Reported by Robin Dawes
• Photographed by Dale Farris
vast cloud of smoke and ash billows before my eyes, obscuring vision and
making travel nearly impossible. Is it the Icelandic volcano? No, it's
some idiot in front of me on the I-90 who really needs to change the oil
in his 1985 clunker. But I'm on my way to Batavia, NY to attend the 40th
Fechter's Finger Flicking Frolic (the original close-up convention, by
invitation only) and nothing is going to stop me. Like all the other
invitees -- including the 30 or so from Europe who are indeed blocked by
Eyjafjallajökull's eruption -- I have been anticipating this weekend for
the better part of a year.
identity of the Guest of Honour always plays a role in setting the tone
for FFFF, and this year the influence is stronger than ever since the
GOH is none other than Obie O'Brien himself, Head Forker and tireless
organizer of the convention for the past four decades. Close-up
magicians from around the globe are converging on Batavia to join in the
celebration of Obie's dedication and contribution to magic and to the
unique convention that now bears his name (it has officially been
renamed "Obie's FFFF Convention").
some reason it seems to be getting unusually cold inside the convention
hotel -- by the time I check into my room, the floor is covered in a
sheet of ice several inches thick. Everyone has donned skates and
helmets, and there are blue and red lines criss-crossing the ice. I
realize that FFFF 2010 has actually transformed into a week-end long
game of hockey ... Obie played hockey for years and his past seems to
have caught up with all of us.
play of the game is a lecture from Nicholas Einhorn ... no wait,
Nicholas isn't here, it's Richard Pinner ... no wait, Richard isn't here
either ... it's Shawn Farquhar, stepping in the last moment in
the best FFFF tradition, still lacing up his skates as he jumps over the
boards and enters the fray. Shawn shares the secret of his holdout, and
teaches a beautiful matrix routine using poker chips and photographs of
his hands. He follows up with magic with CDs -- signatures appear and
disappear and transform -- then roars across the blue line with a
thorough tutorial on his favourite deck-switch technique -- with several
detailed applications. Shawn fakes right, fakes left, then fires a
blistering wrist-shot with his famous "Torn to Pieces" torn-and-restored
signed photograph routine. He shoots, he scores!
Shawn's lecture, the hospitality suite and the Dealers' Room are open --
the players gather in clusters to discuss the season, the coaches, the
refs, and to share their new moves and creations, to forge and
strengthen important friendships. FFFF is an unique and wonderful
gathering: some of my closest friends in the world are people that I
only see for four days every April.
up the crowd on Thursday morning is the task of Antonio Romero,
who delivers a stirring lecture of clever ideas and inventions. His work
pads is sure to find favour with mentalists, and his stabbed deck
wrapped in clear plastic wrap is a popular favourite ... but the killer
item in his lecture is his amazing hold-out. Brilliantly engineered,
imperceptible in operation, and capable of producing infinitely many
magical moments, this is a highlight of the convention for many.
and upwards: after a brief time-out for the players to catch their
breath, the game continues with Roger Klause's Teach-a-Trick
session (Roger is sorely missed by many at FFFF), now coached by the
able and experienced Steve "Slap-shot" Beam. This event is
eagerly anticipated as members of the FFFF family share some of their
pet effects. The players take the ice and the whistle sounds. This year
a new feature is added: FFFF ticket-holders can download instructions
for all the taught effects from Steve's site – this is a huge bonus.
Steve Beam teaches a card routine in which the aces magically appear
one after the other on the face of the deck. Rod Chow carries the
puck over the centre line with a business card STOP trick, and passes to
Marc de Souza who shares an original coins across routine
combining subtleties and sleights -- Marc really has the puck on a
string. Wily Prof. Rem fakes out the defense with a pair of
geometric mysteries. Scott Robinson gives us the willies as cards
magically appear in his pockets. Dan Garrett teaches us
smart-phone magic and makes a pass to Tom Craven, who teaches us
how to place a card precisely in the deck with just two shuffles. Tom
circles behind the net and fires the puck out to David Corsaro,
who shares an effect that I have long admired, in which a shuffled deck
reveals a telephone number selected by a volunteer -- a very commercial
effect. David puts the puck on the blade of Mike Powers, who
fools the goalie utterly with a card routine based on an idea by Stewart
James -- once again Mike shows us that there is gold in the classic
literature, for those who have the patience to mine for it, refine it
and polish it.
to centre ice for a quick faceoff, then the team is on the offensive
again – the coach has brought in his veteran line, the "Friends of the
Forks". MC Mike "Hat Trick" Hilburger leads the rush with vintage
film footage of FFFF namesake Eddie Fechter performing at the
Forks Hotel in the 1960's. Billy Dunn gets the puck moving down
the ice with card magic and Houdini's Hanky. The unflappable Vic
Trabucco combines cards and coins in a series of sublime magical
effects. Gary Para twists Aces into a Royal Flush, then outflanks
the defence with sleight of hand(s), then flips the puck over to
Larry Martinez who performs an excellent cut-and-restored rope
routine. As Larry charges the net, he slips the puck back to Harrison
Caroll who mesmerizes the ref and everyone else with his magical
tale of a carnival encounter one hot August afternoon. Harrison's
story-telling skills are unmatched. The puck is loose for a moment but
it's scooped up by Jim Gabor, performing a provocative act with
coins and cards. The defence is closing in to block the rush when
suddenly that crafty elder statesman of the ice, the ever-irascible
Karl Norman comes out of nowhere to salvage the play: his work with
elastics, coins and a box thrills the crowd and earns him the first
standing ovation of the convention as he notches up yet another victory
over the hapless goalie.
a short time, play commences again with Oscar "Offside" Munoz
helming the squad. Oscar takes the play to the opposition with a ring
and shoelace routine that ends with a commemorative ring being presented
to Obie. The effervescent Camilo brings the house down
with the line "I didn't expect an alligator", then sends the bisquit
down the ice with a selected card that is not in any of the hundred or
so items that Camilo has in his pockets, until it is found in an utterly
impossible place. The courageous David Jade, a last minute
substitution, comes over the boards to join the game and makes his play
with extremely visual card magic. The Wonders from Down Under, Tim
Ellis and Sue-Anne Webster, team up for a power-play presentation of
the 6-Card Rap-eat, followed by a hilarious routine involving
translation from Australian to English. Tim introduces an uproarious
video giving "highlights" of Obie's life and magic videos. Sweeping down
the ice now comes the mighty Finn Robert Jägerhorn, with his
brilliantly conceived and executed "prepare for landing" act. RJ hands
the puck to Antonio Romero, who performs a stunningly visual cups
and balls routine. Antonio passes off to hockey legend Meir Yedid,
who performs an excellent sandwich routine. The crowd responds eagerly,
but all sigh with relief when the whistle blows for a time-out.
is back in the stands after 15 minutes. Luis Otero performs a
brilliant card routine based on coincidences. Willy Monroe is
assaulted by a malign marauder with an evil laugh and a pair of
scissors, who snips Willy's yoyo string into tiny pieces … but Willy
magically restores it. The great J.C. Wagner picks up the puck
behind the net and brings it down the boards, performing super card
magic for Anne O'Brien, First Lady of our Guest of Honour.
Woody Aragon, no longer brandishing the shears (nor the evil laugh)
with which he tormented Willy Monroe , performs an amazing Joker
assembly routine that ends with the backs of the cards spelling a
congratulatory message for Obie. Woody's musical accompaniment is
Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" -- very nice! Woody makes a swift
pass to Bob "The Enforcer" Sheets who nets a bottle
rocket with his brilliant Tunnel of Logic.
the ice come the players at the end of the first period – it's been a
gruelling day but the score is a solid four-nothing for the FFFF
Phantoms. The players and fans mingle freely for a few hours then
disperse for sleep or sessions -- the morning will arrive to find some
die-hards still hunched over their cards.
back into the game at 11 AM the next day, "Mahovolich" Meir
Yedid leads his squad of specialists out onto the ice for Pat
Page's Workshop. Alas, Pat is no longer with us -- but the FFFF
family is bonded through traditions and shared memories. Just as
Steve Beam has so ably stepped in to continue Roger Klause's
Teach-a-Trick, Meir carries on Pat Page's event. The theme
this year, chosen by vote at FFFF 2009, is "Tricks With No Props".
The fans are eager to see what the creative crew have come up with.
off the bench Bruce Kalver and Joan Caesar perform a
clever demonstration of telepathy which has everyone guessing. They
leave the ice without teaching the method, but Bruce returns later to
share the technique -- sorry I can't say more, but it's a FFFF
exclusive. Meir Yedid picks up the puck and turns an old finger
gag into a magical effect. Harvey Berg keeps the play going with
a group levitation. Bob Reese gets the crowd involved with an
exercise in memory training. Raj Madhok introduces us to the
magic of kinaesthesia and makes Gene Anderson a happy man.
Gene Gordon takes over the drive and transforms a hand full of
nothing into a Royal Flush. My good friend Roland Meister
assembles a line-up of four chargers and demonstrates the principle of
mutual support. The always-creative Mark Zacharia performs
mentalism with invisible coins. Michel Asselin demonstrates that
one defender is often more than a match for two attackers. Tim Ellis
brings Obie into the line-up and makes a bet that Obie can't win.
Meir surges back into the play with a clever illusion of stretching
his thumb, then fires the puck across the blue line to Joe Rindfleich,
who sinks the rubber with a series of astonishing digital manipulations
that had all the finger flickers gasping and wincing.
what seems like just moments, we return to the arena for the 2 PM show,
MC-ed by Gary "Gump" Morton. Gary wins the face-off and
slides the puck over to Charming Choi, who enchants the crowd
with his deft manipulations of cards and coins (and bicycles). Crossing
centre ice with the puck is David Acer, who outflanks the
opposing team with his four henchmen, each finding the card that was
chosen from one of the others' deck. Tom Craven keeps the
momentum going with rope, rings, and the unexpected assistance of
Clara the Magic Chicken. Over to Geoff Williams as the team
puts on the pressure. Geoff channels a Minnesota (Wild?) postman to find
the missing halves of two torn dollar bills. The amazing Hannibal
pulls off a hat-trick by getting Boris Wild's card under a can of
Pringles three times. Steve Walker comes up from Down Under and
has the fans rolling off their seats with his perfectly timed comedic
delivery as he conjures with cards and newspaper.
catches their breath for a moment, then the game is on again with the
magic of Bebel, who performs miracles with cards -- pure,
impeccable magic. Johan Stahl picks up the puck in his own
endzone and carries it down the ice with an elegant routine using a
teacup, a sugar cube and a pen. Perennial crowd favourite Mark Mason
loops the defencemen with ropes and cards. The puck goes to
who swings behind the net with ring and coin magic, then he passes off
to Simo Aalto in the pocket. Simo drives hard with coins, bells,
chimes and ice cubes and slips the puck past the net-tender … GOAL!
can stop this team! They are back on the ice at 8 PM for the Friday
night show -- Obie tries to make an announcement but is pelted with
whistles flung by every fan in the stands. Meir "Mauler" Yedid
bravely takes on the MC role once again. Meir wins the face-off and
opens up the play with a quick pass to consummate craftsman Bob
Swadling who confidently conjures with coins and cards. Bob sweeps
the puck back to Andy Dallas who reprises his graceful and
magical pocket watch routine and floating ball routine -- the best I
have seen. Play passes to Marc de Souza -- Marc gets the crowd
rocking with "Tequila" then touches hearts with a Dreamcatcher story.
Charlie Caper pumps up the energy with his "formal" cups and
balls routine. Paul Gertner clears the puck out of the endzone
with classic card magic. France's Pilou storms onto the ice and
gets the fans on their feet in a standing ovation for his superbly
time for the FFFF Golf Tourney awards … what? This is a hockey game!
excited that he trips and smashes the performing table -- Obie
nearly has a heart attack until he realizes it is a fake table. Joan
Caesar receives a special award for her contributions to FFFF and
the crowd rises to its feet in appreciation of this hard-working lady.
Then play begins again as Helder Guimares sends four signed Aces
to his wallet. The jovial Henry Evans reverses all the Hearts in
the deck, one at a time, in a power-house routine that really gets the
puck moving. Henry passes off to David Stone who steps neatly
around the defence with excellent coin manipulations. And then, coming
hot off the bench to finish the show, Shawn Farquhar takes the
ice and gets the crowd roaring with the funniest "Topsy Turvy Bottles"
routine I have ever seen. The goalie is mesmerized, and the puck … is in
the net! GOAAAAAL!
after two full periods of play, the score stands at seven-nothing for
the good guys. The happy fans stumble out of the stands to stretch,
chat, and perhaps even sleep for an hour or two before the game resumes.
Finnish iceman Simo Aalto takes the face-off at centre ice to
kick off Period 3. Simo thrills the crowd with a mini-lecture featuring
a brilliant application of an ancient principle -- combining Simo's
lecture with those of Shawn Farquhar and Antonio Romero, the FFFF gang
has the thinking of three champion magicians on a single topic -- enough
new ideas to fill a book or more.
no pause after Simo's lecture: the canny play-maker J. C. Wagner
picks up the puck and delivers a killer mini-lecture of his own. J.C.
teaches card magic that requires equally high levels of skill and
audacity. The fans in the stands love it all. These two mini-lectures
are highlights of the convention for me.
J.C., over the boards comes
the powerful Portuguese puckster. Helder delivers a fascinating lecture
that combines theory and practice to illustrate his principles of
creating brilliant magic. His signed-cards-across routine is a huge hit
with the crowd.
and fear, that's what goalies around the league feel about Dynamite
Dan Garrett, MC of the next show. Dan introduces the dynamic duo of
Leon Etienne and Matt Episcopo (finally, a name that
actually sounds like a hockey player!). Leon and Matt use the arena's
giant replay screens to show us a video that unveils the Masked
Magician. Oh-Oh ... or should I say O. O. ?
picks up the puck at his own red line and powers it
forward with strong card magic. David Corsaro receives the pass
and engages a volunteer in an hilarious game of "Win Dave's Stuff" --
Dave gets a bit chilly before it is over. Entering the fray next is
Atsushi Ono, with Samurai coin magic. Atsushi passes the pill to
Tony Montana who socks it to the opposition with a clever mentalism
routine. Now Brad Lancaster has it -- with crackers, cards and
coins he carries the play forward, then puts the puck on the stick of
Bill Walsh. Bill bamboozles with a gambling routine where the
volunteer never finds the money.
we go with a face-off, and FISM President Eric Eswin comes up hot
with the puck. Eric hits hard with his dry humour and strong magic. The
ever-cool and collected Eric Jones sets up the play with a
stunning version of Bizarre Twist. The puck goes over to Albert Tam,
who offers a clever Mah Jongg routine. Dick Steiner hits the ice
at speed and floors the fans with an astonishing feat of mental magic
involving Reader's Digest magazines. Dick floats the puck in front of
the net and it is scooped up by Chris Capehart, who outflanks the
defence with his magical thumbcuffs.
minutes remain in this game and the players still on the bench are
clamouring for ice-time. Hank "Hockey is My Life" Moorehouse MC's
the "Grand Finale Show" with a line-up of league all-stars. First up,
Kelly and Karen O'Brien speak movingly about their father and
his life in magic. Karen tells us "My dad has a passion job" --
may we all be so fortunate. Then Eric DeCamps puts blades to ice
with sophisticated coin magic and rope magic. Mike Robinson and
his little buddy Terrance dazzle the defence with their verbal
stick-handling … all the more impressive since they share the same vocal
cords. Boris Wild, le seigneur du baton, picks up the puck behind
the goal-line and brings it into play with a magical review of FFFF
Guests of Honour. Boris passes the puck off to the Mighty Men of Mirth,
Gene Anderson and Dan "Garnak the Magnificent" Garrett.
This beloved act brings the house down, as always.
in at the last minute for the injury-sidelined Steve Bargatze, Rick
Merrill, bravely enters the game. But wait, who is that wheeling
onto the ice -- it's Steve himself. Chaos ensues as these two friends
battle hilariously for possession of the puck. After the ref clears the
ice, Paul Gertner gets emotions building with a touching poem for
Obie. The crowd is getting excited -- the game is in its last minutes
and it looks like a shutout for the FFFF Phantoms. What's this? The
opposition has pulled their goalie! With six opposing skaters on the
ice, the Phantoms are in trouble. Within the space of two minutes, the
opposing team scores an astonishing 10 goals -- the Phantoms are down by
three points -- can they come back? Does this incredible team have
anything left to give?
the opposition puts their goalie back in the net. Hank sends in his
final line-up. Oscar Munoz finds a chosen card with the help of a
blow-gun, and sends the puck bouncing over the goalie's shoulder. Score!
The laconic Steve Beam gets the crowd roaring with his break-away
comedy -- he's going in all alone … Score! And suddenly the man of the
hour is on the ice. Obie O'Brien, Head Forker, Guest of Honour,
Most Valuable Player (by popular vote during the time-out) and perhaps
the only real hockey player at FFFF, comes flying down the boards. Obie
speaks his heart to the crowd, and receives two standing ovations. Obie
scores … the game is tied, and there is only one play left to make.
the ice now to close the show and close the convention, it's all up to
the one and only Rocco. Rocco performs as only he can -- pure
visual magic. There's rice, there's popcorn, there's water, smoke,
flowers, ribbons, confetti, and too many other things to mention. Rocco
seems nonchalant as he slap-shots the puck from centre-ice. The
defencemen dive helplessly and the goalie stands awestruck as the puck
floats past his nose and lights the beacon just as the siren sounds to
end the game. The Phantoms win! The crowd leaps to its feet and Rocco
receives a final standing O.
a game! The crowd retires to suites and lounges to happily debate,
discuss and dissect the amazing convention we have just enjoyed. All are
determined to reconvene next year for Obie's FFFF 41, with Guest of
Honour Steve Beam.
homage to Annemann (who may or may not have been a hockey fan, but who
certainly loved good magic), please read the first letter of each
paragraph of this report.
*The first video was made by Matt
Episcopo and Leon Etienne. The four Behind The Magic videos were made by
Tim Ellis and Sue-Anne Webster.