Monthly Archives: May 2013

Canadian Performers Working in the United States

Previously I’ve written articles like How to Produce a Touring Illusion Show, and How to Perform and Work Internationally. But for Canadian performers the main headache of performing across the border in America is obtaining the correct working Visa.

Your Greatest Resource

The best resource I’ve found is a PDF distributed by the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs. “Canadian Performers: How to Enter the United States

Canadian performers

This publication provides the information needed by Canadian performing artists and theatre, dance and musical troupes planning to perform in the United States. It describes the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) visa classifications, procedures and timelines, required materials, and deadlines for submitting applications and includes lists of INS offices, labour unions, immigration tax lawyers and other resources. The guide also provides definitions of U.S. immigration terms and offers a breakdown of some of the costs associated with visa petitions, applications and processing services.

In the booklet it explains exactly how to apply for the various types of Visa’s for Canadian Performers. You can apply yourself or you can do what Murray SawChuck talks about below and hire a lawyer who specializes in working Visa’s to help you with the process.

Never Try to Enter Illegally

Some performers try and cross the border illegally under the guise of a vacation while getting paid for work. Obviously, this is a very very stupid idea. There are very stiff consequences should you be caught.

Once I was attending a magic convention in the states where I was going to enter the stage competition. The border guard was concerned because I was entering the country with equipment that I normally use make a living with. I had to explain multiple times that the equipment was ONLY going to be used to enter in the magic competition and I wasn’t receiving compensation of any kind. That’s when he turned to google to check the convention website to make sure that I wasn’t on the entertainer schedule. In the end I was able to cross without issue because I was being honest and upfront. They are very meticulous at the border and if you try to cross illegally they will catch you!

Interview: Murray SawChuck

Canadian magician Murray SawChuck has been performing internationally for the last 18 years. Murray generously sat down with me to answer a few questions on performing in the United States.

Murray SawChuckMurray’s star power has exploded onto the entertainment scene with the charisma, personality and talent of an entertainer born to be on stage and screen, after his successful run as a semi-finalist on NBC-TV’s “America’s Got Talent.” The #1 network summer series was viewed by over 22 million fans nationwide. Murray dazzled the judges: Piers Morgan, Sharon Osbourne and Howie Mandel by producing a Ferrari from thin air, transforming a girl locked in a cage into a 450 pound tiger and did the largest trick ever on “AGT” by vanishing an entire 1918 steam train locomotive in mere seconds. All of these illusions took place before a “live” and national “TV” audience, and brought standing ovations from the judges.

Leif: First off, how long have you been performing internally for?

Murray: I have toured around the world for the last 18 years from Lebanon and Paris to Singapore and Ukriane!

Leif: And how long have you been performing in the states for?

Murray: I have been performing in the state for the last 15 years.

Leif: What type of Visa did you apply for while working in the states?

Murray: I never applied for any. The key is to have the employer apply or you and use a good immigration attorney. I had an O1 and O2 visa when I first worked for “The Lawrence Welk LIVE Show” in Escondido, CA. The lawyer obtained the visa for me.

O-1 Visa: For an individual (one person only on the petition) of extraordinary ability (distinction) in the sciences, arts, education, business, athletics, or extraordinary achievements in the motion picture and television fields

O-2 Visa: For essential support personnel (including performers) accompanying the O-1 performer of extraordinary ability or achievement

Leif: Was there anyone else in your company that needed to apply for a visa, such as an assistant?

Murray: No, just me. No matter where I fly I can us local talent. Save a lot of hassle and visas.

Leif: Do you have any advice for Canadian performers looking for work in the states?

Murray: Yes! The NUMBER one key to working and having any chance at getting a visa to work in the states is to have something ORIGINAL that NO ONE else is or can do. I invented an act all with Compact Discs and won over 24 international and national awards titling me a world champion. One of the main reasons along with BEING DIFFERENT I created the act was to stand out and be able to be eligible for a visa. I wanted to be the ONLY one that could do an act like that which gave me a stronger chance of gaining a visa to work in the United States.

Murray SawChuckLeif: Any funny travel stories?

Murray: I remember once in Shanghai, China I won the world title of World Champion Magician in Shenzhen, China. It was on television and broadcast to more that 8 million Chinese viewers. Well, when I left for the airport the next morning and my driver dropped us off at the airport I went to check in my suitcases and as soon as I entered the airport I was surprise as everyone recognized me from the TV show the night before.

I was escorted to the front of the line to check my bags in, then to immigration, and as I approached immigration I never had time to fill out my customs form before going through immigration. I must of had 5 immigration people assisting me. I shook all their hands and they handed me the proper travel immigration form everyone has to fill out when leaving the country.

I started to fill in my address, passport information and they said …”No, no… not important…” just sign at the bottom… I said “Sure”… they are the law of the land! So whatever they wanted.. I signed the bottom of the form then the guy folded it up and put it in his pocket… and said thanks now I have a souvenir and you are free to go through! I was so surprised and said “Thanks!”

Leif: Have you ever had any problems crossing the border? Have you ever had any problems with customs with your equipment?

Murray: NO never any problems… you enter legally and honestly and abide by the rules… you won’t have any problems. There are always questions with my equipment but if you are using them for what you say you are… YOUR PERFORMANCE… and you have the proper documents, there should be no problems.

Leif: You’ve been living and working in the states for a while now. Are you still a Canadian resident?

Murray: Yes I am still a Canadian resident… I will NEVER give up my Canadian residence or citizenship. I am a united states citizen and when I married my first wife I received a green card then went for my citizenship after having a green card for 8 years. Now I am a citizen of both countries.

Leif: Is there anything else people should know if working intentionally is their goal?

Murray: Just be different and original… The easiest way to get accepted is to bring something new, different into the country that they don’t have already… that’s what helps a lot.

Leif: Thanks again Murray for taking the time to answer these questions! If anyone would like more information on Murray you can visit his website or follow him on Twitter @MurraySawChuck.

Have you ever travelled internally? Leave your tips below in the comments section.

Working with a Video Camera

A great way to improve your show is by filming rehearsals and live performances. Your video camera is your best friend because it helps you see your show the way others see it. 

Whenever I’m working on a new routine I always rehearse it in front of a camcorder first. I use three different types of camcorders to record; a webcam, my cell phone, and a camcorder.

1. Webcam
I’ll usually film rehearsals with my webcam if I’m looking to quickly share my video with someone else for review. With a webcam and Youtube you can go to the upload page and click “webcam capture record” and record directly from your webcam.


Once you are finished you just click save and your video will instantly be saved onto youtube without any extra uploading. The one drawback of working with the webcam is that because the lens is designed for a video chatting the viewing angle isn’t very wide so it can be difficult to get everything into frame. But if you stand back far enough from the camera you should be able to get everything to fit into frame.

The footage quality on my webcam isn’t the greatest but there are full HD camcorders available on the market now.

Here’s some footage I recorded with my webcam:

2. Cell Phone Camera
I’ll use my iPhone camera  to rehearsal material when I’m not in front of my computer. The thing that’s nice about the iPhone is that its easy to watch and replay footage immediately. It’s also easy to upload online, or transfer onto the computer. Because each clip is saved to a new file it also makes it easy to delete bad takes and just keep the ones you need.

Here’s some footage I recorded on my iPhone:

3. Camcorder
I don’t often use my camcorder for rehearsal because I have to capture all the footage from the MiniDV tape onto the computer which takes a long time. Its easier instead to use the webcam or my iPhone instead.

Instead I use my camcorder to film live shows with a tripod at the back of the venue.

Unlisted Uploads to Youtube

I upload entire full length shows and rehearsal footage to youtube so that other magicians and directors can critique it for me. But I don’t want this footage to be public so instead I upload them as an “unlisted” video instead. An unlisted video means that anyone with the link can view the video but it won’t appear in my public channel or in the regular search results.

unlisted to youtube

Camera rehearsal tips:

  1. One technique that I’ve stumbled across is to go back and watch old performance footage. If you film your show and watch it that same day you’ll remember every detail about the show and you won’t be able to separate your internal reality from the footage you’re watching. By watching old footage you’ll forget what you were thinking and you’ll be able to see the show more closely as the audience experienced it.
  2. Save your footage so you can go back to review it. I’ve recorded lots of different ideas that I’ve found useful later on.
  3. Watching yourself on video is a painful experience, but keep doing it over and over again and your act will improve because of it.
  4. Take chances while rehearsing on camera. Its a safe environment to try out different ideas before you get in front of an audience.

I’ve talk with lots of performers that don’t have ANY performance or rehearsal footage AT ALL!! How can you possibly tell if the material is any good if you’ve never seen it yourself?!? In this article I’ve shown that you don’t need anything fancy to get started. Even if you don’t have a camcorder, you can start recording with your cell phone camera, the webcam on your laptop, or a cheap external webcam.

Share a link to your rehearsal footage in the comments below!

Sharpie Marker Stain Remover

AmodexOnce upon a time I was performing some close-up magic one evening and somehow my sharpie marker cap came off inside my inside breast jacket pocket. Unbeknownst to me my $300 blue dress shirt was soaking up the black marker into the shirt… I tried all the household products I had available to try and remove the stain but nothing worked. Eventually I tried Googleing the problem to see if others had figured out how to remove sharpie stains but I only came across common “tips” that didn’t work.

Eventually I came across a product called Amodex. It isn’t available in Canada, but I was able to order a bottle of it online. I was able to apply the Amodex and then use paper towel to soak up the sharpie marker by lightly dabbing the material over and over again. I also placed some paper towel underneath and that helped remove the stain all the way through the material. Even though the stain had been in there for months and I had probably made it worse trying all those other methods first I was still able to remove the stain.The shirt I was wearing was a dark blue (like the material behind the bottle picture) which helped. I don’t think it would work on lighter colored shirts.

The small bottle only cost about $10, and it totally restored my expensive dress shirt. If you ever find yourself with a sharpie stain on your costume, give it a try!

Directors and Consultants for Magicians

Many performers have no idea that there are consultants, directors, scriptwriters, and mentors specifically for magicians. Below is a list of some of the more popular options and a list of the services that they offer.

1. Joanie Spina – Artistic Director

A lot of people don’t know who Joanie is so let me give you the 2 second introduction

As principal performer, choreographer, and artistic consultant to David Copperfield for eleven years, Joanie Spina redressed the ancient art of magic with a flair the caliber of Broadway and Hollywood productions. Joanie teamed up with Mark Kalin, Jinger Leigh, and Jeff Hobson to create the award-winning show Carnival of Wonders.

If that wasn’t enough she also writes monthly columns called Directions in Magic Magazine. Its my personal opinion that her articles hold all of the secrets of making tricks feel like real magic. If you don’t already subscribe to MAGIC Magazine, track down 2012’s issues and read her columns! It’s the type of information you’ll want to go back and read over and over again.

Joanie Spina: Director & Consultant, Theatrical Coach, Lecturer

I’ve worked with Joanie twice. The first time I worked with her we did the video critique. I sent in a video recording of my show and she tore apart the act second by second. Literally every.single.second. It was an eye-opening and amazing experience that pushed me leaps and bounds beyond what I ever could have done on my own! The second time we worked together I flew to Vegas for an in person coaching session. During the live session we were able to do theatrical exercises with parts of my act to help think about my performance in new ways.

Artistic Direction

2. Magic and Mystery School with Jeff McBride and Eugene Burger

Jeff McBride’s Magic & Mystery School offers many different services depending on your specific needs and interests in magic.

Leif, Jeff, And Eugene

Back in 2007 I attended Jeff’s Master Class in Calgary, Alberta Canada and it was an amazing experience. I learned sooo much in just a couple days and I made some lifelong friends in the magic community.

3. Magician Tony Clark


Tony Clark offers personal consulting on the phone, a DVD critique, skype sessions, as well as services for film and television.

  • Hand Insert: Replace an actor’s hands to look like a magician for film
  • Creative Consulting and Directing: Film and stage.
  • Magic Academy: Introduction to Sleight of Hand, Parlour or Stand up Magic, Money Making with Kid’s Shows, Card Manipulation Course, Dove Magic Workshop and Private Session.

I contacted him once looking for pricing and his rates seemed very reasonable but I haven’t yet had an opportunity to work with him yet.

4. Doug Bennett – The Magic Writer


Doug Bennett aka “The Magic Writer” is a talented script writer who understands magic. While looking to theme my children’s show I hired Doug Bennett to help me write new routines and segways for the show. The part I found most amazing about working with Doug is the fact that the material I got back from him was written exactly in my natural speaking style. I’ve never in my life before experienced somebody writing something that so perfectly sounded exactly like something that I would say.

I would highly recommend him if you’re looking to have material written for your act. I will absolutely be working with him again in the future!

5. Bob Fitch

Bob_FitchBob Fitch is a director and magician that specializes in helping magicians improve their act. I haven’t worked with him but he’s received some high praise from big names in our community.

Bob Fitch is an actor, director, magician, singer and dancer. Bob Fitch has coached FISM winners Shawn Farquhar, Paul Gertner, Timo Marc, Florian Zimmer, and Gaston  & Arthur Trace. Bob offers performance workshops integrating acting, speech, movement and basic theatre (communication skills) for working magicians. His workshops have been reviewed in the Linking Ring, MUM and Genii.

  • One-on-One Private Sessions: You can either work in person (New Jersey) or do a video critique where you send in a DVD of your act. [more info]
  • Group Workshop: For groups of 5 or 6 magicians for 4 to 5-day workshops in their respective towns. [more info]
  • Free Online Articles: Articles & Reviews.

If you’ve worked with any of these people before please leave your comments below. I would love to hear how they helped you. If you found this article helpful, please share it with your magic friends.

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