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Magic Live 2018 – REVIEW
By Lupe Nielsen
Las Vegas, Nevada, has been my home for twenty-three years. When I moved here in 1995, it was quite a drastic change of pace and attitude from the life I had in the East Coast of the United States. It took me several years to get used to it. Today, I couldn’t find a better place to call home. Home is where family, friends and interests are. Magic is my chosen career and this is the city that offers tons of it if you care enough to find it.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, there were numerous yearly magic conventions in this town: The Desert Magic Seminar, the Las Vegas Magic Invitational, Mindvention, and even the Society of American Magicians and the Magic Collectors’ Association held events in town. There is one convention, produced by Stan Allen (the owner and editor of the late Magic Magazine) titled “Magic Live!”, which started on August 2001. The object of the convention: To bring the material published in Magic Magazine to life. The convention was cleverly divided in segments, each reflecting a portion of the publication – interviews, magic effects, product reviews, editorial opinions, and the advertisers were the dealers that graced their “marketplace” at each event. Since 2001, there were nine different Magic Lives. 2018 marks the tenth year of this event, even after the magazine’s closure a couple of years ago.
Norm and I have had the fortune to attend all ten Magic Lives, and have seen the evolution of this convention. There have been some remarkable moments along with things that quite “did not work” as intended. Regardless of the content, I am still in awe and admiration at the amount of effort and risk that Stan Allen and his team take to make this vision become a reality.
Once the tenth Magic Live was announced for August 5 – 8, 2018, Norm and I had to register right away. We also have our little magic business, so we also registered as one of the fifty vendors of the event.
The review that follows is that of my PERSONAL OPINION from my standpoint as a dealer – and what that schedule allows me to see of the event. It is not dogmatic and it is not personal against anyone that I might happen to critique. In fact, I am getting older, I am losing my eyesight, getting more cantankerous and opinionated, and being in my fifties, I realize that I don’t have enough time left in my life to suffer fools. I seldom watch television or YouTube videos, which makes me ignorant of the new crop of magicians and the style of magic that is more in vogue today. I will try to be constructive. If I did not like something, I will attempt to tell you why and how, in my limited experience, I think it could be improved.
For us, at Nielsen Magic, the week began way before the start of the convention. I spent most of the days before the event inventorying and packing the items we were going to take to the venue. We specialize in a line of 20 magic tricks, manipulation supplies, hundreds of poster reproductions and a few handcrafted fine collectible magic items. This year I knew we did not have anything “new” to offer, so I decided to bring “old” things for our booth display, including a 1900 poster of Harry Houdini.
My friend Denny Larocca (who used to be in magic twenty-five years ago), would be my main helper at the booth. Norm would be showing up at the convention for a few hours at a time. The three of us promptly showed up at the Orleans Hotel and Casino two days before the event to hang our poster display. You could already feel the energy in the venue. Dozens of people were working around the clock starting to set up the ballrooms. Katie Sokulski and Steve Branham were at the dealers’ room organizing the logistics. We even saw Stan Allen, who was calm as a clam overseeing his domain.
The posters were hung successfully by the friendly staff at the Orleans (a big thank you to Milton and Joey for their efforts), and all we had to do was return on Sunday morning to set up along with the other dealers.
Sunday, August 5, 2018
Denny and I arrived promptly at 8:45 am for setup. We entered the room, and managed to set up our booth in two hours – a record time. Setting up was a smooth process for us. We were next to Ronjo’s Magic, a business which was exhibiting at the event for the first time. It was a delight to meet the owner, Ron. We have done business with his shop in the past, and this is the first time we met him in person. He was a delightful man and a very talented demonstrator.
We had to wait for a few tablecloths with which to cover the booth. This gave me the opportunity to walk around the event and post it on Facebook. (You can follow us on Facebook searching for “Nielsen Magic” and on Instagram: @nnmagic.lupe )
We returned before 6:00 pm to be on time for a dealer meeting at 6:30 pm. This is the meeting where they give all the dealers the information they need to know for the rest of the week – opening and closing times – along with the rules. As per tradition, and this only happens on Sunday night of the convention, there is a huge party at the ballroom next door. The dealer room is opened simultaneously, and for every $20 people spend in the room, they get a ticket for the evening’s raffle. This year they were handing out prize packages having a value of approximately $1000 each. To encourage interaction between the participants, there is an exchange card game. Everyone receives a nine cards containing the same image for their packet. Others will receive nine cards as well, but with other images. In order to get a full set one has to go around and meet others so that you can trade the duplicate images you have for theirs. Once one gets a full set, one has to go around the convention to find the people represented on the cards, and one is free to ask for their autograph.
Norm was represented in one of the cards. Lol! He was at the party for a few hours and was happy to sign many cards for the attendees. We did good business during the opening night of the event. Not as extraordinary as previous years, but we can’t complain. There were three more days left in the convention, and due to the nature of our products – which are not for everyone – I figured business would be steady during the week.
Monday, August 6, 2018
Dealers were opening between 11:00 am – 6:00 pm. Because Denny and I paid for full registrations, I figured that it would not hurt to enjoy the morning General Sessions that ran from 10:00 am – 12:15 pm. Seriously, if people really wanted something we had in our booth, they would have from 12:30 pm – 6:00 pm to get it. This year I went with the attitude: “I am going to enjoy this convention, damn it!
General Session # 1 – 10:00 am
The session started with our hosts Jonathan Levit and Julie Eng. I love those two! They are personable, very likable and engaging, without being overwhelming. Their true skill was in keeping a smooth pacing and timing throughout all the sessions at the convention. They were skillful in talking about the acts and what was to come, they asked great questions during the interviews and they kept things running smoothly.
They explained the theme for this convention, which was “Questions”. Questions lead to conversations, which lead to answers, which lead to innovation.
In my opinion, it was a clever theme, but way too general, without the impact of their previous “Anniversary” or milestone conventions. The questions premise was an attempt to frame the event within such a theme that was brought to life by the presenters.
Marc Summers: He is a magician, and television producer of shows like Double Dare on Nickelodeon and Unwrapped on the Food Network. He explained how “having questions” gave rise to his career on television. Although he was engaging, the subject matter was too broad, and it was a “feel good” Oprah-like pep talk, in my opinion.
Patrick Lehnen: He is a magic geek extraordinaire. He was the one who performed at last years’ closing show, only to encounter disaster as his electronics failed on that occasion. This year, he was determined to redeem himself. His talk was on using inexpensive electronics within a magic act. He explained how he uses Arduino micro controllers to achieve special effects during an act. It is amazing the things that can be created live with these, they almost look like camera tricks but are physically generated by electronics. The rest of the illusion is completed by the ability the performer has to interact with the special props.
Blake Vogt: Lectured on how he figured out the mystery of “splitting” a dollar bill lengthwise. And yes, he explained it… He gave us every single detail on how to accomplish such feat. This is admittedly a puzzle, but it can be useful for magicians who want to modify money in order to accomplish various effects.
David Charvet and Frances Willard – Their talk was titled “A Life Under Canvas”. David talked about the late Harry Willard and what it took to perform as a magician at the turn of the 20th century in the Southeast back roads and countryside of the United States. He performed mostly in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas. His daughter, Frances, worked with her dad on the show. She told us her story, which is truly remarkable. She is probably the last one left from that era of traveling shows.
Ron Logan – The Art of the Story. Ron, who was a Vice President of live entertainment for the Walt Disney Company, gave of talk about the importance of having a story to make a magic presentation more powerful. To illustrate this, he presented three animated shorts with unique plots to them.
Monday Focus Sessions
After the presentation, Denny and I headed to the Dealers’ Room, and were in our perch for the rest of the afternoon. From time to time, I went out and snuck into a lecture for a couple of minutes. I managed to take a photo, but alas, did not really get a chance to listen to them. These focus sessions were the lectures during the afternoon.
The Garage: Tune Up Your Magic – by the Other Brothers (Darryl Davis and Daryl Williams). From what I understand, this was a lecture about improving and creating new magic effects. From what I saw it was like a brainstorming session kind of lecture. They also performed and explained several effects.
Rubber Band Magic – by Joe Rindfleisch. Joe is known as the rubber band expert, and has written a lot on the subject. There was a lot of hands on learning at this lecture.
Why Mentalism – with Rick Maue, Johnny Thompson and Paul Vigil. The main effect during this lecture was Paul’s “Sympathy for the Devil Cards”, which was his closer for many years.
In order to get feedback about what was happening at the convention, I asked people that came to the booth what they had enjoyed the most so far. The number one event of the lectures that they enjoyed was the Mentalism session, followed by the Rubber Band lecture. Very cool to know.
Parlour of Victorian Mysteries – Rhys Morgan and Robert West
We went to see their performance after dinner. In spite of having their luggage lost by the airlines, they went around the dealer room and assembled quite a fine and entertaining show. They opened with a clever presentation of Multiplying Bottles, and did multiple mind reading feats. The most notable one was where one of the performers was progressively deprived of each of his senses – sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch – and in spite of that he was able to divine and tell things about the spectators that were assisting them. A huge part of their method was a cleverly disguised two-way system, which was virtually impossible to detect. They were quite likable performers and the audience enjoyed their show.
I do commend them for pulling the show off with borrowed props. Good job!
Live Onstage Show # 1
The performers in the show were:
Ding Yang (China) – The show opened with her performance, which was the BEST ACT of the entire convention. She is a student of Juliana Chen and Greg Frewin in Canada, and has been performing and studying in Niagara Falls. This is her debut of her new act. She worked atop a platform, with a tight fitting costume (no jacket) and managed to produce eight doves! This completely fooled the magicians. She ended making a headstand and producing a silk fountain with her feet followed with the appearance of a dove atop the fountain, which was “split” into two with her feet. Her act was received with a standing ovation from the audience.
Pat Hazell (USA) – He was the host for the show, and to me, he was absolutely hilarious. Pat is a naturally funny individual who has produced many television shows, and was a writer for Seinfeld and the Tonight Show. Although he has not been on stage lately, his timing was impeccable, and his irreverent humor had the audience laughing. I love the various bits he did with an old tape recorder and the Halloween family slide show he shared with the audience. He also performed a “Coins over the Head” routine as part of the various sets he did between acts. In my opinion, he kept the show flowing and quite together.
Patrick Lehnen (Germany) – He finally performed his “Lamp Act” without a single hitch. I worked perfectly this time. My only critique (from this your blind reviewer) was that he is sitting behind a desk (which is probably the weakest position a performer can have on stage). The lamp on the table comes alive, and there are several things that happen with the various props on the table, which, due to my handicap, I could not see. Finally, a lamp is really not an endearing object in my list of things to fall in love with. I am delighted that his act worked (and I appreciate what goes into making it work), but I was not enamored with it.
Frances Willard and David Charvet (USA) – After Pat Hazell, this was the act that, for me, brought back memories of magic as I remember it. I have not seen Frances perform since the mid-2000s, and it was a treat to see her back on stage. David Charvet and she performed the “Spirit Cabinet” which is the legacy of her father, Willard the Wizard. The cabinet and paraphernalia are examined by the audience, and she is tied and her bindings are nailed to a board in the middle of it, as she is the medium who will attract the spirits. The curtains are closed, spirit manifestations happen in the cabinet, and when it is opened she is inside, still in a trance, and tied up in the same position. This act was quite a treat.
Ronn Lucas (USA) – He was the variety act – ventriloquist – in the show. Ronn is one of the most popular ventriloquists in the world. He use his puppet Billy the Kid to perform a polished and professional act for the audience who enjoyed his performance.
Jimmy Delp (France) – He was the WTF “artsy fartsy” avant grade act for this show. He did kind of a “magic cartoon” act. Dressed in an orange suit and wig, and came in with a suitcase on stage. He then proceeded to “float” behind the suitcase, and do a lot of antics with his legs. At one point he dropped or lost his pants and was in some sort of skirt underwear, and continued to do his “sleight of leg” performance. His hermaphroditic antics and nervous energy frankly creeped me out, but this was probably because I am old fashioned. I do like cartoon-like characters like Rudy Coby’s Labman or Sylvester the Jester. For some odd reason, I felt uncomfortable and uneasy with this act.
Tuesday, August 7, 2018
General Session # 2 – 10:00 am
The show started with Julie Eng interviewing Pat Hazell – who had not been on stage for many, many years. He has been working as a producer and writer for many comedy television shows.
Pete McCabe – The Most Famous Script in Magic – Mr. McCabe has written books on scripting magic for magicians. This time he talks about a script written by Houdini, and uses that as a basis of why it is important to script and plan your magic to maximize its effect.
Adam Rudin – Functional Illusions – He is an expert in puzzles and optical illusions, and applies these principles to build three dimensional practical objects and works of art. I personally enjoyed his lecture. As a woodworking builder, I was intrigued with the ceramic trays that his company made based on the Jastrow Illusion, and even asked him for permission to make them out of wood. Alas! I did not get permission quite yet… Probably in the next couple of years… 😉
Jinger Leigh – The Dynamics of a Dynamic Duo – Jinger gave an insightful lecture about her role in the performance that she creates with her husband, Mark Kalin. We learned that she is more than the “assistant”, in fact, she is an equal and creative partner of the team. Through the years, their act and show has evolved and they have defined their identities. To make their performances more powerful, they harness their individual energies and let the audience peek into their relationship and emotional world.
Jorge Blass – Creating Magic for the XXI Century – Of all the performers I saw at the convention, IMHO, Jorge really “gets it”. His goal: To connect in a powerful way with the audience. To do this, he will study who the audience is and will employ any method and go to any lengths to achieve the final effect. Modern audiences are internet and telephone savvy, with instant gratification needs and desires. He demonstrates a magic effect that he developed that appeals to such needs. A sealed package is brought on stage. He borrows a phone from a spectator, and using his phone, goes to the amazon.com website where he can order any item he wants. In this case he orders a music CD at random. The magician claims that the delivery is so fast, that it is already in the box that came in. The box is opened, and the chosen CD is the only contents of the package. Very clever method…
Julie Eng and Jonathan Levit did a little interview with Ding Yang – the Chinese magician that had performed the previous night with the doves. She is a student of Juliana Chen (who spotted her talent) and Greg Frewin (who help her with the doves). Both Juliana and Greg trained her, and worked with her on choreography and technique.
Naathan Phan – Nathan is not American. He is a super talented Vietnamese-Scottish magician and singer, who sang a magnificent rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner as part of the USPS First Day Issue of the Magic Stamps Ceremony. His singing of the National Anthem gave me goosebumps. My friend Denny – an army veteran – also confirmed how much he enjoyed the hymn. It was awesome!
USPS First Day of Issue Ceremony – David Copperfield and Jeffrey Williamson (Vice-President for the US Post Office), unveil the five new Forever stamps based on the art of magic. The stamps are designed by Jay Fletcher and represent: Production (rabbit out of a hat), Prediction (crystal ball), Levitation (floating woman), Vanish (empty birdcage) and Transformation (flower to dove).
Justin Willman closed the presentation by performing his memorized zip code act. All you have to do is yell out your zip code and Justin will immediately tell you where it is. It was very entertaining.
Tuesday Focus Sessions
Again, I could not attend these – as I was working at our dealer’s booth. For completion, here is the list:
The Card Cheat – Laura London. Laura is a successful corporate magician who is an expert with a deck of cards. She discusses some of her routines and the performance and business of magic.
The Cave You Fear Most – Michael Weber. Michael discusses magic material for children.
Cardistry: It is Magic – Dan and Dave Buck. Dan and Dave are the pioneers of cardistry – which combines magic and card juggling.
Alas! I did not hear comments at our booth regarding these lectures. I would have liked to see Laura’s lecture – as I don’t currently perform for children or do flourishes. 😉
Who Am I Gallery – by Sebastian KonoPIX
Sebastian is a German artist who in the last few years started attending magic conventions and was fascinated by the various performers and characters in our business. He started to create a series of paintings of magicians, in which he painted what he would consider the “essence” of their act on canvas. His medium is oil painting plus any other material or mixed media that would capture what in his opinion that performer was about.
If you were to see a single painting, and were a layman, you would appreciate the technique he used for the piece. However, once you get to see the entire exhibit of more than forty paintings, the depth of his creativity blows you away. He used odd techniques and materials for several of his paintings. For instance, he did a painting that represented magician Teller. Teller’s signature piece is “Shadows”, in which he cuts the shadow of a rose plant, and the shadow bleeds on the paper. To paint it, Sebastian cut himself on purpose, and used his own blood to paint that detail on the painting. Another example is that he used a mirror like material to portray 19th century magician Hofzinser’s Mirror Glass trick. He even used bird droppings combined in his oils to portray Johnny Thompson’s painting represented by a dove on a jacket.
Due to his avant garde ideas, he encouraged the audience to participate. He did not name or title any of the pieces that were on display. Instead, he asked the onlookers to guess who he was portraying. If we could not tell, each painting had a QWERTY code next to it. By using our cellphones, the code would take us to a section of his website that would tell us who the subject was, along with a video of how he painted the piece.
This exhibit was one of the highlights of the event for me. Here are a few of the paintings:
The Close-Up Experience
Unfortunately, because the audience was quite small, and it was difficult to be anonymous, I could not sneak photographs of this event. (In fact, photography was not allowed at any of the shows. The photos you see on this blog were not supposed to be taken. Let’s keep that our little secret…)
We were escorted to an ante-chamber where we watched a nicely produced video of David Copperfield introducing what we were about to see. In the video David mentioned how much he enjoyed close-up magic, and the room we were about to enter was designed for us to enjoy as much of the experience as possible.
We were then guided to a second room, which a sharply angled tiered seating. I believe they were able to seat 40 people in the room, and no one’s head was in front of you, because they managed to seat each progressive row higher and higher so that everyone could have a good seat.
The performers were:
Barry Olivier – Did a silent act to music with a series of clever card manipulations involving matrixes with cards and coins.
Robert Ramirez – Performed a skillful set with mostly cards. Alas! Even with a reasonably good memory, I do not remember the effects.
Jason Ladanye – Did a gambling demonstration, that culminated in a game of “War” with a spectator, where every single hand was won by the magician until the cards were all used up.
Bob Sheets – Performed his classic dice routine and shell game trick.
Chad Long – Showed us his exceptional skill with coins and cards.
My review: I personally did NOT like this show. The reason: It was all about showing off skill, and none about having heart or an emotional connection with the audience. Don’t get me wrong… All the performers had exceptional skill levels. Barry Olivier handled the cards very well, but his flourishy approach to card magic was too distracting from what could look like more direct effects. I have yet to remember what Robert did in his set. I do know that he had a lot of skill. Jason was the type of performer that could do faros with his eyes closed all day long. His card controls were impeccable. However, I felt uneasy about the war game he did with the spectator. At the end, he won every hand and the impression I got from the magician was that he was a “winning jerk”, while the spectator was a losing fool. If I had done that routine, I would have probably allowed the spectator to win every single hand because I would win them over if I used my skills to be on their side. Bob and Chad were the old timers of this group, and they did a fine job, but I just don’t care much for gambling topics. BTW, what was the purpose of the cookies during Chad’s set? He pulled a tray of cookies from an oven and nothing was done with them.
Finally, I commend the organizers for having gone through the expense, trouble and creativity to position the audience in the room. They forgot one detail: Lighting. The light was non-existent for Barry Olivier – I was sitting on the second row, and could barely see the coins on the mat. The rest of the performers were lit with what seemed very flat lighting.
For us, this was the final session of the evening. It was a lecture by Richard Wiseman on seances and the methodology used in the 19th century to accomplish them. After talking a little bit about spiritualism in the 19th century, he asked several people to volunteer for a seance. These spectators were escorted to an adjacent room that was pitch black and set up for the occasion, while the rest of the audience watched them on the monitors through infrared cameras.
What we started to see was a real time live seance, with a medium and the spectators. Using 19th century methods, the “spirits” seemed to appear, they made the table float, touched the spectators, moved objects, etc.
For the people who participated in the seance, it was quite an eerie experience. For us, in the audience, it was eye-opening and educational.
This was probably my favorite event of the entire convention. The reason: I have read about spiritualism, seances and ghost effects in books. This is the first time that I was able to see the effects along with an audience reaction on real time. The information for me was brand new, and I can’t tell you the thrill I get when learning something for the first time.
Wednesday, August 8, 2018
General Session # 3 – 10:00 am
There were various subjects covered at the Session today…
Interview with Sebastian KonoPIX – Julie Eng interviewed the artist whose work was at the exhibit the night before. She asked him about his approach to painting, how he got started, etc. It allowed us to look into the mind of this artist – a personable yet eccentric individual.
Performing for the Camera by Luis Piedrahita – Luis is a television star in Spain. He is probably the most famous magician at this moment in that country. His was an informative lecture on using the camera to the performer’s advantage on a television show. It was about focus, framing, direction and misdirection using the camera. He is quite a master of manipulating television live performances, and his choreography allows for the purposeful framing of a magic effect on the TV screen.
The Big Questions by Noel Britten – Noel did a survey at the convention, where he asks magicians what would be the word they would like the most for audiences to describe their performances, as well as the word they would like the least. He encouraged everyone to listen with an open mind to the criticism and comments from the audience in order to approach those goals.”
Magic for Humans” by Justin Williams – This is a television series starring Justin Williams to be aired on Netflix this fall. It is kind of a “candid camera” type of show, where magic is used to elicit surprising responses from various unsuspecting subjects.
Haunted by the Ghost of a Coca-Cola Cup by Paul Kieve – Paul is a theatrical and physical special effects wizard from England. He has done special effects for numerous productions in the West End of London and Broadway. In this lecture he reveals all the nuances about one of the oldest and classic theatrical special effects: Pepper’s Ghost. In our modern times, this effect can be seen on Michael Jackson’s One Show on the Strip, and he even used it for special effects in the London performance of “Ghost”. In Ghost, Sam (the main character) is dead, and his hand goes through a Coca-cola can on stage. The Pepper’s Ghost principle is used to accomplish this special effect night after night, and it is a fooler when it is incorporated as part fo the plot and staging of the play.
Technology, Magic and You by Chad Long – Chad does a hilarious presentation and spoof of the 1980s and 1990s technology as applied to magic. We have indeed come a long way since then.
Wednesday Focus Sessions
There were three sessions today. I only entered each room for a couple of minutes in order to take a photo or two of the event to share with you.
The Code of the (Morgan &) West – Morgan and West teach simple coding that the magician and a partner can do to accomplish various effects. I heard later in the day, that people really enjoyed this well received lecture.
Definitive Miracles: The Magic and mentalism of Tim Conover by Eric Mead – Eric is currently working on the ultimate books of Tim Conover’s material and thoughts on the subject. This is a lecture about this late genius’ creativity. In my past life, I was able to meet and be a friend with Tim, who lived in Virginia. My magic teacher (Scotty York) was Tim’s early mentor, and Scotty was very proud to take people over to visit “Timmy” and have him show us his magic. Tim was a virtuoso in magic, and eventually became one of the best performers I have ever seen. Unfortunately, he died too young. In my opinion, Eric is probably the most qualified expert to interpret and gather all of Tim’s notes. I bet this was a remarkable lecture.
Close-up Clinic – Have any questions about sleight of hand? This is the place to be and to ask eight experts. The event consisted on an entire ballroom featuring eight of the most talented sleight of hand artists coaching and teaching anything you wanted to learn in their field of expertise. Featured were:
Jason England – Gambling with cards
Tom Gagnon – Card magic
Bob Kohler – Coins and magic of Jack Birnman
John Redmon – Talks about Jerry Andrus’ work
Bill Goodwin – Lectures on Larry Jennings and Bruce Cervon material
Gary Plants – Talks about Vernon
R. Paul Wilson – After dinner magic
Laura Cohen – Sleight of hand for people with small hands
How cool is all that!
Dealers’ Room – STRIKE TIME!
Denny and I were very, very busy that afternoon. It is amazing… We are behind the booth for three days, and on the last and fourth day, everyone wants to purchase things during the last hour of the event. Lol!
The Dealers’ Room closed promptly at 5:30 pm, and we had exactly two hours to strike everything, as the hotel crew had to set up the room for the Farewell party later that night.
Luckily things went well and we managed to get out of there and be packed by 7:00 pm. (Even while I was wheeling and dealing with a dealer from China who wanted to haggle me about a vintage poster he wanted to buy. The guy would not pay me until the very last minute. Because of the rush, he probably wanted to wear me out psychologically so that I could give him a better deal. I should have known better. Thankfully, I didn’t budge, AND managed to keep Denny from turning into a green monster and beating up the dude. What can I say… Denny is my bodyguard too… Lol!)
Live Onstage Show # 2
Opening Act – Hakan Berg – He did a comedy act, which was sort of a caricature of a dove magician. All the doves that he produced were artificial and mechanical. (I had the opportunity to meet Hakan a couple of days before the convention started. Personally he is a very sweet and wonderful guy. It is a shame that I did not understand the humor. The act looked more awkward than magical or funny to me.)
The Master of Ceremonies for the evening was a British magician by the name of Paul Dabek. Again, I had trouble with his humor. He had a very fast paced rhythm, and instead of moving the show forward, he would milk all the effects he did. His pacing was frantic, and it was uncomfortable to watch him work.
Sang Soon Kim – Magician from South Korea, did a manipulation act with tennis shoes. There is nothing that makes me care more about a performer than the fact that he knows how to manipulate and show his skill with tennis shoes. 😉
Vlad and Elena – Performers from Ukraine. They did the WTF act of the evening. Frankly I don’t remember what they did. The only thing that I remember was the weird body position they had on stage. One of the performers was sitting down in a hollow chair, and worked from the torso up. The other one was somewhere inside the chair and was the “legs”. Strange act…
Glenn Singer – He did the classic clown bit, where he shows up “riding” a horse puppet. The horse jumps through obstacles and runs all over the stage. On stage he went by the name “El Gleno Grande” Unfortunately, this act went on for fifteen very, very, very long minutes. This was probably one of the worst variety acts I have seen in my life. It had every element of the things you should not do on a stage show. Had I been a judge on America’s Got Talent, I would have given him three buzzes and sent him home right away.
Hakan Berg – Came back with a rope through body effect which he sang like a rock and roll artist. Alas! Again, I did not get his sense of humor. Either he was not funny, or I don’t go out enough.
Ben Seidman – He was next with a “Holdup” pickpocket routine where the watch, a bill and a ring are put in an envelope by a “thief” (according to his story), and the items are back on the magician after they disappear from the envelope.
Dede – He was the juggling act. He was a technical juggler who had several drops during the routine, but had no comedy or bits to cover for his technical difficulties.
Kevin James – He was probably the best act of the entire show. Kevin is an amazing illusionist, and quite charismatic as well. He did his classic “sawing”, and displays the half man on a table, after which he restores him back to normal. He also did a brand new illusion, that in my opinion, still needs some tweaking and more improvements to look good. A neon light half moon was brought on stage right, while he as the magician, stood on stage left and covered himself with a cloth. From what I recall, the assistant disappeared into the moon and Kevin appeared, and the assistant was discovered under the cloth on stage left instead. It was a transposition. Alas! The effect wasn’t quite clear to me, until I thought about it. However, what confused me was that as the magician was covering himself, I noticed that he considerably changed in size under the cloth as well! I think that if the “size” issue were resolved, it would be a less distracting discrepancy in the presentation. Just my two cents…
The show closed with Manho Han from South Korea, who did a “shopping act”, where he would “remove” items that he saw on fashion magazines to wear them. The act was difficult to see due to the small props, and it has definitely not a closing act for a convention.
If we followed Noel Britten’s advise from his earlier lecture, and went to the bathroom to listen to what people thought about this show, we would find out that it was quite a dreadful ending to an otherwise good convention. The MC was not successful at keeping a good flow of the show with smooth transitions, the two variety acts in the lineup (the horse guy and the juggler) were not the best, one of the acts (the Ukranian couple) was too artsy-artsy for most American tastes, the two Koreans were contest acts with skill and movement, and they did not give me a reason to want to watch them again (why, do I care for an act about color changing shoes? ). The holdup pickpocket act was not memorable (although he had some funny lines), and Kevin James did take a risk and tried new material (the moon effect) during this show.
What can I say… It was simply not a good show.
All the attendees went on to the ballroom upstairs for the farewell party. To the credit of the organizers, food was plentiful and there were several cash bars in the room. The place was crowded as everyone was there. The big attraction: The drawing for the “Big One” – the big grand prize raffle. The price included a registration, hotel deluxe accommodations, $500 buying spree, $500 for meals, visit to the David Copperfield Museum, etc., etc. Alas! Neither Denny, I or any of my close friends at the convention won it. Which means that we won’t be partying at the hotel next year. However, I think I did recognize the name of the winner. His name was Chris Funk, he is a Canadian magician that visited us at our home in Las Vegas a couple of months ago. Congratulations, Chris!
After spending nineteen hour days at the convention, I went back home and slept for two days.
The Best Part of the Convention for me: The invisible backstage heroes that we never saw. From my standpoint, in the events that I attended, I did not detect a single glitch in the audio or video throughout the entire event. Things happened right on cue. There were no glaring technical errors or microphone malfunctions. In fact, the audience was so comfortable, that they took all this technical wizardry for granted.
(Please note… I did not go to the lectures. A friend mentioned that there were glitches in one of the rooms. Hopefully, this will be resolved next year with better equipment along with a cameraman for the occasion.)
In fact, this magic convention is far from average.
- The theater is comfortable and the screen is huge! No other magic convention has the audio visual facilities that this event has to offer.
- All the shows and the schedules ran smoothly and on time. All the attendees were moved around the Orleans Conference area like clockwork.
To all of you that were behind the scenes, THANK YOU for making all the magic happen.
The Events that I Personally Liked the Most:
- Magic Dead: With Richard Wiseman. This was the event where I learned something new. Nothing turns me on than walking out of an event with a new perspective.
- Sebastian KonoPIX’s Exhibit – It was great to see his creativity in the visual arts.
- Adam Rubin’s Lecture on Functional Illusions – Listening to him will make me look at the woodworking I do in a new light.
The Worst Part of the Convention:
The Closing Stage Show. Let’s admit it… It was a bad show. It could probably be improved with a better MC (a good MC who knows how to keep the pace can actually save a show. In my lifetime, the best MC I have seen at a convention was the late Karrell Fox.) Let’s also remember… Just because an act won an award at FISM, it does not mean that it is a commercially solid act. There is no substitute for a well seasoned act that has work for years in the real world.
Also… You know what a good show needs? A curtain call. I know performers hate it, but from a production standpoint, it dots the “i’s” and crosses the “t’s”.
Finally, in spite of the glitches and problem areas, I admit that I still like Stan Allen. This is the tenth convention he has organized, and from an organizational and logistical standpoint the event is getting better and smoother all the time. (Dealers’ room setup was a breeze this year.) He has great business saavy, as he manages to preregister a huge percentage of those who plan to attend the event, and has the funds to work well in advance. Finally he is not afraid to take a risk and try new things. So, the final show of 2018 bombed… At least he took the risk in hiring acts that we have not seen before. Sometimes this approach might work, sometimes it might not, but no one can say that he did not try. My only comment and suggestion for Stan is that he never take his audience for granted. Let’s hope that the stage shows get redeemed next year.
On social media, I heard from people that were going to dismiss the convention in light of the second show. Please don’t. It does take a lot of work to put this event together, and one should not throw the whole thing away for something at the end that went wrong.
Besides, and most importantly, these magic events are about getting together again with our magic family. I like coming to see old friends and make new ones. Nothing like magicians to share a quirky way of looking at life and to have a good belly laugh. I have been going to magic conventions since 1987, and I am gracefully aging along with many, many friends that I have met since those days.
Magic is about making a connection with others and creating wonder. Let’s continue to share this unique gift with others.
See you next year!