You can read the article in Genii here:
Or, read my "director's cut" version below.
Despite my ever-mounting despondency, I do have the strange habit of dwelling on the positives, and a wonderful circle of similarly afflicted friends. I hit up Ben Roman to express my gratitude for his exceptional work pre, and mid, pandemic, and to find out about how our virtual event roster is taking shape.
“Magic is a very intimate experience. Not having physicality is the biggest challenge during this time. The next frustration, in my opinion, is not having our full staff together. For those that know, the Academy of Magical Arts is a special and unique family. Members and employees alike bond and it makes membership in the club very fraternal and rewarding. Not having that in-person greeting, friendly handshake, or warm hug is a significant frustration for AMA members.
“With that obstacle in mind, we’ve worked to produce virtual experiences that boost the membership’s morale and fan their fraternal flame. Because the platform we use for our virtual Castle Perks allows commenting, we’ve noticed our members thoroughly enjoy digitally conversing with the hosts and each other. It allows them to enjoy the experience together without physically being in the same place. We’ve noticed it’s lifted up their spirits whilst providing them with exclusive access to outlets in the magic world that they’d normally not be able to enjoy.”
There are more than half a dozen “Behind the Bookcase” virtual events that have already happened and many more on the way. If you were unable to login at the scheduled event time you can still engage and enjoy the archived footage here: https://members.magiccastle.com/behind-the-bookcase
My magic and music study partner, Chad Allen, was able to log on to most of these events live, and has lots of praise for everybody involved. “The Egyptian Hall stuff with Caveney and Tina, and then Jonathan Levit being kind of an interviewer- I've been to Caveney's house, so having an opportunity to revisit that- there are 10,000 things around that you want to experience but you only get an hour and a half. So you can't experience everything. He's got a gorgeous house. He's got a gorgeous library. The real gems are the lithographs. In many cases, there's probably only one that is known to be in existence. There aren't many guys who collect in this field. He's got an original copy of King James: Daemonologie! When I was there in person, I got to hold it and I f&*kin' lost my mind!
“I get f&*king giddy; it's so cool. Caveney gets a spring in his step anytime he starts talking about this stuff. When he goes to that place in his mind, it's a treat to be around him because of how studied he is, and how talented he is. Where his energy lies is being this protectorate of Egyptian Hall.
“[Attending our virtual events] is, I would say, a very happy alternative to being at the club. I think it satisfies my appetite for when I get too antsy. It's also community, seeing people text and being together. It's not perfect, but it's satisfying.”
This type of event is perfect for the virtual world (never mind the occasional technology freeze). It would be a pretty tight squeeze to get 100 AMA members in Mike Caveney’s house. Nor would we, likely, all be welcome!
This additional boost in accessibility will likely mean we’ll have twice as many events to attend when the club reopens! Local members will have more ready access to both live and virtual events, and members who cannot attend in-person will have more opportunity than ever to join in from afar.
Ben Roman is going to have his hands full-er. “We most definitely plan to continue these virtual events past the physical reopening of the clubhouse. They not only benefit our non-resident members who can’t often make it to the club for a Castle Perk, but they’re available past the ‘live’ broadcast. Members can watch, re-watch, pause for a food/bathroom break, and all in the comfort of their own home or private space. A lot of Castle Perk hosts say a lot of things that would translate into valuable notes for the attendee. These digital events enable members to revisit the talk and reabsorb what they’re interested in. This is something a live event cannot offer. Due to the success of our limited virtual events, moving forward, we are most definitely going to make as many live events available digitally, as well, for these reasons.
“While we are busy planning various scenarios for reopening the club, my department (the Events Team) is planning some fun events that we can share digitally with our members during this quarantine time. Some will be virtual versions of past live events. Some will be digital events that could later turn into live events. I’m excited to explore all sorts of ideas and learn from other organizations doing the same.”
Another event that Chad and I found thoroughly enthralling is: “Dream Show in the Palace” with John Carney. I watched the event a few days after its live stream and called Chad to enjoy nerding out. “If he could, without limits, put all his favorite magicians together at the castle in one booking, John Carney did that! He created performances of all these people through video footage: Albert Goshman, Orson Welles, Cardini, Flosso, Daryl at Caesars Palace 1977- just so great!
“All really great footage of these classics acts. Then John would talk about why he loves it: the sophistication and the detail. He got a little deep. I really enjoyed that. For me, and I've learned this over the years- it's really story. If you don't have plot and character, magic is nothing more than the special effect of a movie, or it's juggling. It's not the things that I fall in love with. It's no Johnny Thompson, that's for damn sure. It can be very very simple. Daryl, for example, is very simple, but everything had a purpose. He was so funny and charming. I f&*kin' loved him.
“Everyone who I have ever respected has always said that Goshman's act was the greatest close-up act ever. It should definitely be experienced. It is a masterclass in misdirection.” I’m with Chad. I love going back to classics, for entertainment, study and discussion. And, what a great way to frame those masters, John Carney: in your Dream Show! Well done!
For my part, I’m most excited about the magic history events. And, since my personal patience for virtual events wears thin quickly, I love that I can start and stop, back up and re-watch. “The most popular [virtual event] thus far,” Ben says, “has been a special ‘Dark Castle’ exclusive tour of all our behind-the-scenes workings of The Magic Castle clubhouse led by our General Manager (in shirt, tie, suit coast, shorts, and flip-flops!) Hundreds of members logged in and watched, commented, and enjoyed. Which is incredible because we could never physically take that many people on an intimate tour of the club, let alone fit in one room for a Castle Perk event.
“Our Executive Chef and Food & Beverage Director have also starred in their own short weekly videos that demonstrate how our members can create tantalizing treats and luscious libations from the comfort of their home using magical recipes. We’ve dubbed these quick-bite webisodes ‘From The Kitchen’ and ‘Behind The Bar.’
“We even partnered with Discover Magic (www.discovermagic.com) to release a different magic-themed activity sheet every Friday for members to download, print, and use for their children to enjoy.
“In regards to the creative process, the BOT has collaborated to find different unique experiences members would enjoy. They literally ask each other, ‘What would WE want to see or do? Who would WE want to hear from?’ Then they contact the special host(s) and schedule them for a date and timeslot. When it comes to a clubhouse full of magical geniuses and aficionados, we are definitely not at a loss for collaborators and experts to tap for these special virtual events. It has actually worked well. With one BOT member manning the technical side, and one co-hosting to keep flow going and monitoring comments, it’s shown to be a successful system to make these events happen.”
Thank you, BOD, BOT, Castle staff and collaborators, for working so hard to continue sharing the valuable resources, entertainment and joy of our club experience, without being able to attend our club! The AMA Facebook group is hopping lately, and new groups are popping up. “I contributed something recently.” Chad tells me, “I started doing a one-handed riffle shuffle. I posted: ‘Just learned to do the one-handed riffle shuffle for the first time. Yay me!’ and got like 70 likes. Then people were like, ‘Show it! Show it!’ So I posted a little video, and theeeen- Rafael Benatar chimes in with René Levand's variation for the strip out from a one-handed riffle shuffle. So, now I'm getting instruction from a master, on a master, which is so cool.”
Worth echoing, Ben’s statement that we’re: “a clubhouse full of magical geniuses and aficionados!” I find it such an extraordinary privilege to be constantly surrounded by so much talent, experience, creativity and eccentricity. I am antsy AF, myself, to get back to cruising through our halls, up and down the staircases, and running into familiar faces at our club. As I type, mid-sentence, Aye Jaye calls me to say, “Get me out of this f&*king house! My wife has the car keys and won’t let me go nowhere.”
I think the cursing is apt in this moment of heightened worldwide claustrophobia. I hope I’ve successfully highlighted some opportunities for engagement and escapism, even if I can’t get you out of the house. Credit where credit is due, I’m doing none of the work and all of the talking.
Ben shares our anxieties: “The general vibe for the AMA and The Magic Castle has been (a) WE MISS OUR CLUB! (b) give us as much as you can! And (c) did I say WE MISS OUR CLUB? Our members are missing the experience they’re so fond of. So it’s been quite easy to engage our community. Most are looking for a quick break from stay-at-home, their families, work duties, the stress of looking for work, etc. Many are suffering from ‘Zoom Fatigue’ and are hungry and thirsty for other virtual encounters to pass the time and entertain. Our members have looked to us and we are working hard to provide that much-welcomed diversion!”
Follow up question, Ben: if members want to host or request events- can they still hit you up via email to connect?
“YES, members can either e-mail me with ideas/hosting at firstname.lastname@example.org or they can e-mail Trustee Paul Green at email@example.com, as he is the liaison for Castle Perks on the BOT. I’m grateful to still be at work making magic! We miss you members, toooooo!”
No spiriting about the club and I’ll have to postpone my June birthday dinner. (Chad just wants the rolls). I’m a big fan of carbs, but I can’t say I’ve ever been “obsessed” with a particular bread product –though they are quite good. Chad insists, “All the rest- those are imposters. We're talking about the original honey rolls- those things are the bomb.”
I am well aware of the enthusiasm surrounding our dinner rolls; it’s unavoidable. Will Chef share that recipe “From The Kitchen” though?
“They would never. Someone has to go in and steal it.”
So, plan a recipe heist, offer to share something or ask for what you’d like to see (as long as it’s not the dinner roll recipe). Pop in, pop out, discuss on social media. Pants are optional. The internet has no dress code!