Eric Mead: Now you see him … | AspenTimes.com

Eric Mead: Now you see him …

Stewart OksenhornAspen Times Weekly
Jordan Curet The Aspen Times
ALL |

ASPEN Eric Mead, whose main gig is as a magician, continually fantasizes about breaking into the film industry. He writes screenplays, is learning filmmaking technique, and has plans to produce a short film to be put on his website.This is not merely in the fantasy realm, though. Mead has a film appearance to his credit and a fairly splashy one for a novice making his screen debut in his late 30s. He appeared in 2005s The Aristocrats, the memorable performance documentary centered around the dirtiest joke ever told. And even among heavyweight competition Don Rickles, Sarah Silverman, Gilbert Gottfried, the South Park kids Meads shtick stood out: unique, hilarious and appropriately tasteless.It opened a lot of doors because my part was really memorable and well-received, said Mead, now 42. But I cant tell the CEO of XYZ Industries to take a look at this because its filthy. So I cant use it to gain work in the markets I want to work in, where being controversial is the kiss of death. But it is a point of pride to work alongside George Carlin.So while Mead waits for his next movie offer one he might be able to include on his rsum he focuses on another venue for his talents: magic bar. Every Monday through March, the Snowmass Villager will appear at the Hotel Jeromes Library, performing the distinct form of prestidigitation known as magic bar an art that trades on the close-quarters and noisiness of a barroom, the flow of people to and from the bar, the flow of alcohol and its effects.Magic bar was developed during Prohibition, in a string of Chicago speakeasies, and it is a form that Mead probably knows as well as anyone. From 1989 to 2004 after doing table-side magic as a kid in a restaurant in his hometown of Fort Collins, selling tricks and books at a magic shop, touring on the comedy club circuit, and trying his hand as a street performer Mead worked at Snowmass now defunct Tower Restaurant, one of a handful of spots in the States where magic was center-stage. For up to four nights a week, he learned what tricks worked best with a crowd that was sitting within arms reach, that was waiting for a table in the restaurant, that might be liquored up.For me, the Tower was grad school, said Mead, who, in truth, dropped out of Colorado State after a short stint to make a living doing magic. The time at the Tower taught me everything about being with people, adapting the show in real time to who and what you faced whether you need to be quiet, where the lines are you could cross or not cross.After the Tower vanished as a magic bar, Mead reappeared for several seasons at the St. Regis lobby. That space might not seem significantly different than the Jeromes Library part of a fancy hotel, people drinking in comfy chairs, dark but for a magician it is a different world. At the St. Regis, Mead sat behind a table (not a bar), in front of five chairs (not barstools). It was a very quiet, very formal performance, he said. Here at the Library, Im behind the bar again, and its a full show: beginning, middle and end. And its a featured thing that people come to; its not just them stumbling in. It lends itself to doing a lot more stuff. The Library allows Mead to do bigger tricks like the one in which he puts a deck of cards into a martini shaker, gives it a healthy shake, and when the cards emerge, all are straightened out save for the one card that had been picked by an audience member. Mead then pours a martini out of the shaker. Its not the kind of trick you can do at a close-up table. Its a bigger trick, he said.Mead has kept his eye on the Library since the Tower closed. That is the perfect room in Aspen for magic bar, he said. And I love the form. Its very jazz-improv, free-form, no structure, no rules. I miss it.

Among the acts that Mead admires most is Penn & Teller and not because Penn Jillette, a producer of The Aristocrats, gave him a role in the film.To Mead, Penn & Teller have achieved the very difficult trick of making their show about something beyond magic. He mentions the duos American flag bit: They roll Old Glory in a rolled-up copy of the Bill of Rights and burn it to ashes. Penn & Teller then do something rare in the magic world reveal the secret of the trick.Then they talk about what freedom really means to them, what the Bill of Rights means to them, said Mead. Theyre burning the flag for the very thing of what the flag represents. Symbols, freedoms, rights those are all wrapped up in this magic trick.Its their point of view about the world around them. Id love to have a piece thats that meaningful in my show. Baseline, live entertainment has to be entertaining. Beyond that, the performers I love are ones who have found ways of saying something representing their point of view. Thats something I aspire to all the time.Magic bar, with an audience that shifts minute to minute depending on who is bellying up to the bar, isnt an ideal venue for a sustained narrative, complete with a personal philosophy. But platform the style that Mead performs at corporate events, where he is on a platform in front of a large, seated and attentive audience is perfect for it.A growing component of Meads platform shows and a facet that he will feature at the Library is not sleight of hand, but sleight of mind. An audience member is given a book, and asked to focus on one word. Mead guesses the letters first, and eventually gets them in the proper order.Mind-reading takes Mead to a different dimension of illusion, one that gets closer to the audience. With sleight of hand youre manipulating objects cards, coins. With mind-reading, Im manipulating ideas and language rather than physical things, he said. From the audiences point of view, I must be getting my information from somewhere. So people assume its reading body language how they blink, react, their eyes dilate. Ill let them think that. But that may or may not have anything to do with it.I will say I dont have psychic powers. I dont pretend to be supernatural.The psychological magic goes a long way toward Meads goal of establishing a narrative, of conveying a perspective on the world.I guess the main idea is to explain what I think makes people believe in something, said Mead, whose interest in magic began when he received, at the age of 6, a book on Houdini. How do people come to certain ideas, and what kind of proof is necessary? Is he really reading minds? Not reading minds? Im talking to you about the fact that I cant read minds but what Im doing looks a lot like reading minds. Its about trusting your own ideas and about what kinds of evidence do you need? Its not religion, necessarily, but faith.

Magicians are separated from other performers by the secretive nature of what they do. Listeners dont come away from a performance by Bla Fleck wondering, How the heck did he do that? There are performers in every field who have their secret technique. But no other art form is built on keeping secrets, said Mead.Because of that aspect of mystery, magicians are given credit for possessing eerie powers. But Mead would trade that mystique for a talent that trades more in the emotional world. As much as he is a fan and student of magic his library of magic books has volumes dating to the 16th century his real passion is live music.The greatest magic show on Earth can never match the greatest musical show, he said. Not to say magic cant be great, cant have a great impact. But magic, even the basic trick, requires an intellectual reaction first, to understand the very idea of impossible. That one step, removing it from your emotional reaction itll never match music, which speaks directly to your emotions. It doesnt need anything else besides what it is.stewart@aspentimes.com


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