Archive for March, 2007

WE ARE FINALLY HERE – RANCHO CUCAMONGA, CA!

Saturday, March 31st, 2007

It was another long day of driving.  We left Richfield, UT this morning and the weather had definitely improved.  The sun was shining on the mountain so we knew the ice that had prevented us from driving through the canyon last night would be gone today.  It’s quite a steep, long grade through the canyon but much easier without fighting slick roads!  We all clapped when we finally made it to Interstate 15 South!  We’ve been on Interstate 70 for days.

My dad has called a couple of times to check in with us as we made this trip.  It’s always really special when my cell phone rings and it’s Dad making sure we’re doing okay!

We turned onto I-15 South and there was much more snow than I had thought there would be.  As we reached Cedar City, the temperatures were getting warmer and the snow was melting.  By the time we made St. George, it was beautiful.  The quick 27 mile trip across Arizona into Nevada was uneventful but filled with awe – amazing rock formations of various colors.

You think of the desert as flat, dry land.  Not really the case in Nevada or California.  While I thought the steep inclines and grades were over, I was wrong.  We drove several of them today through the desert…but, not battling the weather, gave me only one thing on which to concentrate.

As we were in the final approach to Rancho Cucamonga, I had a newspaper interview to do for an upcoming performance in Central California.  The reporter was very patient as the cell signal dropped a few times.  We completed the interview just as we came up on the final 6%, four mile grade down into the Los Angeles/Rancho Cucamonga area.

We are here for three nights in the hotel – what a rare treat!  Our first show at the Lewis Family Playhouse is Saturday night and then another on Sunday afternoon.  We are thrilled that both shows are sold out and looking forward to the audiences here.

RICHFIELD, UT

Friday, March 30th, 2007

We were hoping to make it to St. George, UT today but didn’t quite get there. We didn’t even make it to Interstate 15!

As we left Beaver Creek, CO this morning, we still had the chains on the truck. I was up early just to make sure they were secure and ready for the grades. The snow was falling steadily and the skiers were lining up to catch the shuttle to the top of the slopes. We were praying that the snow would just go away!

We left the village of Avon and pulled onto Interstate 70 heading west.  I had already checked the road conditions for several of the towns ahead of us and things looked like they were improving.  The grades were not nearly as bad as the stretch from Denver to Beaver Creek…slow, gradual and steady.  We pulled over around Eagle and removed the chains because the road were in good shape.

We drove through some snow, on and off, for a few hours.  It didn’t get really bad until we came into Utah.  We made a long climb up a steep grade.  The higher up, the colder it got.  The colder it got, more snow came down.  There were several times that we just moved very slowly – creeping along the roadway.

We pulled over in Richfield, UT to get some food and fuel.  We were about 3 hours short of our planned stopping place.  As we headed toward the canyon and the final 30 miles of Interstate 70, there was a large flashing sign that read ICY ROAD CONDITIONS NEXT 17 MILES – EXTREME CAUTION.  After the experiences of the last few days, I just couldn’t do this again so late in the day.  We turned around, drove back to Richfield, got a hotel, and called it a night.

One of the more difficult parts of our journey today was driving through the snow and fog.  The visibility was low at times and, given the hills and grades, there were many times that you couldn’t tell where the road was going – were there turns? slopes? hills? declines?  There was no way to tell until you were almost into the process.  But the one that that I was confident about is that there was a road ahead of me and it was going in the direction I needed to go to arrive at my destination.  I didn’t know the details, only that it was there.
It struck me that this is a lot like life.  Sometimes we don’t know where the road is going. And it takes faith to keep moving forward when you’re not sure WHERE “forward” is or WHAT is ahead of you.  But, as a Christ-follower, I do know there is a plan – a “road” of sorts – ahead of me that is going to get me to my final destination.  I might not know the details, the twists and turns; but I do know that I’m heading in the right direction and will, eventually, arrive in the right place.  I think that’s what faith is all about.

The writer of Hebrews put it this way in chapter 11 (the Message):

The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living.  It’s our handle on what we can’t see…By an act of faith, Abraham said yes to God’s call to travel to an unknown place that would become his home.  When he left he had no idea where he was going.

I’d never compare myself to Abraham of the Old Testament but, today, I felt like I was traveling to an unknown place with no idea where I was going.

Tomorrow, we have another long day.

BEAVER CREEK AND SNOW

Thursday, March 29th, 2007

They’ve had record warm temperatures here in the ski mountains of Colorado.  We thought it would be an easy trip but, after the I70 experience, it only got more challenging.

The snow didn’t arrive until we had made it up to the Vilar Center.  The show set up went fairly well – this is a beautiful and interesting venue.  And the show was sold out – over sold actually.  Unfortunately, they had to turn away lots of people because no tickets were available.  And the audience was a lot of fun – very enthusiastic and responsive to the illusions.  The Brick Wall got an outstanding response last night!  Volunteers were great and added so much to the illusions and entertainment for the audience.

We were drinking water all day to try and stay ahead of the altitude.  We’re at about 8200 feet here so it’s easy to get winded and out of breath.  They told us that, at this altitude, you body takes in 17% less oxygen than normal.

After the show was down and back in the trailer, we began the trip back down to the hotel.  The roads had not yet been scraped but didn’t look too bad.  Once we hit the first grade and started sliding uncontrollably, that was it.  I pulled over and we put on the chains.  That was quite an ordeal in itself given that the security guards of Beaver Creek were not as cooperative as we would have liked.  Once they understood the seriousness of the situation, they gave me the time I needed and even an escort down the mountain.

It’s still snowing this morning and I’m getting ready to check in with Colorado Department of Transportation Road Conditions.  It looks like the weather get significantly better as we head west on I70.  I hate driving in this kind of weather!

We’ve got to make Cedar City, UT tonight….so, it’s time to wake the gang and hit the road.

LAKE CHARLES AND BATON ROUGE, LA

Wednesday, March 28th, 2007

I’m really sorry that I haven’t written in a few days.  Let me give you that fast update on Lake Charles and Baton Rouge.  In Lake Charles, we were at the Civic Center.  This is a large venue that was used during Hurricane Katrina as a refuge.  Once everyone was settled, they had to move again because the hurricane was coming that way.  They had some extensive damage and much of the area is still trying to recover.  That being said, we had a great audience of almost 1600 people who were ready to have a good time.

The crew here, under the direction of Denver Kaufman, was outstanding.  Mary Richardson and LeDonna and the entire team of the Banner Series were wonderful hosts.  They catered in Cajun food for dinner!
We videotaped the show and were very pleased with the way things looked and the responses from the audience – standing ovation!

We were off the next morning for performances in a new venue in Baton Rouge called the Manship Theatre.  We had 2 shows here – a 3pm and a 7:30pm.  Both shows were sold out before we arrived and the crew was very accommodating in helping us get the show up fast.  This was a very enjoyable day for us and they made us feel very relaxed.

Both performances went very well and some of the local magicians came to each.  We always appreciate the support of the local guys and were glad to meet so many of them.

After Baton Rouge came the long – very long – haul to Beaver Creek, CO.  Three days of almost constant driving got us here last night (Tuesday).  Unfortunately, the trip on I-70 West, past Denver, was a bad experience.  The mountains are big, the grades are steep, the brakes on the truck get hot.  We found ourselves creeping down the mountain on the shoulder (after being on the side of the road for an hour letting the brakes cool down) going about 8mph.  At least we were in control on those steep grades.

This morning, we’re all tired and a little stressed.  And now, it’s snowing with 6-8 inches expected before we leave town in the morning for Southern California.  It could be interesting the next two days.

I’ll write about the Vilar Center later today or in the morning.  I’ve got 2 newspaper interviews in a few minutes and a lot of work to do yet.

RICE THEATRE – CROWLEY, LA

Sunday, March 25th, 2007

The last 3 days have been kind of a blur.  We arrived in Crowley for our performance at the Rice Theatre and had the chance to meet up with our really great friend, Andre Kole and his team.  They were performing in Baton Rouge and met us in Crowley.  It was great to spend some time with all of them.  They decided to stay another day and see the show at the Rice Theatre before driving on to their next gig in Houston.

The Rice Theatre is an old movie house that was transformed into a performance venue.  The organization that sponsored our show is in the process of restoring a beautiful old vaudeville house called the Grand Opera House of the South.  In the meantime, they use the Rice Theatre for shows.

The crew and sponsor could not have been more pleasant and willing to help in every way they could, especially Brian and Kim.  While this venue has a large stage, it didn’t have everything we needed to pull off the full production.  There was no fly space and everything was dead hung.  For some reason, they also didn’t hang our light plot in any form.  That meant that we were busy for at least the first 3 hours trying to pull together our lighting on stage, repatching dimmers, moving some instruments around and placing gel.  We did get our intelligent lights in the air and, because the stage was large, we were able to get some nice visual effects.  They also had a light board that we were unfamiliar with – an NSI Board.  We’ve worked with one before but, in 20 years, I think we’ve only come across three.
Cindy pulled together an “open curtain” show and we ended with the Milk Can Escape.  The audience seemed to have a good time and we had a fairly full house, even with a 6:30pm show time on Thursday.
The following morning we were up and driving to Lake Charles for our performance at the Civic Center.

PRINCESS THEATRE – WINNSBORO, LA

Wednesday, March 21st, 2007

We are in Northeast Louisiana in the quaint little community of Winnsboro.  The theatre here was originally a movie house and has been restored and turned into a live theatre venue.  Gene Thompson, the director, told us yesterday that the show is sold out and that we should expect a very lively crowd.

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We arrived early at the theatre.  It’s a 7pm show so that’s means an 11am load in.  Several of the local guys where there to meet us and help load in.  The stage is very small but there is a larger room right off stage right where Cindy and David stored illusions and cases – to capacity!  Once again, they worked a few miracles and pulled together a well-rounded production that features several illusions and audience participation effects, climaxing with the Milk Can Escape.  Keith worked diligently to figure out the Strand lighting board and learn how to write scenes (not cues) on this type of board.  Kylie and I worked on getting the intelligent lighting in the air and focusing the conventional lighting that was already hung, reassigning our channel numbers to their instruments.

Today was the perfect example of what the “arts” should be about – bringing to a community an experience that they might not have the opportunity to share.  And, as an artist, it was a special time for us to be a place where the audience and the performers shared a magical moment.

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We packed down and loaded out as quickly as we could so we could make another stop at Chic-A-D’s.  We called ahead and placed our order with Daryl, the owner, and rushed over to enjoy the food.  Daryl also does a cooking show every Wednesday morning from Monroe, LA and has a cook book coming out soon.  He brought over some delicious banana pudding with a touch of something special for us to try.  It’s what he’s going to be featuring on his television show in the morning – and it was excellent!  This is us and Daryl, the amazing chef!

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Back to the hotel – trying to get some rest…on a very full stomache!

MISSOURI THEATRE – ST. JOSEPH, MO

Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

First, let me say thank you to everyone who supported me and the art of magic in regard to the posting by the person who attended our show at SOPAC. It’s great to know you guys are out there and I appreciate it. Meredith has written some additional comments and they are very nice. She just doesn’t like the art of magic and that’s okay. Everyone has the right to their opinion; and not everyone enjoys the art of illusion the way we do.

The Missouri Theatre – WOW, this is a beautiful space. The theatre itself is incredible. We’ve performed in dozens of these restored venues and no two are ever alike. This one was unique and spectacular. These vaudeville houses almost always give us a bit of a challenge backstage. The stages aren’t generally as large as the newer theatres but thanks to the hard work – bordering on miraculous – of Cindy and David, they made almost everything fit and the show moved along at a great pace.

Frank Polleck and his crew also made our day much easier. They were prepared for us before we arrived, saving us a few hours in the set up of the lights. Mary Ingersoll and her staff did a spectacular job of marketing the event and we were only a few seats from a total sell out.

The day before the show, I had the chance to work with some very special kids in the St. Joseph community with the Healing of Magic program (www.MagicTherapy.com). These kids worked really hard to master some tricks of their own and accomplished some other goals along the way. The local ABC affiliate featured them on the 6pm news and, next Sunday, the local newspaper is going to do a full feature story. Congratulations guys!

After the workshop, I made a brief appearance on “Live at 5” to promote the show one more time. The host was excellent and kept things moving and exciting. Show day – the audience was GREAT! It’s difficult to put into words how much a great audience can energize a performer. These guys were incredible – cheering the illusions, whistling and applauding. The responses were like a rock concert and a theatre production all at the same time! They even laughed at all the bad jokes (yes, there are a few of those). The volunteers who joined me on the stage for several of the effects contributed a lot of personality. This is always my favorite part of the show, when people from the community join me on the stage. It’s spontaneous and unpredictable.  We did have a couple of technical difficulties behind the scenes but Keith and Kylie did a great job of keeping the show moving, cue to cue.

We were up early on Sunday morning driving toward Louisiana. It was a very long day but we had to get close enough to Winnsboro because we had an outreach program today (Monday) with another group of great kids. That one also went very well. Afterwards, we all jumped into the rig and made the trip to Walmart to pick up a few things for the show here tomorrow at the Princess Theatre. After the shopping spree, we did dinner at Chic-A-D’s. This is a great local place that features Cajun chicken and fish – and some amazing BBQ! It was a nice change from fast-food. We took our time and enjoyed every single bite. Now it’s time for some rest.

FIVE IMPORTANT LESSONS

Saturday, March 17th, 2007

People send me things all the time but this one was worth sharing on my blog:

1 – First Important Lesson – Cleaning Lady.

During my second month of college, our professor gave us a pop quiz. I was a conscientious student and had breezed through the questions until I read the last one:

“What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?” Surely this was some kind of joke. I had seen the cleaning woman several times. She was tall, dark-haired and in her 50s, but how would I know her name?

I handed in my paper, leaving the last question blank. Just before class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our quiz grade.

“Absolutely,” said the professor. “In your careers, you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say ‘hello.’”

I’ve never forgotten that lesson. I also learned her name was Dorothy.

2. – Second Important Lesson – Pickup in the Rain

One night, at 11:30 P.M., an older African American woman was standing on the side of an Alabama highway trying to endure a lashing rainstorm. Her car had broken down and she desperately needed a ride.


Soaking wet, she decided to flag down the next car. A young white man stopped to help her, generally unheard of in those conflict- filled 1960s. The man took her to safety, helped her get assistance and put her into a taxicab.

She seemed to be in a big hurry, but wrote down his address and thanked him. Seven days went by and a knock came on the man’s door. To his surprise, a giant console color TV was delivered to his home. A special note was attached.

It read: “Thank you so much for assisting me on the highway the other night. The rain drenched not only my clothes, but also my spirits. Then you came along. Because of you, I was able to make it to my dying husband’s bedside just before he passed away. God
bless you for helping me and unselfishly serving others.”

Sincerely,
Mrs. Nat King Cole.

3 – Third Important Lesson – Always remember those who serve.

In the days when an ice cream sundae cost much less, a 10-year-old boy entered a hotel coffee shop and sat at a table. A waitress put a glass of water in front of him.

“How much is an ice cream sundae?” he asked.

“Fifty cents,” replied the waitress.

The little boy pulled is hand out of his pocket and studied the coins in it.

“Well, how much is a plain dish of ice cream?” he inquired.

By now more people were waiting for a table and the waitress was growing impatient.

“Thirty-five cents,” she brusquely replied.

The little boy again counted his coins.

“I’ll have the plain ice cream,” he said.

The waitress brought the ice cream, put the bill on the table and walked away. The boy finished the ice cream, paid the cashier and left. When the waitress came back, she began to cry as she wiped down the table. There, placed neatly beside the empty dish, were two nickels and five pennies.

You see, he couldn’t have the sundae, because he had to have enough left to leave her a tip.

4 – Fourth Important Lesson. – The obstacle in Our Path.

In ancient times, a King had a boulder placed on a roadway. Then he hid himself and watched to see if anyone would remove the huge rock. Some of the king’s wealthiest merchants and courtiers came by and simply walked around it. Many loudly blamed the King for not keeping the roads clear, but none did anything about getting the stone out of the way.

Then a peasant came along carrying a load of vegetables. Upon approaching the boulder, the peasant laid down his burden and tried to move the stone to the side of the road. After much pushing and straining, he finally succeeded. After the peasant picked up his load of vegetables, he noticed a purse lying in the road where the boulder had been. The purse contained many gold coins and a note from the King indicating that the gold was for the person who removed the boulder from the roadway. The peasant learned what many of us never understand!

Every obstacle presents an opportunity to improve our condition.

5 – Fifth Important Lesson – Giving When it Counts.

Many years ago, when I worked as a volunteer at a hospital, I got to know a little girl named Liz who was suffering from a rare & serious disease. Her only chance of recovery appeared to be a blood transfusion from her 5-year old brother, who had miraculously survived the same disease and had developed the antibodies needed to combat the illness. The doctor explained the situation to her little brother, and asked the little boy if he would be willing to give his blood to his sister.

I saw him hesitate for only a moment before taking a deep breath and saying, “Yes I’ll do it if it will save her.” As the transfusion progressed, he lay in bed next to his sister and smiled, as we all did, seeing the color returning to her cheek. Then his face grew pale and his smile faded.

He looked up at the doctor and asked with a trembling voice, “Will I start to die right away”.

Being young, the little boy had misunderstood the doctor; he thought he was going to have to give his sister all of his blood in order to save her.

READING OTHER BLOGS

Wednesday, March 14th, 2007

Occasionally, someone in our office stumbles across the blog of another who has written about their experience at one of our performances. Such was the case last night when I was given a link to a blog written by Meredith Sue Willis and her comments about our show at SOPAC in South Orange, NJ.

I had to smile as I read her opening remarks – “I don’t care so much for illusionists…” – which kind of set the tone for the remainder of her words. But I think she had a good time and she wrote that she enjoyed being there. She just couldn’t understand the point of “illusions.”

I would offer up that the “point” of any art form – magic, music, theatre, dance, whatever – is to challenge the audience and to evoke some sort of emotional response. But I think our show gives people something else – the opportunity to share in an experience that transcends age, race, economic status and cultural demographics. In the case of Meredith and her son, Andy (whose urge to see the show brought them to SOPAC in the first place), I think it was also an opportunity for them to share in a common experience and then discuss it later (as they clearly did when they tossed around theories about how the “magic” worked). I’m not sure there are too many entertainment options these days that allow us, as a family unit, to share that experience.

Now, I’ll be the first to say that we are not the only type of show that does this. And I’m not giving myself or our team undue credit for “bringing people together.” All I’m saying is that art – good art – should do those things.

I smiled again when she wrote “The show was the usual sawed in half ladies and escaping from a can of water…” but she failed to recognize many of the unique illusions in our show like Walking Through A Brick Wall (the only one in the world); Windshear (rarely performed on a stage in the U.S.); No Feet (an exclusive illusion created by Andre Kole with a limited number of performers in the world doing it). I was very encouraged, however, that she thought I was “engaging” and that I had a good personality. Overall, I think she liked me – and that surprised her because she doesn’t really like illusionists.

Her closing comments are something that we hear often – “I wonder what kind of a living these people make– four people who show up on stage and at least one driver for the semi they travel in.” I will tell you that we are blessed. We have the privilege of performing around the world in some of the most interesting and beautiful venues ever built. Do we also get into some rough places? Absolutely! But that’s life on the road. I have much for which to be thankful. I work with great people. I am living my childhood dream of being a magician and sharing that experience with the person I love most in the world – my wife. Can there be anything better than that?

You can read Meredith’s full blog about her experience with us at SOPAC: http://meredithsuewillis.blogspot.com/2007/03/busy-sunday.html

And if Meredith would drop us an email with her address, I’d love to send her a DVD of our tour in Asia. I think she and Andy would enjoy watching it – together.

HALTON THEATRE – CHARLOTTE, NC

Tuesday, March 13th, 2007

This is another new venue, barely open a year. It’s a beautiful space with lots of charm and attention to detail. The crew, under the direction of Bobby Golibart, was working diligently when we arrived. They’ve had a slammed last few days and have been practically sleeping in the theatre.

We loaded in and had lots of stage space. Cindy and David ended up putting the cases in the shop to make it easier to maneuver things on stage. We worked almost right up until show time (early shows come rushing at us!) but I was really pleased with the way the show looked in the venue.

The audience was small, intimate, but they were excited to be there. These days, we have a strong appeal to that 18-35 demographic so the audience included a bit of a younger group as well. I enjoy working for an audience with a wide age range. I think magic and illusion transcend all those things and give us something to share on different levels. When people come to the show – for whatever reason – we hope to create a different feel for them than a typical “magic show.” It’s important for us to make sure they have a good time and walk away happy.

I was really pleased with the way everything came off AND the responses from this intimate crowd. They were very enthusiastic and that kind of energy feeds a performer on the stage. I appreciated their support very much!

After the show, we drove across the street to our hotel, the Crowne Plaza. They had us pull the rig into the parking structure which is always a challenge. We were able to get into the entrance BUT the clearance started dropping fast so there was no way to pull through the deck! We spent the next 30-45 minutes doing the “turn around” back into the street. Then I backed into the parking structure so we could just pull out this morning. We head to Missouri today and I have tons of phone calls to make.

Gotta go – write more later.