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New Victory Blog

The New Victory Blog is a place to learn more about New York's theater for families and the shows we produce. Find out what we do and what we're passionate about—exploring the arts as a family.
November 27, 2017

Magic on 42nd Street


In celebration of Jason Bishop: Believe in Magic, coming soon to The New Victory Theater, we spoke to Manhattan's resident history buff Tim Dolan about one of Jason's idols—Harry Houdini—and his time on 42nd Street.
 

Paradise Roof GardenWhile Broadway is mainly known for big budget musicals and plays, magicians, like the The New Victory's upcoming illusionist Jason Bishop, have always been in the mix. As early as 1899, Harry Houdini was performing his handcuff escapes in vaudeville theaters all over America, eventually appearing throughout his career at a handful of Broadway theaters in Times Square. He made his last Broadway appearance in 1926 alongside his wife Bess just one block south of The New Victory at The Nederlander Theatre (then called The National) on 41st Street. 

While Houdini never performed on the mainstage of the New Vic, he did perform on the roof! Rooftop garden theaters began to pop up in Times Square to provde open-air entertainment during the hot summer months in a pre-air conditioned world. Always incorporating some sort of floral element for a "garden feel," each rooftop presented small revue shows, magicians, acrobatic performances and famous comedians of the day. Oscar Hammerstein I, who built The New Victory in 1900, created the Paradise Rooftop Garden atop his theater to rival others in the area. It was outfitted with over 600 seats (over 100 more seats than inside the New Vic today) and a metal covering overhead to protect patrons from rain. Houdini and Jennie

During the summer of 1912, Houdini erected a 5,500-gallon water tank centerstage at the Paradise Rooftop Garden. In front of a packed audience, he escaped from leg shackles and handcuffs while in a submerged box that had been nailed shut and encased in chains. After performing this trick successfully the week prior in New York's East River, this was the first performance of the act inside of a theater. He would later perform the same feat at New York's largest theater, The Hippodrome, on Sixth Avenue—just a few blocks to the east of The New Victory Theater.

The "overboard box escape" wasn't the only act Houdini performed at The Hippodrome. On January 7th, 1918, Houdini walked onstage in front of thousands of World War I soldiers in uniform who were preparing to embark on their first tour overseas—he carried with him a few different sets of handcuffs. To thank them for their patriotism, Houdini prepared an educational performance. It's widely known that magicians like Houdini and Jason Bishop never reveal their secrets, but for this performance, Houdini did just that. He demonstrated how to escape the restraints of German handcuffs, how to free oneself from jail cells and what to do if trapped under water.

 

Gizmo and Jason! Gizmo and Jason! Photo: Alexis Buatti Ramos
While the performance was meant to be educational, Houdini unveiled a new trick at the conclusion for an entertaining twist. The troops watched as stagehands brought out an enormous cabinet and placed it center stage, followed by one other performer: Jennie, the daughter of P.T. Barnum's world famous elephant Jumbo. Jennie, Houdini explained, would be the first elephant he would ever make disappear. After having Jennie perform a few of her standard circus tricks, Houdini loaded her into the cabinet, placed a curtain over the front and waited. After a few minutes Houdini removed the curtain to reveal…an empty cabinet. To this day, Houdini's notes for the vanishing elephant trick have not been found, and it is his only act that remains shrouded in mystery. While Jason Bishop's animal assistant, Gizmo, is quite a bit smaller than Jennie, you can still expect some mind blowing illusions starring the pint-sized pup. 

As audiences settle into the plush seats of The New Victory Theater to enjoy the magic of Jason Bishop: Believe in Magic, they are joining the millions of audience members before them who have been fascinated by other illusionists on Broadway, Off-Broadway and in vaudeville theaters all over the United States—and are just a few floors below the same spot where Houdini conjured up his magic 105 years ago! 

 
 
Jason Bishop Thumb Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but this show is so delightful! Back by popular demand after last season's sold-out run, Jason Bishop returns with even more tricks (and wry one-liners) up his sleeve. Get your tickets to Jason Bishop: Believe in Magic today!

 
Posted by Beth Henderson

As Autism Awareness Month draws to a close, we're delighted to feature this post written by Virginia Campbell and Regina Carmody together with Tzvi, a young man they care for who has ASD (autism spectrum disorder). They shared with us the story of what it was like for Tzvi to grow from a New Vic kid into one of The New Victory's biggest fans!

 

Tzvi, Regina and Virgina Regina Carmody, Tzvi and Virgina Campbell in 2017 
When he was young, we started bringing Tzvi to puppet shows. He looked forward to them and showed an early interest in and aptitude for music (especially songs from Disney movies). We wanted to get him comfortable with larger groups, so we started looking for new theatrical experiences. When Tzvi was 9-years-old, we got tickets to Pigs, Bears and Billy Goats Gruff at The New Victory Theater before there were designated Autism-Friendly performances. Despite his initial nerves, Tzvi was able to enjoy the show, singing and clapping whenever he liked. Everyone accepted him for who he was. That was his first step in enjoying social events. What a gift it was!

"When we went to see Pigs, Bears and Billy Goats Gruff, we had to sit in the balcony because I was too anxious to sit in the orchestra. We went in very slowly and carefully, since I wanted to be able to leave as quickly as possible. Now I'm never scared to come to The New Victory!" Tzvi says.

Over eight years that followed, we saw over 50 shows and each one led to exposure in a new area. They made his world bigger. The shared joy of music and laughter is a natural connection to others that kids with autism can't access easily. He now sees himself as an audience member—a part of a group. Theatergoers are his tribe! In fact, Tzvi thinks everyone should join in. "Come by and say hi. Everyone's so friendly. They laugh, smile and help anyone who asks."

This community gives Tzvi a toehold into the larger world. He's learned that even though a show—and by extension the world—may be full of surprises, some things are constant: the lights dim, people perform and the audience claps. Attending New Vic shows made him curious to explore in the larger world, but if he gets nervous, we follow the rules of engagement: look, listen and hold a friend's hand if you don't know what's going on.

Tzvi has enjoyed coming to the New Vic for both family workshops and shows. He says, "There's so many activities; I love The New Victory Theater all year-round. There are so many things to do and all ages—even adults—are welcome."

He rarely gets nervous when attending shows anymore and that goes to show how much he really has grown. One of the most valuable skills Tzvi has learned since coming to the New Vic is how to cope and adjust to the changing sensory aspects he experiences in the theater. To him, it became worth it to cope with the height, sounds, lighting, physical space and crowds, but it didn't come easy. The New Victory became a safe space for him to conquer his fears and enjoy the shows. Tzvi learned to anticipate challenges and then even adjust for his own needs. At first, he would say, "Balloons fall at 4:55. Tzvi goes to the lobby." Now he'll stay for the balloons and actively take part.

 

WT and Tzvi WT and Tzvi at one of Tzvi's first workshops
Another valuable skill Tzvi developed over time at New Vic was self-discovery. The organized schedule allowed him to plan, but it also helped him question his own likes and needs. The schedule gave him choices, and the variety of the New Vic's content helped him grow. It got him to ask questions like: Who am I and where do I fit in? Where will I sit? (It took us years to get to the orchestra.) How do others around me act at a theater? Now he sees himself at a stage in his life when he can grow even further and strive to be like those who mentored him. 

Tzvi has grown so much that a few months ago, he assisted his New Vic Teaching Artist friend, WT, with a juggling workshop. "I loved helping the kids learn to juggle. I even got better by teaching them," Tzvi says. "Getting to take part in the juggling workshop made me feel very proud of myself. I've come so far since 2008! My favorite part of the workshop was introducing my friend WT to the kids and making all of the announcements."

Those mentors—like WT—help Tzvi experience joy. They provide a nonjudgmental place and opportunity to learn to be part of an audience, and to experience different ways to communicate—through dance or physical comedy or clowning. Bringing youth to a place where they will be accepted—where no one will stare at them, or get annoyed at their reactions—is a precious thing. Participation in New Victory shows and workshops also helped Tzvi to access his strengths within the arts. It's increased his awareness and confidence in movement, communication and music. Today, Tzvi can likely be found making announcements at a family gathering, composing a mash-up of old and new favorite songs, or dancing to whatever beat matches the event. All of these hobbies make him who he is, and are all thanks to The New Victory Theater.

Interested in Autism-Friendly performances? Keep your eyes peeled for our work with Autism Friendly Spaces during our 2017-18 Season!
Posted by Beth Henderson
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