Back from Kuwait! Off again soon!

It has been a tremendously busy time since we returned from Kuwait. I have not written a blog entry for almost a week because Ning & I were busy finishing our “3 Sides of Magic” book that forms the basis of our lecture taking place in Penang this coming Sat.

Based on feedback from different people we shared the book/ lecture contents with, some revisions, additions and removals have been done. We have just approved the final proof of the book and it looks great. This is the first time we are revealing techniques and methods to our close-up, mentalism and stage work so it is very different from all our previous offerings to the magic community.

I also took the opportunity to completely revised, update and expand my “Beyond the Stage” lecture notes that I first wrote in 2006. These new notes are completely updated and relevant to the current magic and entertainment market trends. It is a perfect complement to our “3 Sides of Magic” book/ lecture. More exciting updates about these books in another post soon!

Besides writing, we have also been crazy busy with prepping for the actual trip to Penang as well as a big corporate show we have for BMW Japan, the night before we leave for Penang. We are also coordinating the return of our props being shipped back from Kuwait and sending another set of illusions to Kuala Lumpur for an illusion performance we have the following week.

Speaking of Kuwait, let me wrap up the project by saying what a tremendous great time we had. Overall, it was a great show with a tremendous international cast, crew and production team! I wrote about the show rundown previously here.

Check out the awesome video that Andrew Lee cut even before we finished the last show.

I think Ning & I added value to show as we performed both visual illusions as well as had strong interactive routines with the audience that brought their energy up in the crucial midway point of the show. Ning & I were proud to be the sole representatives of Asia and hope more producers look towards bringing in more world class Asian magic talent. Adeline was running our backstage as well as served as our primary stage hand for the shows. She did a fantastic job ensuring we looked good and her experience running our shows all over the world have made her an invaluable part of our team.

David Lai, the producer for the show did an admirable job putting together the stellar international cast and running the show cues. His network of magicians is strong and he has great sensibilities when it comes to putting a show with different magicians together. Besides making sure the show ran smoothly, he was also very particular that his magicians’ needs were attended to and taken care of. I know all the magicians appreciated this. Not everyone can do this job! David has broken international ground with his productions, especially in the Middle East, bringing world class magic to a whole new audience. In fact, his efforts are being recognized as he will be presented the Malaysian Achievement Award on the 23rd February 2012 from the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, for his production shows overseas. Congrats David! We look forward to working with David on more productions this year including a Superstars of Magic show that he is producing later in the year. We are planning a great set for that show!

The promoters, Event Mania, were a joy to work with and kudos to them for trying something new in Kuwait where magic shows have never been staged before they started promoting the show last year. Sheham and his multi-ethnic team are a creative big-picture and agile team who really worked hard to make the show a success. I suspect that their diversity in nationalities plays a big part in why their team is strong.

The core team members working on this production, Fadi, Nigel, Anthony, AK and Shafic also went out of the way to host the magicians and made sure we were comfortable and had a genuine interest in us having an enjoyable experience in Kuwait. We actually were the very last artistes to leave Kuwait so had a chance to spend time with the team and even family members. It was a treat to have a fantastic home-cooked breakfast in the sun – better than the hotel breakfast any day! Later in the day, we also spent time with Nigel and Fadi going to the old market and having a great dinner. I do hope they continue to find success with the illusion production show and at the same time promote the art!

I had a great and educational time with Dan “Sylvester the Jester” who has a wealth of show experience performing around the world, many stories to tell and pleasantly surprising, a deep-rooted strong theoretical and philosophical approach to magic.  At a casual glance watching his act, you might think his is a simple act designed for kids but there is great genius in what he presents as the world’s only real life cartoon. With the single objective of producing cartoon-like moments live on stage, he has created one of the most unusual and unique magic characters and acts in the world. Although he blows steam out of his years, bulges his eyes out, produces a half a ton anvil and literally blows his head off, he always goes “back to normal!” Dan was gracious to show us his incredible inventions and creative gadgets that are used in his show. His dressing room looks like a mad scientist’s lab. It is quite surreal having watched him on TV fairly early in my career and now seeing the exact same equipment he uses. Judging by the wear on the gear, I’m also quite sure most are the exact same apparatus that he used back when he first created the act.

Rafael is a highly respected and well known magician in Europe and the US. While many magicians in Asia may not be as familiar with his work (except the guys who rip off his acts!), most knowledgeable ones would have heard his name through magic magazines, forums or word of mouth. Besides being genuinely funny, he is a very knowledgeable magician, historian and has a wealth of knowledge in illusions, magicians and their acts. He has worked with top illusionists in the business as a consultant, designer and performer. As a Wikipedia of illusions, I was always learning new things talking to him and gained much insight into the magic scene in Europe. His assistant Jenny Burger is an equally funny, might I say, quirky (in a good way!!!) lady who has so much passion for her work in magic. She had us in stitches when she appeared innocently with a banana in hand just as Rafael, Ning, Adeline & I were having a “serious” discussion on fire eating techniques. Offstage, we really enjoyed her company over meals and just hearing her perspective and stories as a magic assistant and dancer working extensively in Europe.

I managed to spend only a little time with Michael Grasso and his team but enjoyed their company and appreciated their work. As an illusionist, his style is very different from ours. He has a cool, almost laid back quality to his performances with a strong jazzy lounge-style of music choice that is fantastic.  His “slow is smooth, smooth is fast” presentation and execution of “Suspended Animation” is refreshing and his performance style really grows on you. It is no wonder he did so well on “America’s Got Talent” when he was on it almost two years ago. His dancers Ashley and Lindsey are incredibly nice people and are a critical in creating the feel of Michael’s act as well. Lindsey is an extremely strong dancer and able illusion assistant. The always-fashionable Ashley rounded the illusion act very well in important roles, even if she was not always seen by the audience. Michael’s brother, Joe, is a well-grounded and experienced individual who is the backbone of the stage/ illusion support for the act. I was surprised to learn that he has tremendous experience in working backstage on illusion shows, besides supporting his brother’s shows. I also found out from Joe that we have direct history with the Grassos as they actually sold us an illusion prop a few years ago. What a small world!

We first met quick change artists, Keelan and Charlotte, in the UK in 2009 but this is the first time I actually had a chance to get to know them better. As mentioned before, they are my new favourite quick change artists in the world. Besides executing lightning quick changes (which is kind of expected), what sets them apart from the other top quick change artists in the world is their music/ dance and how it sets the context for their changes. And another significant point that Adeline pointed out is that they are look genuinely happy performing their act on stage. I’m really impressed with Keelan and respect his work outside of quick change. He showcased one of his inventions that just blew us away. He was so kind to share the workings with us in our dressing room and Ning & I know that this is a tool we will be adding to our show very soon. It is another example of how magic artists who are top in their respective fields are very all-rounded in many aspects of magic and you only get a glimpse into their minds when you spend time with them. Charlotte is a lovely girl who obviously has a passion for dance but has a “problem” with seeing people fall down. LOL!

After this run of shows in Kuwait, we are finally going to rebuild “360 Sawing” based on a redesign that I have had on the back burner for a long time. As you probably know, our “360” is a redesign and rebuild of Gerry Frenette’s original illusion but we changed many of the physical design elements as well as the internal mechanics and workings of the illusion that are unseen from the outside. But, in our current rebuilt model, we stayed with the dimensions of the original prop. However, the prop was designed for Caucasian female assistants who are comparatively larger than Asian females. So the parts are actually much larger than they need to be. So, we are biting the bullet and investing in another complete rebuild of the illusion. But this time, the actual structure of the prop will be changed based on my new design. So, it will be a major design and deceptive improvement from the current model. I’m looking forward to gutting it when it comes back from Kuwait…. Just have to find time!

We have another brand new original illusion that is scheduled to be built but I’m unsure when we can actually start on it. One thing for sure, it has to be built, ready for rehearsals by May due to upcoming show commitments.

Check back soon!


About J C Sum

International Headline Entertainer, Content Creator and Investor
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