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Archive for the ‘The Dealer’s Desk’ Category

postheadericon Production Values (Part 1)

Production Value

You create the content for your show. It’s solid. The material is commercial. You know you’ll get good reactions from your audiences. But is there production value?

Production value is the combined technical qualities of the methods, materials, or stagecraft skills used in the production of an artistic performance. It matters not whether you’re a musician, juggler, magician, clown or comedian. Successful entertainers set the stage for their performances by applying a solid set of production values into their act.

So…what exactly are production values?

Production values encompass creating the look and sound of your show, turning your content into a full scale production instead of a bland showing of what might be some very good material. You always want to ask yourself, “How can I take this to the next level?” Probably the greatest example of production value is the rock band, Kiss. In the early days when monies were not abundant, nor was equipment, the members quickly realized it was about the show; the presentation. A wall of stacked Marshalls served as the backdrop on stage. Only two of cabinets actually contained speakers that worked. Man! What a statement that made! Without hearing anything you knew these guys would rock and it would be good! When the curtains open, this is the first impression your audience sees.

Even in the smallest venues such as dinner theaters, banquet rooms, beer halls and the like, you have to create the show, the scenery, the visuals that compliment or even enhance what you do. Everything doesn’t have to cost tens of thousands of dollars, either. Keeping an open mind will allow your creativity to take over and accomplish some pretty amazing things on a tight budget.

While I am a musician and have played out in many venues in another life, I’ll focus mostly on creating your magic show since this forum is all about the magic. Quite often, large venues such as theaters and clubs will provide a stage, curtains, audio and video equipment. There will also be lighting and sound persons at your disposal and usually one or two backstage hands. Most entertainers work the smaller circuits which will be the focus of this article.

Let’s talk first about the backdrop or background of your show. There are expensive portable backdrop systems that set up in a few seconds. They usually start at about $750 and work their way up to several thousands of dollars. For many on a budget, the first place I would look is a camera shop. Most of the more advanced photo/video stores like B&H in NYC stock simple lightweight background packages that are mostly used for photographers and videographers. A quick google search will offer you many choices. Expect to spend between $250 and $500 for an adequate system. They usually consist of 1-4 panels and 2 tripod stands along with carry case. If you or a spouse or friend can sew, you can pick up just the tripods and purchase your choice of fabric in bulk from a fabric supplier and create your own panels or drapes.

There have been many venues where a stage and curtains are simply not part of the package. How boring, or dare I say low rent, for an entertainer to perform his show in front of an exit sign or ugly paneling left over from the 70’s or walls that haven’t been painted in at least a dozen years! It doesn’t set the stage and create excitement for your performance. More often than not, this is the case for many entertainers. Creating your stage and atmosphere will have you stand apart from most of your competitors not to mention have you looking quite professional. As a magician who used to perform kids shows for quite some time, I always turned the room into a 3 ring circus so to speak. A side table to my left, main table centered and another side table to my right. A small portable backdrop system and the room magically turned into a small temporary theater!

Having a backdrop also allows for behind the curtain storage of cases, props, or even for you to hide for a moment before your grand entrance. If props need to be set, you now have a place to do so without the audience watching with a curious eye.

Part 2 of Production Values will cover music and microphones which is one of the most important aspects of your production.

postheadericon Orange Tree I

Several years ago I purchased a Mingus Blooming Orange Tree from a friend. It’s one of my treasured pieces of magic that I am proud to own and perform. It’s been used to close a formal parlor show at an upscale wine bar and shop where I used to perform a while back. I also took it to Philadelphia in the summer of 2010 as a closer to a week long engagement at a theater not far from where I grew up.

While the video clip doesn’t show my performance it gives a brief history of this incredible illusion and the magic it creates.
I hope you enjoy it.

postheadericon Orange Tree II

Apparently, my obsession with life forces me to acquire Orange Tree Illusions! The latest piece is pictured here. I haven’t had time to really play with this one as the holiday season is keeping me quite busy at The Trickery office. As time permits, I’ll shoot the video and give all the details about this incredible piece of magic!

For now, I hope you enjoy the pictures. And yes…it’s complete with flying butterflies!

postheadericon A Moment in Time

The Trickery - 1 Second 'til Launch!

Last night at midnight, the new Trickery website was officially launched! Rose and I spent Thanksgiving evening with family in Philadelphia. At 9:30 we cut out to make the mad two hour dash back to the New York Metro area to be there for the launch. We somehow made it with 40 minutes to spare.

When preparing for the countdown my original plans were to man the helm and manually change the coming soon page go to the live site. Fear that we wouldn’t make it in time had me create an automated script that would redirect the visitors to the new site once the countdown timer reach 0 seconds. It was exciting to watch this happen!

Many people were on hand for the virtual launch party. One of my Facebook friends, magician, Matthew Miller, was one of the spectators on hand for the midnight launch. A few minutes after blast-off, the screen capture you see here was posted to my wall. I didn’t even think to capture this myself. This for me, was one of those magical moments that topped the actual redirect.

For years I’ve always said it’s not about the magic tricks, it’s about the magic of people and friends!

Thank you, Matthew, for making The Trickery’s Launch Party more magical than I imagined!

postheadericon It’s The Trickery’s Relaunch Party!

We have a new website and we invite you to join The Trickery’s Launch Party!
Throughout the weekend we will run specials and promotions through our network of magic sites. Join us at Facebook and Twitter as well.

The TrickeryIf you do not know us, The Trickery was one of the first magic shops on the Internet 18 years ago. We were the first magic site to offer video demonstrations of the tricks we sell. If  you dig higher end collectible magic tricks, we’ve developed a small of props sold around the world.

Spend some time on our new site and tell us what you think. We look forward to serving your magical needs!

Best,
Howard

postheadericon I Want Your Help

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IF YOU KNOW ME, YOU KNOW I HAVE BLOOD CANCER!
Life expectancy was 5 years from diagnosis. I was diagnosed 3.5 years ago.
It’s a lot longer now thanks to people like you contributing to the
Leukemia & Lymphoma Society!
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 This weekend is our Light the Night Walk! Looking  forward to seeing some family
and some very great friends!  If you can’t make it there to walk with us,
then throw some money our way through the link below:
http://pages.lightthenight.org/nj/Morris11/TeamBaltus
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EVERY LITTLE BIT HELPS!
Skip a meal out or a night at the bar!
And it’s not just for me. You know other people with blood cancer.
They just aren’t public about it.
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Special thanks to all of our friends and customers who helped to raise more than
100% of our goal! You guys rock!!!

Light The Night Walk is The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s annual fundraising walk
to pay tribute and bring hope to people battling cancer.
Hundreds of thousands of participants raise funds for lifesaving research and patient services.

WALK WITH US OR DONATE!

postheadericon Real Magic

I often close my shows with the following patter…

“What you’ve seen me do is nothing more than tricks and illusions, but I assure you magic is real!  There’s the magic of a first kiss. The magic of a child being born. The magic of the seasons changing. That’s the real magic you want to keep alive in your hearts.”

The Trickery Magic ShopI was reminded that there’s magic in words and feelings no matter one’s age. Rose and I attended our friend’s magic convention this past weekend, Metro-Magic. Rose asked permission to sell paper balloons at the registration desk for $5.00 each. All of the procedes go to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. With a donation, Rose enetered the names into a drawing for a carry bag, shirt and over $100 in magic tricks donated by Bob Solari Magic, Tony Clark Productions and The Trickery. Response was great.

The first hour of the convention is the Dealer Demo where magic dealers go on stage for 3-5 minutes to hawk their wares and promote their booth at the show. I just didn’t want to do that so I offered my spot to Rose for her to pitch the donation thing. She did a great job! Just before the Dealer Demo, three young magicians approached my booth. They were good kids about 14 or 15 years old. The father of one of them dropped them off early in the morning to spend the day enjoying non-stop magic.  I demoed some of my wares as they made their way from one dealer to the next.

It was a little while after Rose made her speech that she was approached by one of these kids. He wanted to donate $40.00 and wanted to know if she would accept a credit card. He explained that he lost his grandpa to Leukemia in 2009 and that his grandfathers name was also Howard. He told Rose that she could call his father to verify he was an authorized user on the credit card.  She didn’t do that. Instead she was about to enter him for the raffle when he said, “I don’t want anything. I just want Howard to be well!”

Most adults don’t have the heart-felt generosity that this kid showed to us. He never met us before and somehow he made several people cry that day with his compassion.  Truly a magical moment! Oh! While he didn’t enter the drawing, he did leave with another bag of goddies, hand-selected by me!

postheadericon Creation

The Trickery Magic ShopOne of my favorite performing venues is what I call Formal Close-up Magic. It’s a combination of close-up and parlor magic worked in front of a small to medium sized audience. Much of the close-up magic is performed on a table. The inherent problem is vision. Most of your audience will not be able to see the table-side miracles. If money was no object I would have an incredible amount of fun with this problem. As it is, life keeps most of us on a budget which forces us to be creative.

After a few days of tossing the concept about in my head I gathered the electronics that I own and began to piece together what you see pictured here. A concept that I often live by is, “If you’re going to do something worth doing, do it right, do it big!”  The art of presentation is what make things appear on a grander scale. Like a master chef who prepares the most elegant of meals that makes your mouth water just by looking at the dish, a magician and his setting are no different. One element of putting together a great show is to create an  atmosphere which sets the mood for and exciting and wonderful performance. I like to use a backdrop, an array of tables and of course some type of PA system depending on the type of venue. Even as a child, my kid shows were put together in this way. Building a mini theater sets you apart from the low-rent entertainer who works off a TV table and out of his suitcase  with little regard to his “stage”.  It lacks professionalism. Creating the ambiance sets the mood right from the start.

While I’m still working on the set-up concept, this is what I have so far. Many years ago, I purchased a projection system for the dealer demos and lectures. It’s an Optima and went for about $2000. Many years since, you can find more portable and affordable projection systems starting at about $300. I also have a Sony HD camera. While you certainly don’t need to spend that kind of money, a good digital video camera can be had for under $300.  An inexpensive backdrop system can be purchased from a camera dealer for between $250-$400. A projection screen can range from $50-$400+.  The point here is that you can easily do this for a lot less monies than I spent!

The projection system can be switched between two devices. Using the remote control I can toggle between a computer and video camera. I have my 60 minute show mapped out to music. Sometimes, it’s background music; other times it’s music for a performance piece. I run the music through Microsoft’s Windows Media Player. This player has a great visual display that emulates a light show while the music is playing. The screen, as pictured, is filled with a very nice light display when performing the parlor tricks that do not involve being stationed at a table. These are effects that will play very well and be seen in a larger room without the use of projection. When I work the close-up effects, I simply toggle to the camera view and as if by magic, the screen instantly switches to an incredible view of the close-up arena.

I found that in a darkened room, a lighting fixture was needed. The result was a tripod stand that holds a lamp that illuminates a white bulb like a small spotlight. It lights the center of the close-up pad and allows for a clear crisp view on the big screen. While I’m still experimenting with the final result, I thought you can at the very least take what I’ve done so far and run with it. Have fun!

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postheadericon Goodbye to an Old Friend

Bye GeorgeHe was an old friend for many years. He was the reason I sell and create high-end collectible magic tricks. He inspired me to create two  performance pieces that I am most proud of producing. His name and mine are forever linked through the Internet to a collaboration of a magic routine we brought to market. His name was Al Lagomarsino.

I met Al better than 15 years ago at the first magic convention I attended as a dealer. Our tables were next to each other; the only two tables in the back room….the room right next to the bathrooms. This is where the ‘new kids on the block’ were placed. It wasn’t so bad as everybody had to make it past our booths at some point!

Al’s table was filled with tiny little boxes made from Walnut. As I walked by his table on the way to have a cigarette I stopped for a moment and watched him demonstrate what we now call The Mysterious Mini Card Boxes. I remember being taken back to a time of child-like innocence where awe and wonder aroused the senses and there seemed to be no possible explanation in what I just witnessed. I had to see everything else on the table.

I asked if he would wholesale his items to me.  All through the day the answer was no. I got to know him though partaking in the occasional smoke throughout the day. We formed a bond that would last many years.

Al’s persona, if you didn’t know him, was like a charactor that could have easily been cast in The Sopranos. He was in his 60’s when we met, very straight-faced and a man of little words, most them 4-letter words! He really could have been type-cast if he acted. If Al let you into his world, you saw the caring and loving side of him. He shared what he learned with me and became a very good friend.

I got the phone call that Al died Friday night. His last few years were rough with heart disease and cancer. Several months ago I had a very long conversation with Al. I always smiled when talking with him and will forever smile when I think of him.

Journey well old friend. We’ll meet again.

postheadericon Turn the Page

Booklet of LifeIt’s been three years since the onset of the recession. Quite a bit has changed in the magic industry as well as my personal life. As I look back on past articles I’ve written, many of my predictions have come to be. Lots of magic shops have closed their doors, the distributors have lowered their inventory levels and have phased out much of their product line. Newsletters from magic dealers come with more frequency and close-out prices. I’ve seen emails begging and pleading for sales. It’s still pretty bad out there.

We’ve decided to hold off on sending newsletters indefinitely.

That’s a bold decision my part, but one that I  feel strongly about. I stated a moment ago that I see our competitors blasting out emails on a daily and weekly basis in an effort to survive. I also think that constant bombarding of things that can’t be afforded at the present time by most people is… well…kind of rude. While I will continue to promote certain items and share news events, it will only be done through Trickery Talk.

While the above words seems bleak, negative situations always create positive reactions.

What’s that mean for The Trickery?

When we shifted our focus from carrying over 3000 items and stocking them all to concentrating on our own items and select product lines from other vendors, our profitability jumped from 10% to 60%. While our gross sales have fallen, we’re still netting more monies at the end of the day. All good stuff! While you’ve noticed more out of stocks than usual and less updating of new items, you’ll begin to see some changes throughout our site over the next several months.

To answer a question I’ve been asked many times recently…We are NOT closing our virtual doors, nor do we plan to that ever! It simply doesn’t make sense to focus primarily on The Trickery until the American economy begins to revive itself. We have no problem holding our own and keeping a low profile until it does so. When the time is right, we have an incredible new line of highly collectible magic tricks that we will unleash in a big way. We’re quietly active behind the scenes as some of my greatest projects are slowly being brought to fruition. 

To generate new cash flow streams, my attentions turned to my other business and passion, WebAuthorings. I create custom designs and web systems for the Internet, as well as print ad graphics, audio, video and a slew of other services for small and medium businesses. WebAuthorings.com is doing very nicely and growing substantially. We are migrating more than 75 domains and clients sites over the next several weeks to 5 Cloud servers. We’ve also created customized ecommerce systems for 3 very well known manufacturers of finer magic. You can see some of our work at WebAuthorings.com.

On a personal note, I’ve started chemo treatments several weeks ago. Round 3 begins early April @ New York Presbyterian. Each round is made up of 5 sessions, Monday through Friday. It’s working beautifully so far. Treatment will take me into early July. I also joined Weight Watchers because apparently chemo just wasn’t enough! Already down 12 lbs in 5 weeks! The short term goal is by July to be cancer-free and 30 lbs lighter. The majority of cancer is now gone from my body. The lymph nodes have mostly dissipated or reduced significantly in size. Slightly better results than my oncologist anticipated this soon! And my skinny jeans are lose! Yay!

I’m becoming more involved with performing and spending quite a bit of time putting together a presentation interspersed with magic that one of my partners and I will shop around for financial backing and hopefully production.   

If you want to contact me with any magic related questions, please call me in the morning hours at 973.657.0446. For web related questions please call 973.657.0447 anytime during business hours EST.

Rose and I wish all of you well and look forward to serving your magical needs …and possibly your web related needs!

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