La famiglia al tavolo – Family at the table by Bo Gerard

Sometimes bad, homemade wine and mediocre accordion playing is just the ticket for a fond family memory.

Untitled-9.jpg

You know those pictures on the walls, in the hallways of all of the Maggiano’s restaurants? – That’s my family!  My mother and father, and their parents and siblings, all emigrated to America from Italy in the late 40’s, and they brought with them deeply ingrained traditions.  Foremost of these traditions was the Sunday family gathering.  Every Sunday, without fail, they would all gather to cook, drink homemade wine, sing, play cards and just hang.  This group included cousins, aunts, uncles and paesano as well.

Untitled-7.jpg

This was an all-day affair, with the cooking starting at 9am, and family gathering around noon or 1pm to snack on antipasti and continue setting up for dinner.  Dinner itself was a six-hour event, starting with some sort of pasta dish, then meat and vegetables, then salad, then fruit.  Everyone wallowed for a while, waiting for coffee to be made and served; with the inevitable question being asked, “Do you want black or brown?”  Black meant espresso, usually served with some lemon rind and a splash of Sambuca in it; and brown meant regular coffee (Maxwell House).

Untitled-11.jpg
Untitled-12.jpg

Then the desserts came out.  Some homemade, and some in white boxes wrapped with string, from local Italian bakeries.  Now it was time for a game of cards, or some singing.  The men were on one end of the long table, playing Briscola, and the women were on the other end of the table talking and laughing about the men.  The kids were running around playing, while the teenagers slunk around together outside.  Around 4pm the dinner reappeared, mostly the meat and antipasti, and the eating resumed.  Around six or seven people started saying their goodbyes, which usually took around and hour, because they would stand by the door with their coats and talk, and eventually end up sitting again for a while.  This was repeated four or five times before anyone finally left.

All this happened every Sunday.  EVERY SUNDAY!!!  So, as we remember our fathers and their fathers today, I recall with great fondness, the noise and song and bad wine we all shared, and am very thankful, indeed.

A FATHER’S LEGACY – Thoughts from Bo by Bo Gerard

Untitled-8.jpg

Father’s Day is upon us, and this July 3rd my father would have had his 89th birthday.  He died in 1985, when he was only 56, and every year I have lived past that age, I’ve had time to be thankful and to think about what he gave me.  I have inherited/learned a great many things from my father, and thanks to him have gotten to live a life that he probably would have liked for himself.

Untitled-9.jpg

You see my father, Eligio DiMonte, was an entertainer.  Not professionally, not even semi-professionally; but definitely in his heart.  He loved music and making people laugh; and he LOVED to sing.  He had a beautiful, warm singing voice that he shared far too little with the world.  As a young immigrant from Italy, he had dreams of becoming a professional singer.  He certainly had the looks for it, and he had a very musical and inviting singing voice.  He had what it took to make a go of it, but he also had a strong sense of family, and wanted a wife and children.  And he wanted to provide for them.  So, he worked construction and finally ended up working for Consolidated Edison, New York’s power company, for over 30 years and gave up the dream of a life as a singer.

Untitled-3.jpg

He had another remarkable trait/strength, that he definitely passed on to me.  It was an “I can do/fix/build that” attitude, that more often than not was very successful and saved our family a lot of money.  If something around the house broke, or needed improvement, he was all in.  Plumbing, carpentry, brick and mortar, you name it.  He would teach himself how to do a task and then do it.  Nothing remained in a state of disrepair for long around our house.  Not that there weren’t some gaffs along the way.  I recall a portable cassette player, and a few other items in need of repair, that disappeared into his work room in the basement, and never made it out again.  By the way, the work room was called the “Shinty”.  The best I can surmise, it was a New York/Italian bastardization of the word shanty.

Untitled-7.jpg

I inherited my father’s love for music, for singing, for entertaining, and for always trying to fix some appliance or make some prop myself, before hiring someone to do it for me.  I have had the privilege of making my living as an entertainer, while still having a wonderful wife and child and a beautiful home.  He had to give up his dream, but I feel that he passed the baton on to me; and I thank him every day for it.

THINKING “BESIDE” THE BOX - Bo in the trenches by Bo Gerard

“A case for everything and everything in its case” – the motto of every working pro in the magic business.  And finding the right case, or cases, for your show props is a never ending, almost Sisyphean, endeavor.  So much so, that sometimes if you find a case that is too perfect, it can actually change the content of your show.

Caption-Contest.jpg

When I stand on stage and look into my trusty show case, I marvel at how perfectly everything fits and works.  Over the years I have tweaked how the show comes out of, and goes back into, the box during the show; and the set up inside is now quite elegant and ergonomic.  I do sometimes wonder if my desire to fit my corporate show into this case has influenced which effects have stayed in the show and which have not.

Untitled-5.jpg

Once I moved from a four case/three table stage set up to a single case on a tray stand, I did not desire to go back.  I was further inspired by a Jeff Hobson video I saw, in which he showed how he customized his stage case, to make everything easily accessible and ditch-able, while spending as little time with his hand inside the box.  I loved the concept, because I observed far too many magician’s hands disappear into their box for a suspiciously long time before bringing out the next effect.

Untitled-1.jpg

Same with loading in my show.  For the last 10 years I have been using a really great cart – The 8-in-1 Multi-Cart.  And the pursuit of the perfect load-in cart is another lifetime endeavor for solo performers.  Over time, I have noticed that if I can’t get the whole show, including sound system, on the cart, that some effect or piece of equipment eventually gets fazed out of my show.  If I can’t get into the venue in one trip, I usually change what I am bringing to gig.

Untitled-3.jpg

So, it’s sort of a case of the “cart coming before the horse”, or “egg before the chicken”, or maybe the “cart coming before the chicken”!  The adventure of having my entire show come out of one box has been an exercise in Haiku.  The limitations it imposes end up being remarkably freeing; continually driving me to do “more with less”.  Which, by the way, is the title of my next blog!

Until then, resume normal activity!

INTUITION COMES FROM EXPERIENCE – Bo in the trenches by Bo Gerard

When you are selling yourself to a potential client, you might mention that along with all of your experience comes a scientifically proven ability to make unconscious decisions in the moment that improve and propel your performance to a stellar level.  (But maybe you won’t put that way, exactly.)

Untitled-7.jpg

Intuition, or tacit knowledge, is difficult to measure, so it is often denigrated.  A 2008 dissertation in education research from Linköping University in Sweden shows that there is a neurobiological explanation for how experience-based knowledge is created.

Untitled-8.jpg

“My legs think faster than I do” (Swedish alpine skiing champion Ingemar Stenmark). “Skate where the puck´s going, not where it´s been” (Wayne Gretsky).
Lars-Erik Björklund uses these quotations in his dissertation to illustrate what we mean by intuition, tacit knowledge, hands-on knowledge, or practical wisdom.  It is based on experience and is something that experts in many fields possess.  “In studies from the 1980s on nurses, it was shown that those who had been in the profession for a long time saw more and made better judgments more quickly.  It was referred to as an intuitive ability,” says Lars-Erik Björklund, who devoted his thesis to a review of research in various fields involving this knowledge.

Untitled-5.jpg

A few years before this dissertation, neuroscientists discovered that the human brain has dual systems for receiving and analyzing sensory impressions, one conscious and one unconscious.  In the unconscious, that is the non-declarative system, our sensory impressions are compared with previously stored images.  We all have an inner picture book of stored experiences based on what has happened to us previously in life.  We also remember the outcome - did it end well or badly?  With the aid of these stored sensory impressions, we unconsciously assess the situation at hand and can predict the outcome.

Untitled-1.jpg

So, the longer you have been performing and the more varied performing experiences you have had, the more valuable you are to your clients.  Because of your years of experience, you are truly an expert. (Noun- Having special skill or knowledge derived from training or experience- Merriam-Webster)  “Experts may not be as hungry or energetic as a young recently certified associate, but they have a superior ability to see and judge what should and what can be done,” Björklund writes in his conclusion.

I heartily agree!

MAN WITHOUT A CLIQUE - Bo in the trenches by Bo Gerard

“Clique - noun: a small group of people, with shared interests or other features in common, who spend time together and do not readily allow others to join them.”

Untitled-2.jpg

It seems I am a bit of a misfit.  My life path has left me excluded from almost every clique, group or insiders club.  Most of these groups make up their own rules for inclusion, most tacitly, and I seem to have fallen between the cracks.  And though there are many individuals who have been very welcoming and inclusive towards me over the years, not all have.  Even though I can juggle, walk tightrope, crack a bullwhip, walk a rolling globe, and do some acrobatics, I am not usually accepted into the circle of circus artists I occasionally work with; simply because even though I performed in a Broadway Musical about P.T. Barnum, I was never actually in a real circus.  That is the only credential that some circus people will accept.

Untitled-3.jpg

Same with theater.  Even though I have performed in the legitimate theater, the fact that I do not continue to do so excludes me from that clique.  Comedians don’t accept me, because I do magic and work with props on stage.  And you are not “IN” with certain magicians, unless you can do some fancy false shuffle or other finger-flicking card work.  Musicians don’t seem to warm to me, since I have had no real training, don’t read music and play all of my instruments by ear. (Even though Gretchen and I have written and performed dozens of our own songs in our shows over the years.)

Untitled-4.jpg

I exist in a performing artists limbo.  Although I have made my living as a performer for 40 years, I don’t click (clique?) with any of the groups whose skills I represent on stage.  I have hybridized these arts and created something that is no longer any single art.  Let me say once again that I have met and worked with many performers who made me feel welcome; and no actor, magician or circus performer has ever done or said anything overtly exclusionary to me; but I have definitely felt that “peripheral” feeling at times.

Untitled=5.jpg

Combine all this with the fact that I don’t watch or talk about sports, I don’t eat meat, and I am a liberal independent in Texas, and you’ve got a guy who has had to develop some great people skills just to have a normal conversation with someone.  But I am not complaining.  If I could go back in time, I wouldn’t do a thing differently.  My road has been, and continues to be, a happy, productive and rewarding one

And I am a member of one awesome group – the human race.  And, luckily, there are a few other humans out there that actually “get me”.

IS YOUR TRICK THE DIVE, OR IS IT THE DIVING BOARD? – Thoughts from Bo by Bo Gerard

I have strived to be very careful with the tone of this blog, because while I may suggest and subscribe to a certain approach to performing magic, I do not mean to suggest it is any more valid to the approach you currently subscribe to.

Untitled-9.jpg

That being said, the metaphorical title above alludes to the gradual change I have observed in how magic is being performed.  When I entered the game, I was exposed to and influenced by performers who had some unifying style or story to their show.  It might have been a theatrical theme, or a character or even an attitude.  This unifier surrounded the entire act and permeated it.  It gave the act flow and pace, and often imbued the performer with a style unlike anyone else’s.

Untitled-10.jpg

In recent years, however, I have observed a shift in how many professional, working magicians perform.  There seems to be more of an emphasis on the individual trick or effect.  Show the trick, then show another trick, then another; letting each trick stand on its own, with no connection to the one before or after.  This certainly is a very flexible method that works well in the many crazy performing situations we are thrown into nowadays.  And maybe that’s the reason for its popularity.  Attention deficient audiences are less likely to give you their undivided attention; and if they do, its not for very long.  So, a series of short, one-trick, shows possibly works better.

Untitled-8.jpg

But what I miss is the individualism and the eccentricities that performers once displayed.  Making the trick the “dive”, as opposed to making it a “diving board” for your personal style and approach, appears to be producing performers that seem more alike than they do unique.

I welcome your thoughts?

IT WAS 40 YEARS AGO TODAY – Bo in the trenches by Bo Gerard

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the day I fired my last “Day Job” boss.

Untitled-1.jpg

After two years of college, I realized that it was not for me. (Two years and not one food fight or toga party!!!)  So, taking my Father’s advice, I took a job in the Payroll Department at Consolidated Edison, New York’s electric, gas, and steam provider.  This please my father greatly, since he also worked for Con Ed, (as did my sister).   Finally, I was making a career choice he could understand and get behind.  However, it only took about two months of working there for me to figure out I needed to start planning my escape.

Untitled-2.jpg

It started slowly with things like using my afternoon coffee break to juggle in the storage room, or always taking the 9 flights of stairs, instead of the elevator, to strengthen my legs.  I started looking for a band to join, one that needed a singer who didn’t just want to stand in one place and sing.  I started taking yoga and jazz dance classes and began auditioning for anything that sounded interesting – theater, music, whatever.  I began expanding my magic repertoire and visiting the local NY magic shops for ideas and inspiration.

Five years after starting at Con Ed, I felt I had developed enough contacts, and had enough advance bookings, to quit and try my hand at being a full-time performer.  Well, I didn’t actually quit, I went on a leave of absence.  This was for my Father.  I knew if I quit this stable, respectable job to try and be a "bum" performer, he would quite literally LOSE IT.  The idea of me being able to return to Con Ed after I realized I had made a horrible mistake, gave him some solace.  (But not a lot)

As for me, Con Ed was history, and I would never ever return.  And I have been extremely blessed to have made my living in this crazy business since then.  It has been, and continues to be an amazing, challenging and rewarding way of life.

Untitled-5.jpg

I will leave you with a story about my manager in that payroll division of Con Ed, Mr. Gunderson; one that will help you understand the kind of mentality I was trying so hard to escape, low those 40 years ago.  When you apply for a leave of absence from Con Ed, you have to fill out about a dozen forms.  One form required me to list the places I had worked BEFORE I came to Con Ed.  Why, I will never know.  However, I happily filled out the forms, because I could smell the barn and would do anything it took to get out of there.  I could see his desk from mine, and one day he gestured at me to come to his desk.  He then told me I had spelled the name of one of my former employers wrong and needed to correct it.  The company was “The Equitable Life Assurance Company”.  I informed him that “Assurance” was indeed correct. (since I had actually worked there, I ought to know), but he argued it was incorrect.  I stood my ground, so without a word he pulled out a phone book and looked it up.  When he saw that I was indeed correct, he slammed the book closed, grabbed the form out of my hand and said “Alright, get back to work!”  I could only feel pity for the man, for I was embarking on an adventure that would change my life, leaving him behind to gruffly shuffle papers and dream of his own escape.

MY SCARIEST 8 SECONDS ON STAGE – Bo from the trenches by Bo Gerard

In my long career, I have been burned, bleeding, semi-conscious, and completely unconscious on the stage; but the “scariest 8 seconds ever” happened like this.

Untitled-2.jpg

Gretchen and I were approached by Rogene Russell, founder and driving force behind The Fine Arts Chamber Players, to appear with a woodwind quintet at The Kennedy Center’s Imagination Celebration, at the Dallas Museum of Art.  They had in the past used two dancers to liven up a part of a classic woodwind quintet suite, and thought it worked well.  So, she thought using two movement trained actors would work as well.  We agreed and were given a cassette tape of the piece we were to write and choreograph a piece to.  It was Malcolm Arnold’s “Three Shanties”.  We wrote three vignettes that took place aboard an ocean liner and featured three sets of couples in various stages of love and sea-sickness.

Untitled-4.jpg

When the performance date arrived, we showed up at the DMA, and waited for our slot in their program.  We had never actually rehearsed the piece with the musicians, but we knew the music cold from the tape, and were just hoping they would take the same tempo.  It was going to be their second piece, so we waited until the first piece ended, and then took our opening positions, upstage center with our backs to audience.  This is when the scariest 8 seconds occurred.  The quintet stared playing, and Gretchen and I quickly shot a horrified glace at each other.  We didn’t recognize the music.  We had never heard this music before, and it certainly wasn’t on the tape Rogene had given us.  While we both stood there, with our backs to the audience, unable to speak to each other, and trying to find a way out of this nightmare, it seemed like we were frozen in time, and that at least ten minutes went by.  In reality, only 8 seconds had passed before we finally heard some music we recognized, and we jumped into the piece with grateful vigor.  It turns out that the first few measures of the piece were omitted from our cassette tape.  Somehow, we kept our composure and performed the trio of vignettes without a hitch.

Untitled-3.jpg

It went so well, by the way, that the piece was voted “Best Live Performance” of the festival.  Based on this success, we went on to form a theater music collaborative, with Rogene and other musicians, called the “Dream Collectors”.  The Dream Collectors have performed at literally hundreds of schools, conferences and festivals for the past 29 years, and are still going today.  So, it was worth those scary 8 seconds, after all!

Tell me about your scariest 8 seconds!