Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Jeff McBride: Card Throwing Superstar

Decades ago, in a Genii review of one of Jeff McBride's early Mystery School stage performances, I observed that "McBride can do more with a single playing card than most magicians can with a ton of equipment. Of course, McBride doesn't produce a single playing card. He produces a thousand. Or so it would seem."  In crafting this observation, I unwittingly stumbled upon one of McBride's fundamental magic philosophies.  The magician, long one of magic's most creative forces, a disciple of magic giant Eugene Burger and a venerable teacher of the art, entreats his students to "do the most with the least" during magic performances, offering a stage act using equipment that fits in a satchel or even an eyeglass case.  And those diminutive items are imbued with outsized emotion and power: in this master magician's hands, a tissue paper heart becomes a moving symbol of heartbreak, and its beautiful, transformative restoration an effective remedy for hopelessness.

Card throwing has long been a central part of his compelling stage performances.  Those performances blend a variety of body movement styles -- kabuki, martial arts, dance, mime and puppetry -- with impeccable sleights.  McBride is pure magic, a kaleidoscope of color, movement and energy that imbues each effect with wonder. The result is beautiful, funny, fascinating, and frightening.  McBride doesn't simply perform, he entertains, holding the audience rapt in each new movement.

His adherence to a pack-small, play big philosophy helps explain McBride's fondness for card throwing.    Using handfuls of cards, he creates an explosive onstage display showcasing a series of flourishes and using card scaling as a dramatic finale.  Here's a sample:

As you can see, he doesn't throw cards so much as "shoot" them, using one hand to both hold the deck and propel the cards with his thumb, in rapid-fire fashion.   As featured in the title of his video on the subject, the cards "Zoom, Bounce and Fly" all around the theater.   Indeed, among his many honors, Jeff was awarded a Guinness book record for the most playing cards thrown in one minute - scaling 106 pasteboards more than 12 feet in 60 seconds.

The magic doesn't end with the onstage display: those lucky enough to catch one of these cards (in fact, your correspondent caught two of the cards pictured here) are afforded an opportunity for even more magic.


 "The Many Faces of Magic" card is the one currently used by Jeff in his exhibitions.   The "McBride Magic" card was used by Jeff in  2001.   Both cards use the Internet to bring the art of card throwing to a new level: the web addresses on these cards guide lucky recipients to an interactive web interface revealing their fortune.   These keepsakes are, therefore, packed with more entertainment than any other throwing card, permitting audience participation to continue long after the show ends.

In preparing this entry, however, I recalled a masked throwout card from Jeff's early days which I had seen in Kardwell International ads appearing in old magic magazines, like those seen here.

This card is extremely rare -- indeed, I had never seen an original version of the card.    Jeff recommended that I ask Tobias Beckwith, an accomplished magician, artist, director, consultant and producer,  who had created the original design.  Tobias, whom I have known for many years and has always been a supportive fellow, searched through storage boxes for me to come up with a deck of these cards.  The results of this mission can be seen in the images below, which I present with thanks to Jeff and Tobias.

McBride has also become a legendary magic teacher, operating the McBride Magic & Mystery School which provides world-class training and seminars in legerdemain.  Having recently attended the Magic & Meaning conference, I can attest to the inspiring vitality and sophistication of the school's offerings.  More to the point, he has shared many of his card throwing secrets by offering items to performers interested in pursuing the art of card scaling.   In particular, his video, "Zoom, Fly and Bounce" DVD, along with a certain secret something that can also prove of assistance, are available here.  He even offers these cautions regarding card throwing safety as a public service:

And as Jay Hunter recently recalled in this post on throwing card trivia, the great Howard Thurston could have benefitted from McBride's sage advice, having been sued for injuring an audience member struck in the eye with a flying pasteboard.

Your correspondent with Jeff McBride, IBM National Convention, Grand Rapids MI, July 2018

A few other facts about Jeff McBride that I can provide through personal observation: his enthusiasm for our art knows virtually no bounds, as he gets as exuberant about a good story line or pocket effect as for a groundbreaking stage illusion.  He also happens to be a really nice guy.   It therefore gives me great pleasure to salute this grand master of the throwing card tradition, who has proven to be a great teacher and friend.

Judge Brown

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