Thanks for the post. I just bought a VIP to Nothing to Hide yesterday. Now I'm looking forward to it even more!
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The unique setup has its roots in the early 1960s, when Milt Larsen, a magician and a writer for the game show Truth or Consequences, would look out the window of his Hollywood and Highland office at an abandoned 1908 Victorian Gothic mansion at 7001 Franklin Ave. He and his television producer brother, Bill, decided to snap up the property and fulfill their dad's dream of creating a magicians' clubhouse. The building became a maze of bars, stained glass, red velvet, dark wood paneling, gargoyles, a piano-playing ghost named Irma and photos of onetime board member Cary Grant.
The Castle made its name, in part, on the presence of Dai Vernon, a pioneer in close-up magic and a mentor to many young magicians. (Close-up magic involves sitting at a table with just a few observers. The other main types are parlor magic, in which the magician typically stands up in front of a slightly larger group, and stage magic, with showier stunts for even bigger crowds.) For the last 28 years of life, until he died in 1992, Vernon made the Castle his unofficial home.
Perhaps eyeing next year's 50th anniversary, the Castle is trying to propel its way further into popular culture. Magic Castle Inc., the company that holds the club's intellectual property, just signed with Creative Artists Agency. A film is in the works, with McG attached to direct.
On one recent night I attended with a magician friend, the Castle was having a "smackdown" event at the bar outside the Peller Theater. Performers moved from table to table, and spectators voted on their favorites.
Learning more about an art form often means disavowing the notion that all of it is great. Even a nonmagician starts to get used to the rhythms and notices things you're not supposed to see. And so it was that evening.
One performer pretended to pull plastic eyeballs out of his eye, though it was too easy to see him switch them between two hands and into his jacket. "That guy went back to his pocket too much," my friend whispered.
Another performer did a routine where he flipped over dominoes and got them to switch places. "It's too confusing," my friend said. Vernon preached that "confusion is not magic" — what's happening has to be clear.
On the other side of the Castle, performing in the Close-Up Gallery, was Suzanne, who won the Castle's Close-Up Magician of the Year award for 2010. She had great technique and an affable persona. Like most close-up magicians, she had her own variation on Vernon's "Ambitious Card" routine, where someone picks a card, you mix it into the deck and it rises to the top. A routine with three cups placed facedown, each hiding an ever-changing number of balls, was accompanied by a conventional story that related the balls to "travelers" — though she added some surprises at the end.
Magic has a basic vocabulary, and each magician arranges it in his or her own style. DelGaudio and Guimarães are trying to create their own vocabulary.
It can be difficult for a nonmagician to understand the difference, says Rob Zabrecky, another Academy trustee, and a friend of DelGaudio and Guimarães'. "You go to your hipster art opening in Silver Lake and go, 'That's pretty good,' even if it's derivative of Ed Ruscha and Andy Warhol. But you wouldn't know" if you don't know art, he says.
He adds, "I would refer to their work as radical."
DelGaudio wishes more of his fellow magicians tried to move the profession forward.
In late 2010, he says, he asked the Magic Castle's entertainment director if there was any act bad enough not to book. The response was no.
So he decided to take a significant step away from the club.
"They claim to be the highest level of magic, and people can come and see the greatest magicians in the world. In truth it's just a magic club," DelGaudio says. "They hire their friends and family. ... They don't challenge the status quo."
(The club's entertainment director, Jack Goldfinger, says he doesn't recall speaking with DelGaudio about these issues. He says, "If you're in the center of the circle you'll get 360 different ways of looking at it. In this field, there are no absolutes.")
"I can't keep beating my head against the wall," DelGaudio recalls thinking.
"People that we acknowledge as really good magicians, we go, like, 'That is unbelievable,' " Guimarães says. "Most of the times I see a magic show, it's like I'm seeing a trick."
DelGaudio adds, "These guys come up with a formula that works without contributing anything else and it's like, now you're just doing a shitty job. But they think that their few bad jokes and their idea that they introduced to it is enough to make up for not being talented."
They feel magicians should be skilled, sure, but more important is authenticity, commitment to the craft, lack of gratuitous self-promotion, using talents for good and not for evil — traits important to artists and musicians. Even an attention magnet like David Blaine is not so bad in their eyes. "He's genuinely weird," DelGaudio says. "You meet him and you realize it's not an act. And you kind of get points for that."