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
(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
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”,
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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”.
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.
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
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.
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
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?
Before 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.
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.
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: