Those of you familiar with my series, both written & live, will know that I usually have an established way of introducing my Guests. Of necessity, this time I will deviate from my norm. As you peruse, my reasons will become self-evident.
It was an unusually cold night in Las Vegas. Christian Diamond, Jason Andrews and I were at Amazing Jonathan’s Halloween Party a few years ago. Nick & Susan Lewin and many other Las Vegas notables were also there. It was all that a show-biz magical party should be: a haunted house designed by Steve Daly, and stunning nubile ladies dancing and whirling fire. I was even fed peeled shrimp by Penny Wiggins.
As the festivities progressed, I found myself in joyous conversation with Joanie Spina (Respect. R.I.P) about the performance of magic. Totally unplanned, but like a finely written Hollywood script, a striking character in splendid doublet and a leather Venetian mask sauntered over and joined us. Joanie Spina introduced us. It was the first time I met Jeff McBride. Perfect timing and extremely apt; Joanie’s introduction was all that was needed to set the seal on the topic of The Performance in Magic. Despite the fact that we have several mutual friends, it was the first time I had met him in person.
Jeff had been unable to attend my lecture at Boomers a few nights earlier but told me he had heard some very complimentary remarks about my lecture. Much to my amazement, he told me that he was intrigued by my Pythagoras Force and politely asked me if I would share. I was, to say the least, immensely flattered, and, if I am honest, also somewhat taken aback and more than a fraction nervous. I am not by any means a Cardician, let alone a Master Manipulator like Jeff McBride. I confess, even the prospect of a double- lift sends me running in the opposite direction. I nervously made some feeble excuse about not having a deck of cards, or a place to perform. Jeff then reached into one of his myriad pouches, extracted a deck and walked me over to the parking lot, and, on the back of a flat-bed truck, I somewhat apprehensively showed him my Force. His reaction and kind words left me speechless.
Fast-forward to September 2013 when I was at Le Chateau Magique in Vegas to lecture on a non-magic related topic. I was greatly honored by the many eminent Vegas personalities that attended. Jeff arrived well in advance and after a warm friendly hug reached into one of his many pouches and said, “Abbi wanted to be here but sends her apologies and asked me to give you her CD.” The signed CD to me by name, by both Abbi & Jeff, is one of my prized possessions. It is entitled, ‘Family of Fire’ . Beg, borrow or “steal” a copy. Actually, buy one: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/abigailspinnermcbride2
Is this an unashamed plug? Absolutely. More on this later in my future article on Abigail Spinner McBride. I am especially fond of Tracks 3 and 11 as it features a good friend of mine, Samina Oshun. It is playing in the background as I write.
After my lecture, he graciously invited me to lunch at his home the next day; after lunch he gave me a wonderful guided tour of his vast collection of objects d ‘art and a library that would have been the envy of Alexandria. We kept in touch & recently, despite his busy International touring schedule, I managed to spend some quality time with Jeff and we sat down and conversed awhile.
AD: Hello Jeff. Thank you for spending some time with us. Let’s dive straight in to your Internationally known signature, the “Mask Act.” You’ve performed that world-wide, live and on TV to the delight of both magicians & lay people. Tell us a little about the background.
JMcB : My pleasure. Great to be with you Tony. The “Mask Act” as you referred to it, was something that didn’t evolve in the standard sense of the word. It was a combination of many factors and I honed it over many years. The starting point goes back to New York when I was 16 years old. Jerry Mascucci , who was a friend of my father’s, was putting together a show for Asia with the legendary Salsa band, the ´Fania All-Stars´; fortunately, he saw something in me and booked me to travel with the show; that was a pivotal point in my life , when the philosophy of magic and the presentation of magic really came together.
I was totally enthralled by the Asian culture and philosophy. The drama of “Kabuki” theatre stirred a dormant spark in my inner being to the very core. It changed me as a person. It changed me as a performer.
AD: Jerry Mascucci wasn’t a magician was he?
JMcB: No, he wasn’t, but he was well-known within show-biz circles. His life story, right up until his death in Argentina in 1997, reads like a Hollywood script. As you know, he created the famous ´Fania All-Stars´ Band, a wonderful fusion of Latin & Jazz music. It revolutionized “Salsa.” He was also the sole owner of Fania Records. He was an extraordinary man and a great promoter. He even joined forces one time with Don King and promoted a Muhammad Ali boxing event.
AD: … so that was a cool break for you?
JMcB: Yes it was, Tony. And much more! Much, much, more! As you and I share a passion for the esoteric, you will truly understand that sometimes a path beckons and we have to either shrink from it or step out of our comfort zones and begin a different walk.
AD: Absolutely Jeff. I agree wholeheartedly. Now this was when you were still in New York? Almost everyone associates you with Las Vegas as you epitomise the Las Vegas magic scene over several decades. But New York is your home state & city and where you began your interest in magic and eventually made it your career….
JMcB: Yes, I was born and (for the most part) raised in New York…and thank you Tony, I am honored to be thought of in this way in connection with Las Vegas. I feel a genuine passion for our art and while I make a living at it, I also share my art in the form of lectures, at McBride’s Magic and Mystery School and in live appearances. I am proud to state that the Dean of our school is none other than our mutual friend, Eugene Burger. Apart from the physical school we also have Mystery School Monday, our live internet TV show which airs live every week at p.m. Pacific Time in the USA.
AD: I love New York. You and I have many mutual good magical friends there. Speaking of Deans, one in particular springs to mind and that is our “Uncle” George Schindler – The Dean of The Society of American Magicians… and, of course his lady, “Aunt” Nina. I was their house-guest a few years ago but you spent a longer time with them…share some of that with us…
JMcB: Of course; however, there are so many wonderful stories & memories and I would need vast amounts of time to share everything, and even then have to leave a lot out … but for now, I must state that both Nina & George were very helpful to me in so many ways to me as I was coming into the business. You are right in saying that they should be regarded as a favourite Uncle & Aunt. George was a great mentor to me as was Nina. They are very special people. Their influence on me in my formative years, and indeed even today, is exceptional. I didn’t just learn magic effects and method but how to be an entertainer!
AD: Absolutely! It is a conversation that George & I have had on many an occasion. I guess you know he describes himself as an entertainer and not as a magician … even his passport states that!
JMcB: Yes Tony. Magic is not just about technique and skill, it is primarily about entertainment. It is one of the main topics we focus on at the Magic and Mystery School. We always ask the pertinent questions. Such as: -What do you want your magic to be? What do you want your magic to convey? What is your personal philosophy of magic? We don’t provide the standard questions or even answers… however, we invite our students to explore in-depth answers. We don’t “teach” in the traditional sense, but as in the manner of the ancient mystery schools, we explore; we educate; we encourage. It is a total immersion in the process of complete magical evolution … A transformation. A metamorphosis. We show a student how to reach within their core essential being – we allow them the opportunity to develop & grow beyond restricted thinking. We explore the flaws in the conventional thinking of how magic should be perceived. Our students always leave transformed.
Mat Franco who recently won ´Americas Got Talent´ was a former student of the Magic and Mystery School. In all the interviews that followed his win, he also gave credit to his “learning curve” at the Magic and Mystery School.
AD: Yes indeed. Many magicians have been featured on the show, but this is the first time a magician has won – here’s an extract from Mike Weatherford’s article in the LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL quoting Mat Franco :- Franco said by telephone from New York “Jeff McBride was the biggest magic influence in my life growing up; it was just a complete obsession ever since I saw him on ‘The World’s Greatest Magic 2’ on NBC back in ’95. He’s just a huge inspiration to me, big time. When I asked if I could pursue magic full-time, Jeff’s answer was, ‘You can absolutely do that.’ And he gave me some insight on how to do it. Without that moment, I’m not really sure if I’d be doing what I’m doing today or not.”
JMcB: I am delighted for Mat, for our Art and glad to have played a role in his success. He first came to us when he was 12 years old, he’s now 25. He was one of our youngest students ever. … His sleight-of-hand was so amazing we couldn’t believe he was that young. In 2010, he attended one of our workshops and wanted to know if he could pursue magic professionally. Recognizing his talent, we played a part in helping him do just that. It was Mat’s ability to make the sleight-of-hand magic play really big and theatrical, and also to personalize his magic and customize it to fit the judges and the venue he was in; this is an important concept that we teach at the School. It not just about tricks but about making the right choice of effects, creating the right character and
AD: In the putting together of topics for our conversation I did , as is my nature, a fair amount of background research and contacted a few friends & others who are former students. This would be an appropriate time to quote some of their reactions:-
In the May 2001 issue of M-U-M, Dan Rodriguez, a Past President of The Society of American Magicians, wrote a tribute on his experiences at Master Class. Here is an extract: “I have to admit I was not sure what to expect when I signed up to attend Master Class. I’ve been working on a theme act based on the game of golf and was hoping to get some professional advice from Jeff McBride & Eugene Burger. Not only did I get the advice I was looking for, the inspiration from Jeff and Eugene will last a lifetime. My experience at Master Class was life changing for me. It helped me discover the passion in my magic. I came home truly inspired”.
Chris Davis: “As one of those fortunate scholarship recipients, I can speak from a firsthand perspective. This invaluable scholarship program and the Mystery School *do* change lives- it changed mine. It puts experience and knowledge that may be impossible to find otherwise at the fingertips of those who need it and are willing to strive for it. More than that, it offers to the student the wisdom, support and guidance of professionals who have not forgotten their roots- nor that giving back is the best way of paying it forward.
This philosophy and the belief that magic is a living, breathing art that can have tremendous impact not only on audiences, but on the magi themselves is at the heart of the Magic and Mystery School. To all the (Mystery School) staff and most especially to those of you who have contributed to the fund, a most heartfelt THANK YOU.”
Victoria Skye: “All laughs are not good laughs”, and “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” Those are the words Jeff McBride said to me that I will always remember from his Magic and Mystery School. Due to his critique of one routine, my shows and performing persona are forever changed for the better. I am now much more intuitive and aware of my volunteers, the audience, the stage, my props and my routines. I am grateful for the positive impact that Jeff’s incredible wisdom and creativity has made on my magic career. Spread the magic.”
Sean David Bogunia: “I believe that attending Master Class was not only one of the best things I ever did for my Magic, but most importantly, the best thing I did for my audience! I saw Jeff perform for the first time at Abbott’s Magic Get Together in 1992. His performance was amazing, to say the least! I was blown away and in awe of his command of the art and the emotion he was able to conjure and transmit to the audience. He instantly became one of my magic heroes! After that, I heard about Master Class and I was finally able to attend in 2000. Jeff and his fellow teachers taught us that the art of magic is not just about doing a trick well; it is about believing in the magic yourself and conveying that belief to your audience. Master Class teaches you what you can’t find in magic books and I give Jeff and Master Class a lot of credit for the success that I have seen in my performances. He encouraged me to “do what you love” and that is what it is all about. “
Kristine Hjulstad : “Does a faculty of magic really exist? Yes it does! My education in magic comes from attending a number of Master Classes with Jeff McBride and his Mystery scholars over a ten year period. This is the foundation of my creative thinking and how I was encouraged to pursue drama and theatre studies later in life. McBride is a wonderful pedagogue and teaches ”con amore” bringing the best out of every student. Every time I receive applause during my show I send a little thank you to Jeff McBride and my other teachers.
AD: Chris Davis referred to scholarships …how does that work?
JMcB: Over the past two years, we have given out over $12,000 in scholarship awards to over 20 talented, deserving people who needed a “hand up” to get the magic education they need for greater success. Every one of those dollars came to us from people like you, through direct donations or through their becoming a Member of the Magic & Mystery School. Thank YOU for helping us help others succeed! Full details are on our site : http://www.magicalwisdom.com/scholarships
AD: What can someone expect as a result of attending the School?
JMcB: A lot of the answers can be found in some of the quotes that you kindly obtained. Thank you for that Tony. We always have a remarkable group of students attending The Master Class, and other programs, at the School; we literally have people from all over the world. At a recent Master Class we had Chinese, American, Canadian, French, South American and Italian students in attendance. The best way for anyone is to go on-line, look at the site and email or Facebook us with any questions. I am pleased to state that our Classes are always well attended and become sold out very fast. The house is a fascinating mixture of languages and skill levels, but as the Master, Eugene Burger, says, “ Magic is all about fellowship across differences,”… and the fellowship is running strong here!
AD: The school, classes etc are all held right here in Vegas in your home …
JMcB: Yes they are. Abbi and I open up our home and as you have personally seen in your visits here, we have a vast area in which we accommodate everything. In a manner of speaking, and because of the very Nature of what we teach and explore at the school & the time they spend here, our students become, in a sense our “house-guests.”
AD: I personally have first-hand experience of what a great Host you can be and just as a little surprise for you, this would be a good time to share a quote from a very special lady:“Jeff McBride is the best husband a wife could ever hope to have. He wakes up happy to see me, is inspiring in his creativity, and truly is a genius in his art. He is kind, generous, thoughtful, affectionate, appreciative and attentive. I am so incredibly blessed. Just thought you all would like to know….”
JMcB: Oh my! You have done your homework Tony. What can I say? Except to respond by saying that Abbi is equally all of that to me and more … I am also incredibly blessed too! She is amazing and incredibly talented. Just thought you all would like to know that too!
AD: Indeed she is! She is often, her time permitting, also one of the teachers…
JMcB: Very much so… she is, in many ways, too numerous to go into here, very much a part of the School, its philosophy and day-to-day running.
AD: We have spoken of dear Eugene as the Dean but there are other illustrious names on the Faculty…
JMcB: Absolutely, Tobias Beckwith (by the way, nice article you wrote on him) Bob Neale, Larry Hass and a great host of many excellent teachers who are part of the Faculty… a veritable list of “Who’s Who in Magic.” I am greatly appreciative of all the teachers over the years that have helped us in making the School what it is today.
AD: Indeed. Names to conjure with (yes, pun intended). I once spent a delightful evening over dinner with Eugene, Tobias, Larry & Bob. How wonderful it must be for the students to spend several days. Let’s move on to a couple of other aspects of the performer Jeff McBride. We talked earlier about the Mask act but that is not the only “act as seen” that you perform …
JMcB: It is the act that I am best known for internationally and it has withstood the test of time; however, I do perform other acts and often travel to perform a full 90 minute show. I also am involved at various magic conventions all over the world and whilst I am there I often lecture as well, and on occasions also give a Master Class.
AD: You also played a character in a popular TV series …
JMcB: Ah ! You are referring, of course, to ‘Deep Space Nine.’ That was a memorable experience and it was interesting for me put into the character via a script, many of the essential elements that we teach at The School.
AD: There is so much more about you that we can cover, your awards& accolades and as one would expect, there are quite a few … you also have a deep interest in the esoteric and we have spoken of that before, you have a vast collection of books, not only on magic but on other topics as well. Your home is a treasure house of artefacts and you are also involved in other activities in Vegas and indeed The WonderGround. So much we can cover but we should save that all for another conversation.
JMcB: That would wonderful Tony. Thank you for this conversation.
AD: A great pleasure. Thank you Jeff. I am honored & delighted. It is indeed joyous to share your words with others. However, before we sign off, there are a few words that I obtained from a dear mutual friend. It is an honor for me to quote them:
“I consider Jeff McBride to be one of the very great magicians of our time. There is no doubt that he truly is one of the most influential magicians of the 20th& 21st century. For well over two decades, he has been one of my closest friends. I have taught magic with him for well over 24 years. He & Abbi are family. They are both caring people.
Jeff is driven by his passion which fuels his amazing energy. I love his silliness and great sense of humor. And of course, his notebooks… he is always taking notes. Jeff is an avid believer in writing things down and keeping notebooks; his notebooks, collected over the years, would astound people. Usually at the first Master Class session, Jeff explains his method of keeping notebooks and most of the students invariably sit there astonished and in awe at his meticulousness. Many of them, some for the first time, understand just how important keeping a notebook can be for a magician.
He is an excellent communicator both on-stage and off. This ability allows him to make a deep connection with his audiences and hence create memorable performances. Therein lays the true magic. I always find teaching with him an exhilarating experience. I am frequently surprised and amazed at the way his thinking works. Jeff is an extraordinary teacher of magic. As a teacher, I have seen him rearrange students’ acts in the Master Classes, often subtly, but always with practical &achievable suggestions.
There is no dogma or written in stone rules with Jeff. He does not seek imitation. Every Master Class commences with him asking each student what their expectations are; based on their responses, the instruction begins. Jeff methodically writes down what each person wants and then returns to these goals repeatedly during the sessions.
Both Jeff and I honestly consider our teaching together to be an important part of our higher magical work: by helping others with their performances, we feel that in some small measure we are giving back to magic the many wonderful things that it has given us. Teaching magic with Jeff McBride is a deeply moving experience. It is all done with Love.” – Eugene Burger.
Written By: Anthony Darkstone