JONATHAN PENDRAGON AND THE SEARCH FOR THE GRAIL
!Â My childhood hero was Tycho Brahe, a Danish astronomer with a gold nose to replace the one he lost in a sword duel, who possibly had an affair with the Danish queen (which may have inspired ShakespeareÊ¼s Hamlet), and who was the greatest observational astronomer that ever lived. More than four centuries ago he gathered astronomers from all over Europe to share his passion for the the stars, and to learn and develop philosophy and technique we still study today. When Tom Stone and Peter Rosengren asked me to come to Sweden to be part of a workshop in Svalöv, I looked it up on a map and discovered it was a mere 30 miles or so from Tycho BraheÊ¼s observatory.
!Â West accompanied me, which was fortuitous for all involved, as she became a valued member of the faculty, whose main jobs were a keen eye for performance and a strong hand on my leash. If it wasnÊ¼t for West, I think that Peter would have had me sedated. I knew Tom Stone only by reputation; what I found was a brilliant mind, a caring heart, and a friend for life. PeterÊ¼s strong hand, which kept the workshop on course, at times clashed with my turbulent gusts of enthusiasm. The four of us (Peter, Tom, West, and I) were like the fourÂ Anemoi of Greek mythology, pushing the students in every direction in hopes of expanding their perception of magic. If West was a zephyr (a light spring breeze from the west… how cool is that?), then I was a tornado. Tom always stepped in at the right time and said the right thing… it was irritating! What I learned from Peter was the importance of extemporaneous experiments that give the teacher insight into the studentsÊ¼ needs and abilities.
!Â I made use of this technique in my group seminar on ”œmastering the prop.” One exercise I devised placed a chair in the center of the room and each student had to anthropomorphize it in a way that that created conflict, and from which he emerged victorious. I was delighted with the results””the students were very inventive””but my biggest surprise came when I took a turn, sneaking up on the chair and wrestling it in a life-and-death struggle for supremacy. This mirrored the conflict I have dealt with during my entire professional life: a love/hate relationship with props.
!Â I come from a family of academics: both my mother and father at some point in their life taught college. When I was a Senior at the University of California at Irvine, I created and taught a class in stage movement and combat””one of the first of its kind in the United States. It felt good to do more than lecture. It felt good to teach””to realize that this, too, would become a big part of my evolution as both a person and a performer. As I turn 58, surviving all that I have, there is a sense of legacy””that if I aspire to be a true Master Magician, it is not enough to rest on my laurels as a performer and to hoard my secrets. It is essential to give back… to teach what I know to those who come after me.
!Â Tycho knew this. However fond you are of your earthly honors, never forget that the brightest feature on the moon, as seen from Earth, is a spectacular crater named for him. History remembers the teachers.