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October 2010

14 entries from September 2010

More Merlin Awards

Congratulations to Jeff McBride's Wonderground, which will receive a Merlin Award on October 21 for 'Most Inovative Show 2010'. This is the show's second award. It also received a Merlin for 'Show of the Year' which was presented on it's preview night back on Aug 20, 2008.

On the same night Eugene Burger will be awarded 'Close Up Magician of the Year' for 2010. Previous winners of this Merlin have included Bob Chua (2001), Steve Dacri (2008, 2009), and Tse Tow Joon Yeen (2009).

More Merlin Mysteries


From the MagicNZ Ezine comes this news direct from Tony Hassini:

The International Magicians Society's voting members and the
Board of Directors voted Luis de Matos of Portugal as the
Illusionist of The Decade. As 2010 is coming to an end, there
will be four more decade awards. I will correspond with you and
send you information on each one of them.


So we can assume that, in addition to 'Illusionist of the decade' there will be three more '... of the decade' awards.

But what will they be?

We've already had


'Magician of the decade' - Criss Angel, 2009.

'Mentalist of the decade' - Gerry McCambridge, 2008

'Female Magician of the decade' - Bambi Van Burch, 2009 

'Magical Inventor of the decade' - Andre Kole, 2004

'Illusionist of the decade' - Joe Labero, 2009 (Oops, was that already handed out?)

'Illusionist of the decade' - Franz Harary, 2004 (Yep, it was..., twice)


Any idea what the new categories yet to be announced will be?

Two Out Of A Hat - Ellis & Webster's School Holiday Magic Show

Just a quick note to let you know that, if you're looking for a fun show to take the kids to see these school holidays, TWO OUT OF A HAT starring Ellis & Webster is selling very quickly!

Our first two shows: 11am on Sep 28 & 29, are almost 50% full, and the third at 11am on Sep 30 is filling quickly too.

Book online by clicking here or call the Northcote Town Hall now on 9481 9500 to reserve your tickets (use the code word ILLUSION to get tickets for just $11 each!!!)

Magic is a business

I recently heard of a case where an agent, who usually books a reasonably priced colleague of mine, instead booked one of his students for a corporate gig. The colleague was, understandably, puzzled. His student has only just got into magic and knew a total of two tricks.

In a "normal" situation where a client wants to impress his or her guests, they would seek out a particular act based on reputation or recommendation. But more often than not nowadays, clients are booking acts through agencies.

More often than not nowadays, those agencies have never actually seen any of the acts they represents.

More often than not nowadays, those agencies only have a life of about a year.

A client might come to them with a budget of $1000. A good agent, one that wishes to keep the client by providing the best possible act, will sell them someone priced from $750 to $900 and keep the balance as their commission.

The not-so-good agency will find the cheapest possible act, even one as cheap as $100, and keep the balance as commission.

Unfortunately, the good agencies are becoming fewer as more and more "price competitive" agents are popping up with acts that are much cheaper (ie: not considered a good enough standard by the good agencies).

The result. Less work for the good acts in the short term because the cheaper acts will be pushed instead (higher commissions!). Less work for the good acts in the long term because the clients won't want to hire a magician after they have the cheaper acts...


Why the sudden increase in the dodgy agents? 

Perhaps it has to do with the fact that money is still tight as we ride out the tail end of the GFC?

Perhaps it has to do with the fact that one magician, he who shall not be named, has been raping and pillaging the industry without repercussion for the last few years?

His modus operandi has been to blanket-bomb with advertising and take as many gigs as possible, regardless of budget. He then picks and chooses the best of the bunch, and farms the rest off to other "colleagues" around Australia. Sure the clients are disappointed that they didn't get the magician they booked based on the advertising... but he did warn them if he couldn't make it he'd send a colleague... And the colleagues were happy, they were getting twice their usual fees (eg: $400 instead of $200) and he was happy because the clients were paying eg: $2000 and he was getting a $1600 commission!)

Other people have watched this magician doing this for years and some have been disgusted by his lack of ethics, while others have chosen to model their behaviour after him in hopes that they can be as successful.

But his success has come at a price. His habit of dropping a lower paying gig in preference to a higher paying one (using the excuse of a sore back) has resulted in so many agents refusing to book him that he's formed his own online agencies. Plus he's found yet another way to rort his magician colleagues by charging them a fee to be represented by him!

Magic is a business.

Back in the 1980s and early 1990s clients were much more "hands-on" and searched out good acts by name. Word of mouth was the key and your reputation was everything.

Now it's the CEO's PA who is given the task to arrange the event and source the entertainment. They Google 'Magician' and book the first name that comes up. (Our magician even offers PAs a bonus Myer Gift Card to them on the side as a thankyou for booking him). As most companies have annual events, and will book a magician one year, then a comedian, then a singer etc... they will only use a magician once every five years or so and by then the PA has been replaced and the new PA will probably inadvertently book the same bad magician... 

Surprisingly, despite our increase in instant communication, people don't "talk" as much anymore. 

Back in "the day" people would be chatting about how good (or bad) the magician was for weeks.

Now, the day after the big event, the PA who booked the bad act goes into damage control and emails a post-event report to everyone saying how fantastic the night was and how great the act was. Everyone sitting in their little cubicles assumes they must be the only one who didn't like the act and consensus is formed by a majority of one.


Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? 

Is there a way for the good acts to get the gigs again?

Strangely enough many of the good acts are choosing to tour theatres with their own solo shows. Aside from the artistic satisfaction of having people come specifically to see you, the idea is to build a brand so that clients will ask, not for a magician, but for you by name.

Ironically, there is a lot more work and a lot less profit in staging a theatre show than there is in a corporate gig (assuming a fair commission is taken by a good agent). 

So if good agents are few and fair between, what is the answer?

Kids parties.

That's right. It's the only area of magic where word-of-mouth is king. Parents will generally only book an act for their darling's celebration based on a trusted recommendation.

At $350 a pop, and some performers doing ten or more shows a week.... it's solid, regular income where the client is choosing you above all other acts based on the quality of your work.


Hopefully, one day, the corporate market will again take booking acts just as seriously. 



The handcuffs that beat Houdini


Master locksmith Ian McColl has reproduced the incredibly rare Fenton Handcuffs, the only cuffs that Houdini refused not once - but twice.

They are currently up for auction on eBay but be quick - only 6 days to go!

Following is the fascinating story of the cuffs as per the listing.

The original lock was made about 1760 by William Fenton, a locksmith from Bradford, England. Only three were made. No one has knows the whereabouts of two of them, but one of them was used on a warehouse door. When the building was torn down in the 1800's the lock was removed by members of the Fenton family. It remained in the Fenton family when a descendant of Fenton’s challenged Houdini to open this lock. He added a wooden stock on top of the lock. The handwritten challenge to Houdini states in part; “Challenge to Mr. Houdini. Dear Sir, I have a patent lock with wood handcuffs attached, and if you will allow me to fasten you, I challenge you to pick the lock. The lock was made Wm Fenton, locksmith, Bradford, therefore a local one, and perhaps will give more interest than otherwise. If you will kindly accept theChallenge, I shall be pleased to handcuff you, at any time convenient to you. ….” 
Houdini declined this challenge. Not once, but twice. He would not accept the challenge in 1910 and again in 1914 when performing in the area. After Houdini’s death it became known as the lock that beat Houdini, although Harry never accepted the challenge. 

It is a simple warded lock, but has not one or two, but three compartments built within the lock. Drawings, sketches, and photos of the original padlock were made, and Ian faithfully reproduced the lock from that information complete with stocks. Up for auction is Ian’s one and only reproduction. Without instructions on how to open it one would take quite some time to even open it with the key. Instructions will be sent to the winning bidder. Since the original is owned by the family and for awhile was displayed in a museum (not sure if it’s still there or not), this is your only chance to own this important but almost unknown piece of Houdiniana. For Handcuff or Houdini collectors you won’t ever get a chance to acquire another one. Photos below show front, back, the key, and to show the immense size of this piece I've used another Ian McColl masterpiece for scale, his French Lettercuff. Notice the large size of this lock/handcuff compared to a normal sized handcuff. This is a unique chance to obtain a one-of-a-kind Houdini related piece. It may go to a padlock or lock collector, Houdini collector, or a handcuff collector. It operates beautifully, and is in perfect condition. I will include a photocopy of the Houdini Challenge, handwritten by a descendent of the original lock's maker William Fenton, and additional information on this famous declined Houdini challenge. 


Here's one for 'The Real Hustle'

I'm currently engaged in a scam.

Or to be more precise, being scammed.

I was contacted a few days ago by a chap who calls himself 'Bob Maxwell' who emailed me the following message:

    My name is Bob, i am preparing for my wedding which will come up on the 25th of september 2010.. by 10:00am here in conlins ave miami, As i was searching for the best magician to make the day a memorable day for me and my wife. I saw your advert and i am really impressed about your performance. and you are going to start  by 12:00pm and end 1:00pm, How much will you collect if you are to entertain my guess with the travel expenses....i am having 50 guest. 
Hope to read back from you.

All very flattering, and we must assume every booking to be real or we risk insulting genuine customers, but it's his follow up to my reply that reveals the scam:

Hi Bob,

          I’m based in Australia.

          My fee for an hour of strolling magic is only $AUS800, but the airfares and travel costs will                         probably add up to about $3000-4000 on top of that.

         TIM ELLIS

Good to hear back from you....Well i am okay with the price if that is what will make my wedding day memorable day for my guests....I will instruct my PA to issue out a check for your service because we are in france now for the wedding shopping and we are going to spend sometime there and you are going to help me with something because my PA cannot issued two check, I will instruct him to issue you a check of $6,000 and after deducting your money you will help me wire the remaining amount to a videographer that will cover all the wedding day.
Let me have your full name and address where the check will be send to.
Hope to read back from you soon.
Best Regards.

It's the classic 'Overpayment Scam' where the scammer pays you with a fake cheque and has you refund the difference (in this case to pay the videographer who is part of the scam). 

Knowing this, I explained we don't accept international cheques, but he can pay by PayPal. He doesn't do PayPal... He offered to do an international bank transfer. (He would then insist I pay his videographer urgently, before the transfer fails to clear). I've said we only accept PayPal, so I don't expect to hear from him again.

The amusing part of this scam is that the scammer is using the name of one of the most high profile scammers in history, Robert Maxwell.

Plus, he (or other scammers) are pulling similar scams on other industries and also using the 'Bob Maxwell' moniker.  B&B Scam Alert

Is this some sort of scammers "inside joke"?

Here's on from David Maxwell, a Zoologist, Dr Joseph Maxwell, from Nestle Aid, Stanley Maxwell, replying to an ad for horses for sale, Kevin Maxwell, asking for assistance in cashing a cheque, John Maxwell, offering someone a ten million pound inheritance, Dennis Maxwell & Mike Maxwell, trying to scam artists, Jason Maxwell... and the list goes on.

Oh, and a final warning, if you try to be clever and cash the cheque, you are the one who will most likely be arrested for fraud:

"A woman I know in LA was caught in the same "overpayment" scam and thought it smelled fishy, but figured if the check cleared, it would be alright. While she was at the bank, there happened to be a police officer. The teller immediately recognized the money order as fake and alerted the officer. They cuffed her and she spent the night in jail, paid $3k bail and had to go to court. She eventually had the charges dropped, but didn't get the bail money back."