Another year, another Magic Live Convention… This event has now become a yearly tradition in Las Vegas. The following review is mostly written by me as a personal reminder of the event. This blog and my Facebook page are almost like a diary in an attempt to chronicle highlights of my daily existence. Magic is a huge part of my life and I think it is important to preserve this moment by writing about it.
Before you continue reading, please keep in mind that this is a personal blog, and the observations are my opinion of things. Experts might disagree and in this day and age, people might also get easily offended. Please don’t take it personally if I did not like a few things or performers at the convention. I know first hand how much work it takes to create a magic act or to work on a project, and it is highly frustrating when such hard work is criticized. I hope I am able to be constructive in my opinions.
I am also having the point of view from a dealer standpoint. Along with my colleague Denny, I came to the convention to set up a booth and sell to the attendees as Nielsen Magic.
The theme for this year’s Magic Live, was “The Road Less Traveled.” We were reminded to take “side trips” in our life’s journey. To take a detour in order to learn more, take risks, and encounter surprises. All this will hopefully help us improve ourselves and our magic.
I went to the Orleans Hotel at 2:00 pm in order to hang posters for our display. This is the only time when the Genie lift was readily available and could be moved with ease in the ballroom to help us hang posters from the ceiling. Once that task was accomplished we started to get ready for Sunday.
The day started early. We had to be at the Orleans Hotel, setting up our booth, by 9:00 am. Getting all the items to our booth is very tricky at this hotel. There is only one elevator and one entrance from the front. When going through the front one has to walk nearly one hundred yards to reach the dealer’s room. The solution: Go through the service elevator from the loading dock in the back. This is a challenge, as we are not supposed to be there. Hopefully if we pretend we know what we are doing, nobody prevents us from loading our items through the back door.
We are set up and ready to go by 12 noon.
The opening event was informal and was piggybacked to the convention. This film was produced by Penn Jillette and it was a tribute to master magician Johnny Thompson. Johnny is Penn and Teller’s magic consultant, confidant and friend. The documentary was about Johnny and the collaboration he did with Penn on a dramatic piece of card magic titled: “The Gambler’s Ballad”. The original poem about a gambler was written by Milan Bulovic and Johnny transformed it into a theatrical piece that he executed with a deck of cards. Penn fell in love with this piece and, as a personal challenge, asked Johnny to teach it to him. Penn mastered the piece and now performs it with John as a duo, with John playing the part of the old gambler.
Both gentlemen have mastered the skills required for this difficult performance art piece. But what was really touching was the pure love that they had for each other in the film. It was kind of a father/son – mentor/student – relationship, where the deep respect that each has for the other is evident in their interaction. It is beautiful to watch this loving relationship.
There was time for a question and answer session after the film, and if I am not mistaken, everyone will be able to see it once it gets officially released within the next few months.
After the film, we saw Johnny, and I was able to congratulate Penn Jillette.
As usual, the convention started with a big bang and a huge party for all the attendees at 7:00 pm.
Denny and I were perched all night in the Nielsen Magic booth, and missed the entire party. I heard there was a cash bar, along with popcorn, snacks, milk shakes and ice cream. The theme was the 1950s and 60s. People were encouraged to wear the leather jackets, poodle skirts, etc. (think Grease or Happy Days). The attendees looked quite festive in their outfits.
Our booth would be located in a ballroom with other dealers, and the space was called “The Worlds Greatest Magic Shop.”
There were fifty dealers – a veritable magic nirvana for those who wanted to purchase the newest items and magic novelties. Everything from books, coin magic, fancy electronic mentalism gadgets, sound systems, publications, collectibles, floating tables, clever card tricks, illusions, magic posters, and so much more were represented.
On the opening night, for every $20 that one purchased, one would receive a raffle ticket for what would be very generous price packages (each totaling approximately $1250). There were seven such prizes for seven lucky winners that night.
The convention really takes off with the General Sessions. Stan Allen came on stage to welcome us all to the event.
MC’s for the General Sessions were Julie Eng and Johnathan Levit, who kept the program moving smoothly throughout the morning. Here are the speakers:
Simon Pierro: Also known as the “iPad Magician”, spoke about how he found his venue of performing magic with an iPad to become a viral phenomenon on YouTube. Out of that clever combination of technology and magic, he has become quite a successful performer who promotes products in a creative and a very hip fashion. His creativity is inspiring.
Joshua Jay: He joined forces with Dr. Lisa Grimm, a researcher and Psychology Professor at the College of New Jersey. Dr. Grimm does research on human cognition, and they conducted a study of how human beings react to and what they like about magic. Their survey provided some interesting data. For instance, the type of magic people like the least is card magic. Another fact is that people like to be surprised at magic shows; they also want to see something new and novel. Finally, the biggest tip of this lecture that would improve your act dramatically, is to have a proper introduction before the performance. Audiences remember people that list their credentials and get introduced with more fanfare than those who are not.
Danny Creed: Had a lecture about Personality Profiling. The bottom line is that we all have a product to sell – in this case our act, show or presentation – and there is someone on the other side of the telephone line or receiving end that is buying it. By knowing a little bit about human nature, one can profile this person and sell them the product or service according to their personality type. The system Danny uses is called the DISC system, which divides people into four categories: D (Dominance / Driver), I (Influence / Expressive), S (Steadiness / Amiable), C (Cautious / Analytical). By profiling the buyer, one can adopt a certain language or demeanor to please this personality type and increase one’s odds of getting the gig.
Abbey Goldrake: For me, this was the highlight of this magic convention. Abbey is David Goldrake’s wife. David is the current resident magician at the Tropicana Hotel and Casino. Twenty-two months ago something went very, very wrong during their rehearsal of the double levitation they perform on stage. They fell down, and Abbey broke her C3 and C4 verterbrae. She became paralyzed. Unfortunately, some doctors gave up on her, predicting a life where she will be unable to walk or do the most basic tasks without assistance. Her zest for life took over and through sheer determination, she decided that she was going to walk again. Months and months of physical therapy and excruciating pain followed, until she was able to stand up and walk by herself. She still has a long road to recovery ahead of her. But her human spirit is indefatigable and an inspiration to us all. There was not a single dry eye in the theater after her talk. She has and continues to overcome the odds, and it is a sight to behold. My respect and admiration go to her husband, David, who as the main caretaker, gives her his love and full support to Abbey. He is an angel.
Cyril: Aquarium Illusion: My jaw dropped open when Cyril lectured in detail about his famous Aquarium Illusion, which has gone viral on YouTube. He explained the entire methodology and thought around this very elaborate effect. It was amazing to see how much attention to detail he and his crew pay to create one of magic’s most memorable effects.
Unfortunately, because I had to work behind the booth, I was not able to attend these. I am describing the content from notes in the program, from my seeing five minutes of each lecture, and from comments others made about the presentations.
Jason England and Richard Hatch: Detecting Erdnase – It is a shame that I had to work and couldn’t sit in on this lecture. The real identity of Erdnase has been a mystery in the world of magic. Dick Hatch is one of the foremost scholars on the subject; and Jason England, my neighbor (yes, he is really a neighbor here in Vegas, lol!), specializes in everything Erdnase. I bet the presentation was fascinating.
Anthony Owen: Mentalism. I heard mixed reviews from people around the convention about this lecture, which appealed to the few that performed mentalism.
Ken Scott: Magic for all Audiences. Sixty five percent of Ken’s bookings come from family shows. I just saw his lecture for five minutes, where he was explaining a simple effect and his approach for this type of audience.
I am writing this review six days after the event. And no, I did NOT take any notes while watching the performers. In my opinion, the true success of an incredible performance is the ability to recall both the performer and part of the material. I do have a very good memory (which is possible due to association and mnemonics), that is used when there is something worth remembering.
Unfortunately, after I waked up the following morning, to be honest, except for one magician in the previous evening’s show, I had no recollection of any of the other performers’ names or most of the effects they presented. This is a shame, because most of what we witnessed was highly skillful magic. Indeed, all the performers were above average in their skill level, as we witnessed effects and moves that very few of us regular mortals will ever be able to master.
So, what was wrong with the show according to me? What was wrong was that the show was all analytical and highly technical with no emotion. The performers displayed a large amount of skill, but there was no “hook”, story or reason to care about the tricks. Without that connection, what they did was easy to forget, to that point that I don’t even remember their names.
So, I am now going to cheat, and look at the little card they gave us with the credits:
Yu Ho-jin – Performed an introduction, by showing us a customized card trick, where all the cards spelled the name of the event: Magic Live, and the fact that this was the Close Up Experience.
David Kovac – Would be the MC for the rest of the show.
Mike Pisciotta – Performed a series of four ace locations. Don’t ask me about the details. I can’t remember them.
Ben Earl – I forgot his set. I don’t remember what he did. I do know he did cards.
Garrett Thomas – He is the only one I recall from the entire show. First he facilitated the recall of his name by writing an ambigram of his name. Right side up, it spelled “Garrett” and upside down it spelled “Thomas”. This was followed by a complete act of non-card magic. He did magic with a finger ring, with a Rubik’s Cube and with driver’s licenses.
Bill Cheung – He was the last performer, who did cards. The most memorable effect was the “Any Card Called For”, in which a couple of playing cards from the audience rose out of a glass at will.
Overall, it was a good show, with novel and quite interesting acts.
Fair disclosure from this reviewer… I don’t like manipulation acts. The reason: They are all skill, and most of them don’t give me any emotional hook or reason to remember them. In other words, most acts don’t mean anything. I just can’t recall the details. This is so ironic, because I am married to a magician who made a living with a manipulative act. Lol! Also, I have extremely poor eyesight. I can’t see the nuances of color changing or multiplying balls while sitting more than ten rows away in the audience.
MCs: Passing Zone: Using this juggling duo to MC the show was a brilliant idea. Owen Morse and Jon Wee, are very talented jugglers who have a very engaging style and demeanor. I have seen them perform in several conventions through the years, but this is the very first time I see them as masters of ceremony. Their corporate background is evident, as their lines and timing were spot on. They performed in between the acts and kept the show flowing smoothly.
David Goldrake: He was the opening act, performing his illusion of walking through a sheet of steel. This is the routine he performs nightly at the Tropicana. I love the overall look of the effect. The sheet of steel looks massive and impressive, and it was a great way to open the show.
Po Cheng Lai: Performed a manipulative act with mostly fans and silks. He was very skillful, and the act was quite pretty and delicate. Unfortunately, I don’t recall the details.
Niek Takens: A magician from Holland, who studies under Mike Walther and Ger Copper. He performs with cards, silks and balls mostly, and does a hightly skillful manipulation act.
Levent: Norm and I have known Levent for many, many years. His comedy routine did not disappoint. He has a quick, rapid fire style of amazing manipulation, clever sight gags and probably the very best Sympathetic Silks in magic. If he ever were to publish that routine, that is the one I would perform. Brilliant!
Simon Pierro: Also known as the “iPad Magician”, did not disappoint with the interaction he had with the device, bringing two dimensional objects out of the screen in his hands.
Jonathan Goodwin: Closed the show with a very dangerous and real crossbow act. It was very impressive.
MCs: Johnathan Levit and Julie Eng with Jason England
Nicholas Night: Nicholas, along with his wife Kinga, were full time professional illusionists many years ago. They eventually retired and spend their time in other projects. One such project is the “Profit Ability” podcast, which is dedicated to exploring what makes some people successful. Some of the tips that Nicholas gave as advised by others were:
– Do more than your job description
– Reduce personal clutter
– Never underestimate the value of your workspace
– Aim for sweet spot pricing
– Give yourself downtime to recharge
– Re-evaluate the market for your product or service
– If you can’t go wide, go deep
Levent: 3D Printing for Magicians – Levent is my favorite “magic geek” who has mastered the use of a 3D printer to make custom props and gimmicks for his act. In my opinion, Levent is one of the most knowledgeable and skillful performers we know in the field of general magic. Levent is a total magic geek that knows the history and nuances behind each effect that he performs. He is always thinking and taking risks. He is never afraid to use new technology to improve his methods.
Luke Korem: Spoke about the documentary “Dealt”, featuring card mechanic Richard Turner. The opening credits of the film were shown, and it promises to be an amazing piece. We all look forward to its public release.
Richard Turner: He is the world’s foremost card mechanic, and the subject of the “Dealt” documentary. Other than his skill, the single most amazing fact about Richard, is that he is blind, as a consequence of a degenerative disease that destroyed his macula when he was a child. The name of his condition is Charles Bonnet Syndrome. He currently “sees” with his “mind’s eye”, and sees subconcious images that allow him to visualize the effects and moves he performs. He wowed us with a card version of the Tower of Hanoi puzzle. The man is amazing.
David Williamson: Circus 1903 – David is currently the Ringmaster at the Circus 1903 Show at the Paris Hotel and Casino. He is one of the most beloved performers in our industry. It was good to see him, as he talked about his career and what he is currently doing.
Again, I had to work and did not attend these. I did see five minutes of each just to see what the crowd and the experience was like.
Darwin Ortiz: Creating Drama Through Conflict. Darwin is an expert in card magic. Although, I have no clue how much drama you can create with a deck of cards, the lecture seemed to be well attended.
David Sandy and Christopher Hart: The Workshop. I love these two performers. David Sandy organizes a yearly convention called “The Workshop” in St. Joseph, Missouri. It is a hands on event where people participate at various workshops and at the end are able to perform what they were taught. From what I saw around the room, they must have been teaching an effect to the entire audience. I think they were learning the nuances of the Dye Tube.
Close Up Clinic: The room had eight tables with a magic expert at each location. As an attendee you could approach any table you wanted, and learn directly from each expert. The experts were:
This was a one-man show by one of magic’s most beloved performers: John Archer.
What can I say… John is an absolutely hilarious and engaging performer. He can do no wrong, as he is extremely likable the moment he walks on stage. Most of the pieces he performed were mentalism type effects. The most notable one was the one he did to fool Penn and Teller, and he ended with a prediction of a place in a map. In between each effect he sang and played the ukelele.
Regardless of what he did, he was hilarious.
This was a very special interactive experience for the audience, which is difficult to describe, but I will try. According to the organizers, “this is not an experience that happens in front of you; it is an experience that happens because of you.”
Upon entering the room, there is a main display of Thayer-like props on a central table. The most prominent one consists of a box with 18 different locks. To the right and left of this display there were a series of boxes each containing various apparatus and pieces of what would be a gigantic puzzle that the audience had to solve.
We were all seated in tables in groups of eight, and several boxes were brought in to our table. The object of the exercise was to open the boxes and solve the different mysteries and puzzles that would give us clues as to how to open all the 18 locks that were closing the main box on the center table. This had to be a group effort. as all eight people at our table had to participate and work as a group in accomplishing the task.