Singapore Heritage Festival: Telling the Peranakan Story Through Magic

Singapore Heritage Festival 2014

Singapore Heritage Festival 2014

Singapore Heritage Festival was held over 2 weeks from the 18th – 27th July. There were many different booths all over the island and I was tasked to design a performance that would showcase the various aspects of the Peranakan culture in Singapore.

Learning more about the culture

Learning more about the culture

Apart from the delectable Peranakan cuisine, I did not know much about the Peranakan culture. In order to be able to craft magic effects that were relevant to the theme, I had to do more research by visiting the Peranakan Museum. I looked out for interesting artifacts that would enable audiences to quickly identify them with the Peranakan culture. While there were several artifacts that were very distinct, my preferences were aligned to the cuisine, the attire and cutlery. It was an enriching research experience for myself to learn about their culture. Did you know that the Peranakan men were discouraged from being in the kitchen?

Peranakan Association at East Coast

Peranakan Association at East Coast

The next challenge was to acquire some of these items. And as you would imagine, the museum does not sell them so I had to do another search and decided to visit the Peranakan Association at East Coast. The place was filled with numerous Peranakan paraphernalia. I was very fortunately to be shown around by Mr Peter Wee, the president of the Peranakan Association. In fact, one of my routines was inspired by a conversation that we had about the Baba’s (Peranakan men are called Babas, and women are called Nonya) evolving attire. In the past, the men would wear dress-like attire called the Baju Lokchuan, however, in modern times, it has evolved to a simple Chinese collared shirt or a Batik shirt. This inspired me to create an effect called Instant Batik where I magically print a white shirt with Batik prints.

A quaint case on a carved pedestal to suit the theme.

A quaint case on a carved pedestal to suit the theme.

After getting enough information, I went back to my office to conceptualize the type of magic that would be suitable for this. I also had to think about the congruence of my props in relation to the theme. I added a quaint looking case on top of a carved wooden pedestal to enhance the authenticity of the act. In fact, several of the guests in Changi City Point mistook my case as an exhibit! The crew actually had to stop them from opening it before the show.

Click Here to Watch a Snippet of the Show!

Click Here to Watch a Snippet of the Show!

I devised 3 effects specially for the Peranakan exhibition. They were intended to tell a story of the Peranakan culture, and its influence on Singapore. I made sure that the effects were visual and educational so that people would remember the message and the magic. The first magic effect that I did was to change a white shirt into a Batik shirt while explaining the changing fashion trends of Babas. Thereafter, I quizzed the audience with pictures of the different Nonya Kuehs and made these pictures into real Kuehs. Lastly, I did an effect using the Peranakan bowls which ended with them being filled with a Peranakan snack, the Kueh Bangkit, for the audiences to sample. This added an experiential component to the show which the guests really enjoyed.

The show spanned over 2 weekends and had a great reception. I spoke to some of the Nonyas and Babas who were present and they enjoyed the performance and were impressed by the accuracy of my research.

It was a great experience for me to share the culture with my audiences through my story telling in magic. Magic has far greater potential beyond deception and illusions. Through story telling and well crafted presentations, magic can transport the audiences to a different place and experience emotions that they might have not felt before.

If you are a magician, I hope this article would guide you in the customization process. Doing research and conceptualizing is part of this specialize service that we provide, hence we need to do our best to be as accurate and as well informed as possible. For non magicians, maybe you can think about how using magic can enhance a particular story you want to share. If you have any ideas, drop me an email here, I would be happy to discuss!

And lastly, since it is 9th August tomorrow, Happy 49th National Day Singapore!

Signing off,

Alexander Yuen

Why Having a Magician for Your Wedding Can Be a Good Idea

Recently, I have spoken to a handful of couples on the topic of having a magician for their wedding. They would usually ask if it is a good idea and how would having a magician for their wedding add to the wedding experience. Requests for magic has risen over the past years. Weddings in the past tend to be more “inward” and perfunctory, however nowadays they tend to be more “outward” in the sense that couples pay more attention to the experiences of their guests and how the joyous union can be celebrated together with their guests (instead of them simply being witnesses to the union).

Picture Credits: Bernadette (Thanks for the wonderful pictures!)

What type of magician should I engage?

What I would recommend is to have a magician that has a diverse experience in performance and well as communication skills. Weddings tend to have a wider demographics (ranging from young children to parents and grandparents), hence an experienced magician would be able to cater to the different groups of guests performing magic that is age appropriate. An experienced magician would perform visual magic for younger children and adjust to more intellectual material for more mature audience. There is nothing more painful to watch than a kid’s magician trying to entertain a group of adults with children show material. Also, being bilingual is a great asset for a wedding magician as this will enable him to converse and interact with the older generation who might not be able to understand English.

Performance during the cocktail reception

Performance during the cocktail reception

As weddings typically tend to have more waiting time (more pertinent to Chinese weddings where the couple would, out of respect, not begin until a senior member of the family arrives), having a magician to entertain the guests would reduce the restlessness of your guests as there is something exciting happening while they wait. The performance would also create a great talking point among your guests and this is particularly advantageous for tables which have guests that are not familiar with one another. This creates a familiarity effect making the wedding experience more pleasurable for your guests.

Interactive and Engaging Magic

Interactive and Engaging Magic

Stage Magic or Interactive Roving Magic? … Or both?

For weddings, the magician would add the most value during periods where there is nothing going on for the guests. This includes cocktail reception, the period between entering the ballroom and the first march in as well as the photo taking session. In these situations, having an Interactive Roving Magician would fill these waiting period with magic and interaction. This ensures that the guests feel attended to and not feel left out. Having an Interactive Roving Magician allows for personalized entertainment for the different tables, for instance, doing a special magic routine solely for the wedding couple.

Performing for the Wedding Couple and Family

Performing for the Wedding Couple and Family Table

Occasionally, I would have request for a stage performance and I handle this differently from other non-wedding enquiries. For weddings, I would at most performance a 15 minute set on stage, the magic routines I choose for weddings do not focus on me. They focus on the couple in their celebration of love and being together.

Interacting with the couple on stage

Interacting with the loving couple on stage

In one particular routine that I perform, I make a rose appear from thin air. A less experienced magician might hand the rose directly to the bride. While this small detail might be glazed over by a less sensitive audience, a more attuned audience might find this awkward due to the context of the performance. I, on the other hand, would hand the rose over to the bridegroom for him to present it to the bride. This is an example of how I steer the focus of the magic to the couple instead.

Bride receiving a rose from the Bridegroom.

Bride receiving a rose from the Bridegroom.

Apart from a 15 minute segment, I also get requests for a magical appearance of the wedding couple on stage (for the second march in) as well as request to make the champagne bottle appear magically.

However, till date, my strongest recommendation has been for Interactive Roving Magic as it offers the most value for weddings.

I personally can empathize how tedious a wedding can be to plan. Being a special night, it is natural to want to have a peace of mind in engaging professional services. My clients are always assured by prompt communication and the option for a physical discussion by request.

I hope this article would give you an insight to the reasons why having a magician for your wedding is a good idea. And if you’re reading this while in the midst of planning a wedding, I would be happy to discuss further with you, just drop me an email here.

Signing off,

Alexander Yuen ; )

Context in Magic: Customized Magic is not just sticking on a Logo

Earlier this month, Marina Bay Sands held the World Cities Summit 2014 where different organizations come together with ideas and solution for livable and sustainable cities. I was invited by NEC to do a short presentation on their latest product called the MAG1C Suite.

MAG1C Suite is a series of software that allows data surveillance, analysis and delivery in a large city-wide scale. The use of such system is related to crime prevention, riot control and chaos management. I was asked to create a short presentation to showcase this product.

The easiest way to “customize” a performance is to simply paste the organization’s logo on your props and proceed to perform a standard routine. This might suffice for events where brand exposure was simply the focus. In the current situation, it was not my preference to adopt this method and simply adding a logo to my props would not add any value to my client.

As the MAG1C Suite is not a physical product, it is meaningless (and impossible) to perform with the product. Therefore I opted for a different approach. In this approach, I examined and studied different briefs provided by NEC about this product. After understanding what problems this product can solve, I am able to design a sequence to showcase its capabilities.

A series of effects to demonstrate the capacities of the product

A series of effects to demonstrate the capacities of the product

One feature of the MAG1C Suite is its ability to track data in real time. With the various systems and sensors in place, incoming data can be monitored in a manageable fashion. In order to demonstrate that such surveillance is crucial, I reworked a street con game where the audience members had to keep track of a ball under 3 cups. I carefully scripted the routine so that the audiences would be appreciate the fact that without the monitoring devices and sensors from NEC, it would be impossible to keep track with incoming stimulus with less specialized systems.

Gathering a crowd and showcase the product by magic

Gathering a crowd and showcase the product by magic

As the audiences are high level management and decision makers for their companies, it is of utmost importance that the delivery and performance of the presentation is eloquent and easily understandable. I spent close to a week refining the script for this presentation and worked together with NEC’s Marketing Manager to produce PowerPoint slides that would run in the background in sync with my performance content.

As you can see in the pictures, my segment drew a significant number of viewers. This accomplishes 2 things:

1. The MAG1C Suite now has a larger reach and broader awareness.

2. Through my performance, the audiences now understand what the product can offer and if it is suitable for them.

I was very fortunate that a member of the audience recorded the whole performance and shared it with me. In closing, I have created a snippet for your viewing so that you can understand my approach in creating coherent and logical routine. Click on the picture to view the video:

5

Click on the picture to view the video

All the best!

Alexander Yuen

 

Designing Magic for Shu Uemura

The Spring 2014 collection from Shu Uemura features a lustrous line of make up and beauty products that are fun, enchanting and mysterious. Shu Uemura collaborated with photographer, Mika Ninagawa to create the unique whimsical and charming feel.

In order to bring out the enchantment in their products and art work, I was engaged to design a 10 minute showcase which features key benefits of two of their products. Specifically, the PORErease and the Cleansing Oil.

Invitation to a special demonstration by Shu Uemura's make up artiste as well as myself

Invitation to a  demonstration by Shu Uemura’s make up artiste as well as myself!

Since different products offer different benefits and cater to specific skin types, I had to study the key features of the products and design magic that is cogent with the product. Subsequently, I fabricated the props needed for the performance and selected music that would exemplify the mood.

Showcase and Demonstration at TANGS, ION and Takashimaya

Showcase and Demonstration at TANGS, ION and Takashimaya

I performed at TANGS, ION and Takashimaya on 3 different days. The showcase captured the audiences’ imagination and added to the mysterious and enchanting atmosphere at the various Shu Uemura stores.

This project was very interesting as well as challenging as I did not have expertise on cosmetics. While the performance was slightly restricted by conditions set by the venue, the Shu Uemura team I worked with was very understanding and knew what it took for a good performance. It was a wonderful experience working with them and to be able to perform and share my magic to a niche audience.

So do check out the Mika for Shu collection at the various Shu Uemura stores! I bet you will be enchanted by the whimsical, wonderland-like visuals and their beauty products too!

Signing off,

Alexander Yuen ;)

National University of Singapore Video

Slightly more than a year ago, I was approached by the Office of Admissions to be a part of National University of Singapore’s new admissions video. This video wanted to showcase NUS students who had calibre in their studies as well as an “X-factor” that set them apart from typical students.

NUS admissions Video

Featured as a entrepreneur

I was featured together with a law student and a medicine student. I believe it was my participation in arts festivals and theatre productions like The Swing Thing that made me a good candidate for this video. It was truly an honour to showcase a part of FASS and my current work in this video. The making process of this video was great fun. I got to meet top professionals in the film industry and I really enjoyed working with them.

So without further ado, click on the picture below to view the full video!

Click the picture to watch the video!

Click the picture to watch the video!

 

Signing out,

Alexander Yuen ;)

 

A Private Wedding Performance in India!

Last week I was booked for a private wedding performance in India. An Indian TV choreographer, who was also producing the event, saw some of my videos on my website and was bent on having me for the wedding. We talked and negotiated and I was set to fly.

Getting Ready to Perform!

Getting Ready to Perform!

This is actually the first time I’ve ever been to India. And I was really lucky that the place that I am performing in was next to the world famous Taj Mahal. There were 2 sets of performances that I had to do, the first was in the morning and the second at night. The morning luncheon was held inside Wyndham Grand (Agra). It was a gorgeous place were the events producers decorated the place to make it feel like a masquerade party. The sights, sounds and colours were really entrancing and my magic complemented the surroundings.

Look at the beautiful array of colours!

Look at the beautiful array of colours!

After the morning performance, I was very fortunate to take a short break to one of the Seven Wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal! It was a beautiful and magnificent place. The designs and architecture were ahead of its time, everything was so intrinsically built. It is very difficult to imagine how workers from the 17th century were about to build something like this without today’s modern technology. Amazing thought, isn’t it?

Snippets of the Taj Mahal.   I love the group picture with fellow international artiste and the Indian producers.

Snippets of the Taj Mahal. I love the group picture with fellow international artiste and the Indian producers.

After the Taj Mahal, I went back to the hotel to rest for a while and prepared for the evening’s party.

You might not be able to tell from the pictures, but the venue was an open field. And everything that you see in the montage below was erected from scratch. The lights and background were specially produced to give it a majestic feel.

A Majestic Wedding Indeed

A Majestic Wedding Indeed

Truly, this will be one of my most memorable experience. The people were so enthusiastic about my magic and the place was just so charming.

You will be surprised to know that I flew to India on a Saturday night, and left on a Monday morning. So I spent only about 27+ hours away. Such is the live of an international performer. But I was very blessed to do some sightseeing while I was there. : )

 

Till the next time!

Alexander Yuen

A Valentine’s Day Special!

Valentine’s Day just passed last week and despite it sounding cliche, I think love should be celebrated. While they say that everyday should be a Valentine’s day but I think there is no harm in making that one day extra special for your love ones.

Doing my magic to open for the dialogue session for Maybe Baby

Doing my magic to open for the dialogue session for Maybe Baby

In anticipation of Valentine’s Day, two weeks ago, my magic act was engaged to open a dialogue session for Maybe Baby. In addition to my magic show, I had a customized effect that is thematically related to the session. I was also tasked to conduct a short snappy magic workshop to teach the gentlemen in the audience to make a rose appear for their partners.

Interactive Customized Performance

Interactive Customized Performance

This dialogue was hosted by Petrina Kow, radio personality and a super nice person. Apparently this was the first time they had a magician in their event and I was told after my customized act that a lot of participants were very skeptical on how magic relates to their topic of discussion, “Having a baby”. But all of them were pleasantly surprised (and amazed) by what I designed and created for them. While I am unable to share publicly what I did, it is a pleasure for me to say that the organizers agreed that I delivered the key messages of the incentives and grants of having a baby very well. And the magic effect was a good fit and not one that seems “forced” and out of place.

A picture with the lovely Petrina

A picture with the lovely Petrina

After the performance, I prepared for the Valentine’s Day Magic workshop. It was quite a daunting task to teach intensive sleight of hand magic within 20 minutes. I had to make sure that everyone (100 men) were able to execute the magic without any error. This is my main objective because they will be presenting the effect to their partners. Any mistake on their part would make them look bad. And it would spoil the effect for everyone else. This was the last thing that I wanted. Hence I simplified the effect and added several touches to make it easy to learn as well as almost 100% foolproof.

The sequence of events in the workshop

The sequence of events in the workshop

Apart from the teaching, I also designed an 8 second music clip that would add to the feel of the magic. The idea was to have all the ladies in front of their partners and everyone would perform the rose trick at once. Honestly, to see 100 roses appearing from thin air is literally one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. But what was more beautiful and heart warming was the reactions thereafter. It was really heart warming to hear a unison “awww” from the ladies.

Reactions from the ladies :) (Pictures from Maybe Baby)

Reactions from the ladies :). Picture Credits: Maybe Baby

This was truly one of the most heart warming engagements in my life. I’ve always known that magic has the potential to go beyond just being amazing, it can touch and move people’s heart. And I think for this event, the gentlemen did just that!

Signing off,

Alexander Yuen

Customized Magic for Corporate Events

Some time ago, I received a request for a unique magic performance. The client asked for a customized act that featured their product. This was due to the fact that we have been getting very good results and were known to go beyond the surface features of the products in our customization magic (among others our past clients includes, Kiehl’s, Adidas and Manulife).

Cables and their Cable Reel

Cables and their Cable Reel

 

However, this customization product was a challenging one as the company manufactured cables. That is correct, electrical cables. The most intuitive line of thought would be to simply do an effect where the magician cuts the cables and restores it. But this would be very superficial and does not add a lot of value to the company nor their product itself. In order to go beyond the superficial, I did additional research on cables and noted their commonly associated counterparts. I requested Batt Cables to provide me with cable reels and various cables of different colours and thickness.

Specially Designed Cable Reels

Specially Designed Cable Reels

After several days of thinking and conceptualization, I finally worked on an effect that would showcase their different cables with their various functions and thickness as well the ability of the upper management to have an intuitive sense of their cables. I got a delighted thumbs up from the client after sharing the idea with her and then I proceeded to handcraft certain parts of the reel to facilitate the magic. While I am unable to share the details of the act, all I can say is that it involved a lot of “sixth sense” (or the illusion of the sixth sense) on the audiences’ part.

On stage with Batt Cables' Management executive, Chairman, Managing Director as well as Country Manager.

On stage with Batt Cables’ Management executive, Chairman, Managing Director as well as Country Manager.

As you can imagine, given that I had to incorporate the top management of Batt Cables (UK and Singapore), a superficial effect of cutting the cable and restoring or simply making the cable appear out of thin air would be cliche and contrive.

Stage Illusion Show Featuring the Customization Act

Stage Illusion Show Featuring the Customization Act

The show and customization went very well with the sophisticated crowd. I had many guests congratulating me on the customized magic as they were impressed with the ingenuity of the concept.

Testimonial from Batt Cables

Testimonial from Batt Cables

I am also very pleased to be able to receive a very complimenting and affirming testimonial from Batt Cables’ country manager who understood the challenge I had for the customization as well as acknowledged the fact that I did not take the superficial route and went beyond the obvious.

While I do admit that customizing magic beyond its superficial value is a very challenging task, I enjoy the thinking and creating process. Even though it would be easier to take the peripheral route, being able to deliver a strong message in a creative way in the customization routine is extremely gratifying.

To find out more of our customization work, contact us here!

Signing off,

Alexander Yuen

Magicians and Bartenders: Beyond the Overt

A couple of weeks ago, I was referred by a good friend to conduct a magic workshop for bartenders who were in the Ketel One fraternity. These bartenders were handpicked to be in this prestigious fraternity. The global ambassador for Ketel One, Justin Smyth, was present to kick start the event. The workshop was held in the very posh, Billionaire.com at Stanley Street.

Justin_Smyth

The aim of the workshop was not only to equip bartenders with magical effects that would make them a better host for their guests, but to also impart theatrical techniques that would enhance their bartending skills. Most of the bartenders from the fraternity were not your usual flair bartenders who tend to use more overt techniques like juggling bottles in a fancy way to concoct a drink. They display their skills in a more subtle fashion and specifically cater to a more sophisticated crowd. This appealed to me very much because it is in line with my personal belief in magic: Magic does not need to be loud, flashy and “in-your-face” in order to impress; a skilled performer exudes competence via more subtle and meaningful ways.

After meeting the client and understanding more about the bar-tending scene, I realized that bartenders and magicians face very similar difficulties in performance and the general perceptions by the public. Without proper theatrical training, it is very difficult for magicians and bartenders to capture our audiences’ attention and engage them in the performance. Also, unfortunately, both magicians and bartenders are not taken seriously by the general public. Upon understanding this situation, I created a syllabus to impart my knowledge of engaging and capturing audiences’ attention, as well as how to make a performance meaningful to audiences. By creating meaning in a performance, audiences would experience something special, and then attribute importance to the performance. These difficulties and solutions were very pertinent to me as I have encountered and overcame them on numerous occasions in my magic career. A bartender is usually thought to be a person that merely measures alcohol in required amounts to concoct drinks. However, there are actually a lot more subtleties to their craft. For example, the reason why they shake the cocktail shaker is not only to mix the drinks, but to listen and determine if the ice has melted sufficiently for the drink to be served. Likewise, magicians are simply thought to be clowns and kiddish performers, and that their skills are limited to how well they can operate the “special magic props” they purchased. In both cases, these stereotypes are often perpetuated by amateur individuals who do not give enough thought to their craft and have no qualms about charging a really low price for their services.

In order to address these issues, I developed a syllabus to impart techniques that would help these bartenders ground their performance, which would make their audiences more likely to acknowledge the importance of their profession.

Explaining the various techniques to get the audiences' attention

Explaining the various techniques to get the audiences’ attention

The workshop went extremely well and I am very honoured to have been given the opportunity to impart my knowledge to like-minded peers in a different industry. The bartenders were very enthusiastic about the magic and incorporating them into their performances.

Magic effects that are interactive and effective

Magic effects that are interactive and effective

Of course, the effects that I chose for this workshop were selected on the basis of fulfilling the objectives that I had in mind. Again, I selected materials that were effective, relatively easy to execute and using items that could be found in a bar. Importantly, they were non-kiddish.

Sharing how to level your craft

Sharing how to elevate your craft

I also shared various techniques and views on how bartenders can raise the bar (no pun intended) by differentiating themselves from amateurs, in hopes of changing the public’s perception.

Sharing Theatrical Techniques

Demonstrating Theatrical Techniques

In closing, this was a very enjoyable sharing session with the Ketel One Fraternity. I am heartened to know that the solutions that helped me tackle the public’s perception of magic are extremely adaptable for the bartenders as well. In fact, it was so well-received that Justin Smyth, the global ambassador for Ketel One, positively endorsed my contributions to the fraternity. As an act of appreciation, he welcomed me into the prestigious fraternity by presenting a key to the Tantalus as a symbol of my induction. I am extremely honoured to be part of this fraternity of like-minded peers who share the same philosophy and values as I do, even though we come from different industries. This was indeed an enriching and unforgettable experience!

Signing off,

Alexander Yuen : )

iPad Magic at Singapore Night Festival!

The Singapore Night Festival by National Heritage Board was held over the last 2 Fridays and Saturdays. The festival showcased a wide range of exhibits ranging from street structures, interactive visual arts as well as Renaissance paintings housed inside the National Museum of Singapore.

Our duo performance with the iPad.

Our duo performance with the iPad.

Jonathan and myself were also housed inside the National Museum of Singapore during the Night Festival as we were performing our unique brand of iPad Magic in the Princely Treasures Gallery. Prior to the Night Festival, all our engagements for iPad magic has been exclusively for corporations and private events. Night Festival 2013 was the first time we decided to showcase our iPad magic to the public. The response to our magic extremely positive as most of the audiences had never seen such a novel and engaging performance.

Jonathan pulling antique coins out of the iPad

Jonathan pulling antique coins out of the iPad

The success of our performances relied a lot more than the novelty of the iPad. In line with our philosophy of magic as an art form, the routines were designed in a such a way that was not only visually engaging but emotionally engaging as well. We created situations where there was theatrical conflict between us and the iPad (when the iPad “crashed”) or us and the spectator. These elements added to the richness of our performance which makes our performance different from run-of-the-mill close up magic. Evidently, from the responses that we received as well as the sheer number of people squeezing to catch a glimpse of our performance, we were successful in capturing the imagination of the audiences and allowing them to be part of the show physically and emotionally.

Literally a full house!

Literally a full house!

While it is common for audience members to come up to us after the show to take pictures and chat a little, the audiences at the museum were slightly different. As the majority of them were slightly more sensitive to artistic features, they stayed back to chat with us after the performance on the artistic nuances that Jonathan and I crafted into our performance. It is always a “nice pat on the shoulder” for us when these little artistic details that were incorporated into the magic is picked up and recognized by our audiences.

Pictures and Conversations after the Performance

Pictures and Conversations after the Performance

Jonathan and I were extremely fortunate to be featured along side with many superb local artiste in this festival. Compared to the past, there is a trend toward showcasing strong and high quality local acts. These events not only display local acts to the public but also shift the public perception of what locals can do. And I would think that by being feature in this festival, Jonathan and I contributed a small step to the success and changing paradigm of what the local arts scene is and will be.

 

Signing off,
Alexander : )