a while. Harry passed away last year, far too early, but his approach to comedy, magic, and life have helped me travel and perform around the globe. Harry said that when he was little: “I wanted to have everything, and I wanted to get it all by doing magic.” Well done, Harry. And I’m glad a little of that rubbed off on me.
When I was doing my MFA in physical theatre in Italy, I studied the Roy Hart voice technique under the legendary Kevin Crawford. I chose to do a project on the traditional Punch and Judy puppet show. Punch’s voice was done with the secret technique with a traditional “swazzle.” The others all spoke some form of gibberish/grammelot. I made the puppets and built the fit-up with materials and tools at hand. The puppets were worked in the old school “over the head” style.
An interpretation of the classic plot “Honey” as first performed in Paris (circa 1920) by the legendary clown duo Dario and Bario. With Chloe Whiting Stevenson and Mickey Lonsdale, advised by the Dimitiri School’s Joe Fenner at the Accademia dell’Arte in Tuscany.
MAGIC RE-SOULED. Today, the classical style of stage magic is virtually extinct as a form of popular theater and entertainment. Over-edited street magic flourishes on television and over-produced illusion acts rule Las Vegas. It is time, then, for 21st century magic to be re-souled. Howard Thurston, America’s Master Magician in the early 1900s, said, “You can fool the eyes and minds of the audience, but you cannot fool their hearts.”
With this piece, I attempt to deconstruct the fast, flashy, loud, and soulless Las Vegas style; while dodging the comic cliché of the ‘bumbling magician’ (a parody which outlives the parodied). Act One, by functioning like clockwork, provides a silent set up to an act of even greater deconstruction, as magic gives way to clown and the clockwork is torn apart gear by gear.
In my mid twenties, I was studying and teaching at the School of
Acrobatics and New Circus Arts (SANCA) in Seattle and I began developing
a doubles trapeze act. Creating an original partner act on the trapeze
is difficult to begin with, but it was uniquely difficult for me because
I didn’t have a partner. I began training with a Cabbage Patch Doll,
in the process creating an original act which blended trapeze technique
with clown and object manipulation.
I have performed this act around the world, including in Cairo with the
Egyptian National Circus, where the Egyptian Star (the Egypt Affiliate
of the International Herald Tribune) described the act as, “An epic
one-man collision of funniness and foolishness, of tragedy and triumph.”
Here is a video of the act from when we were young. Ah, yesterday!