Category Archives: Update

So I’m doing this insane thing

June 21, 2018

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I turned 47 a couple of days ago. I barely noticed it was my birthday – too busy booking, promoting, rehearsing, getting the van repaired, and everything else necessary for the solo DIY tour of my magic show that begins in two weeks.

Yeah, I’m 47. Yeah, I’m a professional magician, and as is pointed out almost every time I’m introduced in a show, I’m female. Yeah, I’m about to tour in good old punk rock style, doing everything including the driving myself, taking my show to a bizarre assortment of independent venues around the country. Yeah, this is kind of nuts.

People who hear I’m doing this keep saying, “You have to blog it”. So here it is – the beginning of the account of this ridiculous adventure.

Why am I doing this tour? Two reasons: first, I want to perform and travel more than anything else in life. And second, because I’m tired of waiting for the right circumstances. I’ve realized that if I keep waiting for the right producer, the right finances, other performers who are crazy enough to drop everything and hit the road with me, it’ll never happen. So no matter how unfeasible this may seem, I’m doing this, and I’m doing it now.

Tour starts July 5 (you can see the schedule at http://www.tanyasolomon.net/summer-tour-2018), but first I’m doing two kickoff shows in Brooklyn this weekend at Cloud City – more info here: https://www.facebook.com/events/163025054551726/

 

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Richmond, VA: witches are the nicest people

July 8, 2018

Where can you book a traveling magic show? As it turns out, in an incredible variety of places. On this tour, I’ll be performing “Truth Assassin” at punk clubs, a circus school, two drag venues, a bowling alley, a house, some theaters, and here in Richmond, at a goth club, Fallout RVA.

I loaded my props for this first official tour show into a space that at first seemed “dungeon-like”, but then I realized that it’s an actual dungeon, black and smoky, with chains and cages and no hint of outside light (but also, sweet photos of the club regulars on the back walls). Jackie, the owner, explained that it’s also a fetish club, and that’s why it’s normally members-only (the vicissitudes of running a goth and fetish scene under the decency laws of a Southern state).

Jackie chatted while I set up; we figured out that we had some mutual acquaintances and noted how closely intertwined the goth/industrial and circus scenes are. Then she got a call: Lady Octavia, the snakecharmer and sideshow artist who was going to open for me, had had an enormous personal setback that day. Would she still perform? Absolutely, she answered.

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With Lady Octavia

Lady Octavia bellydanced while her snake Orriana writhed around her, and had a concrete block smashed on her stomach while she lay on a bed of nails. It turned out she was witchy not only in performance, but an actual witch. Her sisters in the craft came out not only for the show, but to support her emotionally and discuss the curses they were going to put on the guilty party.

Besides the folks with the facial jewelry and black outfits, there were some audience members in khaki shorts – Jackie had opened the club to the public for the night. I also got to real-life meet an Instagram friend with whom I’d bonded over love of Alfred Jarry, and posed for a photo on his Ubu Roi-themed motorcycle, the Phynancial Whorse.

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With Monty Cantsin and the Phynancial Whorse

I felt at home performing for this audience, and they expressed a lot of love for the show – while simultaneously comforting Lady Octavia. Her determination to perform on one of the roughest days of her life brought home the reality of the “show must go on” ethic. And speaking of showmanship, Stormy* nailed his trick, appearing in an empty cage, and worked the room getting adoration from his fans.

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Stormy appears from the ether. Photo courtesy of @inagoudadavito

After the show, I was spoiled rotten by Libby and Todd Sentz, Brooklyn friends who’d relocated to raise their daughter in Richmond. The 4-year-old girl, apropos of nothing, ran around the house cackling like a witch and putting spells on Stormy. I hope she takes this witch thing far, because witches really are the nicest people.

*Stormy, in case it’s not obvious from the photos, is a dog. My dog. He’s been my dog for a little over a year, and before that, he’d been sitting in a rescue cage for two years waiting for his forever home. I intended to just foster him, but fell for him, and then had to figure out how I was going to manage touring as the owner of a 70-lb. hound. I couldn’t leave him behind – he had gained so much confidence since adoption, transitioning from a traumatized stressball who couldn’t walk with a leash into a genuine Good Dog. It dawned on me not only that he had turned out to be a surprisingly gifted travel dog, but that he might be able to learn to perform an illusion. And he did: he now plays the role of a Ferocious White Tiger, appearing in a cage under impossible conditions at the end of my show. So technically, this is not a solo tour…I just wish he was better at driving.

Wilmington, NC: driven by obsession

July 10

Heading southeast. Spent a cozy night in Hotel Dodge Caravan in the parking lot of a Huddle House, and in the morning let Stormy run in the red Carolina dirt behind it.

Wilmington, NC is an oceanside town with palm trees, Spanish moss, and tin roofs. The town itself seems laidback, but I had trouble relaxing when I visited the beach and, after spotting some Confederate flags and a President Davis Drive, realized I hadn’t seen any black people for the past few miles.
(This Wikipedia article sheds some light on the town’s history: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilmington_insurrection_of_1898)

Back in town, the venue, the Juggling Gypsy, was the opposite of that beach. It’s a small indie music club, but also has a reputation as a venue for weird circus acts. The audience varied widely in ethnicity, age, and levels of amiable intoxication. A fun place to play.

I’m finding that there is far too little time to talk to people I meet at shows. I had to break down my props and load out, but I wish I’d gotten to talk more with John Henry Scott, a gentleman in his 70s with a long scraggly beard and a fabulous resume: clown, magician, New Orleans DJ, Cajun musician, and ghost story teller. And I was sad that I didn’t get to swap more stories with the opening act, Stray Cat Sideshow. Robin Souls and Secoria de Kitten are married, working towards quitting their day jobs, and devoting their lives to dangerous acts (Secoria even swallows a squiggly sword!).

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With Thomas Little and Kelly Stiles at Juggling Gypsy

I did get to unwind at Waffle House at midnight with some old friends from New Orleans. One of them, Thomas Little, I hadn’t seen for years, and I asked him what he’d been up to. Buttering his toast as if he were chiseling a statue, he replied, “Oh, y’know, being driven my my obsession.” And what is Thomas Little’s current obsession? Making his own inks, basing his research in alchemical manuscripts and experimenting with pigments derived from various plants and minerals: yellow ochre from ferric oxide, pink from cleaver root, purple from wild grape. He even tried juicing poison ivy. And here’s the kicker: he got a day job as a maintenance man in a state park. That means a vast supply of botanicals, snakeskin for pellum, and a concrete cabin where Thomas is slowly illustrating a grimoire with his own inks.

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The frontispiece from Thomas Little’s grimoire. Follow his monkish activities on IG @a.rural.pen

In the morning, on Thomas’s recommendation, I visited Carolina Beach State Park, the only place in the world with a trail of wild Venus Flytraps.

Charleston, SC: don’t call it a punk club

July 12

Charleston is a famously pretty town, all crepe myrtles and antebellum porches, and the punk club where I was booked was no exception. The Tin Roof is a shack plastered with band stickers, but it’s a bright aqua shack with pink azaleas shading the stickers.

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I was thrilled to see a marquee on top advertising “Tanya Solomon/Monsters from Outer Space”. It was already pretty cool to be on a marquee, but to be next to the promise of “Monsters from Outer Space” – that was a dream.

The inside was sweet and homey: cardboard stars dangling over the stage, piles of old zines, a mural of Willy Wonka making hand shadow birds.

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There were also more obvious “punk club” signifiers: dollar earplugs on offer, a drunk sound tech, a choice between the men’s room and the beer cooler for a dressing room. I didn’t mind. This is the kind of venue I used to play in while touring with the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus in the early 2000’s. In fact, the old-school Bindlestiff style of booking was the inspiration for this tour: when I couldn’t get a producer for my show after an initial theater residency in New York, I decided to start emailing independent music venues. It’s not as strange an idea as it was back then: most of them book burlesque shows once in a while. And though I also enjoy theater audiences, this kind of audience is my favorite. They’re excited to see something out of the ordinary, and are often tipsy and vocal.

There wasn’t a huge turnout, but apparently it was well-attended for a traveling act on a Thursday night. Afterwards, several people told me they’d never seen a magic show. I got that response a lot; birthday parties and Vegas are the only places one might catch a magician these days.

Most of the crowd dispersed before the Monsters from Outer Space went on, but they still put on their elaborate classic movie-monster makeup and set up their giant Halloween props and played Misfits-inspired horror punk for a few lucky souls.

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The Monsters from Outer Space

I returned to Tin Roof the next morning to pick up something I’d left, and found its owner, Erin, sweeping cigarette butts out of the azaleas. I told her how great it feels to play an old-school DIY venue, and she seemed pleased to hear it. But she corrected me when I called it a punk club. Tin Roof’s mainstay is punk, but she thinks of the club as a place where any kind of art can happen, and everyone is welcome. The Tin Roof, she said, and other venues like it, exist to keep culture alive. Any kind of culture. Anything besides big-box stores and condos.

 

 

Knoxville, TN: look for the drag club behind the knife store

7/14

Calhoun County, South Carolina…the name on the highway sign rang a bell. Ah yes! I recognized it from Stormy’s records. That’s where a rescue snatched him from euthanasia at the pound. So I pulled off the highway to give him a walk in the swampy pine woods.

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Stormy’s victorious return

We crept through the Great Smokies on I-40, trapped in a Dollywood tourist swarm.

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A respite from Pigeon Forge traffic in the French Broad River

My Knoxville venue was a drag club, The Edge. I found the sign in a strip mall cluster, but there didn’t seem to be anything there except a U-Haul store. I asked the U-Haul employees where the Edge was – they’d never heard of it. One did recall seeing the sign in the parking lot, but he’d never thought about it.

The entrance turned out to be in the back alley, behind a knife store. I assumed this was because a drag club had to operate secretly in a conservative Southern town, but was later told that the club had been there for 30 years and was wildly popular, no secret at all. Perhaps it had once been hidden.

The staff was completely unaware that there was a magic show booked that night; the owner had forgotten to tell them. But they were cordial and showed me to a gorgeous stage.

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The splendor of the Edge’s stage

A live band was setting up, but they graciously stepped aside for half an hour so I could perform. About seven people, mostly members of the band, watched me race through an abbreviated set. I think my performance was lousy – it’s hard to connect with the audience when you’re that rushed. Still, they came up afterwards to tell me they enjoyed seeing magic. Over and over again, I’m discovering how rare it is to have the opportunity to see a magician live on stage.

The band was called Pulp Friction and played 90s covers. They were a huge draw. After their first set, they accompanied the drag artists, who all did celebrity impersonations – of course, there was a Dolly.

When there’s no one to stay with, I sleep in the van. It’s normally pretty comfy, with plenty of room for a short magician and a huge dog. Usually, I look for a spot on the commercial edge of a town, where perhaps there is an an abandoned store with a quiet lot and morning shade, but also a gas station with all the amenities close by.

But after getting a little ways down the road on this night, all I could find was a noisy truck stop. It got hotter during the night, and Stormy started panting, so I slid the side door open and spent the night half-awake with Mace and knife near at hand. (I don’t rely on Stormy for protection – I’m pretty sure he’d kiss an axe murderer.) I woke up alive, bathed in a creek, and had some pancakes with a post-church restaurant crowd before heading on to Asheville.

 

Asheville, NC: wipe off the blood before you hug me

7/15

Like Tin Roof in Charleston, my Asheville venue was a shack – this time a pink one, slathered with weird cartoon murals. But I don’t think anyone would label it a punk club – it’s called the Odditorium, and it houses collections of oddities including a giant petrified hairball, a taxidermied one-eyed white rabbit, and Barbie heads floating in pickle jars. They regularly host freakshows, spelling bees, burlesque, and yard sales.

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The Odditorium

There had been a preview in the weekly paper, and the place was packed for my show. Among the audience were a honeymooning couple from upstate NY, two older ladies with expensive jewelry kvetching about when the show would start, a couple of herbalists who’d driven in from the country, and a quiet gentleman introduced to me as “Toybox, America’s Favorite Cartoon Witch”.

The opening act, the local Gaping Maw Sideshow, followed me. I prefer it that way, as I have an elaborate setup, but I’d also been warned that they might drive away some audience with their bodily fluid-drinking stunts. They had an interesting presentation style: a cruel character with wild hair named Grand Maw whispered, swung a lantern ominously, and tortured a girl who went by the name Misfit Toy. Foul concoctions were indeed drunk, and Misfit Toy stapled dollar bills to the flesh of her chest. After the show, she reached out to hug me, but I recoiled, as she was dripping blood from her staple wounds.

So far, I’d been fairly content touring solo; it’s hard work, but lots of freedom. But as I loaded out alone in the rain, I watched as Misfit Toy’s boyfriend gave her a big hug and words of support backstage, and carried her one suitcase to the car…I’ll admit I had a moment of self-pity.

Asheville: remembering Harry Anderson

7/16

My host in Asheville was Elizabeth Anderson, an old friend from the time I lived in New Orleans. I met her through her husband, Harry Anderson, who was my first magic teacher.

Yeah, that Harry Anderson. The judge from “Night Court”. But for Harry, being on TV was just a sideline. Above all, he was a magician. Harry passed away back in April, and Elizabeth was going through a rough time. We talked about what she’s been going through, and reminisced about Harry.

I came to Harry in 2005 seeking to change direction. I’d come into performing as an adult, doing sideshow, performing very real stunts like walking on broken glass and pounding nails up my nose. I was hooked on the thrill of live circus/variety performance but was tired of grossing people out. Magic seemed like the right direction to go in, and Harry ran a magic shop in the French Quarter. His wisecracking, nostalgic character on “Night Court” had been a huge inspiration to me as a kid, and I was almost too nervous to approach him. But as soon as he found out I did sideshow, he told me to follow him to the back room, tossed me a silver ball, and had me floating it within the hour. He told me to come by anytime for a magic lesson.

Harry taught me a lot of technique – the magic has to be airtight to go over with an audience – but the thing he talked about most was showmanship. Without character and presentation, there is no magic. The best advice he gave me was “Always play the show for children”. What if there were no kids there? Harry rolled his eyes. “Make the adults act like kids. And don’t be precious about it. Say ‘well you got your $15 worth!’ just to make them whine that the ticket was $20.”

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A high point of Harry’s career: biting the head off a guinea pig on Saturday Night Live

While Harry played for laughs, Elizabeth is a more mystical and elegant type. Her specialty is mentalism, and she curated oddities in the New Orleans shop. Their house is a cabinet of curiosities. She allowed me to peruse Harry’s book collection, tomes on magic and gambling and film noir. Even if I’d never met him, I’d still miss him.

I visited Asheville’s magic shop, Magic Central. The owner, Ricky Boone, has a rare bone disorder and uses a wheelchair, but it doesn’t stop him from telling terrible jokes. I bought some supplies and had a nice hour of shoptalk.

 

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At Magic Central with Ricky Boone. The backdrop came from the Andersons’ Sideshow shop in New Orleans.

And I caught a performance by Toybox, “America’s Favorite Cartoon Witch”, who tells dark and droll stories with puppets. Catch Toybox if he comes to your town – he mixes theatrical extremity and personal intimacy in a very original way.

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Toybox, America’s Favorite Cartoon Witch