Jim Steinmeyer
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Summer 2002

TWO SHOWS: I was honored to be a part of two shows which are currently running in New York: James Lapine’s revival of the Sondheim and Lapine “Into the Woods,” and Ricky Jay’s return to the city with his new show, “On the Stem.”

“Into the Woods” opened here in Los Angeles early this year. As part of its fairy tale setting, the witch (Vanessa Williams) requires an unusual “transformation” from decrepit to beautiful, and an exit in the second act. For these effects, I was able to use variations on some classic stage technology. These illusions are truly the “cherry” on a spectacular sundae: the production is a beautiful one due to Douglas Schmidt’s scenery and Susan Hilferty’s costumes. The production is currently at the Broadhurst Theatre in New York.

The show opened on April 30th to great reviews, and I’m proud to say that the New York Times review noted that the new “optical illusions…delight the eye,” Variety complimented the “splashy special effects” and Clive Barnes in the New York Post wrote that “the Witch’s sudden transformation rivals that of the Beast-into-Prince stunt in “Beauty and the Beast.”

On The Stem“Ricky Jay: On the Stem” marks Ricky’s return off-Broadway, at the Second Stage Theatre at 43rd and 8th. In many ways, I’ve been working on this show with Ricky for well over 20 years. I’d also worked on Ricky’s previous show, “Ricky Jay and his 52 Assistants,” which set box office records. The new show, in which I was credited with “Effects Design,” is a mix of Ricky’s infamous skill with cards and cons, as well as some new material related to the historic tour of New York’s main street, “The Stem.” I spent much of March and April in New York for rehearsals, and am very proud of the results. Ricky’s expertise, combined with David Mamet’s direction, scenery by Peter Larkin and lighting by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, should be required viewing by anyone interested in magic. In fact, it’s one of those shows which, if seen by people who weren’t interested in magic, might change their minds...you get the idea.

Not surprisingly, Ricky’s show, which opened May 2, garnered sensational reviews and it is currently the “hot ticket” in New York. Audiences seem to have been surprised by the range of the show; in discussing the cons, traditions and characters up and down the main street, from the con men to the vaudeville artists. The AP reviewer noted, “On the Stem turns the magicians’ craft on its head. Instead of relying on the tricks to entertain, Mamet and Jay place the narrative patter firmly ahead of the trickery; each magical effect arises organically from the storytelling, much as songs arise naturally from the plot of a good musical.” The New York Times praised Ricky’s “wrapping centuries of arcana into a life-giving embrace.”

THE 7th CONFERENCE: In November of 2001, together with Mike Caveney, John Gaughan, Joan Lawton and Frankie Glass, I was a producer of the 7th Los Angeles Conference on Magic History. As always, the Conference was a tremendous amount of work and a wonderful weekend. We were proud to introduce Trevor Greenwood and Gary Hunt, who presented an amazing documentary on The Great Fasola, Marilee Anderson, Guy Jarrett’s great niece, Diego Domingo discussing the Radio Mentalists, and Todd Karr on Chung Ling Soo.

Jarrett's Sawing IllusionI don’t perform, but at the Conference we recreate historical effects which interest us. I had a chance to present two Jarrett illusions, including his unique Sawing illusion. The photos here show me presenting the effect, with Micah Joyce inside the box and Steve Dick assisting. I’m proud to say that it mystified a lot of magicians--including magicians who should have known exactly how it worked. To me it proved the efficiency and effectiveness of Jarrett’s thinking. A lot of magicians recognize his mechanical inventions, but I came to understand that the strength of his Sawing routine was in its careful presentation and challenging atmosphere. It’s a shame that these illusions never properly got their due or, indeed, that the fashion for such effects was never really established.

Jarrett's Sawing IllusionJarrett’s illusions (including the secret and presentation for his Sawing) were described in my 2001 book, The Complete Jarrett. This is available at the Catalog section of this website. There you’ll also find the souvenir program for the 7th Conference.

Two highlights of the Conference, which are introduced in the program, were Mike Caveney’s presentation of the famous Million Dollar Mystery (using Charles Carter’s original apparatus), and John Gaughan’s recreation of deKolta’s Expanding Die (rebuilt, based on the deKolta original and John McKinven’s research). Not a bad evening of magic, and not a bad finale to our weekend. The Million Dollar Mystery, presented in the old style with all the bells and whistles, is nothing short of a miracle. The deKolta die, which takes but a second to perform, is one of the great theatrical surprises.

PUBLICATIONS: I’ve just introduced a new book, called Impuzzibilities. It’s a slight book, but filled with wonderful surprises for magicians. Each effect is “self-working,” and most of them can be performed through the medium of videotape or through a phone. The spectator follows instructions and ends up amazed. You’ll enjoy trying the effects yourself, and I suspect you’ll find a number of uses for these principles. I’m particularly proud of an “interactive” 3-Card Monte (the spectator mixes them, but you know where to find the queen), and an actual card transposition which takes place completely in the spectator’s hands.

You can find Impuzzibilities book in the Catalog section. It’s a modest little book that sells for only $16, but I’m quite proud of the value of the material.

And...yes...I admit it. One book that isn’t ready yet is The Mind and Magic of David Berglas. I feel bad repeatedly teasing you with the promise of this book. I’ve already had so many requests for it, that I know that it will be a best-seller. The fault is purely mine. The book is a big one and a daunting one. David Berglas and David Britland have completely written each word of it. The layout and selection of photos is daunting, and I’m still struggling with it (in between other projects). I will announce the publication of it through this site. Having read it all, I can’t help but tease you a bit more. It’s a sensational book. David Britland is a great, careful writer, and David Berglas is an ingenious performer. His successful career is matched by his wonderful insights and creations.

Those interested in magic history should note two recent publications by Todd Karr. “The Silence of Chung Ling Soo,” to which I contributed a chapter on Soo’s famous Lantern Illusion, and Clarke’s definitive “Annals of Conjuring” are currently published by Todd’s company, The Miracle Factory. Both are beautiful productions, and highly recommended. You can find them at: www.miraclefactory.org

Thanks for your interest.
Jim Steinmeyer

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