Here we are at #41 of The Magic Memories, gone online SUN, 10th October 2021, as always at 0:07.
As promised in the last two posts I will tell you a bit about the latest magic convention I went to, Magialdia, in Vitoria, the capital of Alava, a small hour from Bilbao, the capital of the Basque Country in the north of Spain. Magialdia is not just a convention, but a true magic festival lasting 3 weeks, the last three days being a magic convention that usually attracts ca. 400 magic enthusiasts from all over the world, the majority from Spain, of course. This year, due to Corona, the capacity was limited, but it did sell out and played to ca. 250 happy conventioneers.
This year Magialdia was in its 33rd edition, making it possibly the oldest such event in Europe, and certainly one of the longest-running in the world. What many will find surprising is that the event is mainly sponsored by the city of Vitoria, plus a few others, such as Fournier, the playing card company founded and located in precisely this city (and that’s another story). This is of course sensational, not just because it allows for a superb program with the best international artists, but also because it officially recognizes magic as a worthy artistic and cultural event, similar to festivals for Jazz, ballet or theatre. This is owed to a large part to its organizer from the first day, José Angel Suarez, and his exceptional team. That, naturally, is the secret for any successful convention: have a well-attuned team, i.e., always the same people who get along splendidly with each other, and where each one knows what to do.
Many things are absolutely remarkable about this festival, and if you are a booked act, you’ve never been treated as royally as at this convention. I won’t mention all the benefits you enjoy as a performer, as it would put all other convention organizers to shame, and this is certainly not my intention. However, may I say that if had to organize a convention I would go to Magialdia, make careful notes on how they handle things, and then imitate everything they do, including inviting all performers on the day after the convention to a full-day tour to the Rioja wine region, with visit to one or two wineries, some historical sites, and invite them (“inviting” meaning that people don’t have to pay) to a sensational lunch, including some of the great wines from Rioja. The photo below is taken on one of these legendary excursions. You will be able to recognize various well-posted magicians, such as Max Maven and the late Ramon Rioboo.
And here is yet another photo, overseeing the gorgeous Rioja valley, where some of the best wines in the world come from, with more stars of magic you might recognize, among others Toni Cachadiña, Yves Carbonnier and Gabi Pareras, one of the rare geniuses in magic.
I’ve had the privilege of being an invited guest to this conventions for the past fourteen years, and I haven’t missed one, occasionally turning down lucrative engagements, just to be with my friends at Magialdia. On some occasions I have performed and lectured, often together with a few of my friends, on Sunday morning, with talks that were off the beaten path. In the photo below you can see, from left to right, Jesus Etcheverry (the author of the Ascanio books), Toni Cachadina (FISM award winner in Close-up and Card Magic), Joaquin Matas (famous professional in Spain, here in a medieval costume, as he had just recreated a Cups & Balls routine from the oldest Spanish magic book), Manolo Tena (one of the greatest collectors of old magic books), and an unknown…
This was taken at the end of a 90-minute talk on the history of card magic literature in Spain. The following year I gave a 60-minute lecture all by myself in the Playing Card Museum to a very appreciative lay audience. I wish I could give this talk in other places, too, but most convention organizers just lack the vision to include such events in their conferences, which mostly are just magic gatherings directed at amateurs who want to have fun. I should hasten to add that I believe this is a gross misunderstanding, for especially nowadays we do have a large number of people who are not professional performers, but who are very well-informed and educated, and who would enjoy conventions to be less trivial than they often are. I do not write this to bash anyone, mind you, as this is not what I do, but because I have attended hundreds of conventions since the age of 17, and that’s now almost 45years, so I know what I’m talking about.
Back to facts: During Magialdia, and before the magic convention part starts on the last week-end, there are dozens of activities. Magic in pubs and cafés, magic-related movies with introductory talks by university professors, workshops for children, special “magic menus” in various restaurants, expositions in the public library and a large etcetera. Since I mentioned restaurants: The Basque cuisine is one of the best in the world, period. Below is a little film-photo clip by my friend Toni Cachadiña that shows only happy faces, and that’s what it is all about.
Back to the program: Another thing they do is that they put some really good performers in historical places within the old town center, each venue having a unique atmosphere. This year they had Ricardo Rodríguez (Chile), Joaquín Matas (Spain), Pipo Villanueva (Spain), Roberto Mansilla (Argentina) and Roberto Giobbi (Switzerland & Italy). I had the privilege of acting in the beautiful Fournier Playing Card Museum, next to the one in Issy-les-Moulineaux (Paris) the most remarkable museum of its kind. I did three shows of 25 minutes each on two consecutive days, total six shows, for an audience of 30 spectators each time (as everywhere the number of spectators in the audience had to be reduced due to Corona, with everyone wearing masks and keeping a distance of about one meter to each other). In spite of these sub-optimal conditions, the event went over well. As you might imagine it is much harder to get the normal reactions from a “masked” audience, that is aware at all times of their distance to each other and the artist. An additional difficulty for me was that I had last performed in November of 2020, almost one year away! This has never happened before in my life as a performer (and I’ve been a professional since 1988). Plus I had to cope with the Castilian language, the one I speak least well of the six I master. I admit that in such instances I turn back to scripting, which I usually only use rarely, to make sure I get all the lines and special vocabulary, which is part of my performing style in several languages. I would say that I lost about 25% of the reactions, but thanks to the program I had selected, and to the decades of experience, it went over much better than I had expected. I stuck to the age-old formula of three routines: A visual beginning (a rope routine in nine phases with audience interaction after about 3 minutes), another visual but intriguing middle that considered the fact of a heterogeneous audience including children (Vernon’s “Symphony of the Rings” with bits Richard Ross personally taught me), and a rather conceptual finale with a strong finish (my “Stickler”, the card stabbing routine from my book Stand-up Card Magic).
During the festival there are other unique events, one of the most unusual being what they call “Magia en los escaparates” (“Magic in the window displays”): Seven or eight shops in the heart of the city empty their main window and let a magician or magicienne set up their little stage and perform. The audience sits and stands outside on the sidewalk and enjoys the show, which is mostly visual to music with loudspeakers outside of the window. Occasionally some have experimented with interactive acts with patter and were quite successful with it. The acts are often top acts from all around the world. In the past they had Otto Wessely, Sylvester the Jester, Miguel Muñoz, and so many others. One year a sponsor even offered a prize of 10’000 EURO (ca. $ 11’500) for the best act, so the event turned into a competition (with eight competitors). The first prize went to Armando Lucero, who had come all the way from Las Vegas. In the photo below you can see the audience in front of a window, plus the jury of three seated in the middle, from left to right: Joanie Spina, Roberto Giobbi, José Angel Suarez.
Three other events for the public stand-out: First, a two-hour close-up gala in an amphitheater-like setting, were all convention activities take place, with an international cast, this year with Tom Stone, Ricardo Rodriguez and Roberto Mansilla, among others, presented in a hilarious way by one of Spain’s TV comedy and magic stars, Jandro. Two: a 90-minute magic variety show in Vitoria’s oldest and most beautiful classic theater, again with an international display of performers, and finally, on Sunday night, the closing night, they set up a huge stage such as the ones you see for large music concerts, and they put up a ca. 75-minute show in the large Plaza amidst the historical center of the city, with over a thousand spectators in attendance. Due to Corona last year and this year they had to move to yet another more modern theater with less capacity, but I’m confident that they’ll return next year.
And I haven’t even told you about the convention program for magicians! Fortunately I could attend the various galas, and also saw Roberto Mansilla’s excellent lecture. Unfortunately I missed several other activities due to Paul Wilson asking me to give lengthy interviews for his upcoming documentary on the life and magic of Juan Tamariz. However, if that turns out well I’ll forgive him 🙂
As you can see, next year you should leave everything you’re doing and come to Magialdia in September – and don’t forget to take a few extra days to visit one of the most interesting countries of the Old World, Spain, where some of the most innovative magic is created and performed.
Until next Sunday I wish all of you a successful and happy week!