The Original Close-Up Convention

FFFF Chairman: Obie O'Brien
Obie O'Brien

FFFF Board Member: Glenn Brown
FFFF Board Member: Jimmy Cieslinski
FFFF Board Member: Dan Garrett
FFFF Board Member: Mike Joseph FFFF Board Member: Meir Yedid  
Board Of Directors:
Glenn Brown
Jimmy Cieslinski

Dan Garrett
Mike Joseph
Meir Yedid
Joan Caesar
Executive Assistant:

Joan Caesar
Backstage Crew:
Lee Eyler (Manager). Thomas Blacke, Jack Chancellor, Ray Eyler, Scott Miller.
Audiovisual Crew:
Jimmy C. (Manager), Joe Cappon, Larry Kohorst, Gary Ward, Rick Wilcox.
4F Shop Crew:
Rod Chow (Manager), Shank Kothare, Simon Lane, Rajneesh Madhok, Amanda Nicot, Jay McLaughlin, Ed Ripley, Michael Tallon.

Fechter's Finger Flicking Frolic

Reported by Robin Dawes

The spring is sprung, the grass is riz, I wonder where the close-up is?

The answer, of course, is Batavia New York. Just as the trilliums start to bloom in the woods of upstate New York, about 200 close-up magicians from around the world answer the call of Obie O'Brien to attend Fechter's Finger Flicking Frolic. The FFFF convention (which is by invitation only) has been held annually since 1971. There are a few people who have attended every one (Tom Craven being one such stalwart), but for me this is number 4.

The convention pretty much starts the moment you arrive, but the first official event is a lecture at 8 PM on Wednesday evening. Obie always tries to find somebody special to kick things off, and this year he succeeds completely. Mark Mason delivers a solid lecture full of creative, entertaining magic using clever subtleties and very original gimmicks. In the second half of his lecture, Mark focuses on two card sleights: the Attitude Force, which is both audacious and easy, and the Put and Take Move, which is based on an astonishing visual illusion.

After the lecture, the dealers open and so does the hospitality suite. Friendships are renewed and forged. Soon enough the cards and coins come out. David Neighbors wastes no time in proving that his mastery of coin magic only increases with every year. This man is so good its frightening.

Pat PageThe Thursday morning lecture is by Colin Rose. Surprisingly, Colin doesnt perform or teach a single trick or sleight during his lecture. Instead he shares his recollections of working in the same show as Richiardi Jr. He offers his observations about what made Richiardi a great magician, and illustrates his points with film clips. This is fascinating, wonderful stuff.

On Thursday afternoon the performance marathon begins. The first event is the always-popular Teach-a-Trick session originated by Roger Klause, who is (as usual) the lead-off performer. He is followed by Prof. Rem, Karl Norman, Jim Cieslinski, Tom Craven, Craig Dickson, Ace Greenberg, Roy Cottee, Trixie Bond, Steve Beam, and Vic Trabucco. The items taught range from sleight of hand with cards to self-working card tricks to number magic to money magic to headband magic to rope magic to thumb ties to coin magic with a holdout. Several months worth of wonderful magic is shared, and the convention is less than 24 hours old.

The second show on Thursday afternoon is called the Veterans show most performers in this show have been attending FFFF for a long time but have not performed recently. Obie kicks the show off by introducing Lou Gallo, the Underground Man. The performers in this show are Maria Schwieter, Kevin Oliver, Raj Madhok, Michel Huot and Yannick Lacroix, Gary Para, Mike Amico, Don Voltz, Dick Cook, and Wesley James. All do fine work, but the hit of the show is The Human Deck routine presented by Michel and Yannick. They are each covered with post-it notes labelled with cards. After some impressions (imagine Michel sitting on Yannicks shoulders as a stacked deck) two volunteers select cards. The selections are identified with black and red duct tape attached to the chests of Michel and Yannick.

The Thursday evening show is another departure from the expected. Instead of the usual multi-performer show, we have a short performance by Mark Mitton and videos of Eddie Fechter, Derek Dingle, and Del Ray. Mark does an hilarious rhymed routine (almost a chant) using what looks like a bamboo place-mat to form dozens of different shapes that illustrate his story. The videos we see are my first opportunities to see these legendary performers actually working for lay people. Well, mostly lay people - a very young looking (and dapper) Jay Marshall is visible in Del Rays audience. It is enormously interesting to reflect on the differences and similarities between these three successful magi. Each had his own authentic way of relating to his audience.

Friday morning the sun comes up on a few die-hard sessioners. Things officially get underway at 11, with the Pat Page Workshop. This year the theme is Magic that Happens in the Spectators Hands. Pat Page, Robert Miller, Peter Tappan, Garrett Thomas, Roy Cottee, Gene Gordon, Meir Yedid, Keith Randolph, David Neighbors and David Regal are the instructors. We learn coin routines, card routines, a cup and ball routine, a bounce/no-bounce routine, a routine in which sounds transpose between two toys, and even an effect in which some of the hairs vanish from a spectators hand.

Right after lunch Obie has arranged a special International Show. The calibre of the performers in this show is phenomenal it is without doubt one of the best close-up shows I have ever seen. Bebel (from France) leads off, with Mathieu Bich translating. Bebel has an incredibly light touch with cards he seems to touch the cards only with his fingertips, but then they are here, they are there, they are gone, they are back. I am in awe. Ken Kurita (from Japan) pleads poor English, and reads translated instructions for his volunteers. This is important, because his hands are occupied full-time with the instructions as the two volunteers each select a card from a deck which Ken is not even touching. The chosen cards have the only blue backs in the entire red deck. It is impossible. Camilo (from Spain) is as always bubbling with laughter as he performs a chop cup routine with the top of a whisky flask. His routine ends with the production of a miniature bottle of Scotch which he presents to Pat Page. Britain's Michael Vincent is next, with an intriguing mystery involving a lady's looking-glass and a deck of cards. From Austria, Magic Christian performs a card stab with himself blindfolded and the cards covered. Mirko (from Argentina) performs part of his stage act, doing poetic magic with bubbles and objects produced from them. He earns the first standing ovation of the convention. Armando Lucero (of Mexico) is next. Amongst other effects, he treats us to an extended passage of contact juggling with a large crystal ball. After a few minutes the effect is similar to Japanese Bunraku puppet theatre: the connection between the performer and the prop slips from the viewers awareness. The crystal ball seems to be floating and flying around Armando of its own volition. It is like watching a Zombie routine with no cloth and no gimmick just a ball that comes to life. Armando receives two standing ovations.

Jay MarshallThe second Friday afternoon show (technically, the first formal show of the convention) kicks off at 3:30 with my fellow Canadian Patrick Drake enlisting Roger Klause's aid for a routine in which Patrick is able to divine the presence of coins in Rogers hands. When Rogers blindfold is removed, he is confronted with Pat Page dressed as a fairy godmother, complete with wings and a pink tutu and wielding an airport-style metal detector. Geoff Ray (from Britain) presents a Wild Card routine in which all the cards end up with MARKED written on them. Rick Merrill presents a routine in which a coin and a Sharpie marker repeatedly transpose instantaneously between his hands. Rick earns a standing ovation, and his routine generates a great deal of positive buzz in the late-night sessions. Kevin Fox (from Britain) presents a tribute to the late Peter Kane. My favourite effect from his act is the Elongated Lady. Next, the enchanting Trixie Bond presents coin and card magic. She produces the four Aces from a shuffled deck, then immediately goes into a twisting routine which ends with all the Aces having different backs. Brian Glover (from Britain) performs crisp card magic, including an elevator routine. Duane Laflin comes on like a television evangelist and generates positive reactions for his ball, vase and silk routine. Vivacious Magical Mandy (from Britain) introduces us to her hamster, Blaine. Blaine locates a selected card by chewing off one corner while locked in his clear glass exercise ball, suspended over the table without food or water for 44 seconds. Thomas Blacke, magician and escape artist, proves that while the hand may be quicker than the eye, the eyeglass case is quickest of all. Mark Leveridge (from Britain) entertains the crowd with a coin and purse routine based on the legend of Robin Hood. Our beloved Prez. David Sandy presents a touching story illustrated with Starcle. David is one of several performers at this years FFFF who have chosen truly effective music to enhance their effects. Harold Cataquet presents an intriguing sequence of effects using rings of rope. Mathieu Bich (from France) offers sophisticated card magic with very elegant music. His deck slowly vanishes until only the Aces are left. Martin Cox (from Britain) does the most amazing Card Warp routine I have ever seen. The card is returned, intact, to the volunteer after the effect. Martin is a funny, funny man, and I hope to see him again at future FFFFs. The show concludes with Rick Wilcox, who presents passe passe bottles and bill to lemon classic material, well performed.

The Friday evening show opens with Hayashi (from Japan). He has brought a miraculous translation machine that malfunctions in hilarious ways. He concludes his act with a powerful routine in which a selected card is discovered and removed from the deck over and over at the conclusion, all the removed cards are shown to be an entire suit in order. He is rewarded with a standing ovation. Pablo Kusnetzoff (from Argentina) performs a very smooth torn and restored card, and concludes with a beautiful ball manipulation routine. His music is elegant and romantic, reminiscent of Claude Debussy. Reed McClintock (of Knucklebusters fame) performs a version of Reset in which the cards are all face up at all times amazing! Shigeo Futagawa (from Japan) presents rings, strings and coins, then closes with an elegant rendition of the colour changing knives. Jim Molinari performs a very convincing version of Collectors, then concludes with a demonstration of shuffle-stacking the deck to deal yourself the Aces in a many-handed poker game. Rey Ben (from Argentina) closes the first half with an uproarious linking ring routine using three large rings. He eventually gets trapped inside the rings and requires the assistance of Julie Eng to extricate himself.

The second half (can you believe that theres more? Heck, were still on Friday!) is led off by Chase Curtis, performing his terrific Gold Cups winning act themed around batteries. They appear, disappear, multiply, transpose and generally behave in magical ways. His polished and professional act garners him a standing ovation. The music gets better and better Chase uses Mozart and Gershwin. He is followed by Tony Price (from Belgium) who presents a powerful version of the Haunted Pack, with the deck isolated under a clear glass bowl. His music is from Carmina Burana. Yes! Paul Cummins, one of my all-time favourite card workers, shows how he has earned his reputation. A routine that starts out looking like a standard do as I do effect suddenly goes off the deep end as cards start matching everywhere. Mark Mason (from Britain) has a card signed, and then finds it at a named position inside a sealed deck. This is miraculous, and he receives a standing ovation. Patrick Przysiecki does an extraordinary routine about travelling around the world. He repeatedly spins a small globe, names a city or country, then plonks his finger on the spinning globe precisely at that location. This is very strange. Richard Pinner (from Britain) has three volunteers co-operate to select a card which turns out to match the jumbo card he has been holding all along. Boris Wild (from France) closes the show with a delightful printing routine in which the backs of a handful of cards repeatedly change after being touched to different coloured squares on his close-up pad.

The late night lecture is by Manuel Muerte, one of the famous Die Fertigen Finger ensemble from Germany. Manuel teaches strong, commercial magic that would be very effective in a restaurant setting.

The schedule for Saturday shows 11:00 AM Sleep or Lecture??? I choose the former, which is good for my survival but unfortunate for my magical education, since the lecturer is the amazing Shoot Ogawa. I hear from others that it is a great lecture.

The British Contingent

The 1:30 lecture is delivered by Bob Swadling, from Britain. Bob describes himself as more of an inventor and producer than a performer, but he fools me thoroughly. He presents classic effects such as card to pocket, torn and restored card, coin in bottle, coin through hanky, and others, but each effect has an unique touch or twist that lifts it above the ordinary. Bob is a very creative thinker, and very generous about sharing the complete details of how to construct some of his creations.

The penultimate show of the convention begins at 3:30. The seats are getting harder and harder but this year Obie has brought in a supply of cushions. Relief! The show starts with Colin Rose (from Britain) doing immaculate card manipulations. Colin is followed by Arie Vilner who instructs Roger Klause to honk a horn if he (Arie) ever touches a particular card which is isolated between two Queens. Despite this precaution, the card transforms into a signed selection. Next up, Joe Turner offers a funny routine in which his volunteers faith number turns out to be 666. Julie Eng (from Canada) shows us her flawless handling of coins through the table. Rolando Santos beguiles the audience with a story about a dragons eye stone that helps him identify a selected card. Daniel Ketchedjian (from Uruguay) performs card magic with his face. Seriously. He places a card over his eye and holds it in place like a monocle, then has another card selected and signed of course, the signed selection is now the card wedged into his eye. Leon Etienne, who happens to be my roommate on this trip, makes his debut FFFF performance with a very strong routine themed around makeup sponges. Angel Andreu presents a routine in which four regular cards seem to have at least 8 faces. Tony Eng (from Canada) appears as the worlds shortest magician less than 1 metre tall. Tiny Tony performs the 6 card repeat, then levitates. Tony and daughter Julie (who somehow seems to be involved) receive a standing ovation. Willy Monroe (from Spain) performs some way cool yo-yo tricks, then repeatedly breaks and restores an inflated balloon. Jimmy Cieslinski shows a drawing of a radio that actually plays when he presses the On button. Doug Gorman presents a tightly scripted and very effective routine using two wooden vases and two balls. The show is closed by Jean Luc Dupont (from Canada), who presents a version of Ramsey's classic coins and cylinder.

And now, the end is near too soon, always, we reconvene for the final show of the convention. You may have noticed that the words from Britain follow an awful lot of the performers names that have been mentioned so far in this report. The reason that an unusually large contingent of British magicians are attending FFFF this year is that the Guest of Honour is Pat Page. Pat is a walking encyclopedia of magic, and FFFF has benefited from his participation for the last 8 years. The final show starts with tributes and presentations to Pat from Jay Marshall, Marv Leventhal, Phil Willmarth, Vic Trabucco, Obie O'Brien, and Joan Caesar. Pat then performs several of his favorite routines, ending with a cup and ball routine that uses a plate in the spectators hands as the table. Robert Jagerhorn (from Finland) presents his FISM-winning act: an hilarious recreation of bizarre events in an airplane washroom. David Neighbors brings his coin miracles out of the session rooms and onto the stage. His work is truly astonishing always a highlight of the convention for me. Oscar Munoz flirts wickedly with Pat Page as he performs an hilariously suggestive cut and restored rope. Oscar concludes his act with some elegant billiard ball productions. David Regal reads us some excerpts from his FFFF Diary its easy to see why he is a successful comedy writer. He follows this with a dream vacation routine. Steve Bargatze appears in the character of Obies cousin, R.B. O'Brien. He attempts to bully Roger Klause into assisting with a card trick, but Roger ends up clubbing R.B. into the ground with a baseball bat. The crowd goes wild. The first half of the show ends, as always, with Rocco. I love Rocco's FFFF act. He creates it anew each year, and never performs this act anywhere else. He works without patter (good music) he simply reaches into the air and objects materialize at his finger tips. Not just any objects strange, unexpected, not-your-run-of-the-mill objects. This year, in one memorable sequence, a small handful of seeds suddenly transforms into a huge pile of loose seeds that overflows his hands. After he douses the seeds with water, a big clump of dirt appears from midair. Rocco crumbles the dirt in his fists, mixing it with the seeds and the water, and suddenly there is grass growing up out of his hands.

Obie O'Brien with Dan Garrett and Gene AndersonAfter a short break (during which the stage is swept of seeds, water, dirt, etc.) Obie returns to announce that this years MVP is Armando Lucero, and that next years Guests of Honour will be Dan Garrett and Gene Anderson. The show resumes with Ferenc Galambos (from Hungary). He performs Cups and Balls, and McDonalds Aces accompanied by Rodrigos Concerto de Aranhuez brilliant choice! Manuel Muerte presents an off-beat routine in which his Dirt-Devil vacuum cleaner ends up full of mice. Henry Evans (from Argentina) also uses a vacuum cleaner, but his sucks the ink off the faces of cards. Shoot Ogawa presents several of his trademark routines, including his famous Ninja Rings. Shoot receives a standing ovation. Pit Hartling presents some unusual card effects involving flipping any requested number of cards off the top of the deck, using just one finger. The crowd stands and ovates. Mel Harvey (from Britain) is dressed as a gangster and exhibits an extremely dry sense of humor that scores well with the crowd. Amongst other effects, he produces a full bottle of wine from a balloon. Closing the show, and closing the convention, is Mago Migue (from Spain). He stuns the audience by placing one card face down on the table, and then asking Pat Page to name any card. Pat is invited to turn over the tabled card Mago Migue goes nowhere near it it matches the card Pat named. Pat looks up and says, This was absolutely not pre-arranged. You can hear jaws being pushed back into place all through the room. Mago Migue follows this with other card miracles and then its all over.

Actually, the sessioning goes on until daylight and beyond, but all too soon its time to hit the road and head for home. Satiated, exhausted, exhilarated, inspired these are all words that describe my feelings after FFFF. Obie and his crew have made the magic happen again.

What makes a great convention? Great conventioneers. I doubt that there is anywhere else in the close-up world where you can rub shoulders with the famous and not-yet-famous so freely, and see such a concentration of internationally renowned performers (for those who count, the final show included seven FISM winners and two IBM winners). FFFF is all about sharing, and everyone who attends has that spirit. I never met Eddie Fechter but if FFFF reflects his philosophy, he must have been one hell of a guy.
--Photos by Meir Yedid

Mike Powers' FFFF 2004 Convention Coverage -- click: HERE.
Tony Gerard's FFFF 2004 Photo Gallery -- click: HERE.

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