Tuesday, November 26, 2013

OMG, It's Friday Night and My Relatives Are Still Here!

Friday, Nov. 29. 8:00 p.m. By that time, you'll have had your fill of turkey, pigskins and crazed mall shoppers. Not to mention your relatives. Take them to see Will Fern, a dog act and me in the Comedy & Magic Society show at the Gaithersburg Arts Barn Theatre at 8:00 p.m. It's a great show and a cheap ticket. Info & tickets here.   You're Welcome.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Influence David Blaine & I Share

Had a great conversation with WBAL TV ABC2 reporter Ron Snyder just before the recent David Blaine TV special.

LAUREL, Md. - Eric Henning’s fascination with magic dates back more than 40 years when as a youth he accidentally came across a book on famed magician Harry Houdini.

To Henning, Houdini wasn’t just a magician; he was an artist who told a story, inspired people and gave them an emotional boost.

“A great magician transports you to a place where you believe anything is possible,” said Henning, a Laurel resident who has performed in various capacities for four decades and owns Eric Henning’s Old-Fashioned Magic.

Henning said Houdini’s impact and influence on art and magic remains strong even 87 years after his death. He added that Houdini became an inspiration for many of today’s comic book super heroes and laid the foundation for magicians of today.

Read more: http://www.abc2news.com/dpp/entertainment/laurel-magician-touts-influences-of-houdini-david-blaine#ixzz2lICvdPXQ

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Magicians: the Real Avengers?

This week, the latest Marvel Studios blockbuster, "The Avengers," opened, breaking box office records all over the world. The quote that Marvel chose to lead with on the movie's Web site is from Nick Fury, (played by Samuel L. Jackson). "There was an idea," Fury says, "to bring together a group of remarkable people to fight the battles we couldn't." Sadly, we have no super heroes to balance the Federal budget or to use their mighty strength to raise the level of debate. But history does show us a group of remarkable people who were often called upon by their governments to use their extraordinary skills in time of need: magicians. In fact, one magician even stopped a war! (Click here to see the video.)

I am referring to the French magician Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin, the father of modern magic, after whom Harry Houdini named himself. In 1856, the French government faced an Algerian uprising fueled by quasi-magical religious fanaticism. In a rare burst of creative insight, government officials realized that the best way to avoid bloodshed while keeping the status quo was to prove French magic superior to that of the native Marabouts. They called Robert-Houdin out of retirement, and he succeeded in quelling the rebellion without shedding a drop of Algerian blood. (The video clip above, was broadcast - only once - in 1996.)

In World War II, British stage magician Jasper Maskelyne volunteered his expertise in developing new camouflage techniques to counteract the Nazis' air reconnaissance. According to Wikipedia, his largest illusion was to conceal the entire city of Alexandria, Egypt and the Suez Canal to misdirect German bombers. Maskelyne also famously created fake tank divisions in Calais out of cardboard and silver paint to pin down Nazi tank divisions away from the D-Day landing sites. If you are a fan of war stories, check out David Fisher's riveting The War Magician.

After the war, American magician and author John Mulholland left the editorship of the magic journal "The Sphinx," ostensibly due to ill health, but in reality to work for the fledgling CIA. Along with developing sleight-of-hand and psychological techniques for spies (many of which are still valid today), he trained field agents and wrote The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception (1953).

Let us not forget the thousands of U.S. magicians who have volunteered their time at military and VA hospitals, events for military families and White house events, as well as those who did benefits shows for the troops, both at home and in war zones, and who raised millions of dollars in War Bonds.

Among the U.S. government projects I am allowed to talk about, my own experience of being sent as an expert speaker on a diplomatic mission to counteract Fidel Castro's influence in the West Indies, while not quite a ripping yarn, will have to wait for another article. Suffice it to say that I know whereof I speak.

This week's inside-the-Beltway mess involves the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and their online request for proposals for a magician/speaker for a June event. They were looking for a very specific person, a magician with top public speaking credentials and familiarity with the works of Harvard's Prof. Howard Gardner on multiple intelligences. The idea was to infuse an upcoming conference with creative energy and make the learning more enjoyable.

Unlike its namesake, NOAA's timing could hardly have been worse. Coming on the heels of the GSA's Las Vegas junket scandal, which has already cost GSA head Martha Johnson her job, the word "magician" in the RFP was a red flag to House and Senate Republicans looking to score easy points against President Obama in an election year. While NOAA's proposal was hardly out of line - indeed, the fee they offered was quite small compared to the going rates for full days by expert speakers - the sound and fury it generated was like, well, a sudden tornado. NOAA removed the RFP the same day, possibly (as one reporter accidentally revealed to me) at the behest of the White House.

This time, Washington's tempest-in-a-teapot hit close to home. As a professional speaker and magician, I have worked at many Federal government and military events, some as an entertainer and others as a speaker. This gives me an unusually good perspective on the subject. Politico.com called and interviewed me for a follow-up article which has been picked up by other outlets.

My point is simply this: in the wake of Washington's latest tempest in a teapot, and in the light of history, the idea of a government agency hiring a magician is not ridiculous, nor is it reprehensible. In fact, it may be just what we need. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Elephant Room: An Unexpected Delight

I must confess, I went into the opening night with mixed feelings. Why, I wondered, would the venerable and esteemed Arena Stage lend its new play incubator, the aptly-named Kogod Cradle, to a show that appeared to be nothing more than piling on the existing canon of bad magician jokes? From the publicity materials on the show's Website, the featured "magicians," if one could use the word, are named Don Diamond, Daryl Hannah (no, not that one), and Louie Magic (!) They appear at best, to be deluded wannabes, and at worst just an exercise in cruelty toward the hapless nerd magicians that we all have met (and some of us have been).

I was wrong. I was not merely pleasantly surprised, but delighted with a show that is by turns fresh, silly, enchanting and profound. And here's the tough part: in order to show you how well-crafted, adeptly performed and ultimately satisfying Elephant Room is, I risk revealing too much. How much curtain can one pull back without ruining the surprise? Do I tell you how they do it? I'm a magician; it's against my nature. Plus, I promised not to tell.

Perhaps I'll just nibble around the edges, and whet your appetite to get your own tickets.
Here's what I can tell you: there is more to Elephant Room than meets the eye.

And I can add one thing you won't see elsewhere: the magic is very well-designed. It moved the plot and characters along, was transparent or mystifying as needed for the script. The show is full of magical inside jokes with plenty of sometimes affectionate, often pointed, send-ups of famous magicians.

It's one of the oldest tricks in the book. The magician shows you a trick, apparently shows you how it's done, and then stuns you by proving the explanation impossible. It's called a "sucker trick," and it's often done badly. At its worst, a sucker trick makes you feel stupid and angry at the performer. Done well, a sucker trick can be a gentle reminder that no matter how much we think we know, there is always another mystery.

Elephant Room does it right.

Elephant Room is directed by Paul Lazar and written by Steve Cuiffo, Trey Lyford and Geoff Sobelle.
In the Kogod Cradle at Arena Stage, January 20- February 26, 2012.
Reserved seats are $40. Buy tickets here.

Arena Stage
1101 Sixth Street, SW, Washington, DC 20024.
Metro: Green Line Waterfront-SEU
Tel 202-554-9066(General), 202-488-3300(Sales)

Friday, January 27, 2012

"Elephant Room" at Arena Stage

Hey gang! Betsy and I are going to see Arena Stage's production of Elephant Room, a show about hapless, clueless wannabe magicians billed as an "absurdist performance...Filled with off-the-wall magic and sublime comedy." Written by Steve Cuiffo, Trey Lyford and Geoff Sobelle, the show is directed by Paul Lazar.

It's clear from the promo materials that someone in the show has experience as a professional magician, with a certain amount of "inside baseball" humor. I'll let you know how it is.

Elephant Room is a co-production of the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival, Philadelphia, PA and Arena Stage, Washington, DC and runs from Jan. 20 – Feb. 26, 2012. You can buy tickets here.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

This Just In...

Exciting News!
Just got booked to open for music legend Leon Redbone at The Birchmere!

The show is Saturday, March 31, 2012 at 7:40 p.m.
You can buy tickets here.
The Birchmere is at 3701 Mount Vernon Avenue, Alexandria, VA, 22305
Their phone is

If you are a music fan, you've probably already been to The Birchmere.
If not:

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
"The Birchmere
is a concert hall in Alexandria, Virginia, known for presenting performers in the bluegrass, country, folk, and jazz genres. The main stage has table seating with dinner service. The room seats 500 people and the tables in front are about two feet from the stage. The bandstand includes a dance area."

See you there!
Eric Henning Magician