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Center Stage (2 DVD Set) Review

Official Review

June 10th, 2015 2:20am
Reviewed by Dr. J. M. Ayala de Cedoz
Well, this product has had quite a bit of buzz going on around it since even before its release. It has only gotten louder since then, and rightly so.

If you are not familiar with John Guastaferro or his work, you should be. He does have great technical skill but rarely uses it in that sense - his work is more about using subtleties and psychology to make his magic stronger, tweaking it by just 'One Degree' at a time. The idea of 'One Degree' came from his book of the same name where he discusses that idea and it was that book which introduced John to the magic world.

This video set was a bit different from most in that it was recorded live at The Session in England this year (2015). The format is not unlike attending a lecture. For the most part, the video quality was good but there were a few parts where the camera was following John with an aura and it just got a little annoying, but it was nothing too horrible.

The ad copy is 100% accurate - no fluff and no filler, just descriptions of exactly what you get on the discs.

The sound quality was not perfect, but it was sufficient. There were a few points where I had to turn my speakers all the way up and I still had some trouble understanding what was being said. The problem with the audio was that the lapel microphone that John was using was tied into the speakers in the room so the audience could hear him. This is fine, but the camera mics were picking up on that feed rather than having their own direct audio source. Except for the few aforementioned spots on both DVDs, you could still understand what was being said.

There were a few times where I wish they would have shown the overhead table shot when John was displaying the condition of the deck or cards on the table, but he did such a great job with explaining everything that it was really a non-issue. The overhead shots, when they were used, were a nice touch.

The layout of the DVD was almost non-existent and as such, made it really easy to navigate the menu. When the DVD starts up, it goes right to the menu with the names of each effect. You have the option to 'Play All' or view each chapter one at a time. Clicking on the chapter will take you straight to the performance. If you want to view just the explanation, you just have to hit the fast forward button once the performance starts. At the finish, the DVD returns to the menu. These features are the same for both discs.

Now for the meat and potatoes, so to speak: The magic! If you have seen his At the Table Lecture through Murphy's, a few of these effects may be familiar to you. To be exact, 4 the 14 effects were shown in the At the Table lecture, and 5 of the 14 have never been shown on video before, so you are getting a good chunk of newer material.

I am not going to get into great detail about all of the effects on the discs, but there are a few that I would like to single out and I will mention why as I talk about each one of those. Here goes...

These days so many magicians like to have a good impromptu effect in their back pocket (so to speak) or up their proverbial sleeve, and so they should. Zen Bend and Ring on Straw fit into this category perfectly and what is more, it can be very interactive. You can invite others to try the Zen Bend along with you, but only you will succeed. The Ring on Straw can use any finger ring, so why not borrow one? Again, this promotes the interactivity. This is a very strong little piece that you can do anywhere you find a drinking straw.

Assembly Line is a great take on the 'Assembly' plot but instead of you holding and moving the cards around, you have four audience volunteers helping you. Four face cards are used for this effect (really, any four of a kind can be used but face cards are more visible). The four volunteers split the deck evenly amongst themselves. One of the four cards (say, the Kings, for our example) is put into each pile, the faces being shown each time; one person removes their King invisibly and hands it to any other person, then that person does the same until one person has received all of the invisible Kings. They pretend to pull them out of their packet and place them on top, then they count off the top four cards, which are seen to be the four Kings! What makes this version so good is not only the interaction between the performer and the audience, but between the audience members themselves. To take it even further, the magic happens in THEIR hands.

Multimental is a great take on the 'Multiple Selection' plot and is very easy to do. I am a fan of the plot myself and though it does fit my parlour style and I have performed a version of it in the past (the Robert-Houdin 'Ladies' Looking Glass'), it is not something I want to perform regularly. If I were to do it, there are only two versions I would use and this is one of them. The other is the Michael Vincent variation on the aforementioned Robert-Houdin effect.

The rest of the effects that I am going to mention all come from the second disc, which in my opinion is the better of the two, though both are very good.

Invisible Opener is the way John presents the classic Invisible Deck. It is actually a combination of a Coin Flurry, rubber band magic and of course, the Invisible Deck. There is nothing new at all about the effects themselves as they are rather standard, but the way he has tied them together is just plain great (read: smart) structuring of not only the effects but also the use of the props.

Biddleless is his take on the classic Biddle Trick that everyone knows. It is an effect that I do very often because it works and audiences love it, but this handling makes it so, so much stronger! If you really want to use the Biddle Trick to slay your magician friends, this would be the version to use. I have since started using this handling myself.

Ace Case is a great effect that is a sort of combination of two great plots: The 'Card to Card Case' plot at the 'Any Card Called For' plot. In this case (no pun intended) you use the four Aces, which are lost into the deck and found one at a time. Two of them are located by using the box (no, not both at once, but separately) and they can even name which of the remaining Aces appears inside the box. This is easy to do and is very strong.

Intro-Verted is a very magical effect where the Aces (or any four of a kind) turn face-up in the deck one at a time. At one point, the deck itself turns face up and the Ace turns face down. If you want, you can also perform this effect and end with the deck changing color!

Homage to Homing is a very nice take on the Homing Card - streamlined, very visual and not overly hard but it will take some practice to perform as shown. It would be worth your time and cash to seek out the references mentioned in this one, namely the "Asher Twist" from Lee Asher. It is not a necessary move for this effect, but it makes it so much more magical, though there are some other moves that can easily be used in place of it and still look as magical.

One of my favourite pieces was also the opener to his At the Table Lecture. It is called 'Little White Lies' and it is akin to the Phil Goldstein 'B'Wave' effect but with a prediction and a different kind of kicker ending. This one is simple to do and requires you to either purchase a certain type of wallet or make it yourself, which John describes how to make. I use this one a lot for strolling work and is one of my favourite effects.

The interview at the end of disc 2 provides some great insight into how John thinks as a performer and presenter. He talks about his inspirations and he discusses the 'One-Degree Theory' that I mentioned earlier (you should still buy the book!) and some other things in a Q&A style format. The questions appear in text on the screen, then cuts to a shot of John, one-on-one to the camera, at which point he answers the questions.. The audio in the interview was superb! I wish they had mic'd him directly to the camera during the lecture like this, but I digress.

Overall this is a great DVD set that, while it does not contain theory necessarily, it does show you how John applies subtlties and psychology to effects that he performs and how those two things help to elevate the magic even further in the minds of the audience. What is more, it is something that you can easily apply to your own work. The effects on both discs are very good and very commercial - they are interactive and 99% of them are impromptu.

If you have never seen or read the work of John Guastaferro, start with his book, 'One Degree', and then get this DVD set. Yes, you could just get this DVD set, but personally I think it would be a better benefit to start off the other way around.

If you are already a fan of John and have read his books or seen his past videos, you will already know what to expect with this set and you know how good the material will be.

There is something here for everyone and if you like what you read in the ad copy, you will love what you see!

4.5 stars - Highly recommended!

Available at your favorite Murphy’s Magic dealer

Product info for Center Stage (2 DVD Set)

Author: Guastaferro, John
Publisher: Vanishing Inc.
Average Rating:  (2)
Retail Price: $39.95
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Manufacturer's Description:

John Guastaferro has emerged as one of magic's most elegant performers, as well as one of the art's most versatile creators. Both the elegance and versatility are on full display on Center Stage, John's first DVD collection in many years. Whether you are a longtime fan of John Guastaferro or whether this is your introduction to his work, Center Stage is the definitive way to study John's unique approach. This is a collection of fourteen routines and moves, but there are also fourteen lessons embedded in each effect if you watch very carefully. Many of these routines are captured on video for the first time, and others contain important updates from the originally-published handlings.

In particular, the emphasis in this collection-which is filmed live at The Session in the UK-is on close-up and parlor card magic. In addition, we have included an intimate interview with John covering all aspects of his intelligent, relatable approach to creating strong magic. If you want to take your magic to the next level, and add layers of polish, mystery, and meaning, jump into Center Stage.

Lost and Found
This is John's signature routine where a signed card vanishes from a clear sleeve, then reappears inside. Learn all the one-degree improvements that make this effect more powerful than ever.

Gemini Squared
Four business cards placed in the deck by your participants end up predicting the outcome ... followed by an ending that no one sees coming. This new version of John's "Gemini Prediction" is now nearly self-working.

Ballet Cut
The Ballet Cut is a graceful flourish and in-the-hands false cut that is sure to become a standard move in your work. Learn the finer points plus visual card revelation featuring the Ballet Cut.

Zen Bend & Ring on Straw
This impromptu bending straw is easy, fun and visual. Continue the routine by making a ring appear and penetrate the straw.

Assembly Line
This four-card assembly engages four people as the Jacks make their way into one person's hands. It's perfect for both close up and stage.

In this unique approach to the multiple revelation effect, the magician reads the minds of seven people-then produces each of the cards in a different way. The routine has caught the eye of magicians worldwide.

Invisible Opener
Imagination becomes reality as invisible items appear from nowhere, including poker chips, cards and rubber bands. The perfect way to introduce all your props.

A card with a compass drawn on it helps find the spectator's card, then ends up being the signed card.

Using one devious move derived from John Bannon's Bullet Catcher, you cause a selection to jump from a packet of five cards to the deck. John's take on Elmer Biddle's classic Transcendent is sure to become a standard for every strolling performer.

Ace Case
The Aces travel to the box in different ways in one of the finest card-to-box themed routines around.

Four Aces appear one at a time in visually stunning ways. Also learn the technicolor version from One Degree.

Homage to Homing
This powerful card-to-pocket routine features three distinct and increasingly impossible phases.

Little White Lies
Predict which of the four Queens your participant will turn over, then show that the trick never happened. Learn the fooling principle behind it, plus how to make John's Picture Perfect Wallet.

Flip Side
A selected card vanishes and reappears upside down at a number named by the spectator.

Running time: approximately 2 hours.
Also included: a 20 minute interview with John Guastaferro

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