Renaissance Cups and Balls

Originally published in Feb. 2009.

In 2004, I was going through some notes on my computer to get ideas for a new routine. You see, I’ve always been interested in performing one of the oldest pieces of magic, the cups and balls. I had heard and read for years that if you wanted to judge how good a magician was you simply had to watch their performance of the cups and balls. Supposedly, when it was done masterfully, it was beautiful to behold and when it was in the hands of a hack, it was torturous to watch. For years the cups and balls had been on my list of magic routines I would like to tackle, just to see if I could do it justice. The problem was I really didn’t see myself performing it anywhere. Because of the larger venues I performed in I didn’t see how a piece of close-up magic could translate. Then I read an article about a street magician named Gazzo.

He was a master street performer and entertainer and he had performed his version of the cups and balls in every venue imaginable, from the street to the largest stages. After doing a little more research my eyes were opened on how this piece of close-up magic could translate for a larger audience. So I set myself on a mission and started brainstorming.

So, I start going through the file I keep on my computer that is full of ideas and subjects that I find interesting. Several pages into the notes I come across a notation that says – Shakespeare – and I realize that I’ve hit the jackpot. You see, for years I’ve been an actor as well as a magician and illusionist. At some point I made a note to myself that it would be cool to create some magic based on a Shakespearean subject. I know, instinctively, that this could be a very cool idea.

So, I start my research. I go through all of the magic texts I have on magic history and street performing. I’m also researching Shakespeare and re-reading some of his works. After quite a bit of work I ultimately decide to combine my acting background with my passion for magic and create a character based in the Renaissance era.

The research has been fun and interesting to do but it’s also been taxing. Now it’s time to play. I get to start working on the character, the script and the magic that’s going to take place. I love this stage of creation because it stretches your imagination. You get to write and work on ideas and you have a completely blank slate to fill. It can be quite difficult at times, but when you work through the difficulty and hit on a great idea or a funny line that you know is completely your idea…it’s an amazing feeling.

Initially I work on it for a couple of weeks before I show it to my small circle of friends to see what they think. When I debut the basic idea my friends are very supportive. They really like the direction this piece is taking. I knew there was something really good there, but they share some ideas and thoughts on what I had created so far that help recharge my batteries and push me forward. I make the decision to further define the character and the script and debut this piece in a local magic competition to see how it will play in front of a real audience and to see what other kinds of suggestions I can get.

jasoncupsDebuting this piece at a magic competition turns out to be a great idea. First off, I take second place. Cool! Second, and much more importantly, a couple of really top-notch magicians take me off to the side and give me some ideas to help improve both the performance and the technical structure of the routine.

So it’s back to the drawing board. I decide to change quite a bit. I work on several new ideas, I change around many of the techniques, and I completely embrace the concept. I work for several more months, into 2005, before I decide to debut the new and improved version for my local magic club. It is a huge hit at the magic meeting. And much to my surprise, my friends and mentors don’t think I should change a single thing.

At this point I have a lot of time, a nice chuck of money and a ton of creativity invested in this bad boy. I decide to compete in a couple of larger magic competitions. I take first place several times and I realize that’s time to go for the big time. I register for two of the biggest international magic competitions held here in America, the International Brotherhood of Magicians’ annual competition and the Society of American Magicians’ annual competition. I fly to Reno, NV to the IBM’s annual convention and work my way through the preliminary round.

Cups and Balls (Skull)I’m in the finals and I just have to stay calm and do what I have rehearsed over and over and over again. The tough part about staying calm is you know that you are in front of some of the finest, most well-respected magicians in the world who are there to judge you against the other competitors. I end up having to perform in several different rooms in front of several different crowds and judges. That’s both good and bad. It means that you have to be your absolute best every single time you perform. Things go very well and now it’s time to wait and see. The awards ceremony takes place in the middle of a show several nights later. In other words, there are several acts that entertain the audience, and then the awards are given, then another act or two finishes out the show. We all go onstage and after some words from the President of the organization I take second place. YES! That’s huge! That’s second place in a huge field of magicians from all over the world.

At the end of the IBM’s convention I make my way to Boston to compete in the SAM’s annual convention and competition. At this convention you had to make it through a preliminary screening before you qualified to compete. What that means is when I arrive I’m immediately in the finals. After a terrible day of flying, missing my connecting flight, sleeping (sort of) in an airport, and getting up stupid early to catch my new flight I arrive. When I arrive in Boston I find that the airline has lost my luggage and my hotel doesn’t have my reservation. Seriously? Geez! That’s the second time during this trip that my equipment didn’t make it where it was supposed to be. I finally do get everything worked out and I have just enough time to take a nap before I compete that afternoon.

The competition goes great. I perform in several different rooms, much like the other competition, and have a blast. Now it’s back to the waiting. I enjoy the entire convention. Finally the awards ceremony is on us. My name is called from the podium…for second place. Again!?! That’s awesome and at the same time irritating. (Somehow the same guy beat me in both Reno and Boston. I wish I had seen what he did. It must have been awesome!) Seriously though, I am thrilled with another win.

Putting my creation to the test under very scrutinizing eyes was an amazing experience. It forced me to work extremely hard and I truly don’t think this routine would have become this good without that work. Now it’s your turn to enjoy it. Let me know what you think.


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