1997 First Place Winner: Stage Competition
Society of American Magicians for his performance of Sands of India
I've had the pleasure of seeing Alan's spellbinding performance of the classic Sands of India many times.
At Mystery School, the week before the SAM convention, I told him that I didn't think he would ever win the contest -- after all, where was the rock music much less the doves and the flash? But Alan didn't care if he won or lost. This was a chance to share his magic with others.
When he did win, I was happily surprised to see that something intensely beautiful had achieved recognition. It almost restored my faith in magic contests.
Well, congratulations again on your victory. It's very unusual to see a single effect take first prize. What inspired you to buck tradition?
I went to the convention to meet people and to share my vision. Since I hadn't expected to win, I didn't think about tradition. I wanted to invite the audience to transcend the moment and join me on my journey. I've found the endorsement of my work especially gratifying.
Having watched your work as it has developed over the years, I know how much effort went into those nine minutes and 48 seconds. Your props are so beautiful and you maintain your character so well, it really does feel like we're in India with you. Can you tell us how you came up with this idea?
Slowly, over a long time, with lots of practice and helpful input from lots of people. There weren't any shortcuts.
So you're not an overnight success?
Hardly. For me, the Sands of India represents a lifetime of experience. I traveled in India more than 25 years ago. I lived with and learned much from the people I met and saw there. I've thought about the crowds, the trains, the country's natural beauty and the spirit of her people ever since. I love the character, the slides, the running voice-over that describes the illusion as you silently perform it -- it all makes for a strong effect. When did you begin to choreograph the Sands of India? The idea began to gel in my mind about four years ago, so the final presentation represents four years of work and nurturing, as the seed of the idea took root and grew.
Tell us who were some of the people who influenced you?
It's a long list, but Jeff McBride and all the creative people at Mystery School who critique each other's work were a big part of my success. In fact, I clearly recall that you were present the very first time I performed it in public.
Yes, I remember it too. It touched me in a very emotional way. Talk to me for a moment about magic.
For me, magic is about transcending yourself and allowing the members of your audience to transcend themselves as well. Magic is about opening your eyes to new possibilities. It's about your heart as well as your mind. It's about being connected with your magic. The Sands of India really is a by-product of many of my life-journeys, not only in India but also in New York!
What do you do when you're not performing?
Actually, I am always doing magic at my Magic Cafe. By being available to the public, I have lots of opportunities to invent, try out and perfect new routines. It's the constant practice and, as I try to impart to my students, it's the attention to details, no matter how pretty they may seem, that makes the difference.
You mentioned your Magic Cafe. What would you like everyone to know about your store, also named Just Alan, in Woodstock?
While we do have a large magic department, we're not interested in overloading people with gadgets and useless information. I try to guide newcomers through the maze of effects,books and tapes, and connect them with the right things for them. For an effect to come alive and be magical, I encourage my students to do as I've done, and pick themes they know and care about. I can help them firm up an act based on their personal interests. Above all, I want people who come into our shop to realize that they can't buy magic. What they can buy are tools. And one of today's best tools for magicians is the video camera. Young people, especially, should practice in front of the camera. Then they must watch their performances over and over again. Practice does still make perfect.
As always, I've enjoyed talking with you, Alan. Before we say goodbye, one last question. How old were you when you first began performing?
I began practicing magic when I was twelve. And I'm still practicing.