Ft. Worth found its “chi” with the new venue for the T.A.O.M. convention in beautiful Sundance Square. With the demise of the downtown convention center in Ft. Worth, the future of this city hosting another T.A.O.M. convention was in jeopardy. But the last convention here took an interesting turn under the presidential leadership of Arthur Emerson who set up the evening shows in the Stock Yards and the Will Rogers Memorial Center. But this year President Randy Keck and his able-bodied staff were up to the task to put together a very good event. Nearly 500 magicians and family members convened for a fantastic, fun-filled weekend of magic and remembrances. This convention was dedicated to Walter “Zaney” Blaney, but as the days unfolded, we also honored the Willard family and Roger Klause. An even dozen dealers were enough to handle the crowd and the room was adequate to accommodate everyone with tables and chairs for visiting and practicing, too. At one end of the dealers’ room Ash Adams had a beautiful display of a few of his remarkable magic posters from his personal collection. I also have to mention the beautiful, full color souvenir program that included a reprint of the wonderful MAGIC Magazine article by Rory Johnson on Walter Blaney.
One of the perennial problems with our convention being held over Labor Day weekend has always been the lack of restaurants that stay open over the holiday weekend. Not so with Sundance Square where everything seemed to be in full operation with several nice choices. The host hotel, the Renaissance Worthington, was a very acceptable venue with nice rooms and fast elevators. The main show room proved adequate but not fully acceptable for the evening galas.
Let me say here that one of the experiences of magic conventions is the evening shows. It is important that they be entertaining and provide a full theatrical experience. Traditionally they have been in legitimate theatres on at least two if not all three nights. With the rising prices of everything except registration fees, it is getting more difficult for organizers to break even on conventions with their two major costs being talent and the theatre. Neither can be stopped as everything is going up. We could lower our talent fees but then we would be back to the early days of the picnic atmosphere where local club talent would reign. If we want to see some of the best and newest, then a convention must pay for it. That leaves the theatre expense as the place where they can possibly save. We can still have large scale illusions in a banquet room and still have a sense of the theatrical experience. Sure, the seats are different and there is no ticket booth or busses to board, but with the right stage and lights, the effect can be created. And I will have to change my opinion that a convention falls short if it cannot provide at least one show in a legitimate theatre. I now believe one can have a theatrical experience in the confines of a hotel, if done properly.
I chastised Dallas a few years ago for not having that “theatrical experience” because we were in a hotel ballroom. I don’t recall that they had any illusions booked on that show either. But this year David Thomas brought his “orld of Magic” along with a beautiful stage and intelligent lighting. If there was any gripe by anyone then it was the video screen. He had a large round portal upstage where video was back projected. It was adequate but often the performers and lecturers stood in front of the screen which made it difficult to view. And unless you were seated pretty much straight on, it was difficult to see from some side angles. Moreover, the organizers felt that to give the room more intimacy they would move the stage closer to the middle of the room rather than having risers in the back of the audience. That meant there was a lot of room back stage but there was limited seating for the audience. In fact, individual tickets were sold for the evening performances but some were turned away at the door by hotel security because of the lack of seating. Some who were turned away included those who paid full registrations but did not have “priority seating” based on when they registered.
Finally the last problem with this stage was that there were no curtains. So acts had to set up as the emcee misdirected then introduced the next act. This was handled very well at all the evening shows so it was barely noticed.
Friday afternoon kicked off with a great lecture by Lonnie Chevrie. I know that everyone tried to arrive early enough to learn from this local Texan. He tried to squeeze so much into so short of time but what he taught were real gems including his signature “Gypsy Floss” trick. Before he began the lecture Lonnie auctioned a set of DVD’s with the proceeds going to Roger Klause and his family. After much active bidding, the auction raised $250.00 which shows the generosity of our local magic community and the love we have for the man. Little did we know at the time how little time Roger had left on this earth.
As the evening began, Brad Henderson conducted an all new event for the convention. It was not so much of a scavenger hunt as it was an opportunity to meet and greet fellow magicians as we searched for answers to one of three sets of questions: easy, medium and hard. At the end everyone was treated to one of three mini lectures one of which was by surprise guest Michael Weber.
The first of the evening shows was Dana Daniels that was pretty much a one-man show where Dana played all the roles: juggler, janitor, comedian and magician. He was ably accompanied by pianist/barker/shill Richard Allen that left the audience rolling with tears of laughter. C.J. Johnson later performed his collegiate hypnosis act at a late night show and proved why he is in such high demand on the college circuit. He brought up about a dozen people who entertained the rest of us under his hypnotic influence. What a full evening. We got three shows when usually we only get one. Interaction, laughter and fun. This was shaping up to be a very good convention.
On Saturday morning, the Order of Willard hosted its largest breakfast yet with about 50 people in attendance. Frances Willard was the delightful speaker that impressed everyone and shared a lot of insight into the Willard the Wizard Show. Shortly thereafter the close-up contest began in the banquet room. The contestants performed once on the stage on a raised platform and often with a table that made it clearly five feet above the heads of the audience. Although there was a camera on the contestants, it was difficult to follow them due to the aforementioned problem with the monitor being upstage directly behind the performers. Another issue of great debate this year was whether all the performances could or should be considered close-up. One performer produced doves and a silk rose to music, another used a super-soaker squirt gun and large umbrellas, and others used props and devices usually relegated to the stage or at least the stand-up performer. There seems to be no continuity from year to year as to the performing conditions and how many times the contestants will perform. Some years the contestants perform many times to small groups (like typical close-up situations) while other years (like this one) where contestants performed once on stage. My goodness.
Scott Francis and David Allen were the first lecturers of the day giving some great ideas and tips on making your own professional magic for low prices. Their lecture was aptly entitled “MacGyver Magic” where all you need is some duct tape. Well, a little ingenuity helps, too. Very well done, very creative and very well received. They seemed to be doing a brisk business after their lecture.
After lunch the professional close-up shows commenced in four separate rooms (where the close-up contest should have been held). Registrants were broken into two groups (red and black) and one went to these close-up shows and the other group went to the Tim Conover show. We switched at the end of the hour. Unlike many professional close-up shows I have seen in the past, these performers were limited to about 12 minutes rather than the usual 20 at other conventions. Lonnie Chevrie began in my room with his slow Texan drawl and comfortable manner. Dressed with a cowboy hat, string tie and western cut suit, Lonnie invited us into his world of magic. He performed many of his award winning tricks including his version of “Under A-Tack” where a signed card ends up tacked under his business card to a small bulletin board. Next Norman Beck entered also attired in western wear sporting a cowboy hat and string tie. Norman’s easy manner mimicked that of Lonnie but the two were still distinct from one another in their style and audience management. Norm finished his set with a cute rhyming story.
Lisa Menna was third in my room and she first fooled me with her costume. She was dressed as an elderly woman and played the part to a tee. She flirted with her “younger” male assistants to the point that she seemed very much the “dirty old woman” as she used items from her purse as magic props. Finally Diamond Jim Tyler performed who, by his name, one would envision a man dressed in western attire (thus completing the triumvirate of Texans, well, Norm is technically from Oklahoma). But he was dressed casually in modern attire as he performed some unique magic some of which was discussed later in his midnight lecture. He finished with an interesting piece that truly made people wonder if he is indeed a serial killer. In fact as we left the room, there were wanted posters on the wall with his likeness. Although it was “only a card trick”, it was a baffler for some that was a feature in his Magic Castle act.
We then adjourned to the larger banquet hall where Tim Conover held court with a 45 minute show replete with wonderful magic that was best appreciated by the few who were seated at his table. Again, the camera was on him and his hands, but the monitor was behind him and difficult to see. His effects included many classics by Del Ray, Al Goshman and John Ramsay as well as some of Tim’s own creations and individual handling of some coin and card work.
Following a brief dinner, we reconvened in the Grand Ballroom again for the Saturday evening show. After everyone was seated, David Hira sat on the stage with the microphone and confirmed that Roger Klause had died earlier that morning. A few moments of silence in his honor was broken as someone began to sing “Amazing Grace.” Before long the entire audience joined in the chorus as we took time to remember our friend in magic.
Tiny Bubbles a.k.a. Steve Daly, the M.C., then came onstage in drag. He mimed a funny singing “duet” with an Axtell Drawing Board. He then introduced Scott Francis who presented a very funny “prop comedy” act. “Joey the See”, the “Mentalist to the Mob”, had a little problem with getting his character across though he had an excellent opening as he forced people to respond with what he was thinking (i.e. “You are thinking of the three of clubs.” “No.” “I said [more sternly] you are thinking of the three of clubs [as he handed the spectator a bill”) then he performed an all-too-brief presentation of the Magic Square. His final effect was funny and appropriate for his character as he revealed the predicted number emblazoned on the back of a prison uniform. Steve Daly returned as himself as he mimed another singing duet with himself doing both parts interchanging a hat and a wig to represent the difference in sex for the appropriate part. The evening show closed with a fast paced, well-choreographed illusion show by David Thomas and his “World of Magic.” This was one big illusion after another that came at breakneck speed with spot-on timing and choreography. They included the Frame Production, Fire Cage to Girl, Flaming Swords Through Girl, Bowling Ball production, Wakeling, Twister, Sub Trunk, Origami and a Levitation (whew!) among smaller tricks like Passe Passe Bottles and the Torn and Restored Newspaper. He brought the first of deserved standing ovations for the convention. It was to his advantage that the stage and lights were his so he knew where to step and his stage crew smoothly rolled on and off each illusion with precision timing. This was the first illusion show we have seen at the T.A.O.M. for the last two years.
Tony Brook hosted a late night “talk show” format that was a wonderful tribute to Walter “Zaney” Blaney complete with a table, couch, chair and video clips. The show opened with Johnny Carson giving an introduction for Walter and talking about his Ladder Suspension. As we watched the monitor and saw Walter come on the television stage in his cowboy hat, boots and brandishing a lasso, we saw the real McCoy as Walter came in from stage left doing the same thing. The video cut as Walter began his routine bringing a couple ladies onstage to help him with his Vanishing Birdcage Illusion. As he finished to applause, Tony Brook sat at the table and Walter took his seat. An enjoyable conversation followed as they talked about Walter’s history. A surprise phone call came it from David Copperfield who was put on the speaker phone so all could hear David pay homage to Walter and to thank him for creating the Ladder Suspension which Copperfield used in his China TV special.
A video later played that was created by Bruce Kalver, International President of the S.A.M. who congratulated Walter on his many achievements over the past 50+ years. Trixie Bond came on to thank Walter for his encouragement of women in magic. Scott Wells came onstage with a special certificate from both Maria Ibanez, past International President of the S.A.M. and Bruce Kalver. He also said that other congratulatory certificates and comments were offered by the I.B.M. and the Academy of Magic Arts and The Magic Circle. Chuck Lehr presented Tony Brook with a special award of merit from the S.A.M., too.
Two of Walter’s daughters, Becky and Carol, came onstage to sit with Walter as another video played from his other daughter, Shannon, who was at a special tribute to her as a cancer survivor at an ice skating event in Ohio. As time grew short Walter quickly showed his original model of his levitation then presented the real thing using as a volunteer from the audience, none other than Frances Willard.
As this event pushed against midnight, Diamond Jim’s lecture was pushed back a half hour or so but didn’t put a damper on his enthusiasm or the audience as everyone who attended go something from his lecture.
Sunday’s Gospel Magic Meeting featured not one, not two, but three different presenters: David Hira, David Allen and Bruce Chadwick, who gave their own unique faith-based applications to some standard magic tricks.
Later that morning and back in the Ballroom, David Charvet and Mike Caveney hosted a panel discussion with Frances Willard and her brother Gene Willard who regaled the audience with reminisces of Willard the Wizard, their father’s old tent show. This was a reprise of the panel discussion they presented at the I.B.M./S.A.M. joint convention earlier this summer. But it was well received by this local audience by the people who consider the Willards as their own family. As proof of our interest in the Willards, the books were sold out within a short time following this panel discussion.
Immediately after the panel presentation the Ballroom hosted the stage contest for the next few hours. After the contest, the room turned again as Steve Daly hosted a “Women in Magic” forum featuring Lisa Menna, Trixie Bond and Becky Blaney. I understand that there was a spouse activity that followed at a local parfumerie and spa. Concurrent with that activity, C.J. Johnson lectured on Making Money with Magic. This was an excellent lecture on taking your marketing up a notch and how to track your results. He presented more material than they had time to absorb. Joey the See was up next with his lecture on stage presence and how to create a believable character. As a trial attorney and college professor specializing in court room demeanor, he was well qualified teach on this subject. Perhaps due to his lackluster performance on the previous evening’s show, many chose not to attend and they missed an excellent lecture.
Registrants who signed up early received preferred seating on their name badges. We also received a free T-shirt emblazoned with Walter Blaney’s likeness and the T.A.O.M. logo on the back. But this was the first night they actually honored the preferred seating as we were allowed to enter before the rest of the registrants and single ticket audience. As mentioned earlier, some were turned away at the door as the room filled and hotel security would not allow more in the room even to stand.
Before the evening show began, the passing of the presidential medals and other pomp and circumstance falderal ensued for the first few minutes. The Awards and Trophies Committee Chairman, Trixie Bond, then announced the winners of the competition. They were: Senior Close-U-: Michael Williams from Dallas. Senior Club Winner: Masami Ishizawa from Japan. Senior Comedy Winner: Michael Tallon from San Antonio. Senior Stage Winner: Rachael Dunn from Houston. Congratulations to all of you.
Lisa Menna compeered the evening show as she first introduced Michael and Tracie Stein, former performers at Six Flags. Michael did an old-fashioned and well-honed presentation of the Thumb Tie with a member from the audience, then a Four Card Repeat and concluding with a girl being pulled through a small hole in a trunk. Very well done and it generated a good response from the appreciative audience. Lisa came back on and did a funny ventriloquist bit while wearing a berka. Next up, and wearing short shorts, Becky Blaney performed her comedy act as the young winner of various beauty contests. She was followed by her father, Walter, who presented his Lighted Sword Cabinet (after a little technical problems with the electrical cord). It is always a wonder-to-behold to watch a creator perform his own illusion and he received a well-deserved standing ovation.
Lisa Menna returned with a card trick and two volunteers where one of the cards was found in her shoe, under her heel, and inside her stocking that had to be ripped open to get the card. David Allen next appeared as a Bubba, a stereotypical trailer-park, red-neck magician as he performed a version of 20th Century Underwear and a the ever popular and much maligned Vanishing Bandana trick. Lisa returned to display an unusual piece of art that itself was an illusion and bemusing as well as mesmerizing to behold as it spun in opposite directions. Brian Brushwood closed the evening show with fire eating and a demonic hand puppet called “Mr. Happy Pants”. He finished with a most unique illusion called “E.V.P.” where an apparition appeared on a video that could only be seen with those viewing it through their camera in their phone. It was really freaky. Brian is the new generation that is immensely successful with the college crowd and no doubt will take magic in a new direction.
After the room cleared, Steve Daly presented a very entertaining and informative lecture about performing for nursery schools to Las Vegas. As he finished, the stage was set for the Texas Magic Collectors meeting hosted by Claude Crowe. It was different this year in that it featured actual performances rather than “show and tell”. Claude presented the Blades of Oprah followed by Scott Wells who demonstrated a P&L Aquarium (Appearing Gold Fish tank). Next up Trixie Bond presented her Silk Blow then Derek Kennedy and Ash Adams performed a tandem act as they showed a classic Drum Tube that produces yards of silks.
The penultimate event of this year’s T.A.O.M. was the “Midnight Madness” on Sunday night. Roger Klause usually hosts this event but he was only with us in spirit this year. Ron Wilson (from Wichita Falls, TX) hosted the event and said he had been in contact with Roger prior to the convention. His hope was to have Roger provide a taped introduction to some of the performers who would be on the bill that night. But alas, Ron told us that Roger’s health deteriorated so quickly that it was impossible for him to even speak. Following some incredible magic by some great performers (from local magicians Scott Hollingsworth and Gary Ward to David McGee to Tim Conover and others), Ron showed us a video montage of photos taken of Roger down through the years with many of us who were close to him. It was a fitting tribute and a good way to end a late, late night session. And indeed it was fitting that Roger died this past weekend when so many of his friends could mourn on each other’s shoulders and exchange their favorite stories of this “master magician”.
Monday morning’s only activity (aside from a few last sales at the dealers and registration for next year’s convention) was a couple hours with Tim Conover. Many, many people stayed over to see this exciting performer. He opened with his full 45 minute mentalism show. After he concluded, he stated that he would not be explaining any of it because 1) the tricks were fairly standard and available to find with a little searching, and 2) it is his professional act which he does not want to teach. Having said that, he retired to the table mid-stage where, accompanied by three volunteers, he performed and explained many of the effects he presented in his Professional Close-Up Show on Saturday afternoon. Once again we could not see anything because of the elevation of the stage in relation to the audience and the monitor behind him was difficult to see, too. He had so much to show and so much to teach that he had little time to dwell on any one thing. As a result it was like trying to take a drink from a fire hose. He did not have any lecture notes to sell so if you didn’t get it the first time it whizzed by, then you were pretty well lost because the convention was over and he was headed home like the rest of us.
So completed another T.A.O.M. convention for the history books. I thought this was a very good event and it had a lot of new, innovative ideas and a good variety of talent and events, too. It was tempered with tricks and history and education. I would give it a solid seven out of ten on a scale of one to ten. They have definitely set the direction for the future of magic. Congratulations again to President Randy Keck and his band of merry men and women for an excellent job well done.