Archive for April, 2010

SUMMER COMES RUSHING AT ME

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

We are hanging out in Albany, NY for a couple of days – trying to relax and catch up on a little work at the same time.  Our spring tour is almost over.  I am looking forward to performing in Utica and Albany, NY this weekend and then on to Newport News, VA later in May to wrap the season. Shows have been going great, audiences have been fantastic, and we’ve had numerous standing ovations and sold out performances.  It’s been a great season!  But when you’re on the road as much as we are, it’s difficult to put the energy and effort into all the projects I have on my plate.

We are brainstorming and working on several new illusions for next season as well as a couple smaller effects. I think they are going to be strong additions to our production.  Within the magic industry, there are only a handful of consultants and creators.  Each of them have their unique style and philosophy about the art.  I have the privilege of working with two of them who truly appreciate theatre and our philosophy.  I believe these guys understand exactly what we want to accomplish with our show.  Not simply a “magic show,” but something more.  They are valuable in helping us develop that one “thing” that continues to set us apart from other magical performers in our industry.  But in order to help us do that, we have to know what it is that we want.  One of the reviews I’m most proud of came from the Dayton Daily News, OH:

“One reason their combination of Broadway production and rock concert is turning an increasing number of heads is originality.  In a business rife with imitation, they take pride in doing things their own way.  The Spencers put on a show that’s equal parts Broadway production and rock concert.”

It is becoming more and more difficult to be unique in a field that is “rife with imitation.”  I’ve never quite understood those illusionists who would rather duplicate what others have done rather than carve their own niche, make their own way, or develop their own style.  I can’t imagine what it must be like to be David Copperfield.  His illusions are often the basis – not the inspiration, but rather the foundation – for what other magicians believe is “original.” This lack of originality only pushes us to work harder, to communicate with our consultants to come up with new ideas and illusions, and to find ways to incorporate them into our production in ways that no one else has.  It’s a combination of many elements – not just a few tricks on the stage. Making those tricks into “theatrical magic” is a much bigger challenge.

As Summer comes rushing at me, I’ll be working very hard to wrap up several of projects that have been “ignored” while touring – starting with the Hocus Focus curriculum.  I’ve been working on this for almost two years now.  I’m very proud of this work and hope it’s going to make a big difference in the field of special education and autism.  I have some strong motivation to get this one finished.  I’ve been asked to be a presenter at the international conference on special education being held in Riga, Latvia this summer.  It’s a great privilege and something I am very excited about doing.

In a nutshell, here’s what Summer 2010 looks like for me:

ITALY – I’m heading to Italy in late May, combining business and pleasure.  This trip is mostly a way to relax and spend some time with Cindy in one of the most romantic countries in the world.  I also collaborated on a research project at the University of Rome with the Healing of Magic and hope to meet Dr. Mario Occhipinti while there.

MAGIC CAMP – I’m teaching Magic Camp at LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas for week in early June.

SOUTHEAST ASIA – In late June, I’m hiking Vietnam/Cambodia/Thailand to work with New Future for Children orphanage.  This is going to be a very different trip for me in a part of the world that intrigues me.  I’m going to visit the temple ruins of Angkor Wat among many other things.

LATVIA – In early July, I’m speaking at the international conference on special education in Riga, Latvia.

MAGIC CAMP – And, finally, I’m teaching Magic Camp in Hampton, VA for a week in August.

And when not traveling, we will be working on some of the new illusions that will be a part of next year’s show!

LEHMAN PERFORMING ARTS CENTER – BRONX, NY

Monday, April 26th, 2010

We arrived at the Lehman Center for the Arts promptly at 8:45am for a 9am load in.  I have been very excited about this show for quite some time.  We were met by Mark Torchia, the technical director, who gave me directions to the loading dock.  Once I was backed into place, the guys from the local IATSE 1 were our crew for the day.  Load in went from the trailer to the elevator and then down to the stage.  It took three trips but was well organized and very smooth.

Everyone on our team kicked into gear quickly.  Matinee performances come rushing at us sometimes.  The stage is good size, lots of space, and it was very clean and clear.  We have to shift some soft goods around in order to get all of my scenery in the air but no one here was afraid of a little work so it went well.  By first break, we had the intelligent lighting hung and all the scenery.  Keith had our light board patched and much of the sound set up.  Cindy was well on her way to being done backstage and the guys had the illusion unpacked a mostly assembled.

After first break, we had two hours to finish things up and get ready for the 3:30pm doors.  The only big challenge we hit was with my microphone.  All of the channels that we have access to were “dirty” and we couldn’t find one that would work for us.  Thanks to the ingenuity of Donovan, one of the guys from Local 1, he and Keith managed to “create” something that worked incredibly well for the show!

As you can see, the Lehman Center is a huge venue – about 2300 seats.  We had a fantastic crowd – not sold out, but very enthusiastic and responsive.  The show moved along very well with great volunteers to help on stage and exuberant responses from an appreciate audience.  I had so much fun on the stage with this audience.  Meeting them in the lobby afterwards was a great way to wrap up the show…and my day.

We were back at the hotel by 7:30pm, grabbed dinner at a local Chinese restaurant, and called it an early night.

TRAVELING TO BRONX, NY

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

We left Philly this morning to make the “short” drive to the Bronx.  When I say “short,” I mean it’s only 120 miles BUT it’s heading into New York City where the traffic is never good.  This 120 mile journey ended up taking almost 6 hours!  The traffic leading up to the George Washington Bridge was backed up for an hour.  It took an hour to drive 2.5 miles – that’s a traffic jam!

Once we made it over the George Washington Bridge, traffic continued to move slowly until we hit the Major Deegan Expressway (I87).  Things picked up and we arrived at our hotel in Yonkers by 7pm.  It’s going to be an early morning load in with a 4pm show at the Lehman Center in the Bronx.  I’m excited about this show!

UPPER DARBY PAC – DREXEL HILL, PA

Saturday, April 24th, 2010

After a brief time at home, we left on Thursday morning to make the 7 hour drive to Drexel Hill, just outside of Philadelphia.  Our show on Friday night was held at the Upper Darby Performing Arts Center – a unique venue located on the campus of the Upper Darby High School.  Tickets sold very well – extremely well – and as of the day before, there were less than 10 available.  I knew this was going to be a fun show.  Harry Dietzler, the executive director, and I had been talking for years about bringing the show to their audience.  This would be it.

We arrived promptly at 11am to begin the load in…and hit my first challenge.  Getting to the loading dock was “tricky” to say the least.  There was no way to back up to the loading area because the angles were too sharp given the size of our truck/trailer.  I eventually decided to pull in and attempt to turn the truck around once inside the gate.  It took nearly an hour to get in, turn around, and get backed up.  It required some creative thinking and Alan and Ethan came up with great “methods” of making it all happen.

Cindy took advantage of the hour that it took to get the truck into place to decide where to put all the cases and the logistics of making the show work in this very unusual theatre – a modified thrust stage with wrap around seating.  But, by time I was ready, she was ready. Load in started and the rest of the day moved along in an organized, systematized way.  She really is amazing when it comes to figuring out this stuff.

We had a great show – fantastic, enthusiastic audience.  After the performance, I headed to the lobby to talk and autograph photos, programs, and magic sets.  I love hearing their favorite moments in the show, especially form those 20-somethings who weren’t sure they would be fooled.

Once we were packed up and said our goodbyes, we decided to head back to the hotel. The Philly Diner is right next door and that’s where we wrapped the evening of bacon and eggs.  Everyone did  a great job tonight in a “challenging” situation – we had a great time.  Thank you Harry, Matt, and the entire crew!

WARNER THEATRE – TORRINGTON, CT

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

After a three-day drive from Arkansas to Connecticut, we finally arrived in the charming town of Torrington.  We unloaded our luggage on Main Street at our hotel and then took the truck to the loading dock of the theatre for the night.  Our hotel was right across the street for the Warner Theatre – a beautifully restored 1930′s venue.  This place is really spectacular!

After dropping off the truck, Cindy and I walked to “Michele’s Gourmet on Main” for dinner.  This is a very cool “coffee shop” atmosphere with excellent food (and breakfast all day!).  We enjoyed our meal and talked with some of the locals.

Load in the following day went smoothly…as did most of the day.  We were set up with time to spare, enjoyed dinner, and had the chance to be a bit more relaxed than on some days.  Dinner was fantastic – chicken pot pie (my favorite).  After dinner, it was time to get ready for the show.  I had a pre-show Q&A for a select group of ticket-buyers that started at 6:45pm.

The Q&A was fun, lots of good questions.  Once we wrapped, it was time to open the doors for the rest of the crowd.  We had a wonderful audience for the performance – about 1200 in all.  They were a warm and enthusiastic crowd too!  From start to finish, this audience applauded, gasped, cheered, and whistled their support for the illusions they were seeing on the stage.  It made all of us feel like rock stars!

THANK  YOU TORRINGTON, CT FOR ALL YOUR SUPPORT!

REYNOLDS PERFORMANCE HALL – CONWAY, AR

Friday, April 16th, 2010

We arrived in Conway on Monday night after a bit of a drive from Galesburg, IL.  Our show at the Orpheum Theatre was great fun and, thankfully, a matinee.  We decided to drive a few hours after that show to get a little closer to Conway.  Once we checked into our hotel, we grabbed a bite to eat and got some rest…well, actually I did some work.  I’m trying to wrap up our 2010/2011 Tour Schedule (and it’s looking really fun for next year!).

The next morning, we made our way to the University of Central Arkansas campus where we found the Reynolds Performance Hall – a beautiful theatre.  The website for the theatre really doesn’t do this place justice – it’s a fantastic theatre!  The crew met us on the stage.  We had a few things to “shift” around before we could get the cases in…so we started right away to move around some of the soft goods (curtains, etc).  Once that was done, all hands started hauling in the cases.

I checked with the Box Office fairly quickly to see how ticket had been selling.  The answer made me smile – we were fairly close to a sold out house, almost 1100 seats!  And my family (Mom, Dad, Sister and her family) and Alan’s family were also coming to the show (no pressure here).  It was going to be a great day!

We had a fantastic day of set up.  The crew was well organized and not afraid to work.  We were able to get set up quickly, tech the show, and have a quiet dinner before the doors opened at 7pm.  The stage looked really nice – it was going to be a fun show!

The audience was a nice mix of all ages – kids, adults, college students, and senior citizens.  I love this kind of audience – my absolute favorite!  We had some terrific volunteers on the stage that really added some excitement to the magic.  And the audience was very responsive to the magic.  I enjoyed working with Jerry B., the executive director, and his staff – they made us feel so comfortable and welcome.  And Frank and his crew were awesome.

I’ll look forward to coming back to Conway in the future!

ORPHEUM THEATRE – GALESBURG, IL

Friday, April 16th, 2010

The Orpheum Theatre is a beautiful venue situated in the quaint and charming downtown area of Galesburg.  We arrived at the loading dock bright and early.  Those matinee performances can be a killer!  But I was really looking forward to working with Kate Francis, the Executive Director.  Her enthusiasm for her job, her attention to detail, and her incredible attitude is reflected in all those who work with her.  I knew, almost instantly, that this was going to be a great day.

The technical crew was excellent as well.  They were ready to work, had great attitudes, and made our day easy, fun, and friendly.  The show went up very quickly once we got all those cases off the rig!  Tickets had been selling very well so we were expecting a good crowd for the 2pm show.

The backstage area was a little tight – especially given the size of some of our illusions.  Cindy was able to “fit” the show but many of the cases were left in the parking lot behind the theatre…and we even used that space as an extra wing, swapping some illusions out during intermission!  Thank God it didn’t rain!

The audience did not disappoint us either!  They were fantastic – huge responses to all the illusions.  After an early morning and a busy day of setting up the show, an audience like this just makes it all worthwhile.

Thank you Galesburg – we had a blast!!

JASPER ARTS CENTER – JASPER, IN

Monday, April 12th, 2010

Three amazing days in Jasper, Indiana!  We arrived on Tuesday night so we could hit the ground running on Wednesday morning.  Donna picked up Alan, Ethan, and I around 8am so we could head over to 10th Street School.  We would have four Hocus Focus workshops here with students grades 3-5, some 500 students in all.  They were spectacular learners and performers!  We witnessed some extraordinary events that day, especially when one autistic student stood before his classmates and performed some great magic.

The following day (Thursday), we were on our way to Ireland School for two morning workshops – another 200 students exposed to the Hocus Focus project.  And another outstanding day of working with some special kids.  That afternoon, we worked at Precious Blood Catholic Schools with about 100 exceptional students.   And later that day, I was off to Memorial Hospital for a workshop with occupational therapists and critical care providers exposing them to Healing of Magic.

Thursday was not quite over yet….next, it was back to the hotel to pick up the team and head over to the Jasper Arts Center.  We loaded in the show and started on some of the set up.  We worked for a couple of hours before calling it quits and heading back to the hotel.

Friday started with another Hocus Focus workshop at Holy Family Catholic School for a much small group of 75 outstanding learners.  They mastered their magic tricks, kicked in their creativity, and a dose of problem-solving made for some interesting performances in front of their peers.  It was great fun!

After wrapping up at Holy Family, we grabbed some quick lunch and were on our back to the Jasper Arts Center.  We had a very good crowd coming that night including 65 members of my family (both Spencer and Hawkins).  By the time the doors opened, we had some excited people from the Jasper area waiting to get in and find a seat.  We had a full house, almost completely sold out – and a fantastic audience too!

After the show, I met lots of people in the lobby, signed autographs, took pictures, and listened to people’s favorite illusions.  Once we were packed up, we all went to the hotel and then met up with my family at the local Chinese restaurant.  What a great time we had!

Thanks to everyone, especially Donna and Kit, for their hard work in making all of this so successful!

THREE DEAD BATTERIES…

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

This trip started out a little on the “stressful” side.  We all arrived at the truck, loaded up our luggage, and when the moment came to actually kick off the engine – nothing!  It sounded as though the batteries were very weak.  I hooked up cables from my car to one of the batteries while Alan hooked up another set of cables from his car to another battery.  It’s hard to believe that we would have three dead batteries!

We let it set for a few minutes and when I tried to crank it again, nothing.  And this time, the low voltage actually locked up the starter.  My next step was to call Tommy, our mechanic, and see what I could do.  He suggested tapping on the starter while someone tried to crank it.  I did, it unlocked the starter but the truck still didn’t crank.  Another call to Tommy, and this time I asked if he could send someone over to check it out.  My stress level was rising and I wasn’t getting anywhere.

I always have a difficult time understanding why these things happen.  You see, everything on this truck is new – engine, pumps, fan clutch, belts, alternator, generator, etc.  Nothing should keep it from cranking.  When all else fails, pray, right?  Well, I decided to walk about the parking lot and do just that – not in a “down on my knees” type of prayer, but just a conversation with God.  The answer came fairly quickly to my mind – “Kevin, as much as you want to, you can’t control everything.”  After a bit of an internal struggle, arguing with myself about how much I “need” to control things, I relented.

“Surrender” is not a word that fits well in my vocabulary.  This morning I realized that, no matter how hard I try, no matter what I do, some things are completely out of my control…and I surrendered, not to the circumstance, but to the wisdom of relying more on God and less on myself.  It was a conscious decision.  Emotionally, I was immediately relieved but I still needed to get this truck started…and Tommy had someone on the way.  I calmly walked over to the truck, reached in the window, turned the key, and it started as if nothing were wrong.  I called Tommy and told him everything is okay.  And we started our journey to Indiana.

Some lessons are difficult to learn.  Recognizing that, if I’m going to call myself a Christ-follower, then I need to have more trust in Him and less in myself is a good place to start.  It’s a daily decision and commitment…and one that I’m going to try to live out in my life.

BROMLEY FAMILY THEATRE – BRADFORD, PA

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

It was a long drive across Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and finally into Pennsylvania (all in one day) when we finally arrived in Bradford…just in time to grab dinner at the “Burgers and BBQ” joint in town for Ethan’s birthday.  Ethan got a HUGE burger for dinner…we celebrated by singing happy birthday to him and hugs all around.  We stopped at the local Walmart and picked up some birthday cupcakes to celebrate.

After dinner, it was back to the hotel.  Sunday morning would come quickly.  It was an early morning load in for a 3pm matinee performance.  We arrived and, while I back the truck to the dock, the gang went into the theatre to start preparing for load in.  I rarely have a problem with anyone on the local crew and the technical director, Les, had several hard workers ready to move the show into the theatre.  There were a couple of guys from the local IATSE union, however, who arrived with a bit of an attitude – not eager to work or make life any easier for anyone.  It wasn’t long before Les stepped in and remedied the situation.  I was impressed with the way he handled it and, in the end, the day moved along much smoother.

Once the equipment rolled to the stage, everyone kicked into gear.  I worked with the local guys to get some scenery in the air and to get the intelligent lighting in place.  Cindy, Ethan, and Alan all concentrated on the details of the show – sound, illusions, costumes, etc.  And Keith set up our light board and worked with the local sound company to make sure it all looked and sounded good.

We had a sold out audience for the show and some great volunteers on the stage.  Cody, one of those volunteers, took the time to join us on Facebook and post a message:

Hell-of-a-show in Bradford today, I was up on stage with you during your segment of walking through the brick wall. Still confused how you guys pulled off some of those illusions. Good stuff!

After the show, the crew packed it all up while I got to spend some time in the lobby talking to people.  It’s one of my favorite times of the day but I always feel just a bit guilty knowing everyone else is backstage working so hard.  Once we were packed, we decided to drive for a couple of hours.  A few hours down the road put us that much closer to home!