Archive for the ‘magic’ Category

Staging magic…

Holbein, The Prestige and Venice

Over the years I have taken great pride in my magic stage sets for my various shows and wanted to share a few insights for those who are curious about designing sets for meaningful magical performances.

Overall, my set design choices have been heavily influenced by particular paintings, films, and styles. The key painting has been The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein the Younger. The picture is simple and complex at the same time. It uses beautiful colours that are typical of the Renaissance period. It has symbolic references to a large set of perennial concerns of humankind. It is a large painting and it evokes mystery, wonder, other worldliness, science, travel, life, death, religion, war, politics, and power, among many other enduring concepts.

Hans_Holbein_the_Younger_-_The_Ambassadors_-_Google_Art_Project

The greens and the reds have featured heavily in my use of background images (and are consistent with colours in my family’s coat of arms), while the table littered with objects has become a mainstay feature of my shows. I have learned that a table full of props (artefacts) provides curiosity as my audiences sit in wonder throughout my shows thinking about what might happen with the different objects on the table.

Stage set from the Milton Theatre, University of Huddersfield

Stage set from the Milton Theatre, University of Huddersfield

The most influential film has been The Prestige, both in terms of the structure of routines (i.e. the pledge, the turn and the prestige), as well as the look and feel of the Victorian stage. Indeed, I grew up with Hoffmann’s Modern Magic and have always loved the illustrations of the boxes, vases, and props in that book. Between that book, the film and Holbein’s painting, I have sought to create my own ambience on stage, which evokes mystery, intrigue and maybe even a touch of fear.

hoffmann

My final influences come from Italy. I taught for seven years in Venice, where as a Visiting Professor, I was given my own flat near the Grand Canal, rode the vaporetto to the Lido and lectured in the magna aula of the San Niccoló Monastery.

Our graduation ceremonies in Venice always took place in the Palazzo Ducale adjacent to St. Mark’s Square, and I used to love sitting on the dais with the other professors in our robes surrounded by the Tintorettos on the walls and ceiling. Life in Venice teaches one about real magic and the power of history, while the architecture, food, coffee, and labyrinthine streets and canals provide a feast of influences for any serious mystery entertainer.

My latest work is grounded in philosophy and imagines a ‘philosopher’s box’ that would be used to instruct pupils to think about life’s deeper questions. The show draws on political philosopher John Rawls and is called ‘Lifting the Veil of Ignorance’, which is being staged at Wivenhoe House Hotel on 17 October 2013 and the Milton Theatre at the University of Huddersfield on 26 October 2013.

initial setup

 

Reflecting on 2012 & Looking Forward

My year was topped and tailed by quality time with mother. In January I spent a week in Virginia with her catching up on life, love and politics while sampling many musical delights and taking in the southern charm of Norfolk. The end of the year saw her come to our home here in England to enjoy the best that country life in Suffolk can offer.

My mother is what I would describe as a ‘quiet feminist’ who battled against deep patriarchy in corporate America in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, first by returning to University to get a BA and then MA, and then in the world of health insurance. She worked hard, put her head down, and achieved great success despite the odds. While the glass ceiling was there, it certainly needed to be raised after her career and I am immensely impressed by her and hugely proud of her. She is a bedrock of wisdom in difficult times and a sheer joy to be with.

Family life has been a joy this as my eldest daughter continued in high school, my stepson finished primary and entered secondary school, and my youngest started in reception. Three kids in three schools makes for a hectic but rewarding schedule, while our menagerie of animals at home keeps us quite busy!

My year’s activities involved travel, publishing, teaching, business development, institution building and of course magic! In many cases, these activities were not mutually exclusive, but reinforcing and interdependent in ways that have enriched my experience.

Travel

The travel schedule was heavy this year with international obligations taking me to the United States, Belgium, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Austria, Mozambique and Ukraine. In each location, I have met truly wonderful people and made new friends, while nurturing old friendships. Work involved lecturing, training, and giving key note speeches primarily on global trends in democracy and human rights, as well as the value of systematic research and evidence-based advocacy and policy making. Downtime in these venues allowed for a little sightseeing and walking as well as bit of magical entertaining.

Publishing

2012 saw a lot of work come out in books and articles, with some pending publications coming out in 2013 that have been completed from my desk. These include:

Books

Articles

  • Bent Flyvbjerg, Todd Landman and Sanford Schram (2013) ‘Tension Points: Learning to Make Social Science Matter,’ Critical Policy Studies, forthcoming.
  • Bent Flyvbjerg, Todd Landman and Sanford Schram (2013) ‘Political Political Science: A Phronetic Approach,’ New Political Science, forthcoming.
  • Todd Landman, David Kernohan and Anita Gohdes (2012) ‘Relativsing Human Rights,’ Journal of Human Rights.
  • Todd Landman (2012) ‘Projecting Liberalism in a World of Realist States: David Forsythe and the Political Science of Human Rights’, Journal of Human Rights, 11 (3): 332-336.

Chapters

  • Todd Landman (forthcoming 2012) ‘Social Science, Methods and Human Rights’ in Mark Gibney and Anja Mihr (eds) The Sage Handbook of Human Rights, London: Sage.
  • Todd Landman (forthcoming 2012) ‘The European Union and the Promotion of Democracy and Human Rights’.
  • Todd Landman (forthcoming) ‘Measuring Human Rights’ in Michael Goodhart (ed) Human Rights: Politics and Practice, 2nd edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Todd Landman and Anita Gohdes (forthcoming 2012) ‘A Matter of Convenience: Challenges of Non-Random Data in Analyzing Human Rights Violations during Conflicts in Peru and Sierra Leone’ in Taylor Seybolt, Jay Aronson and Baruch Fishoff (eds) Counting Civilian Casualties, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Todd Landman (2012) ‘Foreword’ in Bethany Barratt, The Politics of Harry Potter, London: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Todd Landman (2012) ‘Framing the Fight: Public Security and Human Rights in Mexico’ in George Philip and Susuna Berruecos (eds.) Mexico’s Struggle for Public Security: Organized Crime and State Responses, London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 99-118.
  • Todd Landman (2012) ‘Narrative Analysis and Phronesis’ in Bent Flyvbjerg, Todd Landman, and Sanford Schram (eds) Real Social Science: Applied Phronesis, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 27-47.
  • Bent Flyvbjerg, Todd Landman and Sanford Schram (2012) ‘Introduction: New Directions in Social Science’ in Bent Flyvbjerg, Todd Landman, and Sanford Schram (eds) Real Social Science: Applied Phronesis, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1-12.
  • Bent Flyvbjerg, Todd Landman and Sanford Schram (2012) ‘Important Next Steps in Phronetic Social Science’ in Bent Flyvbjerg, Todd Landman, and Sanford Schram (eds) Real Social Science: Applied Phronesis, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 285-297.

Papers and Reports

  • Anita Breuer, Todd Landman and Dorothea Farquhar (2012) Social Media and Protest Mobilization: Evidence from the Tunisian Revolution, Paper prepared for the 4th European Communication Conference for the European Communication Research and Education Association (ECREA), Istanbul, Turkey, 24-27 October 2012.
  • Todd Landman, Alejandro Quiroz-Flores and Dorothea Farquhar (2012) Democratic Governance and Sustainable Human Development, United Nations Development Programme, Oslo Governance Centre, Oslo.

Teaching

I was honoured to teach a methods course in Vienna for human rights students, a comparative methods course for the Essex Summer School in Social Science Data Analysis, and my course The Comparative Politics of Human Rights.

Business development

My work as the Director of the Institute for Democracy and Conflict Resolution at the University of Essex has me engaged with partner organisations from the public and private sector as we seek to generate new high value content for a wide range of users. We developed a pilot mediation training course, and delivered other forms of training as part of our work in parliamentary strengthening. Our research capacity was used for a wonderful UNDP project on democratic governance and sustainable human development and we engaged with the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance on staff training.  Our work with the Mackman Group has been excellent and culminated in the launch of our ESRC-funded Human Rights Atlas.

Institution building

The year has seen continued development of Institute for Democracy and Conflict Resolutionand Psycrets: The British Society of Mystery Entertainers. The IDCR goes from strength to strength as we engage in a variety of challenging and rewarding projects across training, research and policy analysis. Psycrets has expanded its international network and celebrated its 5th Anniversary with an amazing volume entitled Liber Mentis, edited by Steve Drury.

Magic

Finally, the world of magic continues to inspire me and push my capacity for creativity and innovation. I have enjoyed performing with Pool Voodini in our show The Edge of the Unknown. I have performed around the UK and further afield as I never leave home without a little magic. The highlight of the year has been my appointment as a Visiting Professor of Performance Magic at the University of Huddersfield where I conducted a drama workshop entitled The Magician, the Mentalist and the Mystic. I have joined the editorial board of the new Journal of Performance Magic, which will have its inaugural issue in Spring of 2013.

While 2011 was the year of the Arab Spring, 2012 featured the prolonged and inclusive struggle in Syria that has taken so many lives, a regression in the positive steps taken by Egypt, and another unfortunate conflict between Israel and Palestine. A large proportion of the world breathed a collective sigh of relief with the re-election of Barack Obama in the United States, but he faces many challenges not least of which his increasingly worrying drone policy, the fiscal cliff solution (which may or may not happen tonight), and the on-going battle over gun control after yet another mass shooting (this time in a primary school).

Life under austerity will continue and the struggle in the Eurozone will continue for 2013, as European democracies search for long term solutions for failed economic models. I have stressed this year and will continue to stress that the financial crisis in Europe is a problem for democracy not a problem of democracy.

On a positive note, we all survived the Mayan Apocalypse and as 2013 marches on, may we agree with Daniel Pinchbeck and see a shift in global consciousness towards more peace, more understanding, and empathy for our fellow humans instead of over self-centred egotism and maximisation of material self-interest. The New Year brings many challenges, but the human spirit and capacity for overcoming adversity is strong. My new book Human Rights and Democracy: The Precarious Triumph of Idealsis guided by a simple belief that humans have incredible desire and capacity for demanding a better life and to challenge oppression wherever it may manifest itself. While 2011 saw the election of Dilma Rousseff the first female president of Brazil and former prisoner of the military regime, 2012 saw the election of Ayn San Suu Kyi to the Burmese Parliament. These examples and others serve as positive reminders of what is possible, which is why I welcome the new public and open letter from 73 Chinese academics calling on the new regime to accelerate the much needed political reforms to complement the otherwise impressive economic progress that has been achieved.

No doubt 2013 will be another roller coaster ride, but let’s hope the net experience is a positive one!

Happy New Year!

Magic and Human Rights in Mexico

It is my honour and pleasure to have been invited to Mexico City to take part in two exciting activities. Next week I will lecture to the Circle of Magicians in Mexico and share my thoughts on how to make magic meaningful. The lecture draws on my three stage shows and development of metaphysical magic over the last few years.

The international network of magicians, mentalists and mystery entertainers is supportive and highly welcoming. As a Founder of Psycrets: The British Society of Mystery Entertainers I have been pleased at the growth of our organisation over the last five years to include members from all over he world, including Mexico.

The second event is a two-day workshop on measuring human rights and the application of measurement frameworks to Latin American democracies over the last 30 years. The event is funded by CONACYT and hosted by the faculty of social sciences (FLACSO). Seemingly unrelated, these two events are very much linked in my own mind and in practice as I address philosophical and pragmatic issues surrounding human rights through my magical performances.

I have studied Mexico for many years and have had the honour of supervising many Mexican PhDs over the last 15 years. I visited Mexico in 2010 and I am really looking forward to my return, especially under these delightful circumstances that allow me to bring magic and measurement to such a wonderful country

Now that we have survived the Mayan apocalypse it is fitting to return to Mexico to carry on with work from both sides of my life!

PLEASE CLICK THE POSTER TO ENLARGE

Circle of Mexican Magicians

Circle of Mexican Magicians

Recapturing the Essence of Magic

I am delighted to have been appointed as Visiting Professor of Performance Magic at the University of Huddersfield.

The post was launched on 13 October with a performance workshop with drama students in the Milton Theatre on the main campus of the University. The evening featured my show with Paul Voodini, The Edge of the Unknown to a sold out crowd who were taken on quite a mysterious journey influenced by none other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

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The workshop is entitled The Magician, the Mentalist and the Mystic, and explores different performance styles that are popular today in what Prospect Magazine has called ‘The New Magic’ (see my blog post The New Magic is the Old Magic). The participants experienced three very different short performances at three different ‘tables’:

  • The magic table involved classic close-up illusions using cards, coins, cups and balls, and a series of locked boxes;
  • The mentalist table used nothing more than a few envelopes, some dice, and a drawing pad to create hard hitting mind reading with numbers, names and choices that were seemingly divined out of thin air;
  • The mystic table was replete with books, crystals, boxes and a discussion of all things metaphysical as a route to quite a different set of experiences.

After each performance, participants were able to discuss their impressions and the impact of what they saw and experienced. In keeping with the Magician’s Oath* methods were not discussed, but the time was used to reflect on the framing of each performance experience and the different contract that was established with the audience.

The rich qualitative data gathered during this event will be combined with other results of research that I have been conducting on magical performance over the years and will appear as a scholarly article in the near future.

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The workshop participants then attended the evening performance, which begins with the question:

‘Is it deduction, deception, or something more?

The question is never answered, but the audience is asked to ruminate on it as they experience over 90 minutes of uncanny demonstrations involving mind reading, coincidences, alienism, psychology, visualisation, past life regression, and spiritualism among other enduring mysteries.

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The Professorship is also associated with the new Magic Research Group and the Journal of Performance Magic also based at the University of Huddersfield. There is a dearth of scholarly study of performance magic as an art form and a key aspect of popular culture. The public figure of the magician has evolved from the Rennaissance ‘magus’ and ‘cunning folk’ to sophisticted stage magician and now the ‘new’ magician embodied in such fugures as David Blaine and Derren Brown. The group and the journal are dedicated to the scholarly study of this popular art form in all its many guises and permutations.

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In additon to the roles and responsabilties associated with this new post, I am also pleased to be working with Marina Warner and Elizabeth Kuti at the University of Essex on a board to supervise fellow Magic Circle Member Will Houstoun (consultant on Martin Scorcese’s Hugo) on his PhD thesis that explores the social history and impact of one of the most famous magic books: Professor Hoffmann’s Modern Magic.

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*“As a magician I promise never to reveal the secret of any illusion to a non-magician, unless that one swears to uphold the Magician’s Oath in turn. I promise never to perform any illusion for any non-magician without first practicing the effect until I can perform it well enough to maintain the illusion of magic.”

Rational Intuition to be hosted in London

The ‘Interesting Talks London’ series organised by Matt Kendall through the Meetups network will host my talk Rational Intuition on 15 October 2012.

To find out more, please click HERE

The New Magic is the Old Magic

In a recent article in Prospect Magazine (May Issue 194, pp. 79-82), Laura Marsh argues that the world is witnessing a new kind of magic that is ‘far removed from the circus-style trickery of sawing women in half’, where the cutting edge performers (of which I am pleased to be one) seek to use the methods of magic and mentalism to address larger issues and deeper meanings in people’s lives. This ‘new magic’ is contrasted to the stage and TV magic that features ‘sparkly shirts’ and ‘rabbits being pulled from hats’.

While it is highly flattering to be included in this new category alongside such performers as Derren Brown, David Blaine, and Luke Jermay, I wonder if what I (and a few of my selected magical colleagues) are trying to achieve actually harks back to a much earlier period in the history of magic.

A little over a week ago, on his Radio 4 programme ‘In Our Time’, Melyvn Bragg featured a number of academics talking about the neo-Platonists who sought to rescue Platonic thought of the kind found in Timaeus, where he built a complete theory of humankind, the world, and the universe, with all its correspondences and underlying mathematical foundations.

The neo-Platonists spanned a huge period in history but had great influence on Renaissance magic, as well as the ‘scholar magicians’ of the time, such as Pico de Mirandola, Cornelius Agrippa and John Dee. These great minds engaged in ‘metaphysical plurality’ as they embraced scientific inquiry, philosophical reflection, and esoteric explorations.

Their work sought to address the working of nature and the world, as well as explore the human psyche as it relates to larger ‘unseen’ forces. Their tradition was to be carried forward by other such luminaries as Sir Isaac Newton, who in the latter years after he formulated his Principia Mathematica engaged in alchemical explorations and experimented with the idea of ether; and Jung who developed a large portion of work on psychoanalysis through the study of alchemy (physical and spiritual).

Throughout this period, magicians in many ways were displaced either by science or religion, and were cast out as evil, unacceptable, heretical or irrational. Magicians, witches, cunning folk, and ‘popular magi’ were ostracised, persecuted and even put to death.

In the middle of the 19th Century, a lawyer named Angelo Lewis published a book under his pseudonym Professor Hoffmann called Modern Magic. This book provided encyclopaedic coverage of all manner of magic tricks and led to the creation of the ‘gentleman magician’ who donned a top hat and tail coat, performed in respectable urban theatres, and made sanitized allusions to ‘darker forces’ in their stage shows.

Many have celebrated the advent of the gentleman magician, since it rescued magic from its ridiculed form and made it a respectable art. As stage magic, and its counterparts of close-up and street magic, have evolved, however, less savoury features have developed that culminated in the  very trappings of the ‘Old Magic’ to which the Prospect article refers. Gone were the top hats and tuxedos, dinner suits and bow ties. Sparkly tops, glamorous assistants, and cheesy patter took over.

The ‘New Magic’ to which Prospect refers seeks to recapture meaning, substance and mystery. But in my view, it is tapping into the much older tradition of the Renaissance scholar magicians. It is an axiom of the New Magic (or my own sense of the real Old Magic) that audiences are concerned with themselves that they want to learn about things that affect them, and want to explore deep questions and concerns that they have at the forefront of their minds.

There is a wonderfully creative and inspirational set of magical practitioners that are part of Psycrets: The British Society of Mystery Entertainers doing the kind of performances that achieve this kind of depth. Through the use of simple objects and a variety of different means, they engage their audiences in ways that go deep into perennial concerns such as nostalgia, fear, memory, childhood, travel, love, health, among many others.

They have a huge variety of substantive interests beyond mentalism, including philosophy, social constructivism, social science methodology, psychology, law, history of the book, Russian, drama studies, acting, horror, design, computer programning, motivational speaking, coaching, among many others. The intellectual and practical formation of such people means that they engage with their audiences in completely different ways than the mainstream magicians popular on television programmes of the kind referenced in the Prospect article.

And through their performances they are returning magic to its former self: an experience that is crafted to bring about transformation in an audience. Such a transformation can be unsettling and disruptive, but for the audience member (or participant as we prefer to call them) it is guaranteed to be magic with meaning.

A Year in Magic 2011

The past year has been a wonderful journey for my magical work. I continue to explore life’s big questions through magic and mentalism, and performed all over the UK for public shows, fund raisers, corporate events and private clients.

I took An Evening of Enchantmentto new venues and audiences with performances in the Milton Theatre in Huddersfield, the New Cut Theatre in Halesworth, and the Hazeley School in Milton Keynes. The show continues to evolve and will travel to new venues in 2012

I did a lot of charity work this year, including fund raisers for Make a Wish Foundation,Roy Castle Lung Appeal,  Rett Symdrome Research, Stour Valley Arts and Music, The Mountain Trust and two different events for Comic Relief. Special thanks to Richard Curtis and Emma Freud for supporting my show in Halesworth.

My lecture at the Magic Circle ‘Making Magic Meaningful’ was well received and I was promoted to Associate of the Inner Magic Circle with Silver Star. It is an honour and privilege to join such distinguished company in the world of magic. The lecture travels to Surrey on 26 January and no doubt will be hosted elsewhere in 2012.

I performed at The Bridewell Theatre as part of the London Festival of Magic that preceded the International Magic Convention. It was great to have Max Maven and Eugene Burger in the audience for the evening!

I also had the pleasure of organising and performing in Scrambling Your Mindwith Roni Shachnaey, Looch, Alex McLeer, Paul Voodini and Nik Talyor. The show was at The Milton Theatre in Huddersfield and featured demonstrations of mind reading, mediumship and mysticism in powerful ways that left the audience visibly moved.

I released two products this year:

  • Macrocosm is a fully integrated system for personal readings which has been well received.
  • The Bequeathment is a wonderful exploration of the power of objects from our past.  

I took my magic into two new realms this year:

  • Working with Ian Wigston from Glowinkowski International, I developed Crafting Confidence™ ; a workshop programme that combines psychometric analysis and magic to build confidence in young people. This work produced two new videos on YouTube:
    • A Crafting Confidence™ teaser is HERE
    • A Crafting Confidence™ film is HERE
  • I also developed Rational Intuition, a modular package of public lectures and workshops that explore how we can combine strategic thinking and gut instinct. I had the honour of delivering a short public lecture on Rational Intuition at the Royal Society of Arts (click HERE for a podcast of the lecture).

In all this work, I have explored the connection between my interest in the history of ideas and perennial philosophical questions on the one hand and the art of magic on the other.

I have met such wonderful people throughout the year and I look forward to a new range of performance work in 2012!

Rational Intuition at the RSA

I am very excited for my lecture at the RSA on rational intuition on 1 December 2011.

The lecture draws on my larger offering of a motivational package for a wide range of organisations in the private and public sector.

Rational Intuition is my way of thinking about how we make good decisions. It argues that an over-reliance on ‘self-interested’ rationality can lead to incorrect solutions to problems. I argue that a combination of rationality and intuition, that form of practical wisdom that comes from long term expertise (or unconscious competence), provides the best way forward for key decisions that have lasting impact.

The argument is developed in two ways: (1) it uses multiple examples from my work as a Professor of Political Science and International Consultant (including interesting date from Glowinkowksi International) and (2) illustrative demonstrations from my work as a professional magician and Associate of the Inner Magic Circle (AIMC).

More on my approach can be found by clicking HERE

For more on the lecture event (including booking a place), click HERE

For an MP3 file of the lecture click HERE

The nights are closing in…

In the middle of a final summer heat wave (of sorts), the nights are closing in and the leaves are turning autumnal. I had a lovely 4 mile walk through what my kids call ‘the secret woods’ and love the smell of the air.

This is the month of All Hallows Eve and certainly a magician’s delight, as the spooky stories and manifestations come out to haunt our audiences.

In this spirit, I am delighted to be featured in the Halloween edition of Mystic Menagerie, a specialist publication for bizarre magick and mystery entertainment.

One look at the cover of this publication should send shivers down anyone’s spine!

Past issues can be found by clicking HERE.

BOO!

Mountain Trust Ball: 7 October Cambridge

I am delighted and honoured to be the after-dinner mystery performer for the Mountain Trust Ball at Antsey Hall in Cambridge.

Full details about the Trust and the Ball can be found by clicking HERE.