james biss

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.

Seventeen Secrets eBooks

The two booklets I edited for the Sid Lorraine Hat & Rabbit Club are now available as eBooks. So if you prefer a lighter digital version, or just don't want to pay for shipping, both titles are now available for $15 each at Lybrary.com. Lybrary is the world's largest site for eBooks about magic and its related arts with hundreds of titles including reproductions of rare and out of print books.

Volume 1 includes contributions from me, James Biss, Matt DiSero, Richard Forget, Murray Hatfield, Will Houstoun, Joshua Jay, Michael Weber and Tyler Wilson. Read the full table of contents.

SSV1 Cover

Volume 2 contains contributions from me, Bill Abbott, Denis Behr, Eugene Burger, Alain Choquette, Matt DiSero, Tina Lenert, Chris Mayhew, Ricky Smith, Rob Testa and Chris Westfall. Read the full table of contents.

SSV2 Cover

The print and electronic versions have identical content with a few formatting changes. The photos in the eBooks are larger and in colour. Otherwise they're the same books. They cover a range of material including cards, close-up, stage and mentalism with varying levels of difficulty.

For those interested in purchasing the original print versions, which are limited numbered editions, they are available from the Hat & Rabbit Club's web store for $20 each plus postage.

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.


James Biss Interviewed On the Larry Smith Show

The Hamilton Fringe Festival creates a wonderful sense of family and camaraderie. In particular, we have a performers club house at the Artword Artbar (which the public is welcome to crash). Every night, comedian Larry Smith hosts an avant garde talk show (meaning there are no cameras) on stage at Artword interviewing the players in the twenty eight Fringe productions. See my director, James Biss' interview in all its absurdity:

We Won a Larry!

Last night on the closing night of the Hamilton Fringe Festival, The Artword Artbar hosted a special evening talk show where they distributed the Lawrence Victor Smith Academy of Theatre Arts and Sciences Awards (Larry's for short). Lies, Damn Lies & Magic Tricks won two Larry Awards, one for James Alan and another for the show's director, James Biss. Whether we won the award because of the show or because of the interviews we participated in at Artword earlier in the festival is unclear. We're certainly not saying what we won the awards for; that's just embarrassing.

Larry Award