For most, if not all, of us 2020 has been a year we will never forget. A year that turned the world upside down and inside out, allowed people to see the true nature of their friends, and made us realise what was most important to us.
As we prepare, with great optimism, to say hello to 2021 and all it has in store, I’d like to take a moment to look back at my 2020… because it definitely was nothing like I expected it to be! On December 24 I was actually at home in Melbourne on Christmas Day for the first time in five years so I was able to spend the day with my family instead of 3,000 strangers on a cruise ship.
But the very next day I flew to Wellington for the Golden Princess New Year’s Eve Cruise back home to Melbourne from December 5 to January 2.
I was only home for one day because on the 4th of January I flew to Singapore to join the luxurious Silver Spirit for a cruise to Ho Chi Minh City.
This was my first time visiting Vietnam, and I only saw the city on the drive from the port to the airport (and nearly missed the flight because our driver misjudged the traffic) but what I saw looked incredible.
January 11 to 16, I spent at home rehearsing my new Laneway Theatre show ‘Out of Nothing. Something’ before heading off on two more cruises: Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) to Brisbane on the Sea Princess, and Melbourne to Sydney (via Tasmania) on the Majestic Princess.
Finally, on February 21, I was able to debut ‘Out of Nothing. Something’, my new two hour show that even featured my old ventriloquist doll Neddy.
But then it was back on a plane the next day for a cruise from Port Vila to Sydney on the Silver Muse.
The next day, while I was playing barefoot bowls in St Kilda with Abi Tully, the Ruby Princess docked in Sydney with 360 guests with Covid symptoms… the rest were allowed to leave the ship and head back home while another 2,700 passengers boarded for a ten day return cruise to New Zealand.
This was the beginning of the end for the Cruise industry for 2020. I was scheduled to board to Sea Princess in Adelaide on March 16 for a five day cruise to Fremantle… but that cruise was cancelled literally at the last minute as more and more passengers on the Ruby Princess were reported to have Covid19 symptoms. It was at that point that Melbourne went into pandemic mode and, for some inexplicable reason, toilet paper became the most sought after treasure on the planet.
For me, approximately $20,000 worth of confirmed shows I had lined up for the rest of the year literally vanished without a trace. I tried to look on the bright side and began planning my long overdue spring-clean of my house and magic studio.
Two days later I changed my mind. I realised that magicians all over the world were in the same boat as I was. Sitting at home… all their income had disappeared… their plans for 2020 put on indefinite hold… I decided to create a chat show using Zoom where we could share what we were going through and hopefully encourage other entertainers who were doing it tough. On March 20 I posted the very first episode of Laneway Live on YouTube as I chatted with Sydney magician Adam Mada.
The plan was to chat with a different magician every night until the pandemic was over.
After about 30 episodes I realised it wasn’t going to be over anytime soon so I decided Episode 50, which fell on my birthday, would be the final episode. Each episode took about 6 hours to produce, but I got to chat with so many friends including Jeff Hobson, Topas, Rudy Coby, Carisa Hendrix, Nicholas J Johnson, Lawrence Leung, Mark Kalin, Dom Chambers, Boris Wild, Max Maven… it was well worth the effort.
On April 4 Abi Tully invited me to do a few tricks via Zoom for her friend’s online birthday party. At this point I should have been cruising Yokohama on the Nautica but now my diary was empty, so I gave online magic a shot and it was a revelation. The interactivity and the intimacy of the medium made it perfect for magic, and because it was so close up, I was able to bring out a lot of magic I hadn’t had the opportunity to perform in years.
April 12 was a very quiet Easter celebration in lockdown, though Sparks and Bandit, my Rainbow Lorikeets, provided some eggs.
Then a day or so later I received a surprise in the mail from Bob Farmer in the USA. His acclaimed book ‘The Bammo Ten Card Deal Dossier’, which featured my ‘Tim Card Poker Deal’, had been reprinted and now included a DVD with a performance I filmed for him last November in Florida.
My school friend Carolyn Sparke, now an esteemed QC, approached me saying she had lots of lawyer friends who normally met up for Friday night drinks, and lots of entertainer friends who had no work, and she wanted to bring the two groups together to create a ‘Friday Night Lockdown’ Zoom show that would also help out the performers financially.
At this point I should have been cruising Papua New Guinea of the Sun Princess after flying to Sydney for a gig and seeing Penn & Teller perform at the Sydney Opera House… as this was all cancelled, my diary was free and I did my first paid Zoom Magic Show on April 24.
The day after the ABC TV news came to my Theatre to do a story on how hard the entertainment industry had been hit by the pandemic. (And yes, they insisted I say “All my income has disappeared” as I vanished some money..)
About this time, despite his delight in having me home 24/7 and not having extended holidays in Bird Boarding, Sparks appeared to losing his feathers. It was either him plucking them, his partner Bandit plucking them, or the deadly ‘Feather and Beak Disease’. Nikki at Bird Boarding arranged for a collar to be fitted to prevent him from plucking himself and thankfully, after a few months wearing it, a lot of his feathers grew back.
You can see an amazing slow motion video of Sparks in flight taken in September by clicking here.
May 8 was my Lockdown Birthday and Abi brought me a beautiful cake for a very low key celebration made special because I didn’t have to get up early the next day and record another episode of Laneway Live.
As the pandemic continued, I even released my own range of masks.
I did a lot of Zoom Magic Shows for corporations, schools, families, and even Scout Groups. So many that I was featured in Vanish Magazine and The Age published a feature story on June 26 about this unusual new medium for magic that seemed to be thriving.
Ironically, the restrictions had just been lifted at that time and I did a few in person shows including a corporate luncheon, some Mad Hatter Holiday Program shows, and three sessions of the Social Distancing Magic Show in the Laneway Theatre before Melbourne went straight back into hard lockdown on July 8.
Normally, the June/July school holidays are when we stage The Melbourne Magic Festival. Obviously, that was not going to happen in 2020, but we did manage to stage a pretty spectacular online Gala Show which raised $3,000 to help offset the losses we incurred by cancelling the Festival. (Click here to watch it!) We also held an online ‘Australian Magic Championships’ and crowned Vincent Kuo the 2020 Australian Champion of Magic.
As we began our 6 week hard lockdown, which ended up running 112 days, I kept busy with on online lecture for the International Brotherhood of Magicians on July 15, and a guest appearance at the online PCAM Magic Convention on November 23. (At this point, I should have been cruising on the Silver Muse, but that was cancelled… on November 10!… so I my diary was free).
By this stage I had three completely different Zoom Magic Shows including ‘The Mad Hatter Magic Show’ for school incursions, ‘A Night At The Laneway Theatre’ where I took guests on a guided tour through different locations in my venue (click here to read a review of the show), ‘The Magic Menu’ which was a “choose your own adventure” type show.
Also very popular was a combination show where in addition to performing I would teach the guests a few easy tricks they could use to amaze their friends and family on Zoom as well.
A big event was the August launch of my long awaited release through Vanishing Inc. of iDrop. We had to film some bonus features in July, but the team pulled it together and the reviews were unbelievable. PropDog, the legendary British magic shop, immediately placed iDrop in their number one spot saying it was a strong contender for ‘Trick of the Year’.
Meanwhile, like the rest of Melbourne, I was struggling with the hardest of all first world problems, my hair. Obviously hairdressers were closed and as our lockdown lurched into its tenth then eleventh week, my hair started to take on a life of its own.
In October I finally got to realise a long awaited project and presented a genuinely scary Halloween Show called ‘Darkness Is Coming’. The ending was so unexpected in the thirty minutes following the first performance almost every single guest messaged or emailed me asking if I was alright.
November saw the launch of my amazing new website after months of behind the scenes work by the geniuses at NokNok studio
and on December 1 I was interviewed by American magician Mike Maione on his weekly chat show ‘Trick or Treat’.
Our lockdown had ended and my family was once again able to get together for Sunday lunch, albeit safely outdoors as a picnic.
On December 7 I did my 50th, and final, Zoom Magic Show for 2020. It was a Mad Hatter Magic Show broadcast live to eight schoolrooms, and meant I had entertained over 3,000 people online over the last 9 months in groups ranging from just 9 people to 250.
Sadly, that same day, my 86 year old Dad was rushed to hospital with pneumonia. Over the next few days it was touch and go as the doctors settled the pneumonia but found other critical health issues. Over the next few weeks he was moved from ICU to a regular ward, then to a private hospital, and now to a rehab hospital where he is gradually regaining his strength.
December has been, like all of 2020, unusual to say the least. I only performed four in person shows, I played pub poker in person for the first time in a long time (and actually won the tournament!), I attended the legendary Max Maven’s surprise 70th birthday party via Zoom with a hundred of his closest friends,
I attended my long-time friend, Beven (Young Talent Team) Adinsall’s surprise 50th birthday (which was amazing),
but the highlight was Christmas Day being able to celebrate once again with my family, and Dad being able to get a day pass from rehab to share lunch with us.
Who knows what 2021 will bring… expect the unexpected!