Conventions

MAGIC-CON 2011 – DAY 1 – Friday

MAGIC-CON 2011 – DAY 1 – Friday

Max Maven was the host of the first Morning Session, and right off the bat we had microphone trouble, which was a jarring departure from expectations, but this was quickly forgotten with the introduction of the first performer, Helder Guimarães.

Helder began with a sandwich card effect that was not as effective as hoped because of the limitations of the room.  Namely, the cards were placed on a table up on the stage and there were wasn’t a sufficient downward camera image projected on the two large screens (as there was last year).  We had to make due with a zoomed image from the middle of the floor.  Good, but not great.

What was great was the young audience member that Helder asked to assist.  When she accidentally dropped the cards during a shuffle, and the pasteboards exploded off the table and onto the floor, her embarrassment was unintentionally hilarious as she loudly yelled, “Clumsy teenager!”  Helder, the true pro, used the event as a source of humor without traumatizing the poor girl.

Helder segued into a talk on “The Mental Path”, providing illuminating insights (replete with an effective Henning Nelms quote on deception versus conviction) and touched on four important subjects: preconception, perception, induced imagination, and focus.  The Mental Path, he explained, is the way this journey is followed.  This delivery of information along this mental path is effected (and improved) by order, rhythm, and style (formal versus casual), respectively.

Helder cited as inspirational these three books: Tamariz’s The Magic Way (great book), Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms (can’t be a real magician without reading this) and Art and Visual Perception by Rudolph Arnheim (I haven’t read this yet).

In all, I like Helder.  He’s a thinker, seems like a nice guy, and he intrigued me with his approach to magic.  If he was more comfortable with the English language I think I’d find his talk even more stimulating, but his struggle with the delivery of certain concepts kept it in a rudimentary place for me.  I’ll look forward to more from him.

Next up was Mike Caveney, who described himself as “one of the old dinosaurs”.  (Side note – The Magic-Con boasts a much younger demographic than your average magic convention, and at the tender age of just 44, even I felt old.) He spoke of conventions (the gatherings, not traditions), friendships, history (of course), books and DVDs, and how DVDs enable the easy parroting of magicians, something he believes moves magic sideways rather than forward.

Caveney marveled at the ability of magicians throughout history to adapt and survive, from street performers of old, with their Gibecières, to magicians in fairs, then saloons (with their raised platforms and audiences facing forward, allowing the performer a modicum of control), and theatres (enabling the utilization of wings, fly systems, areas beneath the stage, curtains, and lighting).  Each new venue offering opporunities for the magician to capitalize on the ability for adaption and, ultimately, continued survival.

Close-up came next, first formal (sitting at a table, allowing for the new advantage of lapping), to the more informal behind the bar (larger secret area behind the bar means a larger “lap”).

Then Vaudeville came along, eventually burning out (after a blazing run) and turning theatres into movie houses.  This was followed by nightclubs (dance floor, magic in the round), and many magicians couldn’t adapt to this new demand and dropped out of performing.  But those who adapted and accepted the challenge included Channing Pollack, Del Rey, and Marvin Roy.

Television came next, and it soon became apparent that it was too easy to use camera tricks in this new realm, forcing more adaptation (live audiences, no cutaways.  And although some did use camera tricks (and continue to do so, often successfully), magicians on television became celebrated, common, and for many of us (most?), a major force in our early influence and development.

Caveney then regaled us with two fascinating anecdotes illustrating (in his opinion) acceptable forms of TV camera trickery – one with Orson Welles using the lower edge of the screen image as a servante for a Gypsy Thread routine, and the other recounting an improvised improvement to a Harry Anderson Needle Through Arm presentation that occurred in the editing room during post production.  (A hint – remember Lee Majors doing incredible jumps up to second story windows on The Six Million Dollar Man?).  This improvement, shown coast to coast, prompted one magician to make a live call to Harry Anderson when he appeared on Larry King Live and inquire how the Needle Through Arm trick that he (the caller) performed didn’t allow the audience to actually see the needle entering the arm.  Harry quickly (and brilliantly) pointed out that the caller owned the Amateur Magician version of the trick, available in magic shops, while he (Harry) made his living with magic, and was thus able to procure the Professional Version.  Very funny.

Caveney concluded his illuminating segment by talking about Bautier de Kolta, who produced a large egg (“The Cocoon”), George White, who produced a duck out of a spectator’s jacket, and Joseph and his macaw production, all examples of “adapting to your surroundings”, before he himself produced a chicken from a borrowed jacket.

This was a hugely entertaining talk.

In a departure from the printed schedule, Derek Hughes was next.  He defined “coincidence” for us – a seemingly impossible concurrence of events – and then performed a triple prediction effect (a city, a name, a word) to good effect.

He told us of his admiration for W.C. Fields, at one time the highest paid act in the world (!), and a silent act, no less (at least during his Vaudeville years), and, as an homage to this legend – caught a ping pong ball on the end of his nose.

He then produced a deck of cards from his fly, and a chosen card from his butt crack (calling it his “ace in the hole”).

I laughed.  He’s funny, and has been very successful on the college circuit (no surprise there).

But (butt?), it was very evident to me (and others I spoke with) that Derek must be a huge fan of comedian Dane Cook, because that’s who I felt I was watching, and this isn’t a compliment.  I’d much rather see who the real Derek Hughes is, and if he really does speak and think and inflect and write like Mr. Cook, then I apologize for my errant assumption.  But, as I suspect, if he’s as different from Dane as I am from Al Pacino, then there’s a whole different performer that I predict is very original who I have yet to see, and look forward to seeing soon.

Derek Delgaudio was next (I wish he was more involved with this convention.) and he introduced us to Glenn Kaino, a conceptual artist who recently exhibited a solo art show that focused on magic (slides of various pieces were shown – hands cast in poses from Erdnase, newspaper cutouts that spell the phrase, “In a world that is truly upside down, the true is a moment of the false”, and, with John Gaughan’s help, 33 conceptual wands commemorating other conceptual artists that I’ve never heard of, and even a large portrait of Ricky Jay made entirely of cards seemingly thrown into a wall.  Obviously, my descriptions don’t do these pieces justice.  You really have to see them.).

Together, they presented a “Collision of Art and Magic”, a retelling of an ambitious conceptual art piece presented at the ArtLA International Art Show (Imagine Derek pulling pieces of art off the walls as Glenn yells through a bullhorn, “My house will be called a house of art, and you are turning it into a den of thieves!”  After which, the pieces of art are suspended in a box high over the patrons’ heads, and then vanish.)

A few anecdotes were also shared, including a recounting of an amazing coincidence in which a mirror purported to be used by famed conceptual artist Marcel Duchamp is now owned by none other than John Gaughn, much to Kaino’s surprise.  (A short music video that featured the unusual mirror was also shown.)

Derek and Glenn also spoke of their new “conceptual magic shop” in Hollywood, California (“Real magic for fake money!” is their motto.).

This talk was one of several spread out over the convention that explored topics other than magic (in this case, conceptual art), in an attempt to bridge the creative gap between magic and other disciplines (Rubik’s Cube, origami, neuroscience, visual perception) and to remind us of how magical other subjects can be. This is a refreshing approach to a magic convention, one that Syd Segal and the Bucks (there’s a band name if I ever heard one) established last year.

But, as with any such ambitious endeavor, it’s going to be hit and miss with some attendees.  Interestingly, I found that the best moments of these departures from magic came, not from the introduction of new information or concepts, but from the revelations, surprises, and insights that the participants chose to reveal.

For example, Derek Delgaudio, for all his comedy chops and intelligence, really shined when he shared a personal struggle that he recently went through, a sort of crisis of meaning, and his desire to find relevance in his chosen field.  His conclusion? “The only way to provide meaning to all of this is to believe in magic.”  Something he had neglected to do for some time.

Real insight, real truths, shared openly.  That’s what I came here for.

He then concluded the talk with the story of China, a pretty, young assistant who helped the boys in the grand opening of their magic shop by being cut in half and then laying in the separated box outside the front door, forcing anyone who wanted to come inside to walk between her torso and legs.  The conceptual twist?  The discoveries that await you inside are only possible if you broaden your horizons.  Thus, you get to walk through China.  Get it?)

But Derek noted with irony that as he stood by watching the smiling patrons enter the store (through China), the only ones who weren’t joining the fun, taking the creative leap, and investing the necessary openness to new experiences, were….

…magicians.

To those willing to learn, it’s a great lesson.

David Regal was next, and he performed a standard set (beginning with his Sudden Deck and ending with his Cups and Balls and Cups and balls.)  Unfortunately, it became substandard due to what he later called a series of misfortunes, but what I simply call not being present in the moment.  He just wasn’t all there, and it felt like we were watching somebody do something for the thousandth time (maybe because he was.).  There was no sense of spontaneity, or joy, or intent (which is perhaps why David chose to speak on this topic later in the convention.)

I know that we all have our bad days, and while this may have been one of them for David, and should perhaps be dismissed with a casual, “He’s a great magician. It wasn’t a real audience.  He was performing for us.  He’s entitled to one bad show.”, I’m not quite ready to let him off the hook so easily, and I think there are some lessons to be learned from him that can serve magicians well.  I had a revelation while watching his set and I’m crafting an essay to expand on it called “The Singularity of Magic”.  I’ll post it here on the blog soon.  (I’m actually grateful that David was less than great today, because otherwise I don’t know if I would have come up with this new concept.  Thanks for the lemon, David. I’m going to make lemonade!)

Bill Kalush came up next and essentially did a pitch for Gibeciere.  As he was responsible for the gift issue that we received at registration, I suppose he was entitled, but it wasn’t entertaining or educational – just promotional.

After lunch, R. Paul Wilson took the stage, a bit absent from the Los Angeles magic scene lately due to his extensive television production work in England, and he spoke about his experiences as a producer with a talk entitled, “The Perception of Magic & Magicians.”  It was very similar (with the exception of a couple newer stories) to a presentation he gave at last year’s IBM convention (also in San Diego), but was nevertheless enjoyable.  In a nutshell, Paul relayed how lowly magicians are perceived by many producers.  We’re seen as “desperate, ignorant, unprofessional, lacking in integrity, cheap, disposable, and interchangeable.”  Producers believe that we are unscrupulous and will stab each other in the back.  These are, Paul added, not assumptions, but experiences.

One magician actually tried to get Paul and his associate fired and promised that he could do a better job for half the price.

Paul also told of one unfortunate chap (getting into the English vibe, there) who arrived for an audition with an old, raggedy headshot who had to sneak out the backdoor in order to avoid paying a taxi driver who was still outside waiting for him.  Later, he posted on his Facebook page that he was ninety percent sure he had landed the job.

Another bloke (how’s that?) was outraged that he was not selected and angrily demanded that he be allowed to audition again.

These guys, Paul said, are out there representing us, and their stories are all too common.  Many of them do the same old tricks (Invisible Deck, Bill to Lemon) and once producers realize that these tricks can be purchased at any magic shop, the only thing that will resonate with them are personality and character.

Paul also told a tale of refusing to allow a producer to use a variation of Copperfield’s Motorcycle Shadow Box concept.  This lack of integrity, he said, is everywhere in the TV world.

Paul argued that magicians can be very creative and inventive, but where’s the evidence?  In today’s world of entertainment, if somebody sees a bad guitar performance, they don’t tend to dismiss music altogether.  But see one bad magic trick, and it’s enough to turn people off to magicians entirely.  By the same token, you don’t buy a guitar and call yourself a musician.  But often guys buy magic tricks and call themselves magicians, and people will believe it if the trick was good. And there happen to be a lot of good tricks out there.  Paul quoted Teller, who said, “You can buy a shitty miracle for ten dollars, but even a shitty miracle is still a miracle.”

Paul concluded by quoting Bob Kohler, who said, “If you perform for lay people and they don’t think you’re the greatest in the world, you’ve failed”, and to this, Paul added, “the problem occurs when you start to believe it.”

A lot of food for thought, here, and Paul’s low-key, low-energy delivery was more than made up by the wealth of information he offered.

A presentation of a very different nature was next, when neuroscientists Susanna Martinez-Conde and Stephen Macknil took the stage.  They’re the authors of the recent book, Sleight of Mind, and began their talk by showing a video of Apollo Robbins performing a simple vanish of a coin, and used this demonstration as a starting off point to pose questions and delve into much deeper insights and observations, such as:

  • What is the nature of illusion?  (It’s subjective)
  • Illusion is when our perception does not match the real world.  We either see something that is not there, fail to see something that is there, or see something different than what is there.
  • Aristotle documented the first illusion (Waterfall and the persistence of vision).
  • 3-D is itself an illusion – a brain construct.
  • The Palazzo Spada by Francesco Borromini (in Rome) appears 121 feet long, but is actually spans only 26 ft.
  • Scientists study illusions to learn more about the brain, artists use skills of perception to create illusions, and magicians are the artists of perception and awareness. We manipulate perception.  (Makes what we do seem a bit more important, doesn’t it?)
  • Here’s a great link to a GREAT ARTICLE.
  • Illusions can be categorized as Special Effects, Secret Devices & Mechanical Artifacts (gimmicks), Optical illusions, Visual illusions, and Cognitive illusions, (Interesting differentiation between Optical & Visual – Optical happens in the real world, such as the refraction of light illusion when you place a pencil into a glass half filled with water, whereas visual illusions happen in the brain.).
  • Cognitive illusions can be broken down into four categories: Misdirection of Attention, Memory Illusions, Illusory Correlations, and Choice Illusions.
  • Misdirection has two types: Overt (such as redirecting someone’s gaze) and Covert (when we draw attention away from the method but do not redirect their gaze.)
  • We (humans) often experience Change Blindness and Inattentive Blindness.  (Check out this WHODUNNIT video – very interesting. And also, Dothetest.CO.UK, The Amazing Color Changing Card Trick, and this video HERE.)  However, these types of blindness are sometimes not errors of perception.  Quite often they occur because we are doing what we’re supposed to be doing (in a given task), namely, being attentive and suppressing other details.

If you want to learn more from these very interesting nerds, pick up their book HERE, or locate a copy of the issue of Scientific America that they edited (The 169 Best Illusions issue).

Next up was Derek Hughes (again), who performed his 3-Rope routine, and then presented a talk about acting in magic.  He offered a “correct” translation of the well known Robert Houdin quotation, “A magician is an actor playing the role of someone who can do miracles”, recommended the very well regarded Uta Hagan book, A Challenge for the Actor, and encouraged us to develop a habit of script analysis (Derek scripts all of his routines to read like a movie, even writing down actions for the magician and spectator.)

Derek then offered us the famed 8 Questions that Uta Hagan posed in her book for actors to query when doing a scene or play, and encouraged us (magicians) to use them for deeper analysis of our magic character/act/routines.

  1. Who am I
  2. What time is it?
  3. What is my relationship to my environment?
  4. What are the given circumstances?
  5. What are my immediate objectives?
  6. What is my overall Super objective?
  7. What are the physical and psychological obstacles?
  8. What are my physical and psychological actions to overcome my obstacles?

Derek reminded us that our audiences want a live, real, experience (much like the theatre offers).  They want us to be present.  Not stale.

In addition to two quotes by Al Baker and Henning Nelms (that I’m purposely omitting because you should read every word they’ve ever written), he gave us two nuggets from those great American Philosophers, Louis Anderson and Joe Rogan.

“No matter what you say, mean it.” (Louis Anderson)

“Figure out how you really, really, really see the world, then fight to communicate it so others see it the way you do.” (Joe Rogan)

Mike Caveney retook the stage after lunch and through the demonstration of three of his best routines, taught us that originality can be had in finding tricks that already exist and making them your own through a new presentation or by disguising the props.  He then illustrated this with his wonderful Benson Bowl routine (done with a plumber’s helper/plunger), his Impromptu Linking Coat Hangers (boy, does this look good), and his variation of Powers of Darkness (one of my all time favorite routines – and a trick that is often too hip for the room).

After Mike came Richard Kaufman, who spent considerable time detailing his handlings of the Riffle Pass, the Jiggle Pass, the Turnover Pass, and a Vernon Pass.  I think I agree with John Carney’s assessment that the pass is not the most efficient way to get a chosen card to the top of the deck when compared to a side-steal replacement.  That being said, Richard is one of the world’s best performers of this sleight and it was nice watching him do it live (with close-up views of his hands projected on the two large screens).

After dinner, at 9pm, a special event took place.  Unfortunately, due to the details being printed in the program schedule, it wasn’t a surprise (I really wish it had been).  A video from thirty-eight years ago by The Professor himself, Dai Vernon was shown.  This rare recording hasn’t been seen (according to host Max Maven) in about eight years, and only then by about thirty people.  What’s more, it may never be seen again (due to some unspoken reason).

As Maven said, Vernon is to magic as James Joyce is to the novel, and Einstein is to physics, and it was a joy to watch this (approximately) ninety-minute video.  I can’t imagine any of the attendees never having seen Vernon on tape, DVD, or YouTube, but if there was anybody who had yet to experience His Royal Orneryness, this must have been a great delight.

The lecture took place in 1973 (I was six!) in Washington, D.C. and showed Vernon performing his seminal cups and balls routine (Regarding loads, the best line of the night, “Always a lemon!  A lemon is funny!  There’s nothing funny about an apple or an orange!”), and his Han Pin Chien coin effect.  He spoke of Persistence of Vision (retinal impressions), did his Kangaroo Coins effect, Linking Rings, Ramsay’s Cylinder and Coins, and a couple of card tricks, including the Tenkai Palm Color Change and a Top Change.

Magic just doesn’t get better than that.

Rounding out the night with a lecture at 11:00pm was Helder Guimarães, who was determined to share ideas, rather than give a “buy my stuff” lecture.  He named his presentation, “Conception of an Effect – Magical Method” and detailed his wonderful routine wherein Aces transpose while resting in a glass and a triple selection sandwich effect that revolved around a police procedural story, and ended with a very clean Cards Across routine.

By this time is was close to 1:00am, and I was struggling to be fully alert and comprehend Helder’s strained English.  He was very open and clever, and I wish this lecture had taken place earlier.

Well, that’s it.  Day 1.  Pretty extensive, I think.  I’ll do my best to get Day 2 covered very shortly, and I promise to get to Day 3 soon.  I hope this gives you a taste of what it was like to be there.

Ruben Padilla

MAGIC-CON 2011 – Thursday Night Reception

MAGIC-CON 2011 – Thursday Night Reception

The second Magic-Con began this evening, still in my hometown of San Diego, but at a new venue, the Doubletree Hotel in Mission Valley.Tonight was the reception – essentially everybody gathered in a large hall shaking hands, rekindling friendships, sharing a drink, and watching impromptu performances by notable (and not so notable) magicians.

As they did last year, organizers Syd Segal and Dan & Dave Buck encouraged (required?) the headliners to mingle with the crowd. This was a highlight of last year’s convention and a rare occurrence.  I can’t tell you how many conventions I’ve been to where the “star” magicians were off huddled in their own clicks, having private sessions in hotel rooms or a corner of the hotel restaurant.  So it’s refreshing (very refreshing) to have the chance to meet and have a conversation with a magic inspiration (perhaps even a hero) in an informal setting the night before the official start of the festivities.

But, with that being said, tonight’s reception was a bit sparse compared to last year’s.  Yes, I saw many of the Big Names (Michael Weber, R. Paul Wilson, David Regal, Max Maven, Bob Sheets, Mike Caveney, David Williamson) but certainly not as many as I did in 2010.  Also, while there was magic being performed, it didn’t have the spark of excitement that last year offered.

With one notable exception.

Off to the side of the hall, at a standard hotel high-top table, a short, impish, foreigner was doing miracles.

I speak of Dani DaOrtiz, the Spanish impresario with a deck of cards.  He hails from the “Spanish School” of magic, and with such influences as Tamariz and Ascanio guiding his formation, he absolutely blew me away.

We’ve always been told that our magic should be memorable.  Each effect should be able to be described by an audience in one sentence.

And yet, I couldn’t even begin to describe the effects that Dani did for us tonight.  (Actually, I could, but it wouldn’t be the same.)

The truth is, Dani performed the type of magic for which he is known: apparently impromptu excursions that unfold and shine despite seemingly random mistakes, unanticipated problems (even a disastrous mishandling of cards by a spectator), improvised solutions, whimsical attempts, and mischievous dares.

One “self-working” effect had five participants spontaneously screaming at the wondrous conclusion.

He was an absolute joy to watch, and gave the impression that we were lucky to be together at the same time and place – a noble accomplishment for a magician and one we should all strive to emulate.

Dani performed some of the best card magic I’ve seen in a long time (at least a year – when I saw Juan Tamariz perform at last year’s Magic-Con).

During one effect, because of his flawless execution and obvious joy at doing magic for us, I’m almost embarrassed to say I had tears in my eyes.

It was real magic.  And that’s all you can ever hope to see at a magic convention.

Tomorrow, the official Day 1 of this three day event, has a hard act to follow…

Magic-Con 2010 – What You Missed – Part 2

Friday

10:00am MORNING SESSION

The 10:00am Morning Session (and all the others) was held in a large media/conference room with chairs facing a raised platform that was flanked by two large video screens.    An introductory video started us off and explained the genesis and concept of Magic-Con.  We learned, for example, that this convention was modeled after the groundbreaking TED conferences that have deservedly become a new standard in information dispersal.   We learned of the doubts and frustrations and hopes and euphoria that the Buck twins and Syd Segal experienced while putting this event together, and it became evident that these gentleman have long range plans with Magic-Con.  They’re not kidding around.

The session was confidently hosted by Michael Weber, Magicdom’s  Secret Weapon (thanks, Joe Naud).  Michael was one of the main reasons that I wanted to be at this convention (after Tamariz).  He’s universally respected by some of the brightest guys in the field, and for good reason.  He’s super smart, experienced, funny, and always (always!) has a better idea than anybody else in the room.  He’s also tall and handsome, and looks like the magician I always wanted to be when I was growing up (in fact, still want to be.  He’s my bromantic magic crush.  Damn it!  Now’s it out!)  Buy his book, Lifesavers, and anything else you can get your hands on by him, and join me, will you?

Michael explained that what was going to occur over the next three days was a series of “conversations” about magic.  We weren’t necessarily going to learn a bunch of new tricks, but if we paid attention, we’d come away with ideas that could change the way we do magic.  Tips on character, presentation, videos, and more.

A tall order, indeed.

He spoke of stories (a vast and important subject that’s very dear to him), and revealed the valuable secret that “Whoever tells the best story, wins.”  (The six most underrated words of the entire weekend.)

Chad Long was up next.  The subject of his talk was “Technology”.  What followed was a very funny (but too long) presentation that he said was “recycled” from a similar talk he gave twenty-five years earlier.  His elaborate slideshow depicted   “cutting edge” products – personal computers, printers, modems, beepers(!), scanners cell phones, and video & audio cassettes.   The lesson?  “Productivity is greater with technology versus no technology.”  Using new media to satirize old technology was a nice concept and an original way to kick off the morning.

Eric Mead followed (the third main reason I wanted to be here) and performed a version of Spectator Locates the Aces through a series of seemingly random cuts.  He had a bit of trouble midway through but managed to recover nicely.  (More on this later.)

Weber was back with a great book recommendation – “You Are The Message” by former media consultant (and current President of Fox News Channel– don’t let that deter you) Roger Ailes.  It’s a great book (I read it when it first came out in 1988) and Michael summed it up nicely – “First impression is not what you say.  It’s you.  You are the message.”  You can pick it up here.

John Lovick took to the stage and spoke about character.  He quoted Rudy Coby (“A strong character is more important than strong material, because others can steal your material, but never your character.”  I know of a few Max Maven imitators who would disagree with this, however.)  John then proffered five characteristics that a successful performing persona should have:  Consistency, Originality, Specificity, Believability, and Vulnerability.  I think there’s real value to this list and I wish he had developed it further.  Admittedly, this was the first time John presented this talk, and I’m sure it will only grow in depth and value.  (For those of you who don’t know, John performs under the name “Handsome Jack” and has a very funny show.  He’s also the author of “Switch”.)

Bill Kalush from the Conjuring Arts Research Center spoke about why magic history is important and how diverse branches of our art, from sleight of hand, collecting, performance theory and even ventriloquism can enlighten and enhance what we do today.  His insights into such performers as Ricky Jay, David Blaine, and effects such as the bullet catch proved to be important, relevant, and entertaining.  Some good lessons here, including a couple of surprises. Who knew that the venerable Charlier Cut was supposed to be invisible?  Or that Jean Hugard got the description of the one handed top palm wrong?  Bill proved himself to be a very smart man.

We were then treated to an underground delight.  Direct from an eighteen-hour flight from Paris, Sebastian Clergue was a new face to most of the attendees, but he’ll be remembered for his completely original thinking and great humor.  He offered a large quantity of valuable (and funny!) lessons, including:

We are doing magic for the wrong reasons (To feel more interesting; To feel more powerful; To decimate spectators; To get free drinks; To get laid.)

Magic has much more to offer (We can make people wonder; We can distort reality; We can stimulate imagination.)

We must ask the right questions.  Why are we doing magic?  (This may take a lifetime to figure out.)

If all your routines and props are taken away, what is left?  (Answer:  You.)

You must have a story (echoing Michael Weber).  Not necessarily a dragon & princess story, but context, plot, character, a topic that is brought to your audience, a song, a poem, something!

As Albert Goshman was so fond of saying, “You are the magic”,  Sebastian added, “You are the story”.

Remember what Eugene Burger posited about what an audience subconsciously asks itself, “Why should I care?”

Sebastian defined an Emotional Hook as

(A) What creates human interest – the storyline that catches their attention.

(B) The real reason the audience is paying attention.

(C) The meaning for the spectators.

Remember what made you first feel interested in these themes yourself.

Absorb, rethink, reduce, reuse, recycle, and transpose your effects and routines.

According to a 1988 Harvard Business Review Study (worth tracking down), creativity decreases with age in surprising ways.  To stem this (according to Sebastian), you must ask questions every day, smile every day, and don’t be afraid to try new things.

There’s lessons in failure.  Making progress means making new mistakes.

It was an excellent presentation.

Guy Hollingworth was next, and he gave a very interesting presentation entitled, “7 Lessons I Learnt from a Packet Trick.”  He first performed a bad packet trick.  Then he systematically explained why it was flawed and how he’d improve it.  Along the way, he showed these newer, better versions of the trick, and damn if he wasn’t right.  By the end of his talk, he had a much better trick.  Neverthess, Guy explained, after this convention, he’ll never perform it again.

His seven lessons were:

  1. There’s nothing wrong with using gaffs.
  2. You don’t get bonus points for doing difficult sleights.
  3. Standard moves are not necessarily good or acceptable.
  4. If you can’t improve the technique, sometimes you can improve the presentation.
  5. Make every aspect of an effect as deceptive and robust as possible.
  6. Keep improving and evaluating.
  7. (Most important and valuable lesson)  If it’s not a great trick, don’t do it.

And all of that was just the Morning Session!

2:00pm LECTURE – CHRIS KENNER

Chris Kenner is David Copperfield’s Right Hand Man and a very creative magician and thinker.  He topic was “How We, As Magicians, Can Use Other Art Forms and Learn from Them”.

It’s important to note that Chris did not set out with the intention of making fun of Criss Angel.  His motives were pure.  If, however, he got a bit sidetracked, it was not his fault, and his list of five things that we want to hear Mr. Angel say was not planned (“Sassafras, Saskatchewan, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, Suffering Succotash, and finally, I Quit Magic”).

Chris then masterfully showed five different videos of him performing “3-Fly” (you did know he invented it, right?), each in a different style:  Generic, Less Light, Artsy, Streetish, and Over The Top.  It is my sincere hope that he’ll one day allow these videos to be available on YouTube, because they’re hilarious.

I just realized that there are so many lessons from these three days that I’d be stupid to try and recount them all, but suffice to say that Chris offered many, and from very unexpected places (Celebracadabra, Pier 1 Imports, Movies, Muhammad Ali).   His groundbreaking magic book, the very good Totally Out of Control, is back in print and available here.

3:00pm LECTURES – BILL GOODWIN and GUY HOLLINGWORTH

These two lectures were done more traditionally.  That is, effects were performed and then explained.  Bill Goodwin, truly one of the nicest guys in all of magic, performed a Four Ace production from a shuffled pack, a very popular (and great) one card Card Warp, and an ace location variant of a Bruce Cervon routine.  Flawless handling from a master thinker.  (For those that don’t know, Bill is also the librarian at the Magic Castle.)

Guy Hollingworth performed his stand-up version of Twisting the Aces and a version of Collectors, both of which can be found in his brilliant book, Drawing Room Deceptions (a tome you really should read, and, if you already have it, reread).

8:00pm LECTURE – CHAD LONG

Although also traditionally delivered, Chad’s lecture is devoid of traditional effects, because everything he touches becomes original and funny.  Imagine breaking and restoring a length of spaghetti, magically knitting a silk between your fingers, and eating a deck of cards, and you’ll get a glimpse of what this lecture had in store.  He also gave us three new versions of the Pass:  The Cockroach Pass, the Golf Pass, and the Oh Shit Pass.  My favorite item in this lecture was a book test done with loose pages and Bill Simon’s Prophesy Move.  Chad finished with his signature dart gun card location.  If you haven’t seen it, you’re missing a great lesson in creative evolutionary thinking.  Very funny man.

9:00pm LECTURE – MICHAEL WEBER

For me, the most practical lecture of the convention, as one of Michael’s effects, a shuffled & memorized deck routine, will forever have a place in my working repertoire .  It includes some of the most efficient and elegant magical thinking I’ve witnessed in a long time (see my prior Steinmeyer book review, Technique & Understanding!).

Other priceless nuggets:

Choose (or design) effects so that you do the heavy work once, and so that repeat performances are easy.

Try never to lie to your audience.  Rather, allow them to lie to themselves.

Explore flexible presentation possibilities.

Read Donald Norman’s book, The Psychology of Everyday Things.

Exposing other magician’s effects on YouTube or other sites really does hurt magic.  If a secret happens to be sexier than the effect, then a global audience will jump on it in order to expose it and post and comment about it in an effort to be satisfied.  It doesn’t matter if they’re actually right or wrong in determining the method.  They think they’re right, so they’re satisfied, and we (magicians) ultimately lose.

The best magic exists in the memories of your spectators.

People embellish recalled magic effects and lie in order to tell the best story.  (Remember, whoever tells the best story, wins.)  Our job as magicians is to give spectators openings for future embellishments, and we do it by telling a great story, so that our great story can be better than the next competitive story down the line.  (Arguably the best advice of the convention.)

Best book on improving your memory is Learn to Remember, by Dominic O’Brien.

Michael also performed a very deceptive and original vanishing rubber band effect, and a fabulous book test using an actual phone book and a devilish use of the Fibonacci Sequence.

MIDNIGHT LECTURE – JASON ENGLAND & R. PAUL WILSON

Jason England and R. Paul Wilson decided to speak on a topic they’re both extremely passionate about:  “Art, Artifice & Subterfuge” – The Relevance of The Expert at The Card Table in the Modern Age.  Each contributed interesting information in a back and forth fashion, and each was very respectful of the other’s knowledge and contribution, but I can’t help think that this lecture would be better if it was presented by just one of them (either of them!).  Somehow, sharing the stage diminished their individuality, and I felt the lesser for it.

That being said, this was the final event in a very long first day, and I’m surprised that I managed to maintain the energy to attend it.  My sparse notes reflect the late hour, but I nevertheless include portions here.

The Expert at The Card Table (or simply, “Erdnase”) gets better with each successive read.  As the student grows in experience, the more he can appreciate this book on a deeper level.

Palming, tabled riffle shuffle work, and the Overhand Shuffle are as relevanat today as they were 108 years ago.

What Euclid’s “The Elements”, “Gray’s Anatomy”, and Darwin’s “On The Origin of Species” are to their respective fields, Erdnase is to card magic.

If “The Royal Road to Card Magic” is high school, and “Card College” is college, then Erdnase is post graduate school.

Close-up magic didn’t exist the way we know it in Erdnase’s time.  There were drawing rooms, gaslights, and much more formal presentations.

As a nice bonus, Tom Frank, Chris Kenner, Shane Cobalt and Nathan Becker each performed their version of the perennial SWE Shift.

And John Carney added his two cents, saying that “If you have a student’s frame of mind, you can find answers where nobody else sees them.”

Carney cited the I Ching, and said the human brain looks for connections, answers, and patterns.  You will get more out of Erdnase, he said, if you approach it with the intention of learning new answers.  It’s not all in the book.  You bring your own interpretation to the table.  It’s interactive.  He went on to say that if Vernon hadn’t have told us this was a great book, Carney doubts we’d be talking about it today.

Wonderful food for thought.

2:00am Conclusion?

Best. First. Day. Of. A. Convention. Ever.

To Be Continued…

Magic-Con 2010 – What You Missed – Part 1


Syd Segal, Dan Buck, and  Dave Buck recently teamed together to produce the first annual Magic-Con, a convention touted as being like no other, held at the San Diego Hilton overlooking the bay.  What follows is a detailed , day-by-day account of what you missed (or, if you were fortunate enough to be there, what you’ll remember).

Thursday Night

Thursday wasn’t a full convention day but was memorable nonetheless.  Upon entering the newly built Hilton hotel, with its high ceilings, bright décor, and very friendly staff, it was evident that this modern venue exuded class.  Top-notch signs directed us to a second-floor Magic-Con welcome station where attendees received their very high quality plastic badges (they make a great bookmark) and bag of goodies, including a gift-wrapped(!) leather-bound pocket notebook.  It was a confident way of saying, “This will be a convention of ideas – be prepared.”

A large area outside several conference rooms served as a social gathering place, and it soon became evident that the main Magic-Con performers, the guys we came here to see, were happily mingling about, talking to attendees, answering questions, posing for pictures, and letting it be known that this convention was indeed going to be different.

And the truth was, it felt different.  I’ve been to many conventions starting back in 1985, and I’ve always lamented what felt like a class system between organizers, performers, and attendees.  Too often, I’ve seen little-known magicians wondering where all the “action” is, having heard that some of the best moments of any magic convention occur between events or in the wee hours in hotel lobbies and bars, only to find out, after the fact, that certain “cliques” of people congregated instead inside somebody’s upper floor hotel suite or at an off-site location, usually an eatery or bar, fostering an insider/outsider divide that usually lasts the whole weekend.

But not on this night.  Michael Weber, John Carney, Eric Mead, and most notably, David Blaine, along with many of the other performers, socialized and fraternized with anybody and everybody who approached.  It was noticeably different, refreshing, and instantly set the welcoming standard for future conventions.  (Interestingly, in a  conversation with Derek DelGaudio three days later, he told me that the reason for this visible camaraderie was not due to an organizers’ mandate, as rumored, but because almost all the performers were already friends with each other, leading one to wonder if the same happy atmosphere will be present in 2011…)

At one point, Syd Segal walked around spreading the word that we should go outside onto the large veranda that overlooks the pool, as “that’s where the girls are going to be.”  Most of us scoffed at this pronouncement, figuring that he just wanted us out of the hallway (and what better way to herd and move a bunch of hapless, mostly male magicians?).

It turns out he wasn’t joking.  Magic-Con organizers arranged to have very pretty young girls parade around in skimpy outfits with trays of Dan & Dave decks of cards, free for the asking.  Live music and a no-host bar complimented the evening and then the whispers began circulating – Juan Tamariz was going to do an unscheduled set of magic!

Nobody left.

And, a little after ten o’clock, at a quietly set-up table under the escalators, and with a huge crowd straining to get a view, Juan indeed sat down and proceeded to WOW us with real. impossible. miracles.

Even knowing how some of his effects were accomplished due to their being previously published in his books, Juan nonetheless executed them with elegance, finesse, and master misdirection, badly fooling most of the magicians in attendance.  Many of the people watching him had never seen Tamariz perform live, and it’s quite a different experience than seeing him on video.  He’s adept at riding the wave of energy in a room, and despite a noisy venue and an overly enthusiastic crowd, he held court and demonstrated up close the unbridled passion for which he is so well known.

Magic-Con #1 had officially begun…