The 38th International Magic Convention
London, 27th-30th November 2009
by Matthew Field, Editor, The Magic Circular
Photos by Duncan Trillo
The International Magic Convention, known to many as Ron's Day after the late Ron MacMillan who started the magicians' gathering 37 years ago, took place over the weekend of 27-30 November and was, by all accounts, a most enjoyable affair. Each year there is one magician who is the focus, people like Jerry Andrus and Richard Turner, and this year the special guest was famed Argentinian card expert Rene Lavand. The venue this year was new – the newly renovated Mermaid Theatre complex on the Thames embankment, near Blackfriars and St. Paul's Cathedral. It is a wonderful space with a theatre a bit larger than the previous year's venue, on-site bars and hot and cold food, and a warm, friendly and helpful staff. With raked seating, fully-equipped stage and best viewing conditions for close-up magic of any convention I've attended, every effort has been made to bring the best of close-up, stage and comedy magic to the attendees. I should also mention the excellent hotels in the area, including the Crowne Plaza and the brand new Grange St. Paul's where I stayed – first class all the way.
The events got underway with a Friday evening one-man show by Dutch magician George Parker, whose skewed presentations involved the idea of fooling one's senses. The Vanishing Coke Bottle, catching a bubble and making it solid, Professor's Nightmare, and 3-Fly were placed in the context of stories. There was a trick with banknotes, a prediction in a balloon, the Linking Rings and the Healed and Sealed restoration of a crushed soda can which filled with soda. Some of these are a tough sell to an audience of magicians.
The second Friday event was a comedy show hosted by the hilarious Otiz Cannelloni from the UK. He introduced US comedy magician Geoff Williams who performed a Six Card Repeat, solving of a mini-Rubik's cube in his mouth, and finding a selection by shooting it out of a deck with a toy gun. Although none of these are original, his personalisation of the effects was good. Chris Mitchell, another American, came out dressed in flashy clothes to perform an ersatz quiz show called "What's On Your Mind", with a 'magician in trouble' theme which all came right in the end. He followed with a Torn and Restored Newspaper and Snake Basket card revelation. I laughed myself silly with the last act, the Raymond & Mr. Timpkins Revue, a British duo who interpreted edited-together snippets of song lyrics in a punny way, accompanied by clever (and often rude) sight gags. It was an altogether enjoyable show.
On Saturday the Dealers' Fair opened in three rooms, lots of space for 24 dealers from 11 countries! Simultaneously, at 10am, the 26th International Magic Close-Up Competition for cash prizes and the Kevin Reay Trophy began, with 13 contestants competing for the glory, loving cups and dough, hosted by Martyn Rowland. The UK's Rob James did a clever card act with the deck instantly returning to the card box, a comedy sequence with a computer scoreboard tallying the jokes as they zipped by, and ending with a card sequence in which the deck sorted itself into the suits in numerical order. Keith Bennett, a UK magic dealer, featured a rubber chicken which was cut open to reveal a selected card. It seemed as if he was enjoying himself. Oliver Meech, another UK entrant, performed using a hotel-style bathrobe since, he claimed, his luggage had been lost. Oliver poured a variety of alcoholic drinks from the same mini-bar bottle of gin and performed the Cups and Balls using teacups and tea bags, an imaginative presentation.
From France, Jean Emmanuel Franzis performed a lovely coin act set to music which was somewhat marred by a backstage mike being inadvertently left open. Dr. Gabor (Gabor Szabo – not the guitarist!) from Hungary did a rather confusing but technically proficient card act with fronts and backs of the cards changing. To close the first half, Russia's hilarious Alexander Popov did a manipulative card routine with each move accompanied by a strange mouth sound or whistle.
Following the interval Paul Brown, known to many London magi from his stints behind the counter of a magic shop, performed a routine in which he was an alchemist attempting to turn lead into gold. With impressive use of fire and water this young magician has great potential. Another Russian competitor, Vladislav Kolmykov, was up next with a rope trick and a signed, selected card found in a tin of apricots in syrup! Pete Hathaway is a young UK magician whose card act was so loose he seemed to be ad-libbing everything and eventually went over the 12-minute time limit. I especially enjoyed the card work of Spain's Woody Aragon, who performed a faultless Assembly to the music of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. For his finale, lettered cards which had been rearranging themselves in various orders, spelled out "38th Ron's Day" for an audience-pleasing finish.
Charming Choi from Korea had startlingly original effects. A picture of a bicycle which was outlined using cards laid on a sketch pad and had its wheels come to life, and a Coin Matrix effect in which the coins were drawn on the pad yet assembled anyway were among his crowd-pleasing effects. Even more charming than Charming Choi was Johan Stahl from Sweden, who used a coffee cup, cube of sugar and pen in a demonstration of vanishing items, producing liquid in the cup to finish. He was ably assisted by a fantastic audience volunteer whose reactions were priceless. Finally, the UK's John van der Put performed his act including throwing the deck at a laptop to have a card stick to the inside of the screen, at which point John runs offstage, appears on the screen, removes the card and returns to the stage. Unfortunately, it's the wrong card, but John transforms it into the selection one quarter at a time.
Although the awards were not made until the next day, we'll jump to the finish by telling you that the First Prize of the Kevin Reay cup and £1000 went to Johan Stahl (Sweden), Second Place, a cup and £500, was taken by Spain's Woody Aragon and Third Prize, a cup and £100, was won by the UK's Rob James. Awards of Merit went to Alexander Popov (Russia), John van der Put (UK) and Charming Choi (Korea).
Three lectures were held on Saturday, beginning with George Parker on creativity in magic, including his own card marking system. The great Rene Lavand was next, showing how he can shuffle a deck yet still deal down to a card at a number selected by a spectator – second, third or fourth from the top. This is all accomplished with his left hand alone – he lost his right hand in a car accident when he was nine years old. With excellent translation by the talented Tina Lenert and excellent camerawork from the audience point of view, overhead and from a handheld camera, Sr. Lavand showed what he called the 'strings of the marionette', his false shuffles and Second Deals. Following some audience questions Matthew Field (that's me, an editor of many books on magic, including Sr. Lavand's 'Mysteries of My Life') interviewed him for a half hour, concentrating on his use of stories to transform his effects from mere puzzles into works of art. Finally, David Minkin, a soft-spoken magician from the U.S., gave what he said was his first lecture. He concentrated on showing how non-verbal communication can assist a magician in making a connection with a group of people during a strolling performance.
The Saturday and Sunday Gala Show performances were sold out. The wonderful Mermaid theatre was attended by many couples and parents with children. From the beginning, when patrons were handed magic wands which, when unrolled, turned out to be the evening's programme, to the many magicians performing close-up magic as the audience assembled before taking their seats, this was a truly magical event. Tina Lenert opened with her famous Cleaning Lady act, in which a tired-looking woman with a dustcart finds herself with an imaginary, debonair man, made from a dust-mop, who transports her into a world of imagination. Noel Britten, the evening's compere and organiser of the show (and, indeed, much of the convention), was hilarious throughout, with a light touch and comedic bits including reading silly things that are actually printed as warnings on consumer packages, and a new and very funny routine using the famous mind reading duck puppet, Francis, once owned by the late John Salisse.
Up next was a break-dancing south London group, One Motion, whose moves were impressive. Korea's Han Seol Hui performed his gasp-producing, FISM-winning manipulation act with CDs, followed by Chris Mitchell who produced a ping-pong ball and bowling ball from a drawing pad, and did a version of the perhaps too-often seen Vanishing Bandanna (Banana) Trick. Bret Sherwood performed the Vanishing Bird Cage, some card manipulations, Torn and Restored Newspaper, and a floating paper rose which transformed into a real rose. Thus ended the first half.
After the interval Leo Nifosi, a striking figure of a magician who hails from Italy, performed imaginative feather productions and contact juggling with a glass ball, as well as a Snowstorm in China. The curtains parted to reveal Heir of Insanity, a UK duo who perform acrobatic dance inside a huge, clear inflated sphere. This was followed by the evening's second FISM-award winning act from Korea, Yo Kato, who manipulates thimbles and small wands which instantaneously and visually change colour – a very visual act. Armando Lucero, the U.S. magician especially known for his close-up work, performed some excellent billiard ball manipulations followed by the Paper Balls Over the Head, leaving a spectator on stage baffled as the paper balls vanished, then the box of tissues from which the balls were made, then Armando's shoe! The show closed with a non-magic act, Matt Hennem, whose outstanding contact juggling skills with a glass orb brought gasps and much applause from the audience.
The day began with a performance/lecture by Geoff Williams, introduced by host James Freedman. Geoff has a good energy, perfect for the Sunday morning ambiance, and explained a card trick and a cassette recorder which only plays when its power cord is plugged into a drawing of an electric socket drawn on a pad.
Next was the Close-Up Gala Show ably hosted by John Lenahan. George Parker did his version of the Homing Card in which all the cards said 'yes' except a stubborn card marked 'no' which kept turning up. David Minkin began by making coins appear and vanish, then transformed a glass marble into a tube and then, filling it with sugar from a packet, into an hourglass. The hourglass turned back time until we once again had a marble and packet of sugar. He had the audience participate in using hand rubbing sounds and finger snaps to imitate a rainfall, then amazingly began producing water from his bare hands. He is a gentle and impressive performer. Armando Lucero performed a very strong close-up act, beginning with a routine in which two cards sank through the deck to capture a selection, followed by his truly magical Coins Across and Matrix sequences which are astonishing and brought him a standing ovation.
Rene Lavand performed next, his classic 'Why Do the Colours Always Alternate', his version of Call to the Colours in which red and black cards are dealt on to the table in alternating colours, then alternating two colours at a time, then three at a time, then in any order called for. This was followed by his superb version of Oil and Water, 'It Can Not Be Done Any Slower', which proves that in the hands of an artiste the trick can be mesmerising, and which received a standing ovation.
A late addition to the convention was a lecture by a man who does not do lectures, the internationally renowned quick-change artiste Arturo Brachetti, whose one-man (but many characters!) show is currently playing in London's West End. Brachetti spoke about using technique in the service of art. His heartfelt and completely candid advice had the audience of magicians on the edge of their seats and his appearance was a real coup for the convention organisers.
There followed the awards ceremony – the winners were given above, following the description of the Saturday competition itself, but note should be made of host James Freedman, award-presenter Armando Lucero, and judges Gerritt Brengman (Chairman, Belgium), Domenico Dante (Italy), Hank Moorehouise (USA), Joan Caesar (Canada), Tonny van Rhee (Belgium), Gay Ljunberg (Sweden), Andy Nyman (UK), Jackie McClements (Scotland) and Obie O'Brien (USA).
The awards were followed by a lecture by Armando Lucero, who did not reveal any methods, but spoke about the effectiveness of the use of affirmation, in which states of affairs are proven to the audience, when performing with sponge balls and cards. He described an exciting stage show he is working on which will be performed in Asia.
The last event at the Mermaid, for those who had seen the Gala show on Saturday, was the presentation of the David Berglas International Award. Hosted by the International Man of Mystery himself, this award always generates a huge amount of interest because of its past winners. Last year it was Uri Geller – who could top that? But David Berglas can always top what he has done in the past, and he announced this year's winner – the most famous magician ion the world – none other than David Copperfield! And there, in a live-TV hookup from Las Vegas, where he is currently appearing, was the great man himself (at 8am Las Vegas time!). After a little magic in which the award vanished from a box Mr. Berglas was holding to appear in a similar box held by Mr. Copperfield in Las Vegas, the younger David was honest, funny, emotional and heartfelt as he answered audience questions via the two-way hookup. Perhaps the funniest moment was when an audience member asked him if he was going to do any more stunts with roller coasters, and Copperfield answered that the questioner was confusing him with Lance Burton, but, "Our profiles look something alike, don't you think?" He said he was always moved when he realised people were standing in line and paying money to see him perform. He spent almost an hour answering audience questions, with David Berglas, always the charming host, always ready with a quick retort. Who else but the great Berglas could have arranged an event like that?
While those who had not seen the Gala Show on Saturday enjoyed themselves at the Mermaid, about 150 people assembled at the Bridewell Theatre, several blocks away, to see a separate admission, one-man show by the extraordinary Rene Lavand. Expectations were high, and among those in attendance were card experts Darwin Ortiz and Michael Vincent. A fixed camera was focussed on the table top with a large-screen TV for close-up views of the adventures of the pasteboards which are used as accompaniments to the touching stories told by this master of magic, who treats his loss of his hand as "far from a handicap, it is an advantage". Assisted by the translation skills of Tina Lenert, the evening began with a video showing highlights from Sr. Lavand's career. Performing for two spectators, he did the classics he had done earlier at the convention, "Why Do the Colours Alternate Themselves" and "It Can Not Be Done Any Slower", along with versions of Triumph, the Elevator trick and the Ambitious Card. As an encore, we were treated to his classic "The Three Bread Crumbs" in which three balls are shown, two placed in an espresso cup and one placed in the pocket, but the cup is always shown to hold three balls, even when that third ball is flicked away, on to the floor. A final series of Ambitious Card moves with a previously signed selection culminated in a Card to Wallet.
The five-minute standing ovation Rene Lavand received brought tears to the eyes of many in the audience. The emotion generated by this great magician, his devotion to bringing magic to the level of art, was one of the greatest experiences I have had in more than 30 years in magic.
This was a convention packed with great performances and great magic. Thanks must go to the MacMillan family, to Teresa, Georgia and especially Martin MacMillan, owner of the International Magic Shop in Clerkenwell Road in London, his wife Liz, and their family members and friends who give of their time and energy. The secret ingredient in this convention is the wonderful and multi-talented Noel Britten, winner of this year's Carlton Comedy Magic Award from The Magic Circle. And Bob Hamilton and his family and crew bring us closer to the magic with their video projections and services, the finest in magic. In speaking with the convention organisers I know that there are plans for expansion, and any offers of help around Convention time next year (with airport pickups, etc.) would be greatly appreciated"
I can't wait to be in attendance in November 2010 for the 39th edition of Ron's Day – the International Magic Convention in London.
© Matthew Field, December 2009