Magic Live starts early for us.
Set-up for Nielsen Magic is earlier than that for most dealers. You see, in order to bring attention to our little booth and make it more attractive, every year we hang spectacular posters from the ballroom’s ceiling.
On Friday, August 2, 2019, my friend Denny (who would help me with the Convention) and I showed up at the Orleans to hang the posters to be displayed.
It is a yearly ceremony: Stan Allen is walking around overseeing the staff along with his daughter, Katie Sokulski, who with Steve Branham, are in charge of the dealer’s room. The employees are still the same at the Orleans. We met the Genii lift operator, Joey, and Marlen, who came in later that week.
This year’s display had some remarkable posters: A Carter 8-sheet “Gallows”, an Elizabeth and Susie Wandas image, a Rosini “Cauldron” (I think there are only two in the world of this image), and a Harry Houdini “Circus Busch Policemen”. I did know that the rare Houdini would raise eyebrows amongst the serious magic collectors in the group.
After the posters were hung, all was in order to return on Sunday morning for the usual setup.
We arrived at the hotel at 9:30 am, and promptly had our booth set up by 12:00 noon. Denny has been helping me with the booth for three years now, and we both do this like clockwork. I am always grateful for good and efficient help.
The room had fifty dealers this year. It was probably one of the most varied and eclectic rooms one could see at a magic convention. There were a few general magic dealers like Daytona Magic, Trick Supply, Tannen Magic and Stevens’ Magic Emporium. There were other booths with specialized items: Pro-Mystic (electronic equipment for discerning mentalists), Jamie Schoolcraft (coin gaffs and gimmicks), Andy Greguet (books), Potter and Potter (collectible and vintage magic), Martin Lewis (with his exclusive line of magic), and many, many more. There were a few new dealers in attendance. It was a delight to meet Dave Bonsall from Propdog in England, and I enjoyed looking at the artistry of Jeff Scanlan who sold “Impossible Bottles” at his booth.
We at Nielsen Magic specialize in our exclusive line of about 20 magic effects we produce, plus the buying, selling and trading of vintage magic posters and reproductions. I had no high expectations at this convention for us. Due to current circumstances in my life, we do not have anything “new” to offer. I was here mostly for the PR, to hang out and see people and friends I had not seen in a long time, and to have fun.
Unlike other dealers, both Denny and I purchased full registrations, which would give us access to every single event at the convention.
Like every year, there was the obligatory Sunday dealer meeting in which they discuss the rules for the raffle, and give tickets to the dealers. For every $20 a customer purchases at the dealers’ room, they get a raffle ticket good for the opportunity to win over a dozen high end prizes throughout the night.
The theme for the evening’s opening convention party was “Halloween” and it was titled “Trick or Treats”. The ballroom next door to the dealer’s area was titled “Treats”. They had a cash bar, and it was cleverly decorated with Halloween themed balloon displays. The tables in the ballroom had centerpieces and lots of candy to go around, along with pizza throughout the night. It was an excellent way for the attendees to mingle. Everyone was also encouraged to dress in a costume. A lot of people dressed up in very clever outfits. Halloween came early this year.
To further encourage mingling, they distributed some cards for exchange. Each person received a set made out of the same card. The idea was to exchange some of these cards with others until one had a complete set with various cards that could be used for a magic trick.
The ballroom next door to “Treats” was the Dealer’s Room labeled as “Tricks”. Everyone started spilling into the dealers’ area that night, and because of the raffle, people were more apt to do their shopping early.
The room was packed all night. Denny and I were “parked” at our booth, interacting with people, making good sales, and having a good time altogether. As dealers, we can never complain about Magic Live’s opening night. It is busy, active, and people were quite happy to be at the event.
Dealers’ Room opened from 11:00 – 6:00 pm today. But we are also fully paid registrants. I made the executive decision to enjoy most of the event, and watching the morning General Sessions. This would delay the opening of our booth to 12:30 pm. It was a good decision, because the sessions did not disappoint this year.
The Session started with the high energy of Jeff McBride, who performed with fan and featured his manipulation act. He expertly produced cards from thin air, scaled them to the audience and even bounced them off the stage. It was an excellent way to wake people up in the morning!
The Master of Ceremonies, Max Maven, was introduced. He would be our host for the event. Something I like about “Uncle Max” (which is my nickname for him), is his mastery of the English language, and his ability to weave a good story. Two of the stories he told this morning were those of Okito and Fu Manchu, and how Long Tack Sam was appalled that they shared the same poster without knowing that both Okito and Fu were father and son! Another amusing story was that of Johnny Paul and Clark Crandall working at a mafia restaurant in Cicero, Illinois. Lol!
Mark Randall – Mark used to work for Adobe and his job was to stimulate the creativity of their team. At Adobe, he designed what he called a Kickbox for creativity. It was kind of a magic set that would generate random concepts that the team would use to come up with new ideas. You see, most of the time our mind thinks linearly. The Kickbox set contains coins, cards, and dice. Each side of each coin and dice had concept written on them. For magic applications, you would have adjectives like big / small or fast / slow on opposite sides of coins, and who, what, when, why, etc. on the sides of a die. For the cards, each card would represent effects (vanish, productions, transformations), methods (forces, stooges, pulls), styles, domains, etc.
The whole idea consists in tossing a coin, rolling a die, and picking a few cards. This would create randomness into your approach, which would stimulate the brain to break out of its linear pattern and create new ideas. These magic sets have been made for other Fortune 500 companies to enhance creativity. It was interesting to learn about this approach.
Kokichi Sugihara – “Ambiguous Objects as a Potential Source of Magic”. This was probably in my top three of favorite presentations at the event. Dr. Sugihara taught applied mathematics for engineers at Tokyo University, Nagoya and Meiji Universities. This is the guy that enters a room, and everyone knows that he is a genius. He lectured on 3D optical illusions and on how the way he maps an object affects the way it is perceived depending on the angle in which you observe it. He showed us optical illusions that were amazing. For instance, objects had a circular shape as you were looking at them, but their mirror reflection was a square! This shows us that you can never trust what you see with your eyes.
Alexis Spraic and Erika Larsen came next and spoke about Alexis’ project of the upcoming feature documentary titled “M for Magic”. This is a documentary about the Larsen family and the creation of the Magic Castle. What struck me about this lady was her passion for the project and her open mind regarding the world of magic and magicians. Erika Larsen was an excellent guide into the magic world and into the Magic Castle for her. The Larsens are truly a special family. When everyone thought that the Castle project would fail, they persevered, and have created one of the most distinctive landmarks in the City of Los Angeles. The Castle is proof that dreams can indeed become a reality.
Marco Tempest closed the sessions by doing a little presentation titled “Inventing the Impossible”. He currently works for NASA, and presented a demonstration on how current technological advancements can be used to create magic effects. To show us what he meant, he had a grouping of a handful of mini drones on stage with LED lights. The drones seemingly came to life and obeyed his every command. They flew around him, made patterns, and interacted with him in a magical way. It was quite impressive to see.
The morning ended with the “In Memoriam” video of all our friends who have passed away in the last year. I am finally getting to be “old enough” to stop taking life for granted. Each day is a gift and part of me dies with the friends that we lose. A few names included were: Don Wayne, Sonny Fontana, Steve Dushek, John Cornelius, Ricky Jay, Gary Darwin, Johnny Thompson, and many others. It is tough to come to a Magic Live and not see Johnny around. He was Norm’s best friend and a good mentor to me as well.
After the morning session, we went up to our perch at the Dealers’ Room and stayed there from 12:30 pm – 6:00 pm. Because of the schedule, I did not get to attend the Focus Lecture Sessions in the afternoon. Each afternoon they offered three different lectures, and people have the opportunity to attend two of them at a time.
Alas! All I could do was sneak out of my perch for 5 – 10 minutes at a time and take in a few minutes of each event. In addition to that, I asked the attendees what their opinion was of the presentations.
For completeness, I am posting what they were along with a brief description and the impression I had after watching 5 minutes of each.
The afternoon Focus Sessions included:
Jan Forster – “Fool Them”- A lecture on mentalism where he teaches three mind reading effects from his professional repertoire. From what I heard from people that came to the booth, this was a very good and effective lecture.
Mahdi Gilbert – “Rounders” – Mahdi did a lecture demonstration with cards, and “rounders” refers to his preferred method of control, which is the corner short card. What was fascinating for me about this lecture, was that the lecturer had a birth handicap: He had no hands and no feet. What was inspiring was that in spite of his limitations, he performed card routines that would be challenging for people with hands. The feedback from people that attended, was that although he was a skillful performer, the lecture lacked focus, and at time he just got sidetracked in his explanation of things.
Dick Koornwinder – “Fred Kaps: Seeing is Believing” – Dick is one of the authorities of Fred Kaps, who could be considered Holland’s greatest magician. Fred Kaps inspired a Renaissance of magic in Holland, to the point where that little country produced some of the best magic performers in the world. As I entered the lecture, Dick was describing Fred’s early years as a magician in the middle of the 20th century.
Dealer’s Room promptly closed at 6:00 pm, and we later headed to the close-up event.
The Close-Up Experience at one of the ballrooms, sat over 125 people in a raked seating configuration. Seating was such that there was not a bad seat in the house. Everyone could see the table top, and the room was appointed with a good sound equipment as well as lighting. It was an intimate venue ideal for that genre.
Four performers were featured at this show:
Henry Evans – Argentina
Richard Sanders – Canada
Pipo Villanueva – Spain
Danny de Ortiz – Spain
I am writing this review several days after seeing the show, which is good, as it makes me ponder about the strength of the material, its relevance and the likability of the performers. Regarding the material, both Henry and Danny are consummate card experts and they are masters at controlling and really fooling the onlookers with a deck of cards. They both did impossible locations, and were several steps ahead of the spectators making it difficult to reconstruct anything they did.
I love Richard Sanders, he is likable and is a master at sleight of hand, particularly with coins. This is the first time that I saw Pipo Villanueva perform. He did perform a little card magic, but probably the effect that impressed me the most was his dice stacking routine, in which stacks of dice of different colors kept appearing under the dice cup. I have no idea where the dice came from and I was delighted to be completely fooled by a non-card trick.
All the performers were top-notch professionals and extremely likable. They were all excellent magicians that have mastered their craft to a high level. Their timing was perfect, and I had the sensation of being completely befuddled and fooled by their material.
This is probably one of the best close up magic shows at a convention that I have experienced in a while.
However, for what it is worth, I do have a small critique about the material… Although the magic was amazing, most of the presentations were procedural – i.e. “Let me borrow a deck, shuffle it, cut it many times, pick a card, and in the most amazing way I will reveal it to you, and not only that… I can find all the mates to that card, etc.”. Because most of the presentations were procedural – vs. providing a compelling story, or giving me a reason for watching – I have forgotten what the specific effects were! This is partly my fault as I refrained from taking notes throughout the presentation. All I remember is the feeling I had while watching the show. It is frustrating to know that after a few days I cannot reconstruct the sequence of effects. Perhaps it is me – middle aged and a faulty memory at times… Something to think about…
This show starred Simon Coronel and Shoot Ogawa. Additional performers were Read Chang, Mr. Ham and Track IX.
It is great to see magicians taking risks at a stage show. The show was almost set up like a play. The opening scene begins with Shoot and Simon being “backstage” before “the show starts”. There is friendly banter backstage, and both men are getting ready for the show that is about to start on the other side of the curtain (portrayed by the black backdrop upstage). Shoot and Simon discuss material that they are working on and could use in the act, and perform it for each other, as we in the audience take a glimpse of what is happening through the fourth wall. Shoot does a flip-stick routine, for instance, and Simon reacts to it.
Other performers join them onstage as they “come and go” to “other areas backstage” and stop for a moment to interact with them. The show officially starts, and they go from the back to the front of the stage and we become the audience of their official magic show. Again, once they “finish” their set, they announce the presence of an illusionist (who we never see), and they go backstage to wait between acts.
We see them backstage again, along with the interaction of the other characters in this “magic play”. Track IX is notable because she comes in as a character that wanted to audition for the show. She is a sound effects artist and she brought the house down with her beatbox skill and the various sounds and rhythms she made on the microphone. Read Chang also performed for us his FISM act, and two other characters were notable too. My favorite was Mr. Ham, who was a little shy Oriental guy who was belittled by all the members of the cast. He really won over the audience as he was the comic relief and the “introverted” guy in a funny kind of way. In the middle of the show, they told him: “Mr Ham, see if you can fill some time, do something for the audience while we prepare this”. Mr. Ham then goes onstage, with what becomes one of the cleverest juggling acts you can witness. As usual, the juggler brings down the house. Lol! The other memorable moment was the costume change artist that was : “working with a magician on stage”. However, we only see her from backstage. She is “out there” and when she comes backstage she gets behind a covering and changes costume in mere seconds; once she is changed, she goes out to do her act, and returns backstage where we witness another costume change and so on. The changes are made nonchalantly and as part of the plot. The rest of the characters are involved in conversation, as she just calmly walks “backstage” does this spectacular costume change and leaves to go briefly onstage.
It is difficult to describe the show. The ending consists of what is seeming a mentalism prediction effect that goes wrong on stage. As Simon and Shoot return backstage, they close the show with various revelations and predictions that were not a mistake after all, but accurate revelations regarding the entire show.
This backstage / onstage view of things is a common technique used in the theatre and this is the first time I have seen it applied to a magic show. It sort of worked, and if the script is tightened and the effects become more memorable, I think there is a huge room for improvement.
Overall, it was an entertaining event, and I commend Shoot, Simon and the rest of the cast for their effort in putting this show together.
Again, here is a brief critique… A few days after I saw the show, I don’t remember the magic tricks they did. 🙁 I still vividly remember Mr. Ham and his juggling antics, along with his ladder bit, the microphone gal, and the costume change artist. Not remembering the magic bothers me… Is it middle age… Beginnings of dementia… Or… I don’t care enough about the unmemorable magic… Or all of the above? Hmmm?
The first speaker of the eventing was Steve Beam. Steve started with his talk titled “Through the Trapdoor”, which was a lecture about a little self-published underground magic magazine that ran between 1983 until 1998. Its publication spanned 15 years and nearly 1600 pages of material. Some of the most influential minds in the world of magic contributed to that publication, which had an irreverent and cynical sense of humor. Through the lecture, Steve describes what it took to publish a magazine before computer desktop publishing was available. It was all done with manual cutting and pasting. It was a labor of love.
After his talk, Steve would also be an excellent host for the rest of the morning. His timing and sense of humor really kept the pacing for the entire experience. He is a very funny man, and I am grateful that he made me laugh.
Harris III spoke next and the title of his presentation was “The Story of Magic”. His talk can be summed using Maya Angelou’s quote: “People will forget what they see you do, they will forget what they hear you say, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” He spoke to us about the importance of becoming vulnerable as performers, and how important it is to become a storyteller in our performances. Our own story as human beings is the reason why people will care about what we have to say. That is the single reason why with regular material, the speaker has become a successful performer in his field. His talk was inspiring and reminds us of giving meaning and significance to our magic.
Guy Hollingworth – Performed his version of the Cups and Balls, and give us an explanation of a technique he uses for the effect, in which he uses the flap of his jacket or shirt as a temporary “holder” for a vanished item. I can’t get over how skillful he is with sleight of hand.
“Servais Leroy and Talma: Two Sides to a Story”. Laura London and Paul Kieve have become very good friends from their interest in these performers from the early 20th century. With their combination of research, and sheer serendipity, Laura managed to find the granddaughter of Leroy and Talma (who were never married, yet lived together for so many years), and Paul managed to meet the grandson of Leroy from a son that he had in a previous marriage and who was abandoned by the performer. This was a remarkable story, which adds depth and another layer of humanity to those who would be two of our magic heroes from the past.
“This is Magic” – Jason England interviews Issy Simpson, who is one of the most fa