Every picture tells a story...
On October 5, 2004, I traveled to Allentown, Pennsylvania, along with my friend, the talented young sleight-of-hand artist, Kostya Kimlat, in order to spend several days with Juan Tamariz. Juan was appearing as part of The Theory of Art and Magic program at Muhlenberg College, a series that was founded in 1999 by Dr. Lawrence Hass, philosopher and magician. Since its inception, the program has presented a remarkable roster of magicians in shows and lectures for students, the public, and magicians, including Eugene Burger, Max Maven, Jeff McBride, René Lavand, and many more. Although I have heard about the program more or less since its start, this was my first time attending any of its events, and my first meeting with Larry Hass. Larry was a remarkably gracious and generous host, as was his marvelous mate, Marjorie, who serves as the school provost and is also a philosopher. (Read an article about Dr. Hass and the program)
Since the 1980s, Juan Tamariz and I have spent time together on many occasions, at the Magic Castle and at a number of magic conventions which we have attended or appeared at together. I've seen him lecture several times, and perform many times, sometimes at great length. (I've also been trying to make it to his famed gathering, Escorial, for some years, but have been unable to manage it.) However, it had been quite a while since our last encounter, when we both performed and lectured at the Davenport's Centenary convention in the UK in 1997.
We arrived on Tuesday in time to see Juan's first program, a performance and lecture for magicians only. This is more or less the approximate program that Juan would also be presenting on several other stops during this American tour, specifically in Las Vegas, Los Angeles (at the Magic Castle), and in New York City, before returning home to Spain. The lecture was packed, and I ran into a number of familiar faces, including Marc DaSouza, Allan Kronzek, Don Camp, and many more. The lecture and performance were both outstanding, with Juan absolutely frying virtually everyone in the room, time and time again — a stunning presentation that left us gasping for breath by the time it was over. Some of us then went out to a local bar for some late food and drink, where Juan gave a further impromptu performance.
Juan and Larry kindly invited me to join them during the next two afternoons, and it was a treat to be able to spend so much downtime with them, along with Juan's charming wife, Jema. At afternoon meals, Juan would review key lines from his lectures and shows with us, seeking assistance in finding the right American idiomatic phrases and expressions in order to make ideas clear and, especially, jokes play. Larry and I had a great deal of fun helping to come up with the right material, and when it was all over, all three of us celebrated the fact that the gags played well.
The next night, Juan presented a two-hour platform show that was open to the public. There was a substantial amount of material included in this show that I had never seen before, and it was a joy. The show was simply a knockout; the first half was a true platform show, while the second half was really close-up magic, at a table with spectators, projected on a large video screen. A number of magicians had driven up to see this show, including friends JB Benn and Chris Korn of "Mondo Magic," the series then running on the A&E Network. So it was a big crowd that piled into a local eatery for late food and drink this night, and while there were a number of magicians who performed for Juan, he also took the deck in hand and garnered shouts of amazement from the assembled magi. With all the activity and the size of the crowd, I hung back at the far end of the table, and thus had the pleasure of spending most of my time talking art, magic, religion, philosophy, and, most importantly, food, with Marjorie Hass — an unexpected but very welcome bonus.
The next day I tagged along to watch Juan teach one of Larry's classes, during which he performed several effects, and took the class through part of his "Five Points in Magic" lecture. Note that these are magic classes that come with full academic accreditation, no small achievement for which Larry Hass deserves significant recognition! We few then gathered again for an afternoon meal, this time helping Juan review phraseology for his public lecture that night. This really turned into a walk through the entire lecture content, which in turn gave us the chance to engage in some excellent discussion of the material with Juan. Juan's public lecture that night was a superb exploration of the nature of magic as art, and was accompanied by the performance of several spectacular routines.
Once again the crowd retired to the late night watering hole for food and drink, and eventually, farewells. We talked magic, took pictures, Jema continued shooting with her ever-present video camera, and Margie Hass even prevailed on me to do a bit of magic for her. After the better part of three days of wonder and inspiration from Juan, I could readily see why so many Spanish magicians seek out the unique genius and artistic spirit of Tamariz. I thought about those who similarly, in the 1960s, migrated to California to soak up the genius of Dai Vernon, and I felt like I had a bit of extra insight as to why men do such things. For a moment, I could not help but think that perhaps I should just run home, pack a bag, and catch the next flight to Spain. What harm could there be in a few years spent near to such greatness?