“If we could get beyond the concept of betterness and embrace otherness maybe then we’d have a shot at respect for all living beings!”
From ‘Atomic Clown‘ by Sara Moore
Atomic Clown is a whimsical memoir by celebrated clown & “human cartoon” Sara Moore about surviving grief, heartbreak & cancer by laughing in the face of it all. This colorful jolly-rancher of a book, designed by Fernando Gambaroni, chronicles Moore’s adventures in cancer treatment, donning big shoes & various comic guises, with the wonderful staff of Kaiser Permanente Oncology & Radiology. Accompanied by insights, musings and testimonials, we hope this effort will inspire others to venture where the humor meets the humanity! 80% of the sales of this book will benefitSan Francisco’s Medical Clown Project whose mission is to bring joy and laughter to patients in healthcare facilities throughout the Bay Area. The rest will buy donuts for Fernando and Sara’s clown students!
~ ~ ~
Sara Moore is an award winning, critically acclaimed American clown. She brings to the leadership of Clown Conservatory over three decades of experience as a performer, writer, educator and filmmaker. Her substantial body of creative work covers the full spectrum of clowning and spans multiple media, from the big top to film and stage, including Ringling Bros., The Krofft Puppets, New Pickle Circus, Make*A*Circus, Circus Bella, cruise lines, Off-Broadway, regional theatre, guerilla busking and as the comic foil in huge shows for entertainment tycoon Merv Griffin who dubbed her “The New Fanny Brice.” Hailed by critics as a “21st century Pagliacci,” her trademark Human Cartoon productions include her effusively reviewed tour de force Show Ho as well as Wunderworld, The Supers, Cyclones, The Secret Life of Custodians & Noses Off!
When does the history of sleight-of-hand begin? “If you read a standard history of magic you learn that it began in ancient Egypt with the resurrection of a goose in front of the Pharaoh… the history of magic is full of such stories which turn out not to be true,” state authors Peter Lamont and Jim Steinmeyer in their recently published The Secret History of Magic: The True Story of the Deceptive Art.
This, the above, is the active claim of this book. However, to quote Gertrude Stein’s bon mot: there’s no there there! Indeed, the authors’ present another textbook-like example of a strawman argument – one devoid of fulfilling its proposition. Poof!
By turns this book, which purports to represent “the true story” of stage magic’s origins, stunningly misleads, obfuscates, omits, mischaracterizes matters, as well as in essence defames past historians of prestidigitation.
For example, they call the late Milbourne Christopher an “amateur” at history writing, never mind his enduring vast output and his insightful and illuminative professionally rendered historiography in the field of magic scholarship.
What’s more, Lamont and Steinmeyer are themselves not professionally credentialed magic scholars..While Lamont’s PhD is authentic, his legitimacy is in that of the domain of psychology, not in that of theater history or magic academia.
And, if one were unnecessarily to concede the silly pinprick of Christopher, then, in the event, we’d say he is a “great amateur”, with Lamont and Steinmeyer being but “middling professionals”!
Their strawman argument is that “the standard magic history” starts with the false origin story account of Cheops-era Egyptian wonder-worker Dedi and his fabled, dexterous decapitation feats.
To the contrary, this is a gross misrepresentation of what Christopher and others have presented to their readers in connection with Dedi.
#1 Half of such “standard” magic histories omit this Dedi tale entirely.
#2 Those authors who do cite the obviously outsized legend of Dedi, do in fact go out of their way, as does Christopher, to cast the issue in the light of incredulity and disbelief – a matter omitted in bad faith towards readers by Lamont and Steinmeyer.
Here below are the actual words of some authors of the “standard histories”:
Milbourne Christopher in his works states the Dedi account is ‘farfetched’, ‘myth’, ‘fiction’, and to be taken ‘with a proverbial grain of salt’.
These are the actual representative sentiments written by two out of many other magic scholars one could similarly quote on this subject.
Other “standard” histories also routinely omit any reference to this Dedi origin story as in Paul Daniel’s “Story of Magic” and in John Mulholland’s “Story of Magic” and in similar titles of magic history for magicians and general readers alike.
Interestingly, Steinmeyer himself omits Dedi in his previously published chapter The Origins of Wonder in the Taschen edition of Magic edited by Noel Daniel.
Unless the reader of Lamont and Steinmeyer has access, as does this reviewer, to at least 95% of the sources cited in their book, the average lay reader – or even the generally knowledgeable magician – will be at sea, without much ability to interrogate the authors’ wantonly bogus assertions.
They question Robert-Houdin for his famous apothegm “the magician is an actor playing the part of a magician.” About this they unkindly make much ado, noting Houdin was never an actor. They neglect to acknowledge that his observation is aspirational, an ideal artistic goalpost.
John Mulholland, a more gracious quoter of Houdin’s insight, offered his own modification: “Playing the part of a magician who happens to be himself.”
They blast as fictional the belief that sleight of hand performers had been persecuted. Despite the caviling of the authors, the historical record affirms this belief, and, sadly, in recent times Middle Eastern Jihadists killed a street magician in Syria for yes! practicing alleged witchcraft.
In the 19th century the celebrated traveling magician Señor Antonio Blitz recalled in his popular memoir “50 Years in the Magic Circle”, how full of trepidation he was when visiting Salem, Massachusetts – full of fear for his life given lingering superstitions vis-à-vis the magician’s plying of his craft.
Given the authors’ self-touted claims that their project is that of correcting and upending falsehoods and fictions in others’ histories of magic, it is, to say the least, very curious indeed that in a reference to all the various biographies of Harry Houdini, they single out for being especially noteworthy, a recent one by Kalush and Sloman., the very one constructed with hundreds of pages of the techniques of… FICTION! (and criticized for this by a prominent critic in the New York Sun)
In a little side excursus, the authors even question belief in democracy, as, you guessed it!, but another illusion. Experientially, not just notionally, one knows how different it is to be living in an open society with democratic practices, from how it is and feels in a closed authoritarian society (perhaps they believe otherwise).
They credit the late Dai Vernon with a special procedure for doing the iconic effect, The Cups and Balls; yet here, too, they are in error given that his climax ball production methodology which they extoll was actually appropriated by Vernon’s observing the amazingly bold and subtle gambits of old ‘Pop’ Louis Krieger who goes uncredited (but our authors are setting the record straight!).
In the authors’ tour de’ horizon of the contemporary scene in magic, they alight on stuntster David Blaine without informing readers that Blaine’s television Street Magic with its attendent focus on the reaction shot is coolly derived from (lifted from?) Jeff Sheridan, whose consequential 1977 Doubleday book Street Magic provided title and the book’s prolixity of photographs by William Biggart established the template for the reaction shots – see that book’s multi-page portfolio of street-audience-reactions to Jeff Sheridan in-situ street magic set in the out of doors Manhattan, New York. Here as well, the authors Lamont and Steinmeyer are remiss in truly setting the record with exactitude.
The authors aver that as opposed to the “standard” accounts, they propose to set forth a counter narrative more like “the true story” their subtitle promises.
To this end, they tell their readers about practices and significations in sleight of hand during Greek antiquity. Yet as before in this book, they basically do little more than reiterate what is known about magic in this period that had already been highlighted in the writings of past scholars such as Christopher, Mulholland, Evans, Watson, Victor Farelli, et al.
As for their alternative corrected narrative about magic history, they settle on “wonder” – which had long been identified by among many such as Charles Reynolds and Doug Henning, S. H. Sharp, and others.
Apropos of the above, in a highly regarded vanguard essay in the Journal of Magic History Volume 2 Number 3, Robert Reiss sets forth the multivalent, metapoic resonances operating in the magician’s art, alongside wonder. (No less than Ricky Jay has culled a great line from this study, placed as the epigraph to his text on Matthias Buchinger.)
The previous “Standard” magic histories were in fact more ambitious in scope than in this book. Here, the authors omit whole swaths of centuries of western magic, as well as no acknowledgement whatsoever of indigenous magic practices worldwide, areas attended to more or less rewardingly by the earlier authors like Mulholland and Christopher.
To be sure, the truest scope of conceptualizing magic history is by its very nature elusive and beyond capturing fully. This is because we enter upon the saga of magic in medias res, as magic evolves out of periods of pre-history and after the loss of the library of Alexandria; the fullest relevant documentation unavailable to contemporary scholarship.
Thus there is no “origin story” to pin down. Magic’s core constitutive elements of plot structures and techniques, spin out in pinwheel fashion, willow wisp-like and may not be fully captured or even located with any certainty, for these are as of quicksilver.
The authors herein under consideration are no more successful at isolating magic’s origins than have been those others whom Lamont and Steinmeyer deride as being “amateur”. Teasing out a more or less coherent outline of early magic origins remains murky and messy. The subject matter of magic is famously a continuum of both coterminous and contradictory streams of origin.
Returning to the fabulous legend of Dedi, it would in fact never be really inapposite to, arguendo, commence the history of magic performance by way of focusing on Dedi’s archetypal plot structures – such as decapitation and restoration – for this is indeed a capital way to chart the trajectory from magic myth-making to much later magic performance activity, and this approach is not a false start or erroneous magic history.
While much of this infelicitously styled book is an ungainly effort at in part synthesizing the magic historical research of others, the authors overactive and preening hubris causes their pursuit to implode on the page without pause throughout the 357 leaves of this volume.
With blithe abandon, they posit their vain failed attempts at revisionism which are not much of any meaningful substance, and a reader will lament that here magic history is poorly served.
The authors, unsurprisingly, fail at qualified revisionist scholarship, for, to repeat, grasping at magic’s origins is inherently quixotic: vast unknowns, and historiographic hypotheses occupy the very misty territory of conjurational conjecture.
In all, this is a very silly book. It’s arguments for the most part unfounded, with pages mired in trivialities and much nitpicking over strawman arguments hatched seemingly solely at the whim of it’s authors.
By the way, if you want to read a truly splendid “origin story” for magic read the opening section of William Lindsey Gresham’s Houdini: The Man Who Walked Through Walls, for his evocative summoning of the Siberian Shamanic corpus of animation illusion. Here with a few paragraphs, Gresham sketches in a most plausible genesis, superbly.
While visiting San Francisco I met up with Leonard Pitt. A former student of Etienne Decroux, prolific writer, performer, teacher and collector of all things ‘Paris’. He gave me a copy of one of his books ‘My Brain on Fire’ and I can’t recommend it enough. Wonderful reading!
This is Leonard Pitt’s story of growing up the misfit in Detroit in the 1940s and 50s. In a later age he would have been put on Ritalin and paraded before psychiatrists because he couldn’t pay attention in school. In 1962, at the end of a misguided foray towards a career in advertising he took the ultimate cure, a trip to Paris. He thought it would only be a visit. He stayed seven years. There in the City of Light, Leonard’s mind exploded. And it hasn’t stopped since.
Studying mime with master Etienne Decroux and living in Paris were the university he never knew. This inspiration unleashed a voracious appetite to understand the “why” of things. He asked a simple question, “Why did the ballet go up?” While building a theatre career performing and teaching, he embarked on a quest to study the origins of the ballet, the history of early American popular music, the pre-Socratic philosophers, early modern science, the European witch hunt, the history of Paris, and more. To his unschooled mind it all fits together. Who would see a historical arc between Louis XIV and Elvis Presley? Leonard does. And he’ll tell you about it.
~ ~ ~
“What makes reading Pitt’s book so enjoyable is not only following the intellectual leaps he makes between his many and varied topics of interest. It is also seeing the creative connections among apparently unrelated subjects such as Louis XIV, Elvis Presley, and the Hula Hoop. From start to finish, Pitt’s memoir is a lively autodidactic romp through a life well-lived in both mind and body.”—Kirkus
A portrait of the great radio comic follows his rise to popularity from vaudeville–where he appeared as “World’s Worst Juggler”–to the Broadway stage, and on to “Town Hall Tonight”–his wildly popular radio show.
For two decades Fred Allen, “the man with the flat voice,” was America’s most brilliant radio humorist, and for a time his program was the most popular in the country. This appreciative biography, enlivened by hundreds of quotations from Allen’s books, journals, letters, scrapbooks, and scripts, follows the career of Boston-born John Florence Sullivan (1894-1956) from his early days as a vaudeville juggler to his subsequent appearances as a Broadway comedian, culminating in his 25 years of national prominence. Boston Globe art and book critic Taylor ( Saranac ) discusses Allen’s meticulous working methods, his longstanding “feud” with Jack Benny, his happy marriage and working relationship with Portland Hoffa, Allen’s wife of 27 years, and the characters he used to interview in Allen’s Alley : Ajax Cassidy, Sen. Beauregard Claghorn, Titus Moody, Mrs. Pansy Nussbaum and Falstaff Openshaw. Allen’s cleverness and wit, his preeminence as a master of pace and timing, acknowledged and proclaimed by the likes of James Thurber and Groucho Marx, are fully represented in this delightful, distinguished biography.
Unlike Jack Benny, his long-time contemporary, Fred Allen is perhaps almost forgotten today, except for those who grew up listening to the radio for an evening’s entertainment. He was, nevertheless, one of the leading radio comedians of the 1930s and 1940s. This book covers Allen’s roots in Boston, his days of vaudeville and Broadway revues, and his coast-to-coast success on radio. Television was his downfall, however, and nearly overnight his type of humor, shrewd and sardonic, became passe. This book is very much worth reading, but its excerpts from radio scripts really do little more than suggest what it was that made Allen so funny. Listening to tapes of Allen’s actual broadcasts would give a better sense of his remarkable style.
~ From Wikipedia~
John Florence Sullivan (May 31, 1894 – March 17, 1956), known professionally as Fred Allen, was an American comedian. His absurdist, topically pointed radio program The Fred Allen Show (1932–1949) made him one of the most popular and forward-looking humorists in the Golden Age of American radio.
His best-remembered gag was his long-running mock feud with friend and fellow comedian Jack Benny, but it was only part of his appeal; radio historian John Dunning (in On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio) wrote that Allen was radio’s most admired comedian and most frequently censored. A master ad libber, Allen often tangled with his network’s executives (and often barbed them on the air over the battles) while developing routines whose style and substance influenced fellow comic talents, including Groucho Marx, Stan Freberg, Henry Morgan and Johnny Carson; his avowed fans also included President Franklin D. Roosevelt and novelists William Faulkner, John Steinbeck and Herman Wouk (who began his career writing for Allen).
There has been an enormous revival of interest in Commedia dell’arte. And it remains a central part of many drama school courses. In Commedia dell’arte in the Twentieth Century John Rublin first examines the origins of this vital theatrical form and charts its recent revival through the work of companies like Tag, Theatre de Complicite and the influential methods of Jacques Lecoq. The second part of the book provides a unique practical guide for would-be practitioners: demonstrating how to approach the roles of Zanni, Arlecchion, Brighella, Pantalone, Dottore, and the Lovers in terms of movement, mask-work and voice. As well as offering a range of lazzi or comic business, improvisation exercises, sample monologues,and dialogues. No other book so clearly outlines the specific culture of Commedia or provides such a practical guide to its techniques. This immensely timely and useful handbook will be an essential purchase for all actors, students, and teachers.
~ ~ ~
“This new book by John Rudlin is much more than a re-examination of a theatrical style long past – in Rudlin’s hands, the whole subject becomes not only vital to today’s creators of theatre, but to the future as well.”– Theatre Scotland
~ ~ ~
“John Rudlin describes in great detail every aspect of commedia dell’arte. Having personally studied with John Rudlin, he is today’s master of the masked world. Indepth character analysis, sample plots, illustrations, pictures of masks, detailed background information, and an overall ‘everything you need to know’ by the man who knows better than anyone.”
~ ~ ~
Rudlin compacts a ton of useful information, in the history of the art, Mask/character analyzation, and current day Commedia practitioners. I’ve found it a very reliable source for the subject and recommend it to anyone interested in Commedia dell’Arte, either practically or academically.
Nearly a decade after his triumphant Charlie Chan biography, Yunte Huang returns with this long-awaited portrait of Chang and Eng Bunker (1811–1874), twins conjoined at the sternum by a band of cartilage and a fused liver, who were “discovered” in Siam by a British merchant in 1824. Bringing an Asian American perspective to this almost implausible story, Huang depicts the twins, arriving in Boston in 1829, first as museum exhibits but later as financially savvy showmen who gained their freedom and traveled the backroads of rural America to bring “entertainment” to the Jacksonian mobs. Their rise from subhuman, freak-show celebrities to rich southern gentry; their marriage to two white sisters, resulting in twenty-one children; and their owning of slaves, is here not just another sensational biography but a Hawthorne-like excavation of America’s historical penchant for finding feast in the abnormal, for tyrannizing the “other”―a tradition that, as Huang reveals, becomes inseparable from American history itself. 28 illustrations.
“Excellent… Mr. Huang compellingly makes his case that racism was a factor in these two self-made gentlemen landowners still being considered, late in life, as nothing more than a Barnumesque “freak show”… It’s not difficult to find in this, as Mr. Huang most definitely does, a comment on the times in which we live.”
– Melanie Benjamin, Wall Street Journal
“Engrossing…. give[s] an unvarnished look at the degradation and disparagement the brothers had to endure.”
– Jennifer Szalai, New York Times
“Inseparable, Yunte Huang’s exuberant and vivid account of the ‘original Siamese twins,’ examines 19th-century American attitudes toward race and sex that resonate today ― a time when immigrants, people of color, those with disabilities and others are denied their stories and denied their humanity… By sharing his own experiences, [Yuang] reveals the poignant commonalities of immigrants across time and place, strangers making sense of a strange land, determined to make a better life for themselves and their children.”
– Vanessa Hua, San Francisco Chronicle
Tessa Fontaine’s astonishing memoir of pushing past fear, The Electric Woman, follows the author on a life-affirming journey of loss and self-discovery―through her time on the road with the last traveling American sideshow and her relationship with an adventurous, spirited mother.
Turns out, one lesson applies to living through illness, keeping the show on the road, letting go of the person you love most, and eating fire:
The trick is there is no trick. You eat fire by eating fire.
Two journeys―a daughter’s and a mother’s―bear witness to this lesson in The Electric Woman.
For three years Tessa Fontaine lived in a constant state of emergency as her mother battled stroke after stroke. But hospitals, wheelchairs, and loss of language couldn’t hold back such a woman; she and her husband would see Italy together, come what may. Thus Fontaine became free to follow her own piper, a literal giant inviting her to “come play” in the World of Wonders, America’s last traveling sideshow. How could she resist?
Transformed into an escape artist, a snake charmer, and a high-voltage Electra, Fontaine witnessed the marvels of carnival life: intense camaraderie and heartbreak, the guilty thrill of hard-earned cash exchanged for a peek into the impossible, and, most marvelous of all, the stories carnival folks tell about themselves. Through these, Fontaine trained her body to ignore fear and learned how to keep her heart open in the face of loss.
A story for anyone who has ever imagined running away with the circus, wanted to be someone else, or wanted a loved one to live forever, The Electric Woman is ultimately about death-defying acts of all kinds, especially that ever constant: good old-fashioned unconditional love.
* * *
“An assured debut that doesn’t shy away from the task of holding the ordinary and otherworldly in its hand, at once. It’s herein that the book’s power lies . . . Throughout this narrative is the story of [Fontaine’s] relationship with her mother, a story that is sometimes its own hard-to-watch sideshow act. Fontaine is unafraid to write the ugliness ― the imperfect care and love ― that takes place between people, and the memoir is most ‘electric’ when it doesn’t shy from that imperfection . . . I’m stunned by the beauty of Fontaine’s rhythms and images.”―Rachel Khong, The New York Times Book Review
“While caring for her mother following a stroke, Tessa Fontaine became enchanted by the world of the carnival sideshow, learning to charm snakes, swallow swords, and escape handcuffs. What Fontaine finds, as she recounts in her fascinating memoir, The Electric Woman (FSG), is that there’s no trick to overcoming one’s deepest fears.”―Vogue
In the opening pages of this fascinating memoir, first-time author Fontaine learns how to eat fire. This is just one of several “death-defying” feats she learned during her stint with the World of Wonders, “the very last traveling sideshow of its kind.” Intrigued by illusion and danger, Fontaine—a grad student studying writing—accepted a surprising invitation to join the show. Not only did she yearn for adventure but she also hoped to temporarily escape from assisting her mother after her mother suffered a debilitating stroke. Fontaine segues between hospital visits to her mother in California’s Bay Area and the fantastical world of the carnival, where Fontaine learned to handle snakes, swallow swords, free herself from handcuffs, and eventually master the role of “the electric woman,” lighting light bulbs with her tongue. Traveling state and county fairs, Fontaine shares the unusual stories of her fellow carnival workers, all of whom come across as devoted to the exhausting, grueling, yet inspiring work they do each day. Fontaine explores the history of the carnival (e.g., the first incubators were on display in a carnival sideshow in the early 20th century); its pecking order of performers, carnies, and foodies; its humor and dark underbelly. This remarkable, beautifully written memoir explores the depth of mother-daughter love and the courageous acts of overcoming fear and accepting change.
– Publishers Weekly
* * * *
Tessa Fontaine is the author of The Electric Woman: A Memoir in Death-Defying Acts, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick, an Amazon Editors’ Best of the Month featured debut, iBooks favorite, and more. Tessa spent the 2013 season performing with the last American traveling circus sideshow, the World of Wonders. Essays about the sideshow won the 2016 AWP Intro Award in Nonfiction, and have appeared in The Rumpus and elsewhere. Other work can be found in Glamour, LitHub, Creative Nonfiction, and more.
Why Only Art Can Save Us: Aesthetics and the Absence of Emergency
by Santiago Zabala
The state of emergency, according to thinkers such as Carl Schmidt, Walter Benjamin, and Giorgio Agamben, is at the heart of any theory of politics. But today the problem is not the crises that we do confront, which are often used by governments to legitimize themselves, but the ones that political realism stops us from recognizing as emergencies, from widespread surveillance to climate change to the systemic shocks of neoliberalism. We need a way of disrupting the existing order that can energize radical democratic action rather than reinforcing the status quo. In this provocative book, Santiago Zabala declares that in an age where the greatest emergency is the absence of an emergency, only contemporary art’s capacity to alter reality can save us.
Why Only Art Can Save Us advances a new aesthetics centered on the nature of the emergency that characterizes the twenty-first century. Zabala draws on Martin Heidegger’s distinction between works of art that rescue us from emergency and those that are rescuers into emergency. The former is a means of cultural politics, conservers of the status quo that conceal emergencies; the latter are disruptive events that thrust us into emergencies. Building on Arthur Danto, Jacques Rancière, and Gianni Vattimo, who made aesthetics more responsive to contemporary art, Zabala argues that works of art are not simply a means of elevating consumerism or contemplating beauty but are points of departure to change the world. Radical artists create works that disclose and demand active intervention in ongoing crises. Interpreting works of art that aim to propel us into absent emergencies, Zabala shows how art’s ability to create new realities is fundamental to the politics of radical democracy in the state of emergency that is the present.
“Santiago Zabala’s Why Only Art Can Save Us is a crucial publication for anyone concerned about the future and necessity of art in the twenty-first century. Its main claim is that the possibility of art lies in its aesthetics of emergency. Although we live in a time of social, political, and environmental emergencies, Zabala makes the convincing case that we tend to repress the emergencies we live in. The aesthetics of emergency discloses the concealment of emergency as the essential emergency, helping us to recover the sense of emergency. This aesthetics proposes a major shift in our understanding of art, which is less about representation than existence.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Christine Ross, author of The Past Is the Present; It’s the Future Too.
“Why Only Art Can Save Us examines art that is in touch with the contemporary world, a world that, however you assess such things, is surely in crisis.