Today’s topics are: report of The Session London 2023.
These are The Magic Memories 108, gone online Sunday, January 22nd, 2023, at 0:07h sharp.
All The Magic Memories from 2021, 2022, including the Magic Advent Calendar from 2020 can be found HERE.
I’m back from the Session in London, which took place from JAN 13 to 15 in London, and will try to give you an idea of the events, plus some comments and opinions, inevitably digressing here and there, as you have come to be accustomed from my writings, especially in these The Magic Memories, because I believe that any writing should not only be about information, but also about learning and understanding. As I have said several times, in various forms: A good book, lecture, or conversation is one were you leave knowing and understanding more than before…
the [sic] Session 2023
The short version: I greatly enjoyed it, as I do almost every convention, because even the worst has a few extraordinary moments, but this one was truly good, in many ways as you’ll read below, and I can certainly recommend it to anyone, especially to advanced levels, but even beginners will find something.
The fact that it is the first magic convention of the year, as far as I know, makes it an ideal start into a magical year, to meet old friends and make new ones, all the while discovering new talent (there is a lot!), to pick up new information, to see new interesting problems, and to look at old problems from a fresh angle. The more you know, the more you find out how little you know. Uplifting and humbling, briefly, a pleasant and necessary experience.
The long version: read ahead…
Disclaimer: All you read is just my opinion, no more, no less. To note: I have been artistic director in two magic conventions, a smaller one (150 attendants) and a bigger one (800 attendants), so know about conventions from the inside and the outside (most who write about conventions only see it as a visitor from the outside).
The event took place at the Radisson RED Hotel in London Heathrow (LHR), making it logistically practical for international visitors who fly into Terminal 3 or 5. However, several visitors from England, to whom I talked, said it was not so practical for them. Personally, I don’t think the location is a first priority: If Blackpool manages to get several thousand people to one of the most inconvenient magic locations in the world (it’s a real hassle to get there, especially for international visitors, and there are a lot of them), then a smaller convention like the Session could be anywhere – much more important is the venue (more on this below).
In theory there is a free bus from the Heathrow terminals to the hotel, but in the several years I’ve been there before the Pandemic Years I never could find out where and how to get that. There is also a shuttle bus for £ 6 ( 1 £ is ca. 1,2 $, so, add 20 % for DOLLARS, and 15 % for EURO), but since at age 60 plus I decided to simplify things and make life comfortable, I took the taxi for £ 23.
Confusion occurs as there are TWO Radisson Hotels at Heathrow, one Red and one BLUE, and more than one booked and got to the wrong one.
I found out as I clicked the hotel link on the homepage of the Session, and it didn’t work (Mysteries of IT). So I went to the hotel homepage directly (I was lucky to get the right one), became a Radisson Rewards Member with a few clicks (free), and paid less than if using the “convention discount”. It seems to be quite common that conventions instead of offering a better price get a cut from the hotel, making it ultimately more expensive. I paid £ 85 incl. breakfast and all taxes, while several told me they had paid £ 115 and more for the same, that’s a difference of £ 30. I can’t say how this happens exactly, maybe it is due to the fact that hotel prices behave like the stock market, and it is nobody’s fault but the system’s, however, I take notice.
In my opinion, it is legitimate, especially for smaller conventions like this one, that have 300 plus attendants and which charge little, to take a small percentage from hotel, bar etc., however, it should be less, and it should be transparent. This said, consider also this: The convention fee was £ 175. Compared to any other professional convention (surgeons, IT, etc.) , which costs up to TEN times more, getting a cut from the accommodation, the bar etc. is OK. It is another matter with really big conventions (FISM, Magic Live, etc.), and I wonder if anyone has ever investigated that.
BTW: As I’m writing this the WEF (World Economic Forum) is taking place in Switzerland: There are 250 participants, and the ticket is € 7’800. So, let’s stop complaining 🙂
In my opinion the very first thing to consider when organizing a convention is the venue.
In this respect the Session has almost everything right:
- All activities are under one roof, including bar (social area) and hotel, making it easy to go from one place to the other, and quickly go back to your room, if necessary (and this is necessary for most). This said, there are some conventions, like Magialdia in Spain, that have the hotel, convention center, theatre and other activities spread over the city. And still, it works very well, provided the locations are within walking distance. Such a layout has the advantage that you get out, see parts of the city, eat in a variety of restaurants, etc. So, both formula work.
- The advantage of the Session’s location in a “remote” place like an airport hotel where you can go nowhere else, is that before and after the official events everyone stays in the same place (bar, restaurant, lobby), rather than taking off in different directions as this would be the case, e.g., in Las Vegas, to see some attraction. Everyone staying in the same place allows for much better social interaction and results in a great atmosphere.
- The hotel offers a large bar area than can take the attendants, with service open until very late (ca. 2 am!), and this is one of the most important things that any convention should have, but only few do. The Session has it. And the bar has a wide selection of drinks (however, coming from Switzerland, I’m surprised that people say Switzerland is expensive, because this bar had the same prices, and even higher, than we have in Switzerland…).
- The schedule is such that there are no events going on at the same time, and everything takes place in one room. I like this “symposium” setting known from academia. And I particularly like those 60-minutes sessions, which I would extend to 90-minutes sessions, where several presenters talk for 10 or 20 minutes about a specific subject (more on that below under “Program and Presenters”). Fact is, that even big conventions could adopt this idea more often.
- The biggest problem of the Session is the room where the activities take place. Although they put a tremendous effort into the production value, have great equipment, and competent people (headed by the formidable and tireless George Luck, who should have a street named after him in Magic City 🙂 it is impossible to see what happens on a table on stage, regardless of whether you sit in the first or last row. This is a fact, not an opinion. And the day they acknowledge this, they will have a better event.
Yes, they have THREE cameras, and two monitors, beautifully imbedded in the backdrop of the stage, all exquisitely designed in sync with their CD, but it does not resolve the basic problem all close-up presenters have. And yes, they even have a director who decides which camera is active on the monitors, but unfortunately this is limited for mainly two reasons.
Problem One: The performers, most of whom are not acquainted with this setting, and simply don’t know the communication grammar of the cameras, keep going out of frame, which leads to Problem Two: The switch of the half-total camera to the close-up camera, or the overhead camera, in many instances occurs too late (understandably they do not have time to rehearse).
AND: Their front half-total camera is not steep enough, being at an angle of about 25-30 degrees, instead of at least 45 degrees, does not show the table top while at the same time showing the performer’s bust.
Solution: If they can change the angle of this front camera, it might be possible to at least improve the situation. The acts of Markobi and Jeki Yoo in the SUN gala suffered most from this problem: Even sitting in the second row and in the center – best seats, you may say – I was not able to follow some of the effects, as some of the important visual information couldn’t be captured by the camera.
However, I’m afraid that even IF they manage to improve this, you are still forced to watch the monitors most of the time in a close-up lecture (I attentively observed my neighbors who sat, as I did, in the front row, and most of the times they simply watched the monitors instead of looking at the performer). This is not what you want, is it? The best solution is to find a new venue that has tired seating, like some big universities have. Maybe you have to limit the attendance and double the price for it, but this venue has to be changed.
The Program and the Presenters
I’ll give you my impressions on the performers and their presentations in chronological order. You can find out more about each person HERE (this link may expire at some point).
The first lecture on FRI started at noon, giving most attendant from the UK time to travel to the location on that day, and those of us who had come in the day before and session at the bar the night before until the wee hours of the morning got enough time to sleep in 🙂 Smart timing, based on years of experience doing conventions.
The first was Matt Baker, who is a professor of math, and it was his first appearance at a magic convention out of his native USA. So, understandably, he was quite nervous, but managed very well, and his demonstrations and explanations about essentially mathematically-based card tricks were well received.
The biggest problem with these tricks (not all were self-working, as you might think) is that they are quite procedural.
Generally speaking, Baker had the merit that he had framed every trick with a good presentational plot, I liked several of his prologues a lot. In one instance the presentation around the trick I experienced as much more captivating as the trick itself (one using M&M’s).
The first trick was interesting in two ways. First, it exemplified how problematic a lot of dealing can be. This is a problem that needs to be addressed. I have written extensively about this and offered solutions (e.g., see my Card College Light trilogy). One is to do the dealing yourself rather than letting the spectator do it.
In this case Baker had a spectator who was an experience card handler, but in a real-world-situation this will be different. In most cases it doesn’t make a difference whether you or the spectator deals, provided, that you do so with utmost clarity, all the while keep up the pacing and the attention.
When for instance dealing five hands of Draw Poker, twenty-five cards, half the deck (!), you can start by asking a question, amusing or else doesn’t matter, e.g., “Who, by a show of hands plays Poker often, not so often, or never.” As you look into the audience deal the first round. When the first spectator laughs (not all will get the joke), deal the second round, then, “Let’s do five players.” Deal the third round as you say that. “Each player gets five cards.” Deal the fourth round as you say that. “And watch very closely that I’m doing this right.” Deal the fifth and last round. Done. Find your own wording, of course…
Absolutely painless and “entertaining”. See also my entry in Secret Agenda of April 28 “Dealing Procedure in Gambling Demonstrations” (p. 129) – a gold nugget, if I may say so 🙂 Baker will improve his trick if he finds a solution to his dealing procedures.
Second, it taught how not to start a lecture. Although the trick was sufficiently good, and Baker himself a very likable person, it is not a good idea to start any type of presentation, regardless of whether it is a show, lecture, talk or whatever, with something where nothing happens except procedure. You need to start with something that transmits an emotional experience and maybe a first insight, and only then can you go on and be procedural. A big topic I cannot go into further, but which I address at every private coaching I do, as it is essential.
Among the more mathematically oriented effects, all of which had something interesting to learn, was a very lay-oriented effect (my name for “commercial trick”, a term I dislike), namely a prediction, that started with an amusing prologue and ended with a smash finale: The seemingly impossible prediction of an absolutely freely named card was correct, and at the end the rest of the cards were all the same, all QH. I’m not so sure abut the magical coherence of this trick, but it certainly plays well in real life, and Baker must have sold out on this tick, the name of which escapes me (a commercial item using Phoenix cards).
The last trick he did was not only possibly the best trick, but also very amusing, not only for me. I explain:
Knowing that I would attend the Session, Baker had contacted me a few days before, explained that he would do as his last trick one he dubbed “Card College”, and asked if I would be willing to be the assistant. I had no idea what would happen, but we decided to play it straight and it was great fun.
Baker brought me up, pretending not to know who I am, all the while going on to explain that the following trick was called “Card College”, in three phases, in each you get a degree (Batchelor, Master) until a Ph. D. The audience was highly amused, some not sure if this was straight or set up, and several came up later and said that this was their favorite moment of the morning 🙂
All in all I found Baker’s lecture to be an excellent start into an even better convention.
After the lecture there was hardly time for lunch, but since I had a copious breakfast, I did the “Convention Diet”, which for me means “Lunch Cancelling” – this is not a problem for me, as I have reserves… An apple (free from the hotel) and a Cappuccino (English Style…) were enough. As the saying goes: Tea against thirst, coffee and milk against hunger, I agree. However, I then caught up with dinner (see below).
The next hour was session-style, similar to the TED talks, where several presenters talk about a subject related to magic.
Personally, I like these talks a lot, especially those with interdisciplinary subjects. Such was the talk by Steven Bridges, who later came up to me and said how much my Card College books had meant to him when he started out.
Bridges talked about card counting and his experience with it. Briefly: I found this educational and interesting. He’s quite of a YouTube star, with more than 400’000 followers, and you can spend the rest of the week watching his video posts HERE.
Alice Pailhes and Gustav Kuhn, who had been at previous Sessions, were next. They are both highly qualified psychologists specializing in the psychology of magic. They conduct real-world scientific experiments on various matters magical, with focus on the psychology of forcing. They do quite a bit of field work, and publish their results.
VI has a book about their work that should be out shortly. I’d love to dedicate more time to discussing what they did, alas, space and time don’t allow me to. They gave some interesting information about the Equivoque Force, based on a practical experiment they had done with a group of laypeople. The result was that to laypeople it does not as much matter whether an Equivoque procedure is coherent or not, not as much as it matters to us magicians. Certainly food for thought and discusssion – we did some of it at the bar… and after the third Glenfiddich 15 years old we seemed to agree that the matter is complex 🙂
I remember a talk Kuhn, who is a Professor and expert of cognitive psychology at Goldsmith’s, London, gave before the Pandemic at the Session about degrees of freedom in the selection of the cards from the point of view of a layperson.
In an experiment he asked laypeople what selection procedure they thought gave them the highest degree of freedom. The result was quite opposite to what most of us magicians would have thought, including myself, namely that thinking of a card is the most free way to select a card. Surprisingly, or not so surprisingly if you think about it, was that the majority of the laypeople surveyed said choosing a card from a face down ribbon spread on the table gave them the highest degree of freedom.
So, these two people are worth listening to.
Turner, who has more tattoos than skin surface available, a feat in itself, started out with some mental experiments. I freely admit that mentalism is not my cup of tea, as the British say (the German say “das ist nicht mein Bier – this is not my beer”, which tells you everything about cultural differences…), but I’m always curious to learn.
However, I had to give up on my principles, and left after twenty minutes. His presentation reminded me of what Helge Thun said at a recent Austrian Convention about mentalism, “A lot of bla-bla-bla, and at the end it’s correct.” Well, Turner certainly complied with the first part, a lot of bla-bla-bla, but at the end it was not even correct. Several I asked later told me the lecture had not improved after the first twenty minutes, so I’m not the only one…
Most unfortunately I missed the Markobi lecture that followed from 7 to 8 pm, and only came back to see the Nick Difatte’s show at 9 pm, as I need to have a proper meal once a day, and it was dinner.
Unfortunately young convention organizers, as well as most in the New World, do not seem to agree with me that the absolutely best way to socialize is to do so over a good table. There is no other category of social interaction (not even loving sex) that gives so much opportunity to have an intelligent, entertaining, fascinating conversation as when you dine and wine. This is, of course, highly subjective and I accept all contrary opinions 🙂
Since the hotel bar and restaurant food was not at the same level as the magical quality of the convention (how is that for a euphemism), on all meals we simply took a cab and went to where Mr. Michelin and his guide would take us (actually there is nothing in the Michelin even remotely close, so I relied on my friend Joe Gallant, as I always do at conventions). For those who plan to attend a future Session, and who have similar tastes as mine, put “Belle Epoque” in the Hotel Sofitel in your agenda, as it is possibly the best choice within a 15-minute cab ride. If you were at the Session and have found a very good restaurant, please write to me and let me know… for next year. My prediction is that nobody will write in…
Difatte is a funny man, knows what he’s doing, and was very successful with his one-hour one-man show. I’m glad I came back to see it, and it was a lovely closure to the first day.
Difatte comes across as very likable, and since I was sitting near to the stage, my experience was “live”. Fortunately, almost all of his effects took place on a vertical plane, and he was obviously experienced to play to a larger audience, so he did not depend on the cameras and monitors, a true professional.
I had seen him for the first time, but remember he did at least three good effects.
Now, Difatte, is definitely of the school of thought that believes making the audience laugh is the most important thing, and that the term “entertainment” is defined by comedy.
I certainly don’t want to argue with a successful and likable performer as he is, however, my personal opinion is that he could be even more impressive, at least to me and people who think like me, if he had more respect for the magical effect.
He could do that without losing any of his comedic talent, of which he has an over-abundance. What I mean is what Vernon and Tamariz have independently recognized, namely that at the moment an effect occurs, the comedy should be reduced to a minimum.
Difatte in all three instances mentioned, managed to cover up the moment of astonishment with some very funny comment or situational comedy bit, thus putting ketchup on a perfect dry-aged-steak (I apologize to vegetarians and vegans for this analogy).
To stay with the analogy: You can use ketchup with your fries, if you really crave them, but for Vernon’s sake do not put it on the steak, which only improves with some butter and fleur de sel.
I was reminded when as a child my father took me to a circus where musical clowns performed. They were doing very funny clowning routines, but at some point my father whispered to me, “You’ll see in a minute that they are also excellent musicians.” And when they indeed started playing the violin, or whatever the instruments were, I was very impressed, as I thought to myself, “Wow, they are not only very funny, they are also excellent musicians.”
I believe that if Difatte would stage the moment of the climax differently, the audience would leave by saying, “This was not only a very likable and funny man, he’s also a great magician.” If Difatte reads this, he might hate me, as every author hates a non-positive comment, but if he applies my advice intelligently, in a few years, when we meet again, he will buy me a whole bottle of Glenfiddich (15 years old) 🙂
Saturday started with another session featuring various talents.
Alex Romanoff, who is probably much better at academic talks as he’s at performing, did a very well prepared talk discussing the question of whether magic is an art form.
His delivery was impeccable, and his Power Point slides well-chosen. Only rarely did he fall into the trap of reading out a text written on a slide, a most unfortunate mistake most speakers make.
Almost all his slides were a metaphorical illustration of what he argued verbally, some of them illustrating actual facts, and he had the audience in the palm of his hand. He could do with a little more humbleness, which would make him more likeable, but there is no doubt that his talk was word-perfect.
As I’ve insinuated above, every convention should have at least one historical and one theoretical talk of this quality. Well done!
Ondřej Pšenička, the creator of the Butterfly Deck, and an all-around brilliant chap, gave a presentation on a very little used principle in card magic, clocking the deck, possibly best known by those who know through Harry Lorayne’s publication The Epitome Location. The subject is so specialized that I didn’t even treat it in five volumes of Card College!
Although not everything worked out as expected, the talk was highly informative, and delivered with such panache and enthusiasm that I’m sure it sent back many to investigate the principle further. I myself made a note to look into this again, as I remember having invested quite a bit of time into it decades ago, but finding that it doesn’t suit my intellectual potential so much (in other words: I’m to dumb for this principle… you need to be a quick thinker and instant calculator, and I’m neither).
After a two-hour break, which would have been an opportunity to have a proper lunch, if one had been available (most thought this was the case, so I’m in a minority), I attended the next lecture. I had another apple, and no Cappuccino…
This young man from Denmark, to me, was the discovery of the convention. He oozes with talent, as an original performer, as a technician, as an originator.
An excellent lecture. You can’t get any better, different, yes, better, no.
Also, he had the good sense of picking material that could be seen without the cameras and monitors, or the organizers had the foresight to pick someone who fitted the infrastructural requirements…
Generally speaking, I believe that it is always the organizer’s responsibility to pick the right act, for the specific target audience and the conditions offered by the venue.
I’m saying this as a past artistic director, where I hand-picked every act first and above all considering the question: Where will they perform, what will they do, will it be seen, heard and understood.
For this you MUST know the performers’ act/lecture as well as the precise conditions of the venue. And then I did not hesitate to ask for certain pieces to be removed from the act, and others put in for being a better fit. Yes, this is extra work and requires an extra degree of competence, but it has to be done in order to avoid pitfalls (see below my comments on Markobi and Jeki Yoo at the Sunday gala).
Back to Christiansen: He was a hit with the audience, who all seemed to agree to have seen an extraordinary talent, and best of all, someone most had never seen before. This is one of the talents of Andi and Josh, who scout a lot to get interesting and unknown people to the Session. More power to them!
Here is what even the term “consummate professional” (my highest praise for a performer) doesn’t accurately describe: Jermay is a unique blend of everything you need in magic, and a bit more.
Untypical for him, he did not talk about his core competence, mentalism, but about a coin trick and a big conceptual subject.
The first part of his lecture turned around how to study a trick, from the moment you pick it, to how you practice it, to the moment you bring it in front of an audience. He did this with an original and well-performed Coin Assembly routine that had various surprising phases. This is how a theory presentation should be: Do something practical that fascinates the audience, afterwards talk about the “hidden” aspects of it.
For those who wanted to learn more about the technicalities of the trick, Jermay offered a free workshop later at night.
Briefly: Jermay – a brilliant and generous artist.
PS: If you are interested in the subject of how to study magic, go back to my essay “The Study of Card Conjuring” in “Chapter 27: Theory” in Card College Volume 2, and also see my essay in “Chapter 54: The Structure of Magic” in Card College Volume 4.
I missed the Mark James lecture, as I had to take in my daily meal, and that’s dinner… with interesting friends and conversations.
The evening was closed by Richard Turner with an almost 90-minute performance. I particularly appreciated that this was a “show” Turner does for laypeople a lot in his own country and abroad.
I had met him before on two occasions, the last time at a convention in Las Vegas, where we had dinner with Paul Wilson and Bill Kalush, quite a memory, and where he did several things for me, and I did a few things for him, which at that time he could see and liked – he even used my deck to put in the special “work” he uses on certain cards…
Turner deserves a long write-up I can’t do here. Just a few things:
He sits at the table with a spectator at either side, and holds the entire audience for 90 minutes with sheer charisma and competence.
If you haven’t seen it, get his doc-video Dealt, and learn more about him.
Fortunately the overhead camera they had worked very well with Turner, because his effects – or should I say demonstrations – were all happening horizontally, and for the rest you could look at him directly.
The following day Andi and Josh tried to interview Turner during an hour, but had a similar experience as I had when I interviewed Paul Potassy for a convention I had organized in Switzerland: You ask ONE question, and the rest is automatic 🙂
All was interesting, not much practical things to learn, but inspirational and simply entertaining in the broad and good sense of this term.
Briefly: Although I had seen Turner several times and knew him personally, this was another absolute highlight of the convention, for beginners and experts, and well-chosen.
Lots more to say, no time to do so…
Sunday Final Gala Show
This is the closing event before about half of the conventioneers head home and the other half talks into the night at the bar (see below).
Mark James, another very experience professional, emceed the show and kept it moving – an always difficult job, and well done.
The first up was math-professor-mental-prodigious-calculator Arthur Benjamin, and he was a joy to watch and listen to (I missed his early-morning lecture, as I had just gone to bed, but heard it was excellent and various said they wished he had been their math teacher).
I simply love those unpretentious people on stage, no laser, no smoke, no show-business braggadoccio, just the man, his instruments and his words.
He had the audience in the palm of his hand from the first moment, and fascinated everyone with just “mental” pieces. He’s the epitome of what Tamariz called “prodigious magic”, as opposed to “miraculous magic”. “Prodigious magic” builds on effects that although not impossible and miraculous, are absolutely improbable, and gain their effect through the degree of difficulty necessary to achieve them.
Next up was Mortenn Christiansen, whose performance was even more brilliant than his lecture: Astonishing, very good and original, period.
Had the show stopped here it would have been already worth attending.
The last two performers, Jeki Yoo and Markobi, both had excellent acts, but where the wrong choice for this venue.
Although the first part of Yoo’s performance played very well, as it was part of his stand-up act, the second part, with his FISM card routine, simply did not work, at least not for me, as he kept going out of frame, and the cameras had difficulties following his whimsy movements.
Furthermore, the effect category on which almost the entire act was based, was travel-transpositions, the most difficult effect category of them all: You have to follow two locations and two identities, that’s four pieces of information, and with Yoo it was even worse, as he used three signed cards.
Fortunately, I had seen this act years before in Switzerland and remember having ben very impressed. But this time I could not repeat the experience.
The same was true for Markobi, FISM 1st prize in Card Magic, whose act can be seen on YouTube under better conditions, as several effects happened out of frame, and the final effect simply did not register as it should have done.
I had identified the problem in previous Sessions already: Close-up acts simply don’t work under these conditions. They can be OK in the context of a lecture, but not in a gala situation.
You either have to change the venue, or simply book only acts that play on stage. But I know what it is: the Session started out essentially as a close-up convention, and they want to keep this spirit, which of course is laudable. But, they have become so big, that most of the time the concept no longer works. It’s hard to admit this, I know, but that’s what they need to do.
I’ve always believed that the most important and pleasant events at a convention are those that are unscheduled: The meals and the time spent at and around the bar area.
Some of those conventions which have received the worst reviews, to me have been the best, because I have met and sessioned with some of the most interesting people in magic.
This edition of the Session was not different. Interestingly, the Session attracts a very special type of “magic audience”. I find it to have a high degree of active, above-average talented people. Some that are very well know, besides the artists booked, of course, people such as Pit Hartling, Tom Stone, Ian Rowland, Denis Behr, Laura London, Marco Fida, Michael Weber (not here this time), Jörg Alexander, and then lots of professional performers, lesser known in magic circles, but very successful in their won right, like my friend Stephan Kirschbaum, who successfully runs a small theatre in Nuremberg.
I met several who did some very unusual and interesting things, such as Tibor Varga, who floored almost everyone with a very little known principle – and even when you know, only few could do it. He wrote a booklet on it, Meditations on Ripping, which he kindly gave me, and which you should be able to acquire from him.
Obviously, I greatly enjoy young and old people coming up to me, complete strangers, and say how much my Card College books, and some others, have helped and inspired them in their magic. Some of the things these people said to me were quite touching and genuinely moved me. Occasionally, I jokingly added that they can find me at the bar 🙂 Seriously, you can always show your appreciation by sending wines, liquor, cigars, salmon, anything considered unhealthy, just don’t send flowers 🙂
During the four days several young people (and some older ones, too) came up to me and asked me if something they had come up with had already been invented, and then proceeded to show some kind of move, occasionally very well done. It certainly flatters me that they should think I know everything. Most of the time I sent them to Denis Behr and was amused to see how he got out of the affair 🙂
For real, what I say most of the time is to explain that the highest grade of creativity is to come up with a new plot (e.g., “All Backs” was a new plot) or operational concept (e.g., “the Gilbreath Principle” was a new concept), but most of the time, 99,5% of the time, what we come up with, including myself, are personal handlings of something that already exists.
This is of course very important to the person who finds it, as it gives one an incomparable feeling of satisfaction, and increases our self-confidence, and pleases us, all things that add to our quality of life. But we should not kid ourselves into thinking that we have made a major contribution to civilization.
This is not easy to explain to an enthusiastic youth. I always try to be as encouraging and complimentary as possible, without exaggerating.
The most difficult to handle for me are those who go on to perform a trick for me, and they don’t do it well, or they do it well, but have no presentation at all.
And, after they ask for my opinion, I try to ask what they think the effect is, and what the emotional hook is. Almost invariably they don’t even listen and start talking about the method and how clever they think it is.
Not only do they not have a notion of how to stage and present an effect, which is not such a problem, since you can learn this, no, what really hurts me is that they couldn’t care less, they simply are not interested in looking at the piece as a magical performance piece, they look at it as a curiosity they can do well and with which they can fool someone. They get so intrigued by the method and their digital skill that they completely overlook the essence, the magic effect. (This is one of the reasons I am so unhappy with the title “Fool Us”: Although a beautiful platform for many talented but mostly unknown performers, it focuses on a completely wrong aspect of magic as the performing art of wonder.)
I have discussed this subject at some length in my essay “Common Mistakes Amateurs Make”, and you can find it HERE.
What I find to be missing at the Session are decisions makers: Curiously, there are no, or only very few, presidents of clubs, organizers of conventions etc., those that book talent. On the opposite of the spectrum you have conventions like FISM, which have A LOT of them, fortunately also a lot of artistic talent. However, the decision makers are those who book you for conventions, lectures etc.
Since I consider myself semi-retired as of now, I don’t care, but I took notice…
And, finally, let me say that all those talks were just marvelous – thank you to all who approached me, said hello, chatted, bought me drinks and helped make this a memorable little important convention.
Forgive me for all those I did not name, you were all wonderful!
Here are a few ideas to think about:
- During the talks the room is mostly dark, but many want to take notes, and it is difficult to do so. Leave some 20% light in the audience so you can see what you write. During talks and lectures this will not take away anything from the atmosphere, on the contrary, it helps the presenters see the audience, which in my many years of experience is a great advantage for both performer and audience. In my talks I always insist to leave some light in the room, and I learned this from Juan Tamariz, who does this even with shows (!).
- It is a good idea to have music playing as the audience enters the room before an event to built atmosphere – I remember how Ali Bongo once gave me a short lecture on this topic (he was another genius).
However, the music must not be too loud. On the Sunday evening gala the music was so loud before the start that you had to shout even at your direct neighbor, I eventually had to give up an interesting conversation.
Unfortunately it seems to be a credo among those who make music (DJs, bands etc.): The louder, the better. Yes, maybe in some places, but certainly not at a magic convention, especially on the last evening, where most know most others, and you want to chat with your neighbors.
FORTUNATELY, in the bar area there was no music (the background chatter was loud enough), so you could talk, as this is all you want to do when you socialize. Whether this was by intent or not, I don’t know, but it is my recommendation that at magic conventions you keep the background music down, or, as in the bar, leave it out completely.
- Badge: This is a pet peeve of mine, and I have told this to several convention organizers, but most just don’t care.
Question: What is the most important thing on the badge? The logo? NO, certainly not, as you don’t need to sell anything to the wearers of the badge, they’ve already bought their ticket, and they know exactly where they are. And believe me, nobody, absolutely nobody who is not at the convention looks at that badge, or cares about that badge, or will become a client and buy something.
The single most important thing on a badge is THE REGISTRANT’S NAME. Not so much for him- or herself, but for the others!
We all know the situation: You see someone you know coming towards you to greet, or you want to go up to that person, but since you haven’t seen that person for at least a year, you don’t remember the name. Here is were the name, ESPECIALLY THE FIRST NAME, comes into play. You must be able to read it from at least three meters distance (that’s ca. 3 yards or 10 feet). HOWEVER, almost all badges, including the one at the Session, has the name on ONLY ONE SIDE. Therefore, on 50% of the time, you don’t see the name.
SIMPLE SOLUTION: Put the name on BOTH SIDES, big and nice, make the logo small, and if you want to print the schedule, use both sides. Alternatively, if you want the name only on one side for reasons of design, CI and CD (no attendant of a magic convention cares about CD and CI, except the organizers…) invent a way to attach the badge so that it doesn’t turn (possibly the inventor could become a wealthy person, as EVERY convention in the world has this same problem, only most don’t even recognize it – same as in magic, where many don’t even recognize the most basic problems…).
- I learned something important from Juan Tamariz: Do not take questions during a lecture, just DON’T.
Do so in a talk, or workshop, or masterclass, or other format, but not in a lecture, especially not in a lecture at magic conventions, where they give you only 60 minutes or less.
The point was proven in several instances, where the presenter asked, “Any questions?” And most questions were just dumb, wasting everyone’s time. My solution, but only if there are some extra 15 minutes at the end, is to say at the very beginning to please take notes and write down questions, that I will be happy to answer at the end, but not during the lecture in order not to break its flow. This has proven very efficient, also because those who have very basic questions rethink them and at the end recognize that it is not an apropos question to ask. One of the problems, of course is, that if we were at a surgeons’ convention, everyone would be a professional surgeon, but at a magic convention 95% are not professional magicians, but teachers, gardeners, doctors, accountants etc. who do magic as a hobby: a few are “inspired amateurs”, some are very proficient, most have good basic knowledge and skills, but more than one doesn’t even know the basics of the instruments they are playing with. Of course they are welcome to magic conventions, as it adds to the richness of diversity, but they should just listen, especially at a lecture.
Two pieces of advice for taking questions: One, have someone with a microphone ready to hand it to the asker, as it is primordial that EVERYONE hears the question, or else the next five minutes the presenter may take to answer the question are absolutely meaningless. Unfortunately this happened almost each time “questions” were asked. The only laudable exception was when Andi and Josh interviewe Richard Turner, where they had a technician ready with a mike running around and hand it to the asker. Two: If you don’t have access to a microphone, or if the seating situation makes it awkward to get the mike to the asker, REPEAT the question yourself. This is so simple: Just repeat the question, and then go on to answer it.
That’s it, it is almost midnight and I have to close this, I apologize for any typos etc. but hope you’ve enjoyed my ramblings.
Wish you all a very successful week!