dave curran

The Ghost Experience

For the last little while, I've been pitching in on a secret project which is now no longer secret and I'm excited they're finally letting me talk about it. On Friday nights, starting April 25, we will be premiering The Ghost Experience. Jamie Stam — who has appeared many times on Magic@theCage and Magic at the Winchester, one of our favourite presenters — is exploring a much more serious and mysterious side of the human experience; what happens with those who are no longer with us, yet remain behind. It's a chilling, and yet somehow uplifting, affair.

The show will be every Friday night at a secret location in Downtown Toronto, which is only revealed to ticket holders (which means all tickets must be purchased in advance — you'll never find the door!). Doors open at 6:30, with dinner served up until 7:30. After dinner, everything changes.

The Ghost Experience

Tickets | Additional Information | Like The Ghost Experience on Facebook

There is a special preview performance on Good Friday, April 18. If you would like to attend you can receive 50% off tickets using the discount code "goodfriday". 

This is strictly an 18+ event.

Moving On

Back in 2009, I took over the management of Abracadabaret (then Friday Night Magic) from its founders, James Biss & Dave Curran (as I've written previously). Since then, I've had the pleasure of working with a host of talented performers and genuinely splendid people from Toronto and abroad. At the end of April, I will be stepping down as the director, producer, coordinator and general boss person at Abracadabaret to explore some other projects. After five years, I am feeling the need to try something different. As explanations go, I realize that's not very satisfying. Much like the client that sounded like they wanted to book you and then decides they've "decided to go a different direction" which is code for anything from "you're too expensive" to "we've decided to dissolve the company and donate the proceeds to Rob Ford's re-election campaign."

However, the show will go on. A well-respected magician, psychic, hypnotist, children's entertainer and author, Mark Lewis, has agreed to take over. There will still be Magic@theCage twice a week, under Mr. Lewis' astute direction.

with Mark Lewis years ago at Friday Night Magic.
with Mark Lewis years ago at Friday Night Magic.

While I'm sure there will be changes, they can only be for the better. Mark is an extremely knowledgeable magician who has been at it for over half a century and cares deeply for magic as an art form. We're delighted that he is able to bring his decades of experience to this and other upcoming projects.

I'm not going far. I will still be performing (booking information is over at www.JamesAlan.ca). But as far as our public events go, you can get in touch with Mark directly.

See Mark Lewis performing as part of Wendy's Canada's #ExpectToBeAmazed ad campaign in 2013:

Pay no attention to the fact that this was posted on April 1.

The (Abbreviated) History of Abracadabaret

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.