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

Magic conventions are like meals -- some are like a quick fix of fast food, and some are like a $4.95 all-you-can-eat buffet. By comparison, the 35th Fechter’s Finger Flicking Frolic is like a gourmet dinner.

Three things contribute to a truly memorable meal: the food, the company, and the setting.

First, the setting. Batavia is a small town in upstate New York. It’s a beautiful rural area with deer grazing by the roadsides. The woods are full of songbirds and are brightened by trilliums and other spring flowers. It is a peaceful, attractive, and non-intrusive backdrop.

Pat Page - Obie O'BrienNow to the company. Obie O’Brien, the Head Forker, invites magicians (FFFF, the Original Close-up Convention, is “invitation only”) from all across the continental USA, the far east (Japan), the far north (Canada), the far south (Argentina), the far west (Hawaii), the far away (New Zealand) and myriad other places around the world (Britain, France, Spain, Russia and more). Brought together by a shared passion for close-up magic, each of us brings his or her unique perspective and conversation to the table.

And that brings us finally to the food. Like any fine meal, FFFF starts with an appetiser – this year, a Wednesday evening lecture from the hilarious and creative Tom Burgoon. Tom’s inventiveness and fresh outlook stimulate our imaginations and leave us hungry for more.

The next course is a full day of activities on Thursday. The morning begins with another excellent lecture, this one presented by the skilful Jim Molinari. Jim entices us with a meaty broth of practical, professional card magic. This is followed by a palate-cleansing Teach-a-Trick session, limited this year to just three people: the inimitable Roger Klause, the incomparable Professor Rem, and the irrepressible Harold Cataquet. This event is abbreviated so that we can enjoy not just one but two close-up shows in the afternoon. The first show features the talents of IBM President Tony Wilson, Al the Only, Brian Glover, Brian Geer, Willy Monroe, Rick Wilcox, Doug Gorman, and Geno Mozarella (Danny Archer). The second show stars David Jones, Terry Greenwood, Bob Follmer, Robin Dawes (holy socks, Batman, how did I get in a show with all these great magicians?), Jim Surprise, Max Scott, Lee Freed, Bill Naglar, Gary Ward, Scott Robinson, and John West.

Gazzo and Rachel WildTo finish off the day we are treated to a double-size serving of lecture: the Guests of Honour, Gene Anderson and Dan Garrett, each present some of their “greatest hits”, and new ideas as well. Gene has some profound things to say about the dangers of over-improving, and the virtues of rapid prototyping. Dan’s use of subtle verbal and visual influence over his volunteers is extremely impressive.

Friday morning brings us another treat, like a sorbet between heavier courses: the annual Pat Page Workshop, focussing this year upon magic with business cards. We are entertained and educated by Pat Page himself, followed by Gene Gordon, George Silverman, Ryan Swigert, Professor Rem, Dan Garrett, Kate Medvedeva, Boris Wild, Scott Wells, Mark Leveridge, Earl Oakes, Jim Lewis, and… Pat Page (it’s like the Laurel and Hardy gag where Stan manages to carry both ends of an extremely long ladder). I can’t imagine anyone present not getting half a dozen ideas for novel uses for their cards.

This is followed by the aptly named International Show (although if you check out the names in Pat Page’s workshop, you will see that the day already has a decidedly cosmopolitan flavour -- like a Texas steak served with Dijon mustard, caviar and a single-malt whiskey). The International show features the great Camilo, Mathieu Bich, Shigeo Futagawa, Martin Cox, Kostya Kimlat, Rey Ben, Shawn Farquhar, and Rick Merrill. Rick earns the first standing ovation of the convention for his brilliant act with coins and Sharpie markers.

Gene Anderson - Steve BargatzeWith hardly a chance to digest we are on to the next show. Leading off the performers is the evanescent Trixie Bond. She is followed by Ken Kurita, Mandy Farrell, John Blake, Mark Leveridge, Terry Lunceford, Kevin Fox, Jerry O’Connell, Jim Klayder, and Steve Dela. Steve, like Shawn Farquhar in the earlier show, makes poetic and precisely choreographed use of a song to accompany his magic.

The shows up to this point have been excellent, but with the Friday evening show the intensity seems to go up a level. The cook has added some spice to the meal, and turned up the heat in the kitchen. John Allen leads off with a hilarious act featuring Benson the bird puppet. Patrick Przysiecki follows with the story of how Obie was inspired by the Woodstock Music Festival, two familiar-looking close-up guys, and some unusual brownies. Next up is Andrew Murray, performing strong coin and card magic. Gazzo brings his trademark chaos to the stage, verbally sparring with an audience member and astonishing one and all with his rendition of the cups and balls. Next Garrett Thomas uses magic to solve a Rubik’s cube -- four times in quick succession! Reed McClintock does the hard stuff, and ends up losing his shirt to demonstrate just how far he will go to for an effect.

After a short break, Obie’s introductory remarks are interrupted by the Thundah from Down Undah, Li’l Tim. Tim (Ellis) performs a rap version of Sam the Bellhop, with the memorable chorus:
I’m sorry Obie!
I never meant to hurt you!
I never meant to make you cry!
But tonight, I’m cleaning out my card case!

Roy Cotee -- Aldo ColombiniDavid Regal is next, supporting his strong card effects with well-crafted and clever patter -- his skill as a professional comedy writer is evident. Then Miki presents some immaculate magic while Rafael Benatar translates. Murray Hatfield follows with a great double torn-and-restored newspaper routine. David Jones uses a very creative presentation for his multiple card revelation. Tonny Van Rhee presents an extended and elegant routine of coin magic. Closing the show is the poetic Boris Wild, with a moving tribute to Eddie Fechter.

Tim Ellis and Sue Anne Webster present a late night lecture, but I am exhausted and cannot attend. Those who are there report that this is a strong lecture, as would be expected from these talented and thoughtful performers.

On Saturday I oversleep and miss most of David Jones’ morning lecture on card magic. I hear later that he presents an intriguing poker routine in which volunteers trade cards from their hands with the performer, who still manages to win each round.

The Saturday afternoon lecture is presented by Tonny Van Rhee, a direct descendent of the famous Bamberg dynasty of magicians. Tonny teaches us his practical and very magical renditions of classics including card transpositions and cups and balls.

Yannick Lacroix and Michel HuotBy now we are well into the main course of our magical feast. The hors d’oeuvres, the consommé, the salad, the poached salmon, all are behind us, and we are savouring the venison and haricots verts. The Saturday afternoon show begins with a moving tribute to FFFF members who have passed on. At Phil Willmarth’s suggestion, we hold a minute of silence in honour of Jay Marshall. As I write this report, I have just received the news of Jay’s death -- he was a stalwart supporter of FFFF and all things magical. Our world is dimmer without his light. Requiescat in pace.

Ryan Swigert brings the magic back up to speed. Amongst other fine effects, Ryan performs a beautiful card assembly which he attributes to Stewart Judah. Next Dan McGinnis performs “The Last Flight of Dan MacInnis”, magically recreating his final attempt at landing on a Navy carrier. Rolando Santos presents a routine based on the things that have changed since the first FFFF, 34 years ago. Then Michael Bairefoot demonstrates that he can use mind power to control the speed of a coin spinning inside a balloon -- an unique magical effect. Anders Boulanger (making his FFFF debut on the Saturday show!) performs an excellent ambitious card routine. Daniel Ketchedjian brings an infectious sense of fun to a variety of effects. Frank Truong then takes the stage and nearly gets into a comedic brawl with volunteer David Acer in a dispute over a selected card. Fortunately the card is finally discovered attached to Frank’s chest (think of Janet Jackson). Dick Steiner shows us an excellent themed routine using baseball cards and a miniature baseball diamond. Mickey Silver is next, with a spectacular production of an apparently endless shower of coins from his eyes and ears. Joe Turner demonstrates his incredible invisible palm technique, ending with four signed cards in different pockets. Kate Medvedeva charms the assembled multitude with her unique version of the cups and balls in which the ball is replaced by a small chiming bell! Rounding out the show, Frederick Shark performs a strong act of coin and card magic.

And that brings us to dessert -- the coup de grace -- the Saturday night show. At this stage of the weekend, we are full, perhaps even saturated with magic. We’ve already consumed a huge and excellent meal, we’re feeling full and satisfied, and then suddenly we are presented with a mountain of fresh strawberries and whipped cream. It looks delicious, but where can we put it all?

RoccoAnd yet the excitement grows through the afternoon, the jackets and ties begin to appear, and the seats fill early. The show kicks off at 8 PM with the much-anticipated return of Garnak the Magnificent. Dan and Gene recreate the classic act they have performed seventeen times before at Fechter’s. It’s a nostalgic and hilarious compilation of new and old material. Tim Ellis and Sue-Anne Webster are next, with Tim’s genuinely scary version of the razor-blades routine, and Sue-Anne’s great “Cards from Snowy River” ace assembly. They are followed by another team act, as Yannick Lacroix and Michel Huot reprise their brilliant “Human Deck of Cards” routine. Aldo Colombini gets a huge audience response with his diminishing cards effect. Paul Gertner manages to give Gene and Dan the experience of having their selected cards found by… Gene and Dan! (Actually, their cards are found by everyone in the room, all wearing Gene and Dan masks.) As always, the first half of the show ends with Rocco. Readers of my previous FFFF reports may recall that I am a huge fan of Rocco -- he creates imaginative, whimsical magic in a style all his own.

After the traditional 10 minute break we are swept into the madcap world of Henry Evans, the happiest magician in the world. Henry speedily cuts a shuffled deck into 10 piles of 1 card, 2 cards, 3 cards, etc. Tom Burgoon performs his trademark torn and restored paper routine with a guest appearance by Timmy the Toilet Roll. Kevin Gallagher presents an intriguing three-shell routine culminating with three enormous shells and a pea that would feed the Jolly Green Giant. David Acer takes the cups and balls to new heights with garbage buckets and basketballs. Jason Latimer continues the theme by performing the cups and balls with clear glass cups. The final performer of the convention is the one and only Steve Bargatze, who gives an unforgettable new meaning to “3 Fly”. He closes the show with his touching story of seeing snow for the first time -- concluding with Steve and Roger Klause fighting their way through an immense onstage snowdrift. We laugh until our sides ache…

… And then it is over -- well, except for the sessioning, which goes on well into the wee hours of the morning as those who have shared in this marathon magic feast engage in the pleasure of post-prandial camaraderie.

Next year’s Guest of Honour will be Aldo Colombini. We can look forward to another spectacular gourmet offering -- this time with an Italian flavour.
--Photos by Meir Yedid

Mike Powers' FFFF 2005 Convention Coverage -- click: HERE.
Tony Gerard's FFFF 2005 Photo Gallery -- click: HERE.

4F Updates will be posted from time to time.
© Copyright 1971-2022 by Obie O'Brien. All rights reserved.