When I was relatively new in magic, enthusiastic and curious but not really performing for anyone. I wanted to attend a magic show. Top of the google search for magic in Toronto was a site called Magical.com and a show advertised there called Friday Night Magic. It seemed like a good place to start.
The show is a kind of magic open-mic with multiple performers and a host.
I actually waited a while to go down and see it because I was in university and it was advertised as $20 ticket. So I was surprised when I showed up that no one asked me for a cent. That was where I first met my (now) friends James Biss, Dave Curran, Mark Lewis and Paul Pacific. In fact two things I saw that night inspired me to create something that I still perform today and had published in the first instalment of Seventeen Secrets. (I hope they don't take offence that it's a trick about crazy people.)
The show was not a new thing when I first showed up there (it was either 2006 or 2007). It had been going for a few years, run by James Biss and Dave Curran. Friday Night Magic itself was a spinoff of The Magic Arts Festival (2000 or 2001) which was an attempt to flood a section of Toronto's downtown core with magic shows just for the fun of it. While nobody remembers it today, I assume it was something that was fun to do, lots of work, but at best financially neutral. Before that, the show had its roots in another Toronto production called "A Little Night Magic" which ran for several years and ended in the early nineties.
I attended the show regularly and eventually something strange happened. Two of the three performers were not there; one was ill and the other was trapped in bad weather. The usual host, James Biss, had worked all day Friday and spent most of Thursday night at an event that ran extremely late. I remember exactly what he said to me. "You could watch me, in this state, for forty-five minutes, or you could give me a break and do ten minutes in the middle."
I was on the spot, but too young to appreciate how not ready I was. But enough people were suitably impressed and I finished my first public performance ever. It was an experience I was happy to repeat.
Over the next few years, I became a regular performer and worked with several of the other performers on different projects. By 2008, James Biss was ready to move on to other projects, including a TV pilot (that didn't go anywhere) and a book project (that did). I was left running the show.
When I took over, the show was having difficulty. We had been running a free weekly magic show more or less continuously (with summers off) for upwards of six years. And we had a somewhat regular audience which create a lot of pressure to produce "new" (meaning unseen) material. At that point, we were well past B and C level material. I remember more than once seeing things that people had just come up with that afternoon. We were also catering to the regulars a bit too much, and the in-jokes were starting to overpower the regular jokes.
We changed to a monthly (more or less) event and put some more effort into planning who would attend. We came up with the name Abracadabaret (largely with the help of David Ben, Julie Eng and a large paper table cover we scribbled on at lunch one day). We started a fresh website and got to work.
We tried a few venues, largely through the efforts and connections of David Grossfield, looking for the right mix of ambiance, visibility, convenience and seating capacity. The Charlotte Room had a beautiful ambiance and a great menu, but few seats and a rather awkwardly placed pool table. Zemra had an even better menu, but a very awkward layout. The Trane Studio was perfectly designed for performances, but was incredibly inconvenient for scheduling (we even showed up once to find a 5-piece Brazilian jazz ensemble setting up on stage, accidentally scheduled to go on at the same time as us.)
Then we took a break for a while. I got distracted planning theatre shows including ones for Asi Wind, Eugene Burger and my own. At the same time, Bobby Motta and Chris Westfall were both organizing events on a regular basis and the fact that there were quality alternatives available didn't do much to curb my laziness.
Last fall, I stumbled across our new venue at The Winchester, through a Fringe colleague, Victoria Murdoch, who was performing her one-woman show Dairy Free Love there. While she was performing, I sent her a text message saying "I am so stealing this venue." I was a bit disappointed when, after the show, the owner came out and announced that they were trying to grow their dinner theatre performances and if there was any performers or producers in the audience, they'd love to hear from us... so much for being devious.
I had a very successful - but short - three day run there in January and was invited back. So in addition to doing a few more Lies shows there Abracadabaret will be returning to its roots at the end of the month with a new variety show. I'm very excited to be back at it. It's nice to know that the same show where I had my first "serious" performance is still around and will continue to give the opportunity to more young performers. (Which reminds me, we love having new performers on the show if you would like to contribute something, let me know.)
If you have an opportunity, please subscribe to the Abracadabaret Mailing List or do the Facebook or Twitter thing for more regular updates.
I know I probably have the chronology of that slightly wrong. I'm tempted to go back through my files and post a collection of our past show posters. Then again, part of me is embarrassed by the very early stuff, which I believe was designed using Powerpoint, and doesn't want anyone to be reminded. If anyone is truly curious, I'm sure a little bit of Facebook creeping will turn them up.
With love and thanks to the performers of Friday Night Magic / Abracadabaret past & present including but not limited to:
Bill Abbott, James Biss, Keith Brown, Ryan Brown, Dave Curran, Matt DiSero, Gerry Frenette, David Grossfield, James Harrison, Jeff Hinchliffe Alex Kazam, Mark Lewis, Duncan MacKenzie, Bobby Motta, Mysterion, Paul Pacific, Jason Palter, David Peck, Anastasia Synn, Rob Testa, Dan Trommater, Chris Westfall
Join us for our next show, Sunday, June 30 at 7:00 PM. Click below for details.