This originally was an open letter to South African Magicians however I think the plea for support of the College of magic should be seen by others so here it is:
"Open letter to S.A. Magicians and College of Magic.
I left South Africa in 1976. I had lived in Port Elizabeth and attended school there. This was just prior to all the changes that were about to happen with apartheid. Through the years I had longed to go back, it just never seemed to fit into my schedule. Then Craig Mitchell sent me an email, he stated that there was a strong interest by S.A. magicians to have me come over. I suggested I add a benefit show for the college since I was going to be there. Thankfully Craig set everything up. Prior, my schedule was horrific. In fact the day I was to fly to S.A. I had a show in Phoenix, Arizona the night prior, I had to be up at 4 am to get home to Houston, to drive home for an hour, change cases, fly to Amsterdam for 11 hours then take another 9 hour flight to Cape town. There my wife Heidi and I were met by Craig Mitchell, David Gore & Marian Williamson from the College Of Magic. We arrived at our hotel close to midnight, exhausted.
The next few days were very interesting as we did some of the touristy things, petting cheetahs, cable car to the top of Table Mountain, Hout Bay and the like, yep, South Africa was as beautiful as I remembered. Thursday I was on the radio, this sold the remaining seats in the Baxter Theater. Craig had done a terrific job promoting the event.
Friday, I was able to attend the school and watch classes: ventriloquism, juggling, close up, stage, mime. I was amazed; the students were humble, polite and so happy to be there. These kids were getting a full rounded education, this is a brilliant organization. Finally that night, I attended a Pizza party for the top students at the college, once again the students were incredible.
As time went on we found out more about the students. This is so much more than a school. Many of the kids have no parents, they live in squalor conditions and the school is the one outlet that lets them know there is more to life. During the day, for many, it is a safe haven from the stark reality of the townships they live in. It introduces wealthy kids to poor kids, both learn from each other, and if they excel, they get go to parts of the rest of world. To put this in perspective, my wife went to luncheon down on the ocean. Some of the children were able to attend. One small child kept staring at the ocean. When my wife asked him about it he informed her that although he lived not far away he had never seen the sea. I was told that many of the children that come to the college for the first time spend a fair amount of time in the bathroom, reason being is they have never seen toilets like the ones we take for granted. This is very sad yet it shows what an amazing project the College Of Magic really is.
I could go on and on about Craig, David and Marion and the rest of the staff at the college and how wonderful they are and what incredible human beings they are but I suspect that those in S.A. already know this. Craig is an incredible organizer and a determined young man and the S.A. magic scene is lucky to have him on their side promoting S.A. magic. David and Marion have hearts of gold, they truly love each and every child that comes their way. For many they are surrogate parents and these kids could do no better.
I lectured for two days straight and I have to say I was a little worried at first I would not have enough material. Dont get me wrong, I have lectured for over 6 hours before at one event but I wanted to share so much with my fellow South Africans. I also wanted to be able to present enough material for the students as well as please the professionals. This is a hard line to walk, as anyone who lectures will attest to. Turns out my fears were for naught. I did not have enough time to share all I wanted. As a result I may have to head back some day .
On the second day of lecturing. I started to lose my voice. At this point my exhaustion was probably showing. I was worried about the show that evening. I do have to say that I am not sure I would have been able to hold up except for the support and enthusiasm of so many of South African magicians. I do thank you all for that. It was lovely and very humbling. There was not an ego in the room and that is how it should be, we are all brothers in this art and I learn from others just as much as they learn from me, beginners and professionals alike, they all have something to contribute. I thank Mo for taking the time to get up on the lecture stage and trying out a fork bend, it could not have been easy.
Back to losing my voice. Luckily I had an hour to head back to my hotel and then over to the theater. That gave me about two hours to rest my vocal chords.
It is always a little unsettling to teach some of the things out of your own show then go and perform them for some of the same group. As a lecturer you worry that the wow factor will be removed for those who attended your lecture. That nothing appears original to them now. A little side note, years ago in the college market I always received As on originality. Then I started to write books and teach my work. Next thing you know, other magicians are performing my metal bends, my PK touches and other routines out of my books, suddenly my originality factor went down, I started to receive B and Cs. Funny how my sharing hurt my own originality.
Anyway, that night I went on at the Baxter, I felt tired but overall I suspect the show was well received due to the standing ovation. I understand standing ovations are not that easy to get in Cape Town. The wife said I was off, but understood how tired I was. The great thing about performing so long is that even if I have what I believe is an off night; the audience is still entertained and enjoys it. I cant remember the last time I really had a bad show the audience did not like. In fact I cant really remember ever having a show like that ever. My fear about the originality factor being swept away by my lecture was unfounded. The magicians in S.A. had enough brains and understanding to appreciate my work, I should have know that, they seemed to love each and every subtlety even though they had read them previously and heard me talk about then in the last two days
Another side note here. Prior to coming to South Africa I was interviewed by a female reporter. She asked if I could do something with her at the show. I agreed and figured it would be a headline prediction. I wanted to try out an old idea I had but had never used in this capacity yet. Those there will realize I became very guarded and did not let her handle anything other than what she had to. The moment she came on stage she started to be all over the place and started to not follow my instructions. In this situation experience has show me it is better to hold things myself (watch eg, ) and get through it as fast as possible. Not the best way to end a show but certainly was the safe way at the time. Nothing worse than a reporter writing an expose story, so better safe than sorry. A valuable lesson to learn.
I really have to say, that my experience with all and any South African magicians has been exemplary. Now I am sure there is probably some ego infighting at times, there always is but I have never seen it. Each and every South African magician I have ever run into has been most professional, positive and a great role model. I dont think my wife and I could have had the wonderful positive experience we had, had it of been any other way. I will let you into a little secret. My wife hates most magician conventions and hates most magician functions. She rarely participates unless she has to in such functions but in S.A. she was overly complimentary about the magicians she came in contact with. That is rare. She tends to think we are a bunch of weird egomaniacs , and finds magicians often petty. Having said that, she wants to come back and meet each and every one of you again.
For those interested: after Cape town we were up early and off to Oodtshoorn where I insisted my wife ride an ostrich. Then off to PE to visit my old neighborhood. I rented a house on the beach where we could watch whales and dolphins swim from our bed. After a week we went on safari at Victoria falls. Funny to think that the morning I left I watch a mother lioness feed her four cubs a water buffalo. Less than two hours later we were on a plane to Jay burg (as my wife likes to call it) then to Cape Town, then to Heathrow and then off to Houston. Took us over 32 hours to get home. Then repack and head off on a tour of Hoodwinked the next day.
I have many fond memories. But none of them will be as fond as those I took away from the College Of Magic.
The economy is difficult in S.A. I cant express enough that if you have extra money and want to donate to a charity, adopt a child at the college of magic. It is indeed a really worthy organization and changes lives. If you cant afford to sponsor a child, send them a trick to teach or a prop you are not using anymore. Or get a few of your fellow magicians together and sponsor a child together. Every little bit helps and every little bit makes a huge difference.
If any magician is wanting a lifetime experience they can do no better than heading over to Cape Town and meeting these children and sharing what they know. Call Craig at the college and see what you can do. I always try to give back to the magic community when I can, in this case I went in thinking that was what I was doing but in reality I was given so much in return. This visit to South Africa changed my life in so many positive ways.
Thanks to each and everyone of you in South Africa for making this the best trip of my life.