Monday morning, The Jets, The Sharks, Tony, Maria, and Anita get ready for the big night. Lucky them to have the Bernstein/Sondheim music to prepare to. Still the best score from an American musical in my opinion.

Thanks to YouTuber John Long

***The Fifth Annual Shalom Blog Magic Contest***

gold coloured human statue

Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

It’s a magic contest.

Yes, it’s that time of the year again, and I have to admit I never thought I’d be seeing yet another year of this. But it’s always been a lot of fun for all involved, and it gives me a chance to connect with magic fans directly.

I thought since this is now the fifth year, I’m going to repeat the theme of the very first contest. Here it is:

Explain three actions or ideas that you think were the most helpful in the improvement of your magic or mentalism. Your explanations don’t have to be profound, although profound is fine, too. But if you just want to talk about how your little pinky sticking out this way instead of that way made everything a lot better, that’s okay, too.

You don’t need to be a professional or anything like that, hobbyists are welcome to participate as well. And feel free to participate again, even if you were a past winner, as long as you were not a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place winner last year. And if you contributed to that very first contest, you’re still welcome to participate, but please don’t submit the same entry, let’s see how you’ve changed over the years.

No criteria for winning here other than what strikes me as interesting and useful.  Details and specifics are key. Extra points for humor and entertainment value. It would be especially helpful if you could analyze why the actions or ideas were important to you.

And wonderful prizes, as always, will be awarded:

First prize is first choice from the grab bag of magic books and DVDs I’ve put together; second prize is second choice from the grab bag, and third prize, in a pleasingly parallel harmonic consecutive manner, is third choice from the grab bag. The items in the grab bag are all commercial books or DVDs, at least one of which, I guarantee, you will be happy to have.

And, as always, in the spirit of everyone being a winner, I’ll ask all entrants to allow me to make up a pdf file which includes their entry. This pdf will NOT BE SOLD, but will be distributed to everyone who entered.

Send your entries please to jshalom@worldshare.net

Make sure to put the word CONTEST in the subject line

Deadline Sunday, November 3, 11:59 PM.  In case of a tie, earlier entries get preference.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

Super Size Me 2–Holy Chicken




In 2004, filmmaker Morgan Spurlock ate an exclusive diet of McDonald’s food, morning, noon and night, for a month. He made a very successful movie about the effect it had on his body called Super Size Me. Now, 15 years later, Morgan Spurlock is trying his hand at chicken with a new movie called Super Size Me 2 –Holy Chicken.

I interviewed Morgan recently, and he discussed the chicken and public relations industries, and the effect of Big Agra on family farmers. Morgan also brought along two farmers to the interview, Jonathan and Zack Buttram, who spoke of their devastating personal experiences, and how they were caught up in a cycle of debt and and exploitation.

Click on the triangle above to hear the interview as broadcast today on the Arts Express radio show on WBAI 99.5 FM NYC.

Three Poems


(Click to enlarge)

I don’t write much poetry, but lately I’ve been reading the poems of the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska (bathroom reading—that’s a compliment in my house) and perhaps she has inspired me.


I’m ready to begin my life
Did you get the notice in the mail?
I’m ready to begin my life
Balloons, a cake, a sale

The leaking eyes repaired,
The crumpled mouth refurbished
The heart painted a new shade of pink
The hours lost recovered
The unfortunate pants replaced
Astro turf hair glued down
In the privacy of my home

I’m ready to begin my life
Don’t bother me with how
I’m ready to begin my life
In just a week or two from now


The Mystery of Avocados

No one has cracked it.
You crack them
In two
And greedily spoon the new terrain
Leave that pit filled
Half for later.

But what later?
The rotting grey
Mocks your prudence
Calls you out as a chump
For thinking you could postpone
With frozen insides



What am I feeling?
Take a look
There are only—what?—seven of the damn things.
But thoughts
As many as the sparrows

Where or When: Rodgers and Hart



I like the songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein very much, but it’s the Richard Rodgers songs written with Lorenz Hart that I appreciate the most.

Hart’s lyrics were always several notches more interesting than those of the usual love song; he was always exploring a different side of love in each song.

“Where or When” is one of my favorites with its evocative lyrics. Brian d’Arcy James and Susan Egan do the honors.

Thanks to YouTuber fschnell

Where Eagles Dare


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A couple of recent cool days here reminds me that as NYC is headed into autumn, summer is ending. Like Lot’s wife, I look back longingly and hope not to turn into a pillar of salt as I remember one of the highlights of the summer, a visit to one of the most beautiful spots in the world as far as I’m concerned, the Ashokan Reservoir in upstate New York. What made this visit particularly memorable was a bald eagle that flew by a few hundred feet in front of us.

The reservoir has a protected bald eagle nesting area on its banks, but rarely had we actually seen any eagles. On this particular day, however, we saw not only that one eagle close-up but afterwards, several eagles high up in the air above us, easily identifiable by the flashes of their white heads and white tail feathers, along with their high-pitched call. What was puzzling to me, however, was that we saw those eagles actively chasing away some other large wing-spanned birds, which I took at first to be turkey vultures. With the naked eye, they seemed to be dark all over, including their heads and tails, and they rode the air currents as a vulture might. What I couldn’t understand, as my wife, Linda, pointed out, was that the darker birds seemed to be sounding the same call as the white-headed bald eagles.

Do vultures have a similar call to eagles? Not that I remembered; in fact I didn’t really think of turkey vultures having much of a call at all. So what was going on? I had one of those pocket high-powered zoom cameras with me, but the birds were too high up and moving too quickly and randomly for me to get a proper fix on them.

We got into the car saddled with our little mystery. We decided to take a lazy drive down a country road that we didn’t often take, and we soon found ourselves at the Olive Free Library in Olive, NY.  It was a relaxed place, where a flyer advertised that Saturday’s guided Mushroom Walk but alas, when I asked the librarian about it, the walk was already filled up. She did promise to put me on the waiting list, but she didn’t look hopeful. Disappointed, I rummaged around the rest of the library, looking for a Petersen’s guide to find out more about turkey vulture calls. But what I eventually found in the bird guide didn’t seem to match up with what we had heard. I was still confused.

Then I wandered over to the oversized book section, and there just happened to be a beautiful book of photography specifically about the eagles of the Ashokan Reservoir. I wish I could remember who the photographer and author of it was. It was such a lovely book. The author had taken gorgeous photos of a pair of eagles at the reservoir over a period of five or six years. They were always the same couple, as bald eagles tend to be monogamous. And then while turning the pages, to my amazement, I came across a photo of exactly the same scene we had seen a few hours before: white-headed eagles chasing away a bunch of turkey-vulture-looking birds. But the caption told us what was really going on: The darker birds were bald eagles too—hence the same call—but they were immatures who were trying to raid the mature eagles’ nests in order to get at the little eaglets, not ready to fly yet! The older eagles were protecting their babies, chasing the brash juvenile delinquents far away. Mystery solved and something learned. It feels so satisfying when everything falls into place like that.

We drove back to our little B&B, and I sat with my eye on the phone the rest of the afternoon and evening, waiting for the Mushroom Call, which never came in time. The disappointment, however, was ameliorated, some say, by the taste of a very delicious coffee mocha ice cream cone.



Little Girl Blue: Janis Joplin


Monday morning, a blues.

When an artist has so much raw talent sometimes the skill and hard work are overlooked. Recently I watched the American Masters documentary about Janis Joplin and it really brought home just how intentional her work was. She knew exactly what she was doing and her idols were Nina Simone and the other great blues singers.

Her version of the great Rodgers and Hart song takes it into a different stratosphere.

Thanks to YouTuber TheJairo1710

High Times With Steve Spill



Steve Spill is at it again—writing that is, and his books just keep getting better and better. It’s a shame that the title Lost Inner Secrets is taken, because this book is that. No, it’s not going to tell you where to put your left pinky when (at least not too much), but it’s a book that could supercharge a performance from just competent to extra special. I can’t imagine a better investment of your magic time than reading this book.

Steve’s recent retirement from daily performance at his Magicopolis venue, interestingly, has put Steve in a different frame of mind; you can feel it in his writing. There’s still the same love of humor, magic, and people—still plenty of funny jokes—but there’s something else this time around, something deeper, more philosophical…wiser.  With his new perspective,  he gets at what the real essentials are in this performing art.

To my knowledge, what Steve talks about here just isn’t available in magic writing anywhere else: the information within comes only with the repetition of thousands of performances. It’s about hard-won expertise that is deep in the performer’s bones. And it’s not easy to articulate it without a lot of self-awareness and self-reflection. Reading, I felt I had a privileged view watching from the backstage wings, thinking: Oh, that’s what he’s doing, that’s how he’s getting that laugh. that’s how he’s making rapport with the audience, that’s why he does that move then.  If you’re reading this, you probably have shelves of magic books with tricks and sleights; you likely have near warehouses full of magic equipment. Those are not going to make you a better magician at this point. Leave them alone for now. Pick up this book.  It will tell you what you don’t know about performing, and will never know, unless you’ve performed as many times as Steve Spill has.

Steve starts off with persona. A magician, he explains, doesn’t have to be relaxed and carefree—but s/he has to give that impression. Magic is an aggressive art at bottom; there’s always the iron fist in the velvet glove. It takes a lot of time to find the right balance of mystery and playfulness to keep an audience from feeling abused. “It’s important,” says Spill, that magicians “not take themselves so seriously that audiences feel beaten over the head by the performer. I think a cultivated casualness is an antidote to the oft-perceived pomposity that comes with fooling people, and that can help whatever you do become more viewer-friendly.” And, a bonus of such apparent casualness: “Performing without a lot of affectation can conceal methods, and presents everything that’s said and done as something brought about without laboriousness.”

“Cultivated casualness” is a wonderful phrase and Spill goes on to explain exactly how to cultivate that casualness and how to use it to the performer’s advantage. First, there is a terrific section on improvising, which is unlike any other advice on improv that I’ve seen. As Steve points out, the improvisation techniques that a comedy magician needs to learn (and really the techniques here are good for all magicians, not just those committed to comedy) are different from the techniques that one learns in a theater improv class. Simply put, an actor works with other trained improv actors, but a magician is largely exchanging banter with audience members who are untrained.  Steve gives you techniques that make those interactions wittier, funnier and more engaging. I practiced his exercises for a single day, and I was already faster on my feet with other people. This chapter alone will improve performances greatly. It’s a real gift.

Then there’s a whole chapter devoted to comedy tags. Wait, I know—Dammit, Jim, I’m a magician, not a comedian! Okay, okay. But you know what?—Steve is giving you ready-made callbacks here, and if you play your comedic cards right, four or five-time callbacks. Even if you’re not a comedy magician, only the most dour of performance personas would find these suggestions out of character. Short of some Bizarre Magic approach (and maybe even then) humor almost always lifts a performance.

On to a chapter about doing magic for teens. As someone who’s worked with teens as an educator for many decades, I’ll tell you this: Steve Spill understands and appreciates the way teens think and act. He is exactly right about how to approach them. He gives not only a general approach, but also some very specific bits that work and carry him through a show. I like that Steve Spill likes teens. And oh yeah, if you don’t know how to deal with teens who love their cellphones—and they all do—once again, Steve comes to the rescue with both general and very specific advice.

Steve ends this section with some disarmingly frank advice about playing the long game:

Being a pro may be a labor of love, but is labor nonetheless. It is a job. Usually it is a fun job, but not always…Very few in our craft are ever in the position to turn down work. Some jobs are ones you desperately want—others you don’t want, but take just for the payday. In my lifetime I’ve given tens of thousands of performances. Some were great. Most were good. Some were bad. A few were really bad.

And then Steve goes on to say how he saves himself when things go South.

I really should stop the review here, because the book I’ve described so far is worth every penny to a person who repeatedly gets onstage for a living.

But duty says, continue. And it’s not really a duty, it’s a pleasure. Because the second half of the book consists of some wonderful unpublished routines from Steve’s repertoire, with their full scripts. It includes “The Mindreading Goose”—“Not bad for a goose!”; and “Broken Mirror,” a spirit slate routine done without slates, suitable for your favorite spooky holiday; then a lovely sleight of hand interlude done with a Cub Scout neckerchief slide; and a brilliant Torn and Restored routine that can be customized for special occasions. They are all effects that although not overly elaborate can play big and funny for a large audience.

But my favorite routine here is Steve’s version of the Slydini “Paper Balls Over The Head.”  The piece should win some kind of award for the most brilliant comedy magic script of the decade. This thing is a comic masterpiece. This is one to bring down the house. Okay, remember what I said about the first half of the book being worth every penny? Forget that. Because for the right person, this script alone is worth every penny. Seriously. It could be a reputation maker.

Overall, the book is bursting at the seams with fantastic performance advice and magic routines. I can’t recommend it highly enough. The icing on the cake is a back cover photo of Dai Vernon that I assure you, will have you laughing out loud.

You’ve got an uncle in the business. His name is Steve Spill, and he’s telling you everything he knows. Thank you, Steve, for one of the most entertaining and useful books of magic I’ve ever read.

You can order it at https://stevespill.com/products/magic-is-my-weed