El Taumaturgo Interview with Jeff McBride

I am starting with a rather cryptic question, please forgive me for that. But I’ve always felt that there is a lot of “magic” in your magic. What’s the way, in your opinion, to surpass a mere exhibition and go into an emotional experience?

 Tricks engage the mind as puzzles.  In order to impact your audience on deeper levels, more thought has to be put into the various elements that comprise an emotionally potent theatrical experience.  I feel a good magician strives to move the audience beyond intellectual engagement, towards a deeper, emotional experience.

One of the things we teach at the Magic & Mystery School in Las Vegas is how to help our students transport their audiences beyond the mundane to an experience of the miraculous.  For this, very special conditions are required.  For example:

  • understanding and control of the performance environment, and the ability to adapt to the live performing situation as it develops.
  • excellence and even mastery of the technical dimension of magic.  Without excellent technique, there can be no experience of magic for the audience.
  • full awareness of how the audience’s mind-set helps to  create  the magical experience, and the ability to be a proper guide for their magical journey.

The combination of physical, mental, and technical preparation creates a context where the miraculous can be experienced.

Another thing about your stage magic that caught my attention is the way you handle the fourth wall, even in your manipulation act. People are always involved in what you are doing. Can you talk to us about that magical connection?

One of the most important teachings we share at our School is  how to transform an audience of individual  “objective witnesses” into a cohesive group of “subjective participants.” One of the powers of the magic show is that it has the potential to break the fourth wall, and have the audience be directly involved in co-creating the experience.

People support what they help create, whether it is a political party, a charity or even a theatrical experience. If people are engaged and invested energetically in a performance, they will feel like they are “part of it.” I feel that this is what separates an average magic show from a great magic show.

I think people should always leave a good magic show having something to think about or a strong feeling since the performer had guided them through a travel into the unknown. As a guide, do your shows have an special message or a feeling you want your spectators to leave with?

 First of all, there is no “one” kind of audience or “one” kind of message.  The message will change depending on the mind-set of the audience. In my experience, there are two types of audiences. There is a “thinking” audience, and there is a “drinking” audience. There is a major difference with each of these audience’s ability to experience magic on a “deeper level” of theatricality.

  • The Thinking Audience:  these people are coming to the theater to enjoy a specific style of theatrical magical entertainment.  Most often, they are sitting in formal theater seats, sometimes have a program of the evening’s entertainment to read before the show, and often there is no food or alcohol served during the performance. These kinds of audiences are frequently willing to enjoy magic on a deeper level than mere party entertainment. These types of audiences are found at theaters, workshops, retreats, corporate environments, and many come out to our Magic & Mystery School events and performances.  They are ready to go deep into the magical experience.
  • The Drinking Audience: these are party-goers and the type of audiences we engage at private functions, corporate banquets, concerts, nightclubs, and many social functions. Very often, these people have not come to the specific venue to see a magic show. They are socializing, partying, having a good time, and trying to forget their jobs, responsibilities, and other social pressures. Often, they are consuming food and alcohol during the course of the entertainment, or immediately prior to it, and they have a shortened attention span. These are the types of audiences that I typically perform for in Las Vegas casinos. They are jet-lagged, overstimulated, and often have had too much to drink. They are NOT ready to think deeply about magic, or even open up emotionally due to their altered states of consciousness.

Now having a clear definition of different types of audiences I work for, it is my desire to give them an experience that will enhance their present state of mind.  For a “thinking audience,” I will challenge them to think more deeply.  For a “drinking audience,” I will create an experience of cathartic release that allows them to have fun, to unwind and celebrate socially.

You perform your act at the Wonderground in Las Vegas and in big theatres, but every path has it first steps. What were the first venues you started performing in? Do you miss something about those times? How has your performance character developed from your firsts acts? How you maintain the passion in your magic when you work so much? Excuse me if there are so many questions in the same sentence.

I started off as a very conventional magician. Like almost any other magician, I was playing private house parties, fashion shows, carnivals, fairs, and school assemblies. I do not miss any of those times, for I still occasionally perform at all of these kinds of functions and venues; some things never change.

Over the years, I had to perform for larger and larger audiences, so my magic had to play bigger. I also did not have a lot of money for big props so I had to create a style of performance that could make manipulation “play huge” on-stage. My persona, costume, and music changed to be extremely theatrical, flamboyant, and larger than life. I experimented with many theatrical forms and combined them with my magic: martial arts, quick-change, dance, mime, masks, and percussion.

I maintain my passion by working with students at the Magic & Mystery School; their enthusiasm is contagious and inspiring. I also enjoy  working so closely with the Faculty of the School in planning and carrying out our Live and Online learning experiences. Finally, I am energized by performing at the Wonderground every month, where I have challenged myself to present new magic every time. When I’m not performing, I travel to study at other programs and retreat centers, where I learn new ways to teach and motivate others. It seems that I rekindle my passion for magic and nurture my creativity by learning how to serve others better.

The Wonderground seems to me like a very ambitious project (dancing, poetry, magic, juggling, music) and a great experience for those who can attend the show. How did you get the idea for such a unique venue

The Wonderground is an extension of a vision I’ve had since I was very young. I’ve always enjoyed

creating with others, and it seems that by co-creating with a community of artists we challenge each other’s limitations and push our creativity beyond our own self imposed boundaries. In my teens and early twenties, I lived in New York City and was a member of a performance troupe called Le Clique Fantasy Players. Each week, we would perform at various NYC party clubs, discos, and private parties. Often we had a new theme every week that we would have to work with–whether it was carnival, tropical, horror, or jungle.  It was a crazy time that led to outrageous creativity and the ability to improvise and create elaborate performances with very little time, money or advance preparation. This prepared me to study theater, pantomime, and especially improvisation more formally. All of these skills come together at the Wonderground. We create an entirely new show every month! The show is nearly four hours long, and there is magic and performance happening all over the venue, nearly every moment. There is close-up room, bar magic, strolling magic, parlor magic, stage magic, and the environmental installations, live painting, tarot reading, body painting, sideshow arts, oh, and the belly dancers, don’t forget the belly dancers!!

You are the Founder and President of the Magic & Mystery School. Now, with the incredible amount of information that a magic student can find with one or two clicks, what are the benefits of a live learning process like the Mystery School provides?

Well, the truth is we offer both live and online training for the serious student of magic. If you live in Spain, you can study with us online, at your own speed, and when you’re ready, you may want to join us here in Las Vegas. But the important thing to say is that we have at the forefront of educating magicians for 22 years!  We offer expert master teaching from some of the world’s leading performers, philosophers, and educators. Whether online or live, we work to help every magician achieve their highest potential in the art. Further, if a student desires to have a personal mentor, all they have to do is come to one of our classes to make that connection. There is an incredible benefit to having magic education with trained professionals who understand your skill level, desires, and even your limitations. Trained teachers can accelerate your growth as magical entertainer in ways that books, DVDs, and the internet just can’t do. Magic is a living art.

We are from Spain, very far from Las Vegas (where the school is based), but lucky enough to have access to the online teaching of the school. What can we find if we want to start our online learning?

If you want to become a better magician, you can become a member of our online school, which gives you access to an enormous amount of online content and even live-online interaction with our faculty members: Eugene Burger, Dr. Lawrence Hass, George Parker, Tobias Beckwith, and Bryce Kuhlman. Go to http://www.mcbridemagic.tv and look around this website to enjoy a few of our training programs and sign up as a member to get access to much more content. You can also chat live-time with magicians all over the world who will offer excellent advice.

To get connected with all our online materials, go to http://www.magicalwisdom.com.  You will find here all the information you need to learn about our online school and live classes here in Las Vegas. We also have an online magic magazine called The Secret Arts Journal.

I should also mention that we offer online episodes of long-running web-tv program, Mystery School Monday. Since January 2011, the faculty has been creating this hour-long weekly magic class for students all over the world. Each episode focuses on a different area of our art–topics such as Street Magic, the Psychology of Magic, Story Telling Magic, Corporate Magic, and many, many others. You are able to access several episodes for free, and when one signs up as a member of our School one gets access to all the episodes we have filmed–at this point, well over a hundred episodes in all.

You’ve recently published your book, The Show Doctor. As I am a publisher myself I have to ask about your book. The book teaches close up magic, stage magic, mentalism, and it includes many interviews. But the most important part of the book are the 48 chapters in which you give advice as The Show Doctor. Please, tell our readers what they will learn reading the book.

I have been teaching magic for twenty five years. I’ve also been helping students learn from their mistakes, and how to become a better magician. The Show Doctor book is filled with practical, real-world advice that can help any magician to avoid costly and time-consuming mistakes in their magical development. The Show Doctor also includes many never-published before magic routines: mentalism, close-up, stage manipulation and illusion.

The book has also a great digital edition designed for the iPad. In fact, it is the first digital book created for the iPad, and it really takes advantage of the special features of the digital media. Do you think that’s the way to go in magic books?

I am a book lover, and will always enjoy the feel of paper in my hands, yet there are so many advantages to having a book with built-in video instruction. Also, the practicality of portability is essential in our modern age. This alone makes it a huge advantage over traditional books.

Thank you very much for sharing your time and knowledge with us.

Ricardo Sanchez
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