Thursday, August 26, 2010

Project 365 Two-Fer (237-238): Anthony Billan Co

.:237/365: Anthony Billan Co:.

I don’t know about you guys, but I personally find that having Anthony Billan Co as, to date, the only Filipino magician ever featured on Ellusionist or even Theory 11 definitely makes him a very key figure in Philippine magic in this current generation.

Unlike pretty much every other magician I have ever featured in this blog so far, Anthony is different by sheer virtue of never having been a professional performer at all. He is, through and through, a hobbyist, and has managed to create numerous different effects, the most famous of which is the Mindbender, wherein he demonstrates how a card could bend through sheer concentration while right there in his hands. He is passionate about magic, but is also known as a professional photographer, as you can see in his website.

An avid fan of magic since he was ten years old, the first time he ever saw a magician brought him an incredible measure of amazement, wonder, and joy. Admittedly, the pitfall of being a magician is that some of the sheen of the mystery wears off once you know the workings behind the magic, and that explains why not a day goes by that he yearns to feel that sense of awe and wonder a layman can get when watching something magical.

From watching the greats like Henning and Copperfield, he discovered an aptitude for discovering the secrets behind magic through sheer observation. It was with this rare aptitude that he developed a way to perform magic, starting out with his family, then his classmates, and then total strangers. He was practically self-taught in that regard.

Coming from an age where the secrecy behind magic was at an all-time high, it was a true test of patience and resourcefulness for Anthony to gain the magic knowledge that he has now. Scouring bookstores and libraries for books like “Fun With Magic” by Joseph Leeming could not have been an easy thing to do at all. He felt so compelled to uphold the integrity of magic that he borrowed and re-borrowed the book so that others can’t get their hands on it so many times that the librarian had to step in and ban him from ever borrowing the book again! To this day, “Fun With Magic” is still part of his collection.

It was a bit ironic that with the instant fame that came with “Mindbender,” majority of the criticisms that came his way were from fellow Filipinos. As the good book says, “A prophet is not welcome in his own town,” and this realization was in full force. Despite all of the flak he received (Which is probably brought about more by jealousy than anything else, in all honesty.), “Mindbender” is still an amazing routine, and one that I would never hesitate to personally use whenever the opportunity presents itself. Quality mentalist acts are few and far in between, so having Mindbender in your arsenal is definitely an amazing boon.

A true card magic aficionado, Anthony has had a lot of experience in that department under his belt as well. While most magicians use card magic as a stepping stone (Myself included.), he decided to focus on it and his passion for the art form is definitely hard to rival.

With an excellent Philosophy that drives his passion for magic towards goodness, with his willingness to carry on the magical tradition to the next generation through his children, and with a brilliant mind and an eye for detail both in front of and behind the camera lens, Anthony Billan Co is one of the most important figures in magic who has never done a professional show in his entire magical career. And that’s saying a lot.

.:238/365: Q&A With Anthony Billan Co:.

1. Who influenced you to get into magic? how long have you been into it?

I would have to say that they were the TV greats... from Doug Henning to David Copperfield and Mark Wilson. Everything always stopped for me when there was magic to be seen on TV. No DVD, No Internet nor regular live magic shows that time. I would record magic TV specials on Betamax tapes and rewound it over and over again just to analyze the trick and try to decipher the methods. I never really knew if I was right or wrong..just so long as I had a solution. This was my very own learning process.

How long have I been in magic? Probably got bit by the magic bug around my early teens. Greg Wilson’s Magic show was still on Channel 13. So you do the math 

2. What is magic? in your case specifically, what is mentalism?

Magic for me is an art... (how many magicians did you actually interview and got this same boring answer? Haha!) Well, to get more into it...for me Magic is more than that... it is the only craft I can think of that uses all kinds of disciplines in life. Be it psychology, public speaking, theater (stage management, audience management, blocking etc), body language, science, mathematics, art and construction (making DIY props because you don't have enough dough to buy expensive “magical items”), music, dance/choreography, ethics and whatever else that I didn't mention that is listed in any typical academic transcript of records. It instills in you virtues like perseverance, temperance, endurance, logic and humility. I can go on and on but I think I am starting to bore your readers. Simply put, after all that has been said...magic for me is life.

There are many types of magic that people watch and enjoy. It may be all the same to them but there are clear divisions between these genres. One of them is Mentalism. It is the kind of magic where, as the word suggests, deals with anything mental or with the mind. Predictions, mind reading and telekinesis are just some of the things that are closely associated to this art form. In my case specifically, since I am 90% a card worker/magician, I always project myself as a card shark, a sleight of hand artist or a cheat, Mentalism is a way for me to get out of that mold and create a more mystical and magical image, transcending from mere dexterity to more of the supernatural.

3. What was your best experience while performing?

When I was a contestant during a close-up magic competition. I was in the zone, everyone was reacting, cheering and applauding throughout the routine. And I could see the judges eyes light up trick after trick. I got to see the score sheets afterwards and saw almost perfect scores. It was a big achievement for me to be able to impress not just laymen but my own peers. I even got a special award that night given to me by one of the few people I look up to in the magic community -- Mr. Rannie Raymundo.

4. What was your worst experience while performing?

When I was a contestant during a close-up magic competition.  Basically everything opposite of what happened during my best experience. It was a silent and cold day for me :) Oh! If I may add, anytime I perform for anyone and I don't get any reaction or feel that I wasn't effective enough to bring out amazement and awe in the spectator, would also count as an apt reply to this question.

5. Which layperson celebrity, local or foreign, do you think would make a great magician?

That would have to be...either Ariel Ureta. He has a very distinguished, debonair and quite gentlemanly look on him when he is on stage hosting. He looks and sounds like the formal classy magicians of the old days. I just hinted on my age right? Haha.

6. What is your best advice to everyone reading this who's interested in getting into magic or mentalism?

Stop! Don’t do it! Imagine the repercussions... hours of alone time practicing with playing cards, coins and what have you. Going through a hardware store/bookstore/stationary store and scouring through everyday items and thinking of "other" ways you can use them. Being looked upon as a freak of nature. Always going out loaded with things that are most unlikely to be found in pockets of almost any regular guy: Playing cards, small red hankies, little red balls, manila envelopes, permanent markers and a lot of loose change. Being asked to do a trick every time you are with your friends. Being asked a lot of time to go to their kid's birthday parties not as a guest! Hear these words every time: "How did you do it?", "Can you do that again?", "Bilis ng kamay mo eh! (You’re hands are too fast)" But most of all, being able to do something you truly love and bring out sheer amazement, pure joy and innocent wonderment to people you hardly even know. Still want to become a magician?

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