Posts tagged Magic-Con

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…