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Articles for Magicians

A Moral Dilemma – Article Published in Vanish Magazine

Posted on by Carisa Hendrix in Articles for Magicians, Articles for Performers, Tips for Booking Entertainment 2 Comments

There is no denying that the history of entertainment includes some really messed up stuff. Sure, we’ve had our Shakespeares and Mozarts; but at various times, we were also gaga over gladiator battles, cockfights, bear baiting, and the cringe-worthy tradition of blackface and minstrel shows.

With all the progress we’ve made moving toward nobler forms of theatre, with almost no forms of animal torture at all, we tend to think of ours as an era of modern entertainment. Look how progressive the theater has become! we think, while buying Hamilton tickets on our smartphones and basking in the air-conditioning and free wifi at our local Starbucks. Truly this is a golden age and we pat ourselves on the back for all the ways we are far superior to generations past. Yay!

Although we have certainly come a long way, it seems to me that there are still some aspects of theatrical entertainment that are stuck in the dark ages. Let me tell you the story of an act I saw recently:

The performer walked onstage and introduced a little pill. He told the crowd that anyone who took this pill would be compelled to do anything he asked. To add even more intrigue to his plot, he stated that volunteers would likely be unable to remember what happened to them while under the influence of the drug. “But trust me,” he said, “it’ll be fun.”

A young woman from the audience was brought to the stage and given the pill. In an instant, she became visibly drowsy and disoriented. The performer guided her through a series of increasingly embarrassing stunts, including the revelation of personal information, private fantasies and even the performance of simulated sex acts. The audience was encouraged to laugh and cheer. “This is fun,” the performer kept saying, but I couldn’t help feeling deeply uncomfortable.

The show concluded with the volunteer sobering up, confirming that the pill had indeed made her unaware of anything she had done during the act, and she was unable to recall her actions. With that, she was sent back to her seat to a round of applause. The performer then pointed out that the entire show had been video recorded and everyone should buy a copy, joking that “It would make great blackmail material.”

I think most of us would agree that this act is morally dubious, to say the least. A volunteer under the influence of a powerful drug that removes their ability to consent should not be made to discuss private information, do embarrassing stunts, or perform pseudosexual acts. This show, which encourages friends, coworkers, and strangers to point and laugh at someone made vulnerable and then taken advantage of for the amusement of the crowd, should not be sold as entertainment.

Now take a minute to reread the description of the act, but replace that little pill with hypnosis. If it’s not okay to remove someone’s consent with a drug, then why should it be okay to do it through hypnosis in the context of a magic show?

The first hypnosis performance (or hypno show) I ever saw gave me an icky feeling I couldn’t explain, a sort of unsettling anxiousness in the pit of my stomach. Maybe it was just that particular performer or the burrito I’d had for lunch, but it made me question what I was being asked to see as entertainment. After speaking with many theatre people, magicians, and even a few psychologists who’ve had similar experiences, I realized that this sort of act falls into a moral grey area that we have avoided talking about in the worlds of magic and variety arts.

The narrative a hypno show is selling to the audience implies by its nature that it is acceptable to “make” someone perform embarrassing or sexual acts for the enjoyment of a crowd when that person is in a state of suggestibility similar to that created by drugs or alcohol — which, of course, it is not. The idea that these shows are usually marketed to colleges and universities is even more unsettling, considering the recent focus on educating students about the importance of consent in an effort to address the very real threat of date rape. I vividly remember as the entertainment director for ACAD (Alberta College of Art & Design) being inundated with promotional material from hypnotists with quotes like “I’ll have your students humping the walls.”

Whatever the moral implications, hypnosis is a fascinating phenomenon that reveals some amazing things about the human mind, and it’s certain to wow crowds. I can see why people would be drawn to it, and I would even call myself an advocate for science and research in this field, but is it appropriate to sell as a comedy show?

I should clarify that I am talking only about the NARRATIVE of a hyno show, whether the effect it has on people is real for the people under it’s influence or not is not the issue we are discussing here. Is the narrative hypno shows sell to crowds about consent appropriate or even socially responsible? Is it okay to imply that toying with the minds and lives of audience members as a form of amusement us acceptable?

Perhaps I’m missing something or maybe all the hypno shows I’ve ever seen have been outliers, but it seems to me that this form of magic is inappropriate, both in its implications and in its practices. I would argue that we should be having more conversations like this, discussions about the moral implications of what we do as performers. Let’s begin to ask ourselves about the true impact of the fantasies we create onstage, the messages we send to our audience, and how those ideas affect people in the long-term. And maybe, just maybe, we can agree that it’s time for hypnosis to go the way of the minstrel show.


Micky Hades’ Biggest Mark on Magic

Posted on by Carisa Hendrix in Articles for Magicians, Articles for Performers, Inspiration Leave a comment

First published as the Cover Story for Northern Peek’s Volume 18, No. 1, Spring 2015
Written by me (Carisa Hendrix), about Canadian Magician Micky Hades

Micky Hades’ Biggest Mark on Magic

Micky Hades is a fascinating figure. As the creator of Micky Hades International (MHI), which owned and operated magic shops in three major cities (Seattle, Vancouver and Calgary), he has built an incredible collection of magic literature that took over an entire house — every room, from floor to ceiling. Still, Micky insists, “I’m not a collector. Once I got them, I couldn’t let them go.”

Throughout his life, he has built custom props for world famous magicians, performed many thousands of shows and has written volumes on the art of magic. I don’t think anyone would deny that Micky is a brilliant magic mind, a charming entertainer, and a truly wonderful storyteller.

John Kaplan, Micky’s former apprentice and now a respected professional performer in his own right, recently wrote a wonderful retrospective of Micky that appeared in Vanish magazine. In that article, Kaplan recounts:

As a child, Micky had been inspired by the performance of John C. Greene, a magician and touring showman who traveled widely in Canada and the United States… Something about the way Micky’s mind worked enabled him to figure out how some of those mechanical tricks he’d seen performed by John C. Greene worked — long before he’d ever read any magic book. Panels from apple containers were transformed into wooden die boxes and chimneys. Convenient pieces of firewood were whittled, nailed, and painted into magical props. Some ladies’ slips discreetly disappeared as they were cut, hemmed, and dyed for magical use.

From such humble beginnings, Micky grew up to influence magicians across Canada and, indeed, the world.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Micky Hades recently. I arrived at Micky’s home late one afternoon and we sat down in the front room of one of his three houses. These very special properties sit all in a row on a seemingly ordinary city block; they consist of his home, his massive private magic library, and his workspace. The freshly fallen snow on the ground surrounding the trio of properties was covered in the tiny tracks of a dozen white rabbits that run wild in the area like little Magic Mascots. Micky assured me that he was not responsible for the adorable infestation, although I couldn’t help but notice that there seemed to be many more little paw prints in his yards than in any others on the block.

With such an impressive career, I asked Micky what he considers to be his most important accomplishment. He said, without a moment’s hesitation, “The Micky Hades Improved Finger Chopper.” He told me that he’d always “had a knack for looking at something and thinking, That’s great, but couldn’t it be better?”

It just so happened that he had sold the very last of his original choppers that day and, lucky for me, was feeling quite nostalgic.

If you are unfamiliar with this effect, it involves a miniature guillotine that comes in two parts: a small wooden support structure and a removable chopping blade. The blade is shown to cut through carrots and other objects with ease. The spectator places his or her finger — reluctantly, to be sure — into the opening in the support structure. When the blade is slammed down, it magically passes through the spectator’s finger without causing any harm. The blade and support structure are fully examinable, the chopper resets automatically, and it is a killer effect. The secret of the chopper is very clever and elegant in its simplicity. “It’s the best thing I ever built,” Micky declared.

As we chatted and he shared his stories, I realized that the special charm of Micky Hades shines brightest in his gifts as a storyteller. So perhaps the best thing I can offer is a little taste of that Hades charm. What follows is a collection of Micky tales recounted to me on that day.

Chopped & Decked

During our talk, Micky said that he used to worry about laypeople handling the chopper out of his sight, for fear that they could hurt somebody with it. Based on the following story, that fear seems to have been well warranted.

Back when Micky was working as a roving magician, his signature finger chopper was an important part of his close-up repertoire. It was a big hit — pun intended. He recalled one particular event, shortly after he first designed the effect when he was working at a wedding. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a man watching him intently. The man had been following Micky around all night, making specific and deliberate note of how Micky handled the chopper. Micky wasn’t quite sure what to make of this. He thought, Oh, he really likes magic.

As the night continued, Micky moved on to other tricks. And somehow, he lost sight of the finger chopper. Having just finished performing at a table, Micky turned to see the trick-loving man approaching him with short, quick steps. Micky stood up to greet the nice gentleman. Only then did he notice the look of anger on the man’s face. And then he noticed the sharp pain spreading across his own face because the magic-loving gentleman had just punched Micky square in the nose.

“I had no idea what had happened,” Micky told me. “It’s a party, people are drinking — you never know.” Micky turned away without saying a word to the angry man, walked out of the room, and thought, Well, I’m going home.

Micky later found out that Mr. Punchy had gotten hold of the finger chopper. Thinking that he had the whole thing figured out, he’d placed his finger inside the opening and then proceeded to smash the steel blade down onto his unyielding digit, assuming that the blade would just give way under brute force. It didn’t.

Selling Secrets

Micky was a regular at magic conventions for many years and a constant fixture in the dealer rooms. Micky recalled one afternoon when a young kid, maybe sixteen years old, came up to his booth and wanted to see what Micky had that was different from the items for sale at the other vendors.

Micky was especially fond of the demo for his signature chopper. He told me with great pride, “Every demonstration was a sale.”

“I do have one thing,” Micky said to the kid. “It’s not magic, though. It’s for making carrot soufflé. You put a carrot in it just here and it cuts them perfectly. But if you put your finger in there, it won’t cut — because it only cuts carrots.” Micky went through the whole routine and held the boy’s finger tight as he pushed the blade right through. The kid looked at Micky for a moment, then he looked back at the prop, completely dumbfounded. After a pause, the boy said, “How much?” Micky told him the price: $15. “Okay,” said the boy, “I’ll go get my mom.” Then he disappeared into the crowd.

A few moments later, the boy reappeared, dragging along his mother, who seemed decidedly doubtful about the whole thing. She asked to see the magic trick that her son was so excited about. So, Micky went into the routine a second time. But try as he might, Micky couldn’t convince the lady to put her finger through the opening in the prop. She just wouldn’t do it. “Can’t we use a pencil?” she asked. “Nope, that wouldn’t work,” Micky replied. Then he said, “I’ll explain it to you, but you can’t tell nobody. You see, the blade travels through the flesh of the finger so fast that it heals instantly as if it was never cut.”

She still refused. Micky tried a new angle. “Okay, well, I can’t sell it to anyone under eighteen years old. But you could buy it for him if you want. You’re his mother. It’s up to you — and you should really see how it’s done.”

The woman looked back into the pleading eyes of her son. Finally, she gave in. She slipped her finger into the prop, the blade passed through, and voilà — another successful demonstration. The lady reached into her purse, grabbed the cash and said “Here,” and then turned to leave with the trick.

Now this is the fun part. Unfortunately, the lady had not stuck around long enough to find out how the effect was done, which was a problem in and of itself, but there was a bigger issue. You see, to further guarantee that magicians who visited the booth would not figure out the secret while fooling around with the prop, Micky had taken to switching the gaffed blade for an un-gaffed version after the trick was done. So, in this instance, the boy’s mother was about to walk away with an ung-affed chopper and no instruction. Micky called out to her, “Hey, why don’t you leave that here, and I’ll explain it to your boy while you look around.” Crisis averted.

Sidenote: Josh Kaplan kindly told me a bit more about the history of the Micky Hades Finger Chopper. After graduating from high school, Kaplan became Micky’s apprentice from 1975 to 1980. During that time, he sanded, prepped, and packaged hundreds of finger choppers, and he performed it every Sunday night as the house magician at the Japanese Village Steak House in downtown Calgary. After Micky retired, Kaplan bought the rights to produce the chopper, promising that the name “Micky Hades” would always appear on it.

From Brat to Legend

As Micky was telling the previous story, I couldn’t help imagining that sixteen-year-old boy growing up to be some prominent magician. When I mentioned this, Micky told me the following anecdote. I’ll try to convey this in a way that captures the audio recording of our interview because it is perfect.

“Oh no, no, but I’ll tell you who did turn out to be big. Aahhh — that guy who is in Vegas now…” Pause. “You know, he had a name he took from a book…” Another pause.

“Copperfield?” I offer.

“Copperfield! Yes! I knew him since he was a little boy, and he was a brat.”

I erupt in laughter.

“Everybody hated him,” Micky continues. “He used to come down to the dealers’ room, because I was always in the dealers’ room, and he used to go around to all the dealers and go ‘What’s this, what’s that?’ And they would have to say ‘Hey, look kid, just leave that alone.’ I remember he used to go around with a top hat on his little head, and everyone would be trying to get rid of him.”

More laughter from me as Micky adds, with a big grin, “Yeah, and no one would ever know that he would become as big as he did.”

It was a joy to hang out with Micky and see his massive private library all meticulously organized and labeled. The photos I took do not do it justice, just like these few stories don’t come close to what it would be like to hear them from him. Even the wild rabbits know, Micky is the real deal.

My special thanks to John Kaplan, Paul Romhany of Vanish magazine and Aaron Sterling for providing additional information for this article as well as David Parr for his edits.