Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Mississippi River Handcuff Escape--St. Louis

Recently, for a Fourth of July celebration, I found myself booked with a one hour stage show of magic and escapes in St. Louis, Missouri. To publicize these events, I decided to incorporate an underwater handcuff escape in, nowhere else, but the mighty, muddy, Mississippi River; the river of a thousand short stories, the river of  Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

I created several different posters for the event but finally settled on a wonderful poster inspired by a Mondrian painting which I had seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. See below.

I arrived in St. Louis on July 3rd and immediately was driven to the site at the river so that I could see the location again and notice if any changes had taken place since my first visit. My first visit was done months before and at that time, the temperature was considerably colder. I was told that the City of St. Louis and especially the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers were under a flood warning as it had been raining for several days prior. In actuality, the Mississippi River was a full seven feet ABOVE flood stage (its normal at about 30 feet). Though at first, this appeared to be a curse, it was actually a blessing as the copious amounts of rain diluted the mud in the river and from a swimming and diving and seeing point of view, it actually made my escape easier.

Whereas I might have had to deal with very murky water, I instead felt as though I had dove into a lake.

At approximately, 11:10am, I was driven to the landing at the river. I was met with a crowd of about 200 and within minutes, I was handcuffed with four sets of regulation police handcuffs. The handcuffs were being provided by a local man and he was adamant about my not losing his restraints in the river. So, an added piece of chain was secured around the four sets on my wrists and secured to the life line so that they would not be lost. The river was crested very close to the edge so there was only a small gap between where I stood and the water. On my first scouting of this location, there was actually a drop off of about seven feet before I would actually come in contact with the water and over the ensuing months as I prepared for this event, that fact caused me much anxiety. I was actually glad to see that the river had risen so much.

It was about 11:35am when I finally dove into the river. As I hit the water, I noticed first the cold. Though it was July and the air temperature was in the upper 80's, the river still felt cold. I wore only blue shorts with no shirt and was barefoot. The river was noticeably cleaner than I expected, again due to the amounts of rain in previous days. The water was still cloudy enough that I could not see and that I had to do the release simply by feel alone. I worked quickly on the restraints at the same time trying to stay deep underwater and not surface prematurely.

Within a minute, I had released myself from all four pairs of handcuffs and surfaced to a cheering crowd. I was helped back up to the landing and the handcuffs were pulled out of the water on the separate lifeline I attached them too. I met with many individuals afterward, signed posters before I was able to get into a car and get back to my hotel for a hot shower and some lunch.

It turned out to be an easy escape, much easier than I had anticipated.

That afternoon, at 4pm I performed my stage show which includes magic an escapes for a crowd of about the same. Fireworks capped off my evening in St. Louis and I flew home on the 5th of July.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The March Eighteenth Rhapsody

On March 18, 2012, I performed an underwater handcuff escape at the New York Aquarium out in Coney Island Brooklyn. This event, which was almost six months in the making was sponsored by the New York Aquarium and the New York Police Department (NYPD). The NYPD would provide the handcuffs and the police officers who would handcuff me securely before I leaped into one of the outdoor tanks at the Aqua Theatre. The producer of the event, Gary Dreifus, did a masterful job in getting all the parties on board with this event.  He handled all of the publicity for the event, negotiated with all of the officials, those at the Aquarium and elsewhere and was the go-between between the NYPD and myself.
An excellent poster to promote the event was designed by my very good friend, George Allison whose talents are beyond compare.
Back in January of 2012, Gary and I took a Friday afternoon jaunt out to Coney Island to meet with officials of the Aquarium. It was a cold day only in the upper 40s and after taking the Q train from Manhattan to the New York Aquarium stop, almost the end of the line, I walked over the pedestrian bridge linking the Coney Island Boardwalk with the New York Aquarium where I met Gary and Patrick and several officials including the dive captain, the marketing manager and a few of her assistants, some other corporate types and several dive assistants. After shaking hands all around, we were ushered into a back room where we all took seats around a large rectangular table. The marketing manager first, with the help of Gary gave an overview of the event; the who, what, where, why and to some extent, the how of the event.
It was then the dive captain's turn. An older gentlemen, he gave the appearance of being extremely knowledgeable in every aspect of safety. He carefully explained all the potential dangers of the event starting first with the temperature of the water and how, if not carefully monitored could lead to hypothermia and death. The water that morning was topping out at about 44 degrees. All of the tanks were salt water, which would be a first for me in any kind of stunt. I've swam in the ocean before, but never did a stunt in salt water. Most of  my escapes were (are) in rivers and, as we know, they are fresh water. Nevertheless, it would be salt water since the occupant of this tank, a 400 pound harbor seal, named Duke would be moved out of this enclosure for my performance on March 18.
As for today, Duke was already out of his enclosure, so it would be possible for me to take several dry runs (wet runs?) in the water. The Aqua Theatre seats roughly 500 people and is essentially theatre in the round with the spectators having a view of the tank through the glass below. The picture below (taken during the actual performance on March 18) gives an exact look of what the audience would see. It was taken by photographer Dennis Galante who was seated in the audience and captured a moment in the escape as I struggled with the handcuffs.



As for our pre-meeting happening now, the dive captain then deferred to one of his assistants who explained what his role would be. Afterwards, it was off to the Aqua Theatre for a few run throughs in the water. I changed into my bathing suit. One of the divers went all out, completely suiting up in a wet suit. He would be joining me in the water should I run into trouble and need help. I climbed the stairs to the top of the tank and dove in. It was cold, very cold and at first my body recoiled from the shock. Even after years of doing winter escapes in the Hudson and other rivers you never really get used to it. Something else I was not used too, was the salt water. I swam in the water for several minutes, with the crew standing up on the ledge shouting instructions to me. I would then get out and then would dive in again. I was testing out the depth and the best possible vantage point for the audience. I was at the Aquarium for about four hours that day, dove in the water more than a dozen times. Afterwards, I changed and we met again in one of the executive's offices and I was informed that a local paper, The Brooklyn Daily, had just come out that day and did a big spread on the upcoming event. 
After our meeting, I was eagar to get home and take a shower. I had a thick coating of salt on my body and I could taste it. It started to harden on my sking and it felt like a layer of crust over my body. Our meetings ended aabout 4pm and I caught the Q back to Manhattan.

March 18, 2012 was the scheduled day of the event. It was a Sunday afternoon and that morning, I was featured in the Sunday Metro section of The New York Times with a big spread on that day's event.
I arrived at the New York Aquarium with my photographer about 12 noon and we met the rest of the crew at the entrance. The New York Police Deapartment was already there and we were moved into the location.  There was quite a bit of build-up to this event and we were told by the Aquarium that the event was sold-out. The New York Times article that morning greatly helped in the promotion and the crowds were already lining up at the entrance. reporters from the Daily News and The New York Post as well as several wire services were in attendance. I consulted with Gary who would be the MC of this event who, at this moment was speaking with all of the local officials who had shown up.
I changed into a bathing suit and placed this over this a sweatshirt and sweat pants. Gary would be introducing me and I would need to come out and speak before the escape.

Finally, I was introduced. One police officer stayed on the ground near me and he had two sets of handcuffs. Another police officer, who carried the other three restraints would be standing on top of the tank near where I would dive in. In total, I was to be handcuffed with five sets of NYPD issue Smith & Wesson handcuffs. I would then dive into the tank and free myself while underwater. Since the Salt water proved to be extrememly buoyant in practice, a thirty pound weight belt was attached to my waist along with two ten pound ankle weights. There was fifty pounds of iron, in addition to the restraints, dragging me to the bottom! (I better get out!)  Gary introduced me to the crowd and then introduced each police officer. One set of handcuffs was placed on my wrists and I allowed the audience to come forward and examine them. Then, while Gary narrated, I walked up to the top of the tank, staying in view of the audience the entire time. The second officer placed the remaining three sets of handcuffs on me. The above photogrsaph shows me seconds before diving.
From below, Gary led the audeince in a countdown------- 9 . . . 8 . . . 7 . . . 6 . . . 5 . . . 4 . . . 3 . . .
2 . . . 1. . . ZERO . . . I dove into the the thirty foot deep tank filled with more than two thousand gallons of 40 degree salt water where I escaped all of the handcuffs underwater in little over a minute and a half.

All in all, it was a fun day at the New York Aquarium. 

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

If you want Cutting-Edge, you must be ready to bleed!

I just finished reading Frederich Nietzche's, Human, All Too Human and while I must say, that this book, published in the late nineteenth century is a difficult read within the prism of twenty-first century thought and ideas, there were several concepts that had me thinking and re-evaluating the misunderstood creative process as it applies to my work everyday.  First, the quote and its not direct, since I don't have the book in front of me, rather I am paraphrasing from what I can remember. Nietzsche says that  (paraphrasing now) -----artists have a vested interest in the believing of the flash of revealation, the so-called flash of inspiration shining down from Heaven. In reality, the imagination of the artist contuinually produces good, mediocre and bad things and it is the work of the artist, the true work of the artist that is trained not only in inventing but in the sifting, re-combining, transforming and rejecting of the "inspiration" that comes to us.----

So, in my life, I have various routines in various stages of development. Some are awaiting a final justification of the prop or have a deep mechanical problem that turns it from magic into a puzzle. Others, I am just not happy with--either from an aesthetic look or from a presentational approach. I have had some effects that have sat "on the shelf'" for years, as it were, because I could not solve some sort of problem to my satisfaction with it. People call me a perfectionist and perhaps I am overthinking some of these illusions, but to my mind, I just can't bring something to market until, at least in my own mind, it is the best it can possibly be.

Case in point, at present I have an illusion that I am working on with a brick, an actual paving brick that one would use to build a house, lay a patio. The effect is that a glass rod penetrates the brick. It sounds cool, amazing, impossible, etc., all of the emotions I strive for when creating and presenting magic or escapes.

Another very "well-respected" creative magician has suggested that the best way to accomplish this is to have the brick sitting on a table top. OK--at first it sounded like a good idea. But, there was something that always bothered me about this. Is this what magic would be? Hmmm. OK, so I aquiesced and spent an inordinate amount of money building a platform on which this brick would sit. All the while, as I am building and designing this, I am thinking that this is the wrong approach, that "if you could really do magic", you would not do it this way. It would be simpler, and within that simplicity, I believed I could conceal the modus operandi. 

Nevertheless, against my better judgement, I began to build someone else's vision. However, that inner voice that sings to you with inspiration, was still nagging at me, with two words, "Wrong way---Wrong Way! My all-time favorite quote from Einstein is that "God does not roll dice with the Universe." That may be true, but I do think He rolls dice with individuals, giving some ideas that are complete from start to finish to some and to others he gives ideas that are sometimes dead-ends, with the hope that we will recognize it, learn from it and instead, be led through circumstance to a solution or idea that was never on our radar or within our consciousness. 
So, I spend alot of time on this brick illusion, buy the raw materials for the prop, saw, plane, sand, and measure it. I make a few mistakes, scrap the materials, head back to Home Depot to re-buy them and start again. I work till two-o-clock in the morning, painting, lacquering, trying to make it just right. I'm still unsure about it, but I push those feeleings aside. Finally, I finish. Its built. I perform it in front of the mirror in front of a FLIP camera. I show it to layman, to magicians, even post a picture of it on Facebook. Finally, I decide to workshop it at an Open Mic Night down in the Bowery in New York City. I will tell you, for an artist, there is nothing like an Open Mic Night to workshop new material. It is the absolute best. You will find out very quickly how far your effect can and will stand on its own.  Things you thought were clever and unique, will fall flat on this audience, they may even boo you, call you out, shout things at you.  You must have very thick-skin because if the stars are not aligned properly, you will bleed. Boy, will you bleed.

Sometimes, you get lucky--what you thought was stupid, sophomoric, tasteless, obvious, "wouldn't fool Stevie Wonder" turns out to be well-liked, cutting edge, magical, mysterious, funny, a surprise and your audience loves you. So, its the proving ground of proving grounds. Nothing like it in the world . . .  that New York City.  I show up with the brick illusion, sign my name on the list at the door and go inside to grab a seat. I grab a drink at the bar and wait to perform. Another check of the list reveals I am number eight out of fifteen people. Seven stand-up comics precede me.

The audience seems a little tepid tonight. Maybe it's because it's a weeknight. Maybe Tuesdays nights are a little better for performers--or maybe this audience is all performers. That would certainly not be the first time. I sit through seven stand-up comic performances. Two women were really funny. The rest . . . OK. But again, this is the woodshed, and here, even seasoned performers may leave with their tail between their legs. I guess I'm ready. I've been through alot worse. As I sit, I push the doubts out of my mind, the thoughts of failure are getting harder and harder to neutralize. More drinks might help--but then I won't be able to perform . . . and besides the drinks here are double the cost on a regular night. I guess that's the price you pay for an audience.

Finally, my name is called. I had no idesa what time it was, guessing about 10:30 or 11pm. I walk to the stage, introduce myself and go right into the illusion. I run through the mechanics, the required motions of this new illusion. The audience, while not hostile, is not exactly dumbfounded either. I hear none of the usual feedback I get when doing a polished performance. Strangely, there is really no response. Go figure. Now, I have no idea what the fuck to do. I complete the illusion and leave the stage. However, its a comment after---that gives me my confirmation. A young guy, sitting on a barstool catches my gaze as I walk toward him. As I pass between him and a waitress, this guy, probably in his mid-twenties says to me in a British accent, "Cool trick, but why the table?"

With that comment, I felt a wave suddenly wash over me, as if I was standing waist deep in the ocean, unaware I was there and suddenly to wake me up, a wave cascaded over me. That was all I needed. In the final analysis, that was the problem and as it turns out, was exactly what I needed to hear. That inner voice kept saying it but I just was not listening. I continued out of the club. As I walked to Broadway-Lafayette, subway station to get the D Uptown, I took the tabletop and threw it into an trash bin at Houston and Sixth Avenue. It was a nice wooden tabletop that I handcrafted out of Maple, stained and put some beautiful moulding on. It might look good in your home, with a Sterling Silver coffee pot sitting on top--but it was out of place in this illusion, in this time and in this place.  Turns out, Nietzsche had it right afterall.

Monday, May 23, 2011

American Escape Artist

So, the 2011 Society of American Magician's Salute To Magic is now a memory. As I write, I am still sore with bruises on my forearms, wrists and knees. American Escape Artist is a tough show to do and while people tend to think that because escapes are part of magic that it is all theatre, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. While I do take liberties and use magic techniques, when all is said and done, I am still escaping irons, shackles, chains, knives and, in this case, a nuclear water storage tank. These items are real and can, and do, pose injury, even when everything goes according to plan. I will be getting an MRI later this week on my left knee that was injured in the water tank and which of late, is steadily increasing in pain. The tips of my fingers and the insides of my wrists are still painful, but are healing. But, these are the realities of this show and though it might sound like it, I am not complaining. I love the show that I do and love crafting magic and escapes based on the shared experiences of the audience. I would not have it any other way. We began rehearsals off-site more than a month before the show. I introduced several new escapes into the show that evening, including, World Without Oil, Amen which is my performance of a challenge lockable pair of sunglasses, also, I debuted The Tennessee River Water Faucet Torture Test another challenge device which consited of an aquarium that is filled with water and penetrated by 38 cutting instruments. An AC electric winch below is chained to my hands and when the winch is turned on, it slowly pulls me into the tank of knives unless I can escape beforehand. Performaing this in the show, I heard gasps coming from the audience. Another new attraction was the Red Tape Escape which was my rendition of a roped to a chair escape but done with red tape and all the symbolism and metaphor that brings with it. There were handcuff escapes as usual utilizing my Cabinet Obscura and my full view escape from an MTA New York City Subway Revenue Collection Bag. The stage set, which was a rendition of and inspired by my old attic rehearsal studio at my home in Maplewood, New Jersey was designed by George Allison and built the week before out on my driveway. We had priced a local scene shop to do the actual work, but because it was cost prohibitive, we decided to do it ourselves. So George and I spent a week outside measuring, cutting and painting the wood planks that when trucked to the theatre would be assembled on stage to give the appearance of an old attic. We built the set of stairs that I would ascend from below the stage up to the stage in front of the audience, giving the appearance that I was walking into my attic. Part of the platforms of the stage were removed and we crafted a dummy platform to fit over the space in which the stairs would be located. After cutting the wood assembling, and painting, everything was doused in fireproofing material and left to dry. George and I worked four days, eight hours a day out in the sun constructing the set. On Friday, everything was picked up and trucked to the theatre in pieces where it would be assembled on stage. We had eight hour rehearsals on Friday and Saturday with the show beginning on Saturday at 8pm. The set was constructed and assembled on that Friday and while George was supervising the workers on site in this task, I was preparing the magic and escapes so that we could do a run-through of the show that afternoon. Well, as things usually happen, we only had a bare bones run-through of the show late Friday afternoon, before having to leave (theatre rules) by 5pm. On Saturday, we had set a goal of two run throughs and one dress rehearsal even as Paul Hackenmueller and his lighting team worked around us. As Maia and Natalie and I ran lines, George was having the final stages of the set built, Paul was lighting the stage and Adam our stage manager was working closely with George and the technical director Rachael. Our first run through took five hours!!! We then broke for lunch--actually they did--I did not eat and then we did a second run-through and this time it was much faster coming in at 90 minutes. Our audience would consist that evening of many people from the construction field in New York, workers at the World Trade Center Memorial, wounded American soldiers who were guests of Fisher House/Hope for the Warriors and magicians, lots of them.

By this time, it was very close to showtime. We reset the stage and I went to my dressing room for last minute preparations before the premeire of "American Escape Artist."

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Tickets on Sale--2011 Salute To Magic

Tickets for the the 2011 Salute To Magic will go on sale today. Ticket prices are $50.00 and can be purchased by going to the Society of American Magicians Parent Assembly 1 website at www.sampa1.com

Seating is reserved and is extremely limited. I do not do too many shows in New York City that are open to the public. Most of my events are for corporate or television and are not open to those not directly involved in the event. If you are in the New York City area on or about Saturday, May 14, 2011, please come down or up (depending on where you are) to see a great show in Manhattan. The theare is the El Teatro Heckscher Theatre and it is located at 1230 5th Avenue at 104th Street.

The official handout was released to the public yesterday.

Friday, February 18, 2011

God Speed

Yesterday, the group that I helped found, Patriotic Performers, USA, was commissioned to work at Fort Detrick, one of the largest Army Bases in the Northeast and a Level 4 Medical research arm of the United States military. My partner and co-founder, Adam Rand an award-winning writer and columnist and I made the four and a half hour trek from Northern New Jersey to Frederick, Maryland.
Here, at this base, a sprawling community and dare I say, "city" in semi-rural Maryland army researchers and scientists work to find cures for cancer in humans, as well as agricultural and crop diseases. The United States Department of Agriculture has a large building on the north side of the campus dedicated to research into farm animal and crop diseases.
Our show began at 12:00 noon sharp and went for one hour. The crowd was very appreciative and enjoyed it very much. With this show, Adam and I have now performed at several military bases/hospitals throughout the Northeast. At various times, we have worked for soldiers about to be deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan or for soldiers who have retuned wounded from these same wars. Most heartbreaking were meeting the soldiers in the "Wounded Warrior Transition Unit" at Fort Dix in New Jersey. All told, these men and women remain some of the greatest groups of young people I have ever met. Doing a show for the military men and women who serve our country is really some of the most rewarding work a performer can get. We do not get paid, but instead donate our time to this most rewarding of performances I have ever done.

When you worked as many nightclubs and tough crowds as I have throughout my career, you sure notice an immediate difference from the moment you cross the threshhold of a military base. So, respectful without the usual bravado of a nightclub audience, these soldiers welcome your prescence there and are immediatelty engaged in what you are doing. I am a firm believer in karma and what these young people are doing in the service of this great country cannot, and should not, go unmentioned or unrewarded. Since the founding of this organization one year ago, we have performed at Fort Dix, Lakehurst Naval Base, McGuire Air Force Base, Fort Detrick Army Base, the United States Marine Base at Quantico, Virginia, and Walter Reed Army Hospital. We are slated to perform at Fort Belvoir on Friday, July 15, 2011.

Patriotic Perfomers, USA is always searching for new performers to join us. You are not obligated to work every gig, infact the whole idea of the troupe is its fluidness. Performers come and go as their schedules befit. You must be willing to give of your time--there is no pay. In the past, we have hired, singers, dancers, and comedians. Many performers work with us only for a short time until a more steady gig may arrive. Others, work for us continuously as their schedules become availible. Adam and I, because we are the founders, attend and perform at every show. Our goal is to bring joy, mystery, and happiness, through artistic expression to those who are fighting for our country.

Below is a picture with two commanders at Fort Detrick yesterday. To the right is a group show with soldiers inside of the "Wounded Warrior Transition Unit" at Fort Dix in New Jersey. As the title of this blog begins, "Godspeed to all those fighting for this great country." Your service does not go un-noticed. God Bless the United States of America.

Friday, February 11, 2011

2011 Salute To Magic

Hi all--so I have some very interesting news as of late. This is the first time I am sharing this, so here goes: The Parent Assembly number 1 of the Society of American Magicians (SAM) Board of Directors based in New York City has selected me as the sole performer for the 2011 Salute To Magic. (Cue: Champagne bottles popping) Apparently, they tell me----this is quite a honor. It is a show that has occurred yearly or thereabouts for more than 102 years. It began soon after the founding of the SAM in 1902 in New York City. Many of the greats of magic have performed or headlined at the Salute over the years among them: Harry Kellar, Harry Houdini, Frederick Eugene Powell, Sam Marguiles, Hardeen, Nate Lepizig, Josseffy, Doug Henning, Topas, Eric DeCamps, Paul Daniels, and most recently, Paul Gertner. Soon, I will be added to that list and sometime in the future, someone else may be writing a blog about THEIR selection and then will mention all of the great magicians of the past who worked it and my name will be included!!! Whooo hooooo.

Anyways, back to Earth. The 2011 Salute To Magic is being held this year at the Teatro Heckscher Theatre in Midtown Manhattan. (See pics above and below.) The exact address is 1230 5th Avenue off of 104th Street. I went to view the house when we were still in the negotiating stages and I must say, it will be one of the best places I have ever worked. The theatre seats 599 people. Most of the sightlines are good except for the front row. (Don't buy tickets to the front row!) I have included some pics of the theatre so you can check it out. The theatre is an old Broadway house directly across the street from Central Park and I believe was built in the 1920s. I will be performing my show, "American Escape Artist" which is a combination of my award-winning escapes coupled with magic. The show will run about 75 minutes and will be
unlike anything the SAM has done before. Many of you have asked but I will not be divulging any parts of the show here--you must come and see it. Tickets are $50.00 and they tell me are selling fast. There is only one show--so if you want to go, better make your reservations.

Seriously, I talk to alot of people on this site that I would characterize as my fans--(at least that is what they tell me, lol) So, now, I need the help of you all. This is your chance to see a great show.

The set design will be created by George Allison, a great friend of mine who has contributed much to my success over the years. Lighting is being engineered and created by Paul Hackenmueller, probably the best in the business. That is as much as I will reveal here. I hope to see you all there.