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

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The 2006 FFFF Convention
Reported by Robin Dawes • Photographed by Dale Farris

NEWS FROM THE FRONT: In April, Brigadier General “Ogre” Obie O’Brien launched a major offensive in the War on Magical Mediocrity.  Like the canny campaigner that he is, he invited the best and the bravest from around the world to muster in Batavia NY for an all-out attack on the boring banalities of bland box-tricks.

(For the record: we’re talking about the 2006 Fechter’s Finger Flicking Frolic, April 26 – 30, the Original Close-up Magic Convention, by invitation only.)

The battle began on Wednesday night with a surprise bombardment: Dutch master Flip Hallema presented a lecture of clever, creative magic that rattled the dust out of old assumptions.  His range included light bulbs, coins, origami owls, wine glasses, ropes, flutes, and wallets.  One of Flip’s messages: with competent choreography and attention management, objects can often be convincingly vanished by the simple expedient of dropping them in your pocket.

After this first assault, a reconnaissance if you will, had tested the enemy’s defences, the battleground was quiet.  But behind the scenes, throughout the seemingly somnolent hotel, Obie’s army was busy polishing its weapons … err, routines … preparing for the onslaught that the new day would bring.

By morning, there was keen anticipation in the air.  Word had circulated around the fox-holes that Obie was bringing in a famous warrior whose absence from recent FFFF conventions had been sorely lamented.  Sure enough, at 11 AM the curtain went up on J. C. Wagner’s lecture.  J. C. got the troops fully motivated for battle with a solid lecture on his own versions of some of the classics of card magic.  This lecture struck another hard blow against the forces of dull magic, by reminding recruits and veterans alike that there is no need to abandon tried and true effects, so long as they are polished and practiced to perfection.

J. C.’s lecture was followed by a training session with “Raging” Roger Klause, leading an elite troop of instructors in armed and unarmed magical combat.  Roger himself taught us new insights into the “card to impossible location” plot, one of the most powerful effects for the lay audience.  The other teachers were Professor Rem, teaching reverse mentalism, Thomas Fraps, alerting us to “Pips Disease”, and Jörg Alexander with a very clever bill-counting routine.  Thomas and Jörg are members of the internationally renowned squad “The Flicking Fingers”, famous for their many attacks on magical mediocrity.

By now it was clear that the battle was off to a good start.  Early territorial gains had been made, and the broad outlines of Obie’s battle plan were becoming clear.  The assault on weak magic would proceed on two fronts: innovation and discovery on the one hand, and a solid understanding of the classics on the other.

Now that the beach-heads had been secured by Flip and J.C., and Roger’s Raiders had staked out some forward positions, it was time to bring up the troops.

Under the guidance of MC “Monster” Mike Hilburger, the first wave hit the ground running.  Joan Caesar, president of the Canadian Association of Magicians, located both a borrowed ring and a chosen card (as many people were heard to say during their own performances “simultaneously and at the same time”).  Next up, the witty and urbane Mark Leveridge showed some odd pencils that seemed to grow and shrink on command.  Terry Lunceford left his viper at home, and performed a very impressive levitating deck.  Roland Meister, my good friend from Switzerland, breathed new life into the classic Slydini Silks and Knots, and ended with a graceful performance of the Linking Rings.  The crowd responded very positively to this poetic magic.

Roger Miller, IBM president, was next, presenting a miracle with two coins.  Roger was followed by Bill Nagler, who described the history of the Berglas Effect and then proceeded to perform it.  My Canadian compatriot Patrick Drake followed with a well-connected series of effects that concluded with the startling production of a ring which we had all believed to be securely tied to a rope sitting on the other side of the stage.  Closing out this advance squad was the sublime Swami Salami, aka Jim Cielinski.  The Swami performed some unbelievable mentalism.

As the first squad rested after their mad dash up the beach, the second company advanced under the leadership of MC “Madman” Meir Yedid.  Taking the point position was Tony Gerard with a very unusual routine called “Braille Lip Reading”.  Tony credited the great Karrel Fox with this idea.  Dave Weidemer rode shotgun with a two-coin transposition routine.  Harold Cataquet followed up with a button matrix routine that ended with the buttons sewn in place!  John Born kept up the energy level by discovering a chosen card at a chosen position in the deck.  Veteran Phil Messina did a very interesting prediction routine using a deck of cards and some glass beads.

Next in line, Satoshi Onosaka, son of Ton Onosaka, showed us the latest idea in restaurant ordering: sushi mind-reading.  Jean-Luc Dupont performed a rope routine with very funny patter (“knots” sounds different with a French-Canadian accent).  George Olson presented a mystery with coins and a brass box.  Josh Rand was able to identify selected cards by riffling the edge of the deck.  Michael Tallon performed an unusual effect in which he was able to discern the value on a die rolled inside a coffee cup.

Bill Abbott, a FFFF freshman but experienced Canadian commando, introduced us to his secret weapon, “Chico the Mind Reader”.  Chico was a hilarious monkey puppet with more character than many live performers.  The serene Shigeo Futagawa performed a sequence of elegant magical effects with coins.  Rounding out the troop was Drew DiConstanzo, with a strong multiple card selection routine.

After mess-call, Obie launched a flanking attack on the enemy.  The convention’s Guest of Honour, Aldo Colombini, came out of left-field and gave us a lecture that dealt a swift series of body-blows to the domain of dull magic.  Aldo used mentalism, card magic, rope magic, sticker magic, hole-punch magic, and his inimitable comedy to leave the troops invigorated and ready for the next day.

When reveille sounded on Friday, the battalion mustered to witness a virtuoso display of magical teaching by an all-volunteer squad, led by that wily veteran of a thousand battles, “Punisher” Pat Page.  The only rule of engagement for this workshop session was that all the magic must use every-day items.  Pat fearlessly led his troops into the fray with the production of a large, full bottle from the sleeve of his jacket, and another from the sleeve of an audience member’s jacket.

Gene Gordon was next, doing transposition effects with pink and blue sugar packets.  Gene was followed by Keith Randall, who taught us how to produce a full pop bottle from a flat, empty bag or envelope.  The one and only Ali Bongo taught us a very strong mental routine in which a borrowed bill’s serial number is divined.  Mike Powers introduced us to a totally impromptu demonstration of telekinesis using a plastic straw.  David Neighbours, the ninja of coin magic, taught us a transposition effect using two borrowed finger-rings.

Pat Page returned to rally the troops, and taught us how to produce a large dinner plate from our knees.  Roger Bernheim gave a very clean presentation and explanation of the “paper dots on a knife” routine – it is easy to forget how magical this looks, until you see it performed.  Flip followed, with a thorough explanation of his clever method for vanishing a large glass under a silk.

Ali Bongo came to the front again, this time teaching two fascinating effects using an impromptu coin tunnel made from a folded post card.  George Silverman taught us a very deceptive penetration using two folded drinking straws.  Tony Wieland taught us how to balance a coin on the edge of a borrowed bill – very useful for winning bets down at the canteen.  Pat Page proved that he could open and close any show, by doing just that.  Having led the charge, he provided his workshop company’s closing note by teaching us a very elegant Miser’s Dream routine.

After a short break to reload, an elite team of mission specialists took the field: the Flicking Fingers from Germany.  Was it a lecture?  Was it a show?  Sometimes one, sometimes the other, and sometimes both.  No doubt any infiltrators from the forces of pathetic prestidigitation would have been notably nonplussed.  First, Ben Profane set the pace by juggling a bowling ball, a large knife, and an apple.  Then the smiling Nikolai Friedrich performed some extremely strong mentalism, including an effect in which he correctly identified which of a dozen volunteers was holding behind his back an envelope containing a photograph of Roger Klause’s wife.

Pit Hartling performed a card effect for a pair of slightly inebriated bar-patrons (played by Helge Thun and Thomas Fraps) who insisted on explaining the trick loudly to each other.  Manuel Muerte performed a very funny act as a slightly manic magician with a penchant for shooting his livestock.  Stephan Kirschbaum followed with a routine involving a silk and a purse and a rose.  Jörg Alexander performed a very clean “follow the leader” type card trick.  Helge Thun delivered a sex education lesson illustrated with the cups and balls.  Finally Manuel, assisted by the somewhat confused Ghisbert, performed the silk-to-egg routine, complete with slow-motion replay.

By this point, the troops were getting excited.  The assault on humdrum hocus-pocus was stronger than anyone had expected.  Could this momentum be maintained?  Could we muster enough powerful prestidigitation to push back the Borings for good?

Answering the call, MC “Dashing” Dan Garrett led his company of brawlers into the fray.  Nicholas Anthony commenced the action with coin manipulations and a strong card routine that he credited to Guy Hollingsworth (Ambidextrous Interchange).  Joe Farina asked Howie Schwarzman to name his favourite four of a kind … Howie’s answer cannot be given here … then Joe proceeded to amaze us with the acrobatic abilities of the cards in his deck.

The extraordinary Spanish magician Willy Monroe took the stage by storm with his yoyo and balloons.  Speaking only Squeekish, Willie had the crowd enthralled.  Cody Fisher induced the audience to name the one card that was secretly reversed in a shuffled deck of cards.  Kainoa Harbottle did a fine presentation of the linking rings, and a strong coin routine.  Adam Spigel performed the classic Hotel Mystery with cards.  Luis Otero of Venezuela transformed a card to a bill, then did a card matching routine.  Then Michiaki Kishimoto took off in a completely different direction with an animated drawing routine that clearly had Martin Lewis’ Cardiographic among its inspirations, but added several new ideas.

Brian Geer performed a fine egg bag routine, ending with a glass of water from the bag.  Then Henry Holava performed a cups and balls routine with three different-coloured sponge cubes.  Next up was Bill Houston with a strong act that included a version of the Hanging Coins.  Todd Nelson followed with a coin-in-bottle routine using a small cosmetics bottle.  Closing out the battle-line was France’s Julian Fombaron, easily the most noticeable person at the convention.  Julian presented a well connected set of effects with coins, cell phones, cigarettes, and cards.  His illusion of embedding a cigarette lengthways in a playing card was very impressive.

Friday evening brought the Generalissimo himself back to the stage, as Obie O’Brien took over the mike.  First on deck was Vic Trabucco, the Zen master of coins.  In his hands, magic just unfolds as the natural way of the universe.  Patrick Pryzsiecki regaled the multitude with the tale of Rindercella.  Andrew Murray presented an astonishing routine in which he named some cards and audience members were asked to choose locations in the deck.  The cards were found at exactly the chosen locations.

One of the Flicking Fingers, Helge Thun sang extremely funny original songs about magic and magicians while performing an inverse die box routine – instead of making a die disappear, his box kept producing more and more large dice.  Being funny in your mother tongue is hard enough – to be hilarious in a second language is a great talent.  Helge received a standing ovation.

Garrett Thomas, whose “Ring Thing” is deservedly popular, did a fine set that included producing a solid billiard ball from his wallet.  Reed McClintock, looking fit and trim, demonstrated why he was selected as the 2005 MVP.  His act included strong audience participation and ended with a very magical Miser’s Dream.

As a side note, I later had the pleasure of spending a few hours discussing the role of magic and magicians as artists with Reed McClintock, Marc DeSouza, Willy Monroe, Paul Critelli, Jörg Alexander, and several others.  This informal debate was one of the highlights of the whole convention for me.  Reed made a interesting distinction between “doing magic” and “being a magician” which was very thought-provoking.

Getting back to the performance, Reed was followed by Nicholas Einhorn, with an excellent set that ended with a Star Wars prediction, using the names of magicians … yes, the prediction was “Obie-Juan-Ken-Obie”.

David Regal did a killer prediction: a deck was shuffled, cut, dealt into piles, all by volunteers, and finally reduced to a single card … which matched a long banner that David unrolled.  David promised to explain this in his lecture the next day.  Steve Dela performed a very graceful card manipulation routine, and did the cups and balls to music.  Flip followed Steve, with a varied act in which my favourite effects involved a long rope and a short rope ring.

Next up was the inimitable Ali Bongo.  Mr. Bongo presented an extraordinary “psychic sausage-chopping” routine.  Ali was followed in the battle-roster by Mark Mason, who Obie correctly describes as one of the all-time great magic demonstrators.  Mark’s table in the Dealer’s Room is where a lot of the cool people hang out – he always has something new to teach, above and beyond the great stuff he sells.  Mark performed a version of 3 Fly, and then did a unique Ambitious Card routine that culminated in dozens of cards magically appearing on the back of his jacket.

Completing Obie’s squadron was Gaston, another of the Flicking Fingers.  Gaston told us of his magic addiction, from his first exposure in the school-yard, through the dark days of tearing and restoring paper napkins, to his final redemption.  The magic was strong and the presentation was very funny.

With only one day to go, you could feel the tension in the air.  So far, Obie’s army had suffered no setbacks – the forces of mediocre magic were in full retreat.  Could the trend possibly continue?

It could.  It did.  Saturday saw the build-up to the last big push.  Setting the pace was the 11 AM lecture from Helge Thun.  This turned into a three-effect lecture, because each of the three items taught had so much meat and generated so much discussion.  First, Helge taught us a routine in which a borrowed $10 bill is found in a deck of cards, wrapped tight around a previously selected and signed card.  The second routine was the cups and balls, which Helge had performed earlier.  This was filled with creative ideas, such as using the popular Vernon Wand Spin as part of a production sequence rather than as a vanish, as is usually done.  His discussion of choreographing the final loads was excellent.  Helge’s final routine involved the four Kings being signed, then jumping to his pockets and into a matchbox, with the exception of the last one which jumped to the centre of a deck that had been held by an audience member throughout.

David Regal’s lecture was next.  David taught an astounding number of effects: three cards chosen from a red deck exactly matched the cards missing from a blue deck, he produced a deck of cards from a flattened case, he helped a volunteer cut to the four Aces, he performed “The Puppy Trick” (Ambitious Card), coins through table, a version of Peter Kane’s Jazz Aces, he crumpled up his deck of cards, and he made a borrowed wedding ring translocate from one wine glass to another (this effect completely fooled me last year).  Then, with barely a moment’s pause to slap a fresh magazine into his M1, he was off again.  He taught us (and fully explained) some of his marketed effects: Déjà Vu, in which the volunteer’s named card appears in an otherwise blank deck, Self Evident, in which the volunteer chooses the only odd-backed card in the deck, Prophecy Pack, which he had performed the previous evening, Pasteboard Massacre, in which the cards really get cut, Special Delivery, in which a selected card is seen inside an envelope, and Heading North, a very clever rising card trick.  This was the final lecture of the convention, and it left the audience with their heads buzzing.

There was no stopping Obie’s army now.  The hunt was up, the game was afoot.  The Saturday afternoon show was masterminded by “Fighting” Phil Willmarth, the terror of the Linking Ring.  Matthew Episcopo made his rookie appearance with a jigsaw puzzle of Field Marshall Obie O’Brien, with one piece missing.  A volunteer was able to find the one missing piece out a large clear bag of spare pieces.  Up next was fellow first-timer Dan Trommater, demonstrating his “Matter Transference Portal” which he used to pass coins through the table and through a volunteer’s hands.  Dan’s presentation style was very popular with the audience.  Following Dan was Britain’s Martin Cox, who did a very impressive routine involving naming three free selections that had been honestly shuffled back into the deck.

Scott Miller performed a perplexing piece of prestidigitation in which almost every word of patter began with a plosive “p”.  His effect involved a drawn figure jumping from one card to another, inspired by a David Acer routine.  French magician David Jade followed, with Steve Duperre translating.  David performed extremely visual card magic, including the gradual transformation of one card into another.  After David came Paul Mims, with a romantic presentation of the Gypsy Thread.  Paul was followed by Randy Ryan, performing Cards Across with the assistance of Aldo Colombini and Rachel Wild.

My good friend Joe Turner took the stage with a humorous card routine in which he seemed always to have too many cards.  In frustration Joe forced a silk scarf through the middle of a jumbo-sized playing card … leaving it unharmed in the process.  The final attack of the afternoon was executed by the great J. C. Wagner, who concluded the show with his outstanding bowl and balls routine.

The end of the battle was in sight.  It had been a long hard struggle, with its share of triumphs and nightmares, but as we gathered for the grand finale show, every man and woman (both of them!) there knew that it all came down to this – the final push-through, the last run-up.  Would our card-men’s forces be strong?  Would they maintain control?  Would the coin-workers run out of shells?

Aldo Colombini - 2006 Guest Of HonorBefore the last attack, Obie called everyone to attention.  It was time to formally recognize Aldo Colombini, our Guest of Honour.  Aldo was presented with a wide range of commemorative gifts, some of which left him utterly amazed.  Aldo gave a brief speech of thanks, after which he received a standing ovation, then without further ado, the balloon went up and the show was on.  The cry went up and down the trenches “Over the top” … and like this review, over the top we went.

Aldo led off with a strong multiple selection routine, finding the last selection with his trademark double waterfall revelation.  He was followed into the fray by Robert Jagerhorn of Finland, with a strong set of card magic.  Next up was Heinz (played by Pit Hartling), who can only be described as an Uber-Nerd.  Heinz illustrated the story of Creation, and performed a fortune telling card divination.  Heinz has utter confidence in his own abilities – confidence which is only sometimes deserved.

After we recovered from Heinz, we were treated to a performance by Bob Sheets, with the funniest rendition of the three shell game I have seen.  Following Bob was David Stone, who started with the miraculous production of a coin from a bedsheet, and continued with rapid-fire productions of cards, drinks, straws, more drinks, and his shoes.

After David came Rocco.  Rocco’s act is always poetic, magical, and unlike anyone else’s.  He made magic with smoke, eggs, ice, popcorn, cards, lime juice, pearls, and bottles, to name just a few of the things that appeared, transformed and disappeared in his hands.

After a short break to regroup and clear the stage, the advance resumed.  Martin Eisele did an incredible matrix and reverse matrix with dice, at the conclusion of which the dice visibly materialized under the cards.  The crowd responded with a standing ovation.  Next up was Canadian Michael Robinson with a hilarious ventriloquist routine.  Mike’s little friend kept threatening to kick Obie’s *ss.  The audience loved them both and gave them a standing ovation.

Oscar Munoz, suave as always, performed magic with balloons.  Oscar also spoke movingly about how uplifting it was to see magicians from all around the world coming together in troubled times.  Rick Merrill, renowned graduate of home-school (top in his class!), performed an excellent multiple selection routine.  Johnny Hirose performed an intriguing set of magic that included money and card effects.

The show closers, the selected marksmen to fire the final shots in the assault on ho-hum hocus-pocus, were the Flicking Fingers, en masse.  They presented a “multi-medium” show: mind-reading in parallel by the entire squad, armed with paint-cans to create their impressions of the volunteer’s thoughts.  When Rachel Wild drew a sketch from “The Works of Edgar Allan Poe”, the Flicking Fingers reproduced it in 9 separate parts, which had to be assembled by Ghisbert (in his moment of glory) to show the proper drawing.   And with that, the show, and the convention, were over.

The Flicking Fingers who received numerous standing ovations and won the 2006 Lou Gallo MVP award.
Top row: Stephan Kirschbaum, Thomas Fraps, Martin Eisele, Obie O’Brien, Jörg Alexander and Manuel Muerte.
Bottom row: Ben Profane, Helge Thun, Pit Hartling, Gaston and Nikolai Friedrich.

After the smoke had cleared, it was determined by popular vote that the Lou Gallo MVP award should go to the Flicking Fingers (Reed McClintock was also presented with his award from last year).  Obie announced that next year’s Guest of Honour will be Ton Onosaka of Japan.  The theme for Pat Page’s workshop next year will be “Dinner Table Magic”.

The grand battle ended in a total victory for the forces of creativity and quality.  Throughout the convention, the twin themes of innovation and renewal were explored and applied.  The buzz was universal – this was one of the best FFFF conventions in recent memory.  The demons of unimaginative, uninspired cookie-cutter magic were chased from the field – at least until next year.

Tony Gerard's FFFF 2006 Photo Gallery -- click: HERE.

Obie O’Brien
Flip Hallema
J. C. Wagner
Roger Klause and Bill Malone
Joan Caesar
Mark Leveridge
Terry Lunceford
Tony Gerard
Harold Cataquet
Satoshi Onosaka with Dan Garrett
Jean-Luc Dupont
Bill Abbott
Shigeo Futagawa with Herb Zarrow and Roger Klause
Aldo Colombini
Pat Page
Gene Anderson and Ali Bongo
Mike Powers
David Neighbours
Willy Monroe
Cody Fisher
Kainoa Harbottle
Luis Otero
Michiaki Kishimoto
Julian Fombaron
Vic Trabucco
Garrett Thomas
Reed McClintock
Nicholas Einhorn
David Regal
Mark Mason with Roy Cottee
Joe Turner
Robert Jagerhorn
Bob Sheets
David Stone
Martin Eisele
Michael Robinson
Oscar Munoz
Rick Merrill
Johnny Hirose
Obie O’Brien with Ton Onosaka poster
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