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21 entries from August 2007


I forgot to give you my review of my new HTC TOUCH phone!

Basically, it's the best phone I've ever had! The organiser features are just as good as my old XDA, and the phone itself is very good with great volume, inbuilt speaker phone that actually works and all the gimmicks and accessories you could ever want. The actual "touch" features (where you operate the phone with your finger or thumb) work very well, but only on the HTC parts of the phone... the Microsoft Outlook features (calendar, contacts, notes etc) really need you to use the stylus to work them accurately.

Another positive is the outer coating of the phone itself. It's almost rubberised, so you feel very confident when gripping it.

The only drawback, which is also a great selling point, is the size. It's so small I keep it in the top outer pocket of my jackets, but keep forgetting it's there when I hang my coats up in the wardrobe.

Attack of the clones?

It was lovely to get a comment from David Oliver (I'm amazed to hear just who reads this blog). David referred to himself as Mat Unwin's "evil" clone. For those who missed out on the much earlier post he's referring to, here's David Oliver:


He was our stage manager when we performed at Hank Lee's Cape Cod Conclave.

Here's Mat Unwin:


Who has worked with us and as our stage manager here in Melbourne sooo many times!

Then, a few weeks ago I spotted THIS action figure doll in a WHAT'S NEW store:


Coincidence? You be the judge!   

Nosmo & King


On July 1, 2007, all venues in Victoria banned smoking indoors. This is a good thing, especially for non-smokers, but what about magicians who do tricks with cigarettes or actors who are required to smoke on stage?

For a long time we close up magicians have been used to dropping cigarette vanishes and manipulation from our close-up sets, unless we go outside and entertain the smokers... but now that a total ban on smoking indoors is in force, even lighting up on stage is now, technically, illegal.

I have/had a sequence in my show where I borrow a cigarette, talk about how you can't light up in many places any more but, using magic, you can. I do a few very nice effects, vanish the cigarette and return it to the owner.

Now, I find that as soon as I borrow a cigarette and even act as though I'm going to light it, the mood changes... you can sense the audience thinking "He's going to get in trouble for this!"

A good friend Anthony DeMasi told me he did a show recently where, just as he was about to do cigarette through coat, an "official" rushed on stage and stopped him from lighting the cigarette. He still did the routine, with an unlit cigarette, and got laughs but without the usual drama of a potentially burning jacket...

So what do we do now? Magicians have lost pyros and flaming torches. Many venues won't let you light a candle, but those bans are usually for insurance purposes and can be worked around. But the smoking situation is a law.

Al_capp_smoking_gunIn the show 'PRIVATE EYE' Enzo Ficco is doing his Al Cappuccino act which has 5 minutes of lit cigarette manipulations in it. This show is for the Fringe Festival, a festival which (you would think) likes to challenge society. At a recent meeting at the venue, it was expressed in no uncertain terms that Enzo could not use lit cigarettes. He could POSSIBLY use Herbal Cigarettes, but only if we warned the public before they bought tickets. Apparently it was policy of the council who owned the venue. Then a council authority walked in and was asked about the issue and said he had no problem with the cigarettes on stage. However, later we were told it was Fringe "artistic" policy not to use cigarettes, though Herbal Cigarettes would be acceptable, but naked flame would not. (So, I asked, how do we light the Herbal Cigarettes?) They thought, and agreed matches would be okay...

However, this is just one show, where does it leave Enzo and others for future gigs? Enzo has spent most of his magical life learning to do an act that thematically revolves around an era associated with cigarettes, pool balls, cards, and... guns (an entirely separate issue!)

Herbal Cigarettes are not the answer as we've heard from many sources that they smell awful, and would completely destroy the 1920's feel Enzo tries to create. Not only that, but they are just as if not more harmful than nicotine cigarettes... producing the same carbon monoxide filled second-hand smoke.

After a long workshop the other night, we reworked Enzo's act so he could make it look like he was smoking, but wasn't. It's not as good as it was, but careful routining of dummy cigarettes made a good compromise. (Though it did stump us for a bit when we got to the part where Enzo normaly lights a length of flash string with his cigarette...) It will be interesting to see if any "officials" rush on stage during his show to protect their patrons from second-hand smoke... only to discover it's talcum powder...

In as much as that helps Enzo, what about the people who feature Cigarette Thru Coat or other effects that are based on the burning nature of a cigarette?

Regarding other effects in the magician's repertoire, who is out there deciding what we can and can't do? At many gigs where we are told fire is banned (for insurance and safety reasons), there are lots of lit candles on every table. At one venue that refuses to let anyone use fire, they hired a fire twirler (who was a mentalist who'd never used fire before but took the gig because he wanted the money) and they allowed him to twirl fire on stage because they were the ones running the function (one rule for them, different rules for others). We've even had venue officials worried when we tell them about Sue-Anne levitating on the mic stand ("That doesn't sound safe") or her sawing me in two with a chainsaw. Years ago I was doing a straitjacket escape hanging by my ankles from a crane, and the safety officer explained I'd have to be in a cage while I did it in case I fell...

Do circus acts or freak show performers have this same sort of trouble?

I fear that doves and live animals will be the next items stripped from the arsenal of the magician. Much more politically correct to let the doves and rabbits live free in the wild instead of humiliating them for the amusement of humans...

Well, here is a video of a classic cigarette act... Cardini. Enjoy him while you can, he wouldn't get a gig in Melbourne that's for sure!


There's been a big discussion on the exposure of secrets on the Genii Forum which has raised a lot of intereting issues.

Our mention of Matt Hollywood on TV the other day is similar to some extent. As Sue-Anne pointed out, people who were just sitting at home watching TV had a secret revealed to them whether they wanted to know or not. Yes, they could turn away, but it's like the Masked Magician shows... people are drawn to the "forbidden" ("we shouldn't be telling you this...") and then disappointed afterwards ("It spoiled it for me...")

I understand the nature of TV. I've done over 90 appearances and nowdays it's not enough to call a show and say "Hey, I can come on and do magic for you." The producer wants a "hook", an angle that makes your appearance a little different to just "Here are some tricks". That's why the "Masked Magician" shows went to air. It was something "special", something "forbidden" that drew viewers in much larger numbers than Lance Burton's specials which were on at the same time.

Undoubtedly, Matt would have been asked "Could you reveal some secrets to the viewers?" and he obviously agreed. Many magicians have taken this path before and, as Matt himself said "There are certain tricks we are allowed to reveal". However, the principle of the Zombie is not one of those tricks.

Matt is not a novice. He has been doing magic for many, many years now. He was President of the Australian Society of Magicians, he advertises himself as "Australia's Champion of Magic", so he should know what the "certain tricks" are.

Unfortunately, by exposing the principle he chose to expose, he was demonstrating a huge lack of respect to his fellow magicians who make their income doing tricks based on that principle. His choice of material was either thoughtless, or malicious.

As far as the Can Trick goes... Matt and I have spoken at length about the fact that I have built my reputation in the corporate scene in Australia around that trick. I have made it a centrepiece of my solo and our duo shows. It's as much my "trademark" as cutting the tie is Phil Cass's. Matt says he understands, but does it in his show anyway. Not only does he do it, he does it badly. Not only does he do it in his show but, knowing it affects me, he did it on TV less than a week after we spoke about it. Once again, either a thoughtless act or a malicious one.

Finally, I have several friends in the TV industry who are amateur magicians who keep asking how the can trick is done. I politely refuse to tell them, and they accept and respect that. Matt is friends with Mike Goldman, host of Big Brother Up Late. A few weeks ago Mike did the can trick on TV saying "Here's a trick taught to me by my good friend Matt Hollywood". He did it even worse than Matt does. (Mike also did Cyril's trick where he sneezes and his head falls off... who taught him that one? Is it even on sale anywhere?)

So, by sharing his secrets with his TV friend, Matt gets a few extra spots on TV... but for how long? As his friend can now do the same tricks Matt can do... why does he need Matt anymore? It's very, very short term thinking.

We need to keep secrets. They are our stock in trade. Laymen EXPECT us to keep secrets. They are DISAPPOINTED in magicians who give them away (either intentionally or through poor performances).

I know many people will argue that entertainment and presentation are most important... yes they are. If you are an 'Entertainer', but if you are a magician you first need to FOOL people (as well as entertain them). You can't do that as effectively if they already know how the trick works.

Tristan made the comment:

My point about magic and secrets is that to rely on something remaining a secret seems an unwise thing to do, and to be surprised when a secret is revealed seems odd too. That's the nature of secrets, and is therefore the nature of magic.
Magic is very easily broken. Lets not get too indignant when a part of it does break (potentially).

Isn't trying to keep something a secret what magic is all about? If you can't do it, you're in the wrong business.

Travelling Shows

Last week I wrote up our "adventures" in Hong Kong and a few people wrote to me privately saying how they enjoyed seeing a little of the work that went on "behind the scenes" in taking illusions overseas.

Well three days after we got back we travelled interstate to Brisbane. This was a typical gig for us, (and after Hong Kong it seemed a breeze!) but I thought I'd give you a quick run down of what it takes to do a 30 minute show in Brisbane.

The night before is spent packing our luggage and making sure nothing is too heavy. Because we are Frequent Flyers we get a total of two pieces of luggage up to 32kgs per piece. (If we fly Jetstar or Virgin, we get one piece each up to 20kgs, everything over that is excess). We take:

  1. Roadcase (modified suitcase table) which is usually 30kgs.
  2. Base for the levitation, about 22kgs.
  3. Pole for the levitation, 9kgs.
  4. Suit carrier, 20kgs.

Then we each have a small carry-on bag with fragile items and sometimes a costume on a hanger.

Our flight to Brisbane was noon, so we aim to get to the airport two hours earlier just in case, so we leave home at 9.30am, arrive at long term parking at 10.00am, and unload all our luggage from the van and wheel it through the car park to the bus stop. (The base goes on the roadcase - which has wheels - and the pole is on top of that with a carry-on case. I push that while Sue-Anne has the suit carrier - on wheels - with a carry-on on top of that).

We put everything on the bus and get dropped off at the Qantas departures area. We check in and our suit carrier goes down the conveyor belt, we take the other three items across to "special baggage" where they are tested for explosives residue and sent down a different conveyor belt. Then it's through the security x-ray for us (getting stopped if we have: Linking Rings, a jumbo coin, or the Jeannie Bottle in our carry-on).

Now it's waiting time. We wait in the Qantas Club where we grab a snack, we wait on the plane for two hours flying to Brisbane, we wait for at least 30 minutes for all our luggage to come out on the conveyor belt, we wait while the taxi driver figures out how to get the luggage into his cab, we wait while going to the hotel and then we arrive at the hotel around 3 pm.

We go through the same story 50% of the time. The hotel has our reservation but either wants us to pay for our room because they don't realise the client is paying, or the room has been paid for but the breakfast hasn't. Most of the time the client has cleared this with the hotel, but the hotel hasn't got it in writing.

Now it's four hours before I do close-up for the clients, and six hours before we do our 30 minute show.

In Brisbane we took a stroll through the city to grab a bite to eat and to look for props and costumes for Sue-Anne's PRIVATE EYE show. Then it was back to the hotel where I took a look in the room where we were going to perform only to discover they had no PA set up. Yes, they had in-ceiling speakers, but not of a good enough quality to play back our music.

I spoke to the Banquets Manager, the Events Manager and the In House Staging Connections person. Apparently no-one had told them we needed a PA. I called the client, they had passed on our requirements...  Yes, a PA could be brought in, but at extra cost to the client. BUT, as there was a function next door, they didn't want us to have any loud music as it would disturb the other guests. The Staging Connections said I'd need to use a special transformer to patch into the ceiling system and he went off to get it. After a while, I decided to patch in anyway and, as I expected, it worked fine. I ran my music through their in-ceiling speakers as loud as they would go. The Event Manager said she wouldn't allow the sound to be louder than that... so there was no point in getting a PA in. I knew the sound would be rubbish, but as long as I explained the situation to the client (which I did) we wouldn't look bad in their eyes.

Meanwhile the Banquet staff were in a kerfuffle as they'd put out four tables instead of five and were busy resetting the room for the correct number of guests.

For the next 30 minutes we ferried props from our hotel room down to the function room and preset what we could because there was no area to change in the function room, we had to use a meeting room down the hall. (Often we're staying in a different hotel to the venue, so this was a breeze in that regard).

Now I headed back up and got changed, came down stairs and met the client again and was briefed before going into the close-up magic for the guests in the foyer.

Then it was two hours of waiting and preparing in the meeting room while the guests enjoyed dinner and speeches.

Finally the main courses were cleared from the tables and we were on standby, just waiting for the smokers to return. (They had to take the lift to the ground floor and go outside into the street for their ciggies, then come back... it took a while).

The show started and, of course, the music was waaaay to soft and somewhat tinny. But we tried to make up for it with a more energetic performance.

Sue-Anne noticed it was very hard to see me and she found someone who could turn the lights in the room back up. (Apparently, as soon as the guests came in for dinner, they turned the lights down to about 20% to create a lovely "mood".)

The show was done, the guests had a great time (because they were laughing and clapping along, we couldn't hear ANY of the music for the Great Whammo) and then it was a case of grabbing some of the props and getting them out of the function room and into the meeting room so we could pack up.

While we were packing they brought us our re-heated main courses and some soft drinks (about 10.15pm) and after eating we took the props back up to the room. I headed back down stairs as I had to get the audio gear out of the function room. Just as I got into the room, the guest of honour was introduced and began his speech. I stopped packing and sat down. An hour later I resumed packing and got back up into the room about midnight.

We got up at 5am to take a 6am taxi to the airport for our 7.50am flight back to Melbourne. Repeat the process - luggage into taxis, departure lounges, Qantas Club, flight, carousels, parking bus, load into van and just a little after 11am we drove our van back into our garage.

That night, and the next few nights, we just had close-up shows which, pay less but are so much less work. Jump in the car with the gear, drive to the venue, put stuff in your pockets, walk in and perform. (Well, except for when Sue-Anne does close up as Jeannie.. add two hours of make up and costume preparation for that).

Anyway, just a little peep behind the scenes for those who were interested.

More exposure

We had quite a few phonecalls this morning telling us to turn on the TV and watch The Morning Show on Channel 7 because they just announced a magician was going to come on and reveal some magic secrets.

Sure enough, on came Matt Hollywood. He did a few effects then proceeded to explain a simple vanishing match effect, but then came his explanation of the "Floating Orange". Yes, if you have a Zombie Ball in your act, the secret has just been explained on national TV by our very own Valentino Matt Hollywood.

Of all the tricks he could teach... why that one?

Even host Larry Emdur didn't seem that impressed with the nature of the segment and finished by saying "Join us next week when Matt will explain how David Copperfield drove a truck through the great wall of China."