2005 Convention Review

Magic in the Alamo City
by Scott Wells

The 2005 Texas Association of Magicians started a little late for me this year. Traveling northwest from Houston late on Friday, I slipped into my seat at 7:10 and the curtain rose shortly thereafter. President Don Moravits welcomed us to San Antonio then introduced our master of ceremonies, Duane Laflin, one of my favorite emcees. He used clever props to introduce each act beginning with Eric Evans, stage winner at the 2000 T.A.O.M. convention in Dallas. His beautiful manipulation act was performed to a light jazz tune as he deftly handled cards, coins and silks in the style of Cardini as he seemed surprised at some of the productions in a “sophisticated” way.

Chris Capehart worked in front of the curtain with a comedy act that involved kids, ¦a lot of kids. He had a lot of funny bits as he performed a silk trick, Miser’s Dream, a lota bowl using a little girl doll that sat atop the bowl keeping it forever full and a flower botania using a lot of comedy byplay. He ended by having probably every kid in the house (maybe 50) on stage with him as he finished his half hour set with a Fraidy Cat Rabbit routine.

Next was one of my personal favorites,the 2005 Gold Medal winner of the I.B.M. stage contest, Arthur Trace. This totally original act kills me every time. Perhaps it’s his appearance or maybe the music or the artwork, or maybe it’s the magic. Yeah, that’s it. It’s the whole package. Dressed as a “hipster” in a black pants, shirt and jacket, Arthur reminds me of a beatnik from the 50’s who may have hung out at coffee shops or art shows as he performed around an abstract painting with avant-garde jazz playing in the background. He “plucked” billiard balls off the painting then manipulated them, changed their colors then replaced them on the painting. He found a paint brush and “accidentally” painted himself. The paint was plucked off his jacket as he manipulated the “hardened paint” like colorful business cards. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but it all ties together to make a beautiful, tight ten minute routine that was well “framed.”

Well, the evening show started out with such good promise with three solid acts. What a great Friday night show that often features local or cheaper talent. Not tonight! These guys could have been on the bill of the last night of any convention gala show.

Nacho Estrada, a ventriloquist, is a local favorite and the audience seemed to like some of his hackneyed lines as he slogged along through a routine with an old man vent figure then he finally picked up with Maclovio, a figure that I figure he used more often as the lines and timing seemed much more practiced.

It is often thought that an act with stage illusions should close a show, so they found one who had a couple. Dave King, a circus ringleader and attired in a vest and a “puffy shirt” opened his 20 minute act with some unusual and fast paced fire eating that was a highlight of his performance.

The next event was handled a little differently. The public was allowed or rather, asked, to leave and for the magicians to remain behind for the next event. Following a 15 minute interval, Eugene Burger gave an excellent lecture in the theatre. His table was set on stage so anything he was going to do would be impossible to see, though he had a volunteer from the audience up to help him. He summed up his lecture in one sentence saying (and I’m paraphrasing here,) “your audience will never think your magic is more important than you think it is.”

I went back to hotel to take a quick trip through the dealer’s room. It was well laid out with plenty of room for everyone and a wide selection of different dealers, too, but not too many. After a quick pass and leaving a trail of money behind and a promise to return with more money later, I headed to the Collector’s Meeting where the main event was a lecture, display and performances of Alan Martin’s collectible micro-magic.

Day Two Saturday September 3rd. Stage competition started at 9:00 and ended around 11:30 a.m. It looks like the judges will have their tasks cut out for them trying to find a winner.

The doors opened to the 21 dealers at 1:00 today. I applaud the organizers for taking a bold step by closing the dealer room during conflicting events. The good sense or the folly of this decision will be much debated.

Tom Burgoon filled the lecture hall with registrants at 11:00 and taught us a lot of jokes and tricks interspersed with fun and laughter. I might also add that the large screen monitor aided in allowing everyone to easily see everything in the lectures.

The professional close-up show saw five performers rotate among four rooms of registrants. Unfortunately there was no raised seating which made it difficult to see what was happening on the tables except for Richard Turner, the incomparable sleight-of-hand wizard with a pack of cards. It was ironic that a legally blind man was more concerned about his sight-enabled audiences to see more than the others. Richard had a specially made table that was set up in each room. The table had a large mirror on arms that overhung the table and tilted toward the audience allowing everyone to see what was happening on the table.

Steve Beam opened in my room that was all cards and all fun. Steve had great humor interspersed with clever card tricks. Eugene Burger’s performance does not do justice to the experience of seeing and hearing him entertain his audience. He creates a frame around each trick that transcends the trick into a magic moment. Chris Capehart was dressed in his signature red shoes and a very bright red jacket. His excellent routines and clever ad-libs were given with perfect timing after years and years of working as a successful street performer based out of New York. Bob Sheets was another great street performer who has great humor and performing chops. Bob wore a dark colored Hawaiian shirt and a pork pie hat that added to his goofy, funny look. Perhaps the best way to describe Bob is “simply hilarious.”

Saturday night show: Dave King, the illusionist from Friday night’s show, served as the master of ceremonies this evening and with his mellifluous baritone voice, he joined the acts together quite seamlessly though disparately with tricks he interjected between the acts. Jade opened the show with her beautiful oriental act with parasols, silks, rice bowls, butterflies on fan and an emotional playlet with a torn and restored Chinese laundry ticket that ended with a Snowstorm in China. Duane Laflin next performed his colorful silk act. George Saterial performed his award winning act with doves, candles, silks and a grandfather clock. Not a Lance Burton clone, George is an original thinker though just as stylish as Lance that always scores big with audiences across the country.

Working in front of the curtain, Tom Burgoon energized the audience with hilarity. He had great gags and funny bits of business that led from one routine to another. He kind of reminds me of a polite Amazing Jonathon with a southern accent and charm. The perennial favorite of the T.A.O.M. Rick Walker provided a taste of glitz and glamour in the Las Vegas style as the closing act. During his grand illusion show, Rick announced that this was to be his last stage performance as he passes down his mantle to I.B.M. Gold Cup winner, Chase Curtis. He finished his last performance with a beautiful, well-choreographed Asrah.

A very nice, relatively tight show that went off quite well. The stage crew, sound and light technicians are also to be credited for making everyone look so good. A very professional show, indeed.

The 11:00 Bizarre Magic show was one of the highlights of the convention for me. Although I am not a bizarrist per se, I do enjoy a good story told well. And each of the performers this evening did just that. There were seven people on the bill and each did one trick with his own twist that kept everyone up even at this late hour.

Paul Mims emceed the evening as he introduced Bill Palmer who conducted a séance with his uncle Louie using a whoopee cushion and a card trick. Doug Gorman told a story about his early childhood and playing carnival games and a brush with death in his dream (or was it?). Brad Henderson told a very emotionally charged story in verse and song of a troubled, mischievous youth who grew to manhood and became a prisoner.

Ed Solomon was dressed in bib overalls and a straw hat as he told a story about growing up on the farm and a miracle rain that ended a drought. Paul Mims talked about the Salem witch trials and methods for determining whether or not one was indeed a real witch then performed a Needle Through Arm with dark overtones. Eugene Burger was introduced as the godfather of bizarre magic. He showed us a doll that was supposed to bring good luck to poker players. Apparently it worked as the holder of the doll won the ten card poker deal and the predicted hand was written on parchment inside the doll.

Rolando Medina closed the show by pouring broken glass on a blanket and laying face down on the broken shards of glass. A 340 pound volunteer then stepped first on the small of his back then directly on his the back of his neck and stayed there for the full count of three pushing Roland’s face even deeper into the glass. Rolando slowly got up with his hand covering his face to protect us from the sight, but when he removed it, we saw his first smile of the evening as he said, “boo!”

Sunday September 4th was taken up with the gospel church meeting conducted by Duane Laflin and the Invisible Lodge Meeting was the close-up competition with nine contestants. The Dealers again opened later than at usual conventions in order to allow registrants to attend alternate events. The dealers opened today at 11:00 and stayed open until 4:00.

Chris Capehart gave what was considered not only perhaps the best lecture of the convention but what one registrant told me was one of the best lectures he had ever attended. Chris covered the real work of working the streets including handling crowds, positioning and lots of inside tips that professionals need to know. He said his lecture would not be about teaching tricks and if you wanted to buy tricks, then they were available in the dealers room. Of course he had a few things in the back of the room, but this lecture was about what you needed to be equipped on the business side. I understand that his lecture usually runs about two and one-half hours so this was a much abbreviated version. I would love to hear the whole thing sometime.

I regret that I missed the Mahka Tendo lecture though I heard it included good information and tips on canes and cards. George Saterial’s lecture had something for everyone including a card trick, and a very cool idea on how to produce a lit candle from a cane. Other ideas were for stage and parlor.

Before the Sunday night show began, the officers took 15 minutes to announce the contest winners as follows: Junior Close-Up “Michael Goldstein; Senior Close-Up “Ken Jones; Junior Stage” The Amazing Ray; Senior Stage Fumio Inagaki.

The Sunday night gala show was everything a show should be. It had mystery, fun, magic, variety, color and music all orchestrated in perfect harmony by one of the true masters of the ceremony, Gene Anderson. He introduced Danny Cole, a recipient of the Magic Castle’s “Stage Magician of the Year.” He may not have high energy but his pacing is perfect for his act as it gives time for the audience to more fully appreciate each nuance and flavor of his haute cuisine of magic he serves up. He has extremely original ideas and a certain way about his slower style that allows you to digest the morsel you just consumed. He had a few quick changes of attire and some great mime work with a chair that pulled him away. After pulling a leg off the chair and making it useless, he merely sat back in mid air and crossed his legs as if the chair was still there. His 20 minute act brought the first standing ovation of the convention. Simply fantastic.

Bob Sheets took the stage with his rendition of Cuba Libre (a square tube is placed over a stack of six numbered blocks and regardless of their arrangement they always return to a pre-selected arrangement). Most knowledgeable magicians I have spoken with all agree that this trick has “become his.” I don’t see how anyone can improve much on what he has done with it or how it could be more entertaining. Bob then donned a fool’s cap and brought eight children on stage. It could have been pandemonium and an impossible situation except for the most hearty and seasoned performer and Bob was the right one for the task. The next 15 or so minutes was a real lesson of audience management on how to use children without disrespecting them, talking down to them or making fun of them. He used each of the youths in a hilarious cup and ball routine that had the audience in tears of laughter. I don’t recall the last time I saw my wife laugh like that for any magician. Bob concluded his 30 minute routine with a very brief egg bag routine as he let the last child go to her seat.

Arden James took a day off from his contract at the Greek Isles Casino and flew in from Las Vegas just to be with us for this show. He scored big with the audience who showed their appreciation in spades with their loud applause and laughter. Arden did some great mime work including a funny bit with a child who volunteered from the audience.

Gene Anderson did a comedy die box routine with a religious theme based on Old Mother Hubbard that drew lots of laughter. He then introduced Nels Cremean, a juggler from Buffalo, New York, who did some three-club juggling and a lot of funny bits with a microphone stand, then he juggled two diabolos (large spools) and closed by juggling a machete, a “pointy stick” and a cabbage while balanced atop a balance board. This was Nels’ second performance at a T.A.O.M. convention and his return was triumphant as he received the second standing ovation of the night following his 30 minute turn.

Gene Anderson returned with a reprise of his now classic and signature newspaper routine which of course finishes with his own newspaper tear. He then introduced Mahka Tendo who absolutely flabbergasted the audience with his extraordinary card manipulation act. Yes, we have all seen card manip acts before, but not like this that included jumbo card manipulations. I have never seen any manipulation act like it. Simply extraordinary.

And I might say that it was a bold move again on the part of the convention organizers and Alex Gutierrez, Talent Chairman, to think out of the box and close a major convention with a short act and not an illusion act. I think it worked very well though if anything might have been switched around, then perhaps Danny Cole could have closed and Mahko Tendo could have opened. But the whole evening was good and tight and flowed amazingly well. Bravo!

Steve Beam’s late night lecture after the Stars of Magic Gala show covered, what else, cards. Great ideas and practical tricks that are within the abilities of everyone. It was too bad that it was so late at night although that,s the time most card workers are at their best as they stay up sessioning most of the night. Steve is a most congenial gentleman willing to share any and everything with anyone.

The final event of the convention was Bob Sheets’ Monday morning lecture. I question how well-attended it was since most of us (myself included) were checking out of the hotel and heading out of town.

To summarize the convention, I must say that it was one of the best on record. Not just one of the best in San Antonio, or one of the best T.A.O.M. conventions, but one of the best national conventions. Kudos goes to Don Moravits the President and all of his staff and helpers in San Antonio who pulled this whole thing together and made it work. Everything seemed to be working for them despite the horrors of the real world outside our state.

But with hurricane Katrina being mentioned, Don who told me that there was only one registrant who he knew about that canceled from Louisiana due to the flooding. There were some who came to the convention to escape the situation and try to have a few hours of fun and to get their minds off of the situation. He said they planned to stay in the hotel a little longer taking shelter there until they figured out what to do. It is estimated that nearly 600 attended the convention this year. A good total in light of the economy, the price of gasoline, the weather, the competing conventions and the internet all competing for the diminishing dollar.

But the weather was excellent in San Antonio, not too hot and no rain. The theatre was excellent and only a short walk from the hotel. The sound, light and stage crew all did an exceptional job of handling the shows making them professional in every way. They set the standard as how magic shows should be run.

If anything was wrong with the convention, it was not the fault of the organizers. That one main problem was known and anticipated but could not be avoided. There were only four elevators serving the 600 registrants who were all herding in the same direction at the same times. The main function rooms for the lecture and close-up shows were on the 22nd floor and the dealers were on the mezzanine with the delegates’ rooms in between. It was a real hassle having to wait for the elevators. But again, it is a hotel problem I’m sure they deal with for every convention they host.

The men and women in San Antonio put their money in talent this year and it showed. It was outstanding. And the communication by Don Moravits was exceptional. He kept in constant communication by posting to the T.A.O.M. website on a regular basis thus allowing everyone to know who was booked, what was new and, as the convention neared, they posted a schedule of the convention. Great job guys.

I didn’t feel as if there were too many activities jammed into the weekend yet I felt there was a good mix and ample time to visit with friends, session as we wanted in the lobby (great little cubby-holes down there), and have access to some of the best shopping and restaurants by being right there on the river in the middle of “tourist central.”

I look forward to returning to San Antonio for a future T.A.O.M. convention. But now our sights are set on Dallas for T.A.O.M. 2006. Due to family business, Carl Jones stepped down and Jeff Lee has become the new President for next year. Congratulations Jeff and good luck. You have some big boots to fill!

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