Reported by Robin Dawes
• Photographed by Dale Farris
There are strange
things done in the Midnight Sun,
By the folk who finger-flick.
The Arctic trails have their secret tales,
That would make your rabbit sick.
The Northern Lights have seen odd sights
But the oddest one by far
Was when Obie's call came to one and all
To honour Shawn Farquhar.
(With apologies to Robert Service,
author of the poem "The Cremation of Sam McGee")
were six of us passing magic stories around the campfire that night in
the deep woods of the Yukon River Valley -- ancient convention stories,
dark tales of the Northern Peaks. Finally Old Jake knocked the ashes out
of his pipe and said quietly, "I guess it's my turn to tell one now, eh?
Boys, did you ever hear the true story of Shawn Farquhar and the GWB?"
shook our heads. The Klondike Kid looked puzzled. "What's a GWB?"
replied, "I guess you ain't been out here long enough to know -- but
it's time you did, for your own good, eh? The GWB is the Great White
Bear of the North. It's an ice-bear, biggest there ever was, so big its
paw prints are ponds, so big it can swallow an orca in one gulp, so cold
it brings winter with it where-ever it goes, eh? It's old, nobody knows
how old, and it roams across the Arctic, always hunting."
"Hunting for what?"
hack magicians, Kid -- magicians who have no respect for the art.
Anyways, this is the story of how the Great White Bear came to FFFF in
2014. It started like this." He took a long pull on the jug, stared into
the fire, and began his tale.
was near the end of April. I was mushing my dog-team southward and I was
in a hurry. It's a long trail from Hudson's Bay to New York State and I
was late starting out. I had my invite in my poke: a scrap of birchbark
with "FFFF" burned on it. I found it lying beside my igloo one morning,
and I knew it was Obie O'Brien's way of inviting me to Batavia
for Obie's FFFF, the Original Close Up Convention.
you boys may recall that winter -- it was the coldest since the Deep
Freeze of 1998. The whole world was in the grip of a polar vortex, eh?
When I got to Thunder Bay I found the Great Lakes were frozen solid, and
the current that drains them had left a deep curving groove right down
the middle -- it was the world's longest bobsled run. I got my huskies
up to a gallop and steered them in -- it was so slick we slid all the
way from Thunder Bay to Batavia -- the only time the dogs complained was
when we went over Niagara Falls.
snow was at least 80 feet deep in Batavia but I could hear cards being
shuffled somewhere underneath so I started digging. On April 23 I
reached ground level just in time for the first event of the convention.
The first-ever Wednesday night FFFF Gala Show was on.
"Sitting in the stands were 230 of the wildest, hairiest, meanest,
craziest close-up magicians in the world. The hooting and hollering was
deafening but Obie's famous whistle cut through like the scream
of a mountain-lion. He introduced Joe "Tuktoyaktuk" Turner to MC
the show, and Joe got things rolling by bringing on Guest of Honour
Shawn Farquhar, the roughest, toughest double FISM champion of them
all. Shawn started with Smarties, continued with an awesome book
test, and finished with his award-winning cups and balls routine. Next
up was Yumi, performing charming traditional Japanese magic with
O-wan To Tama (cups and balls). Then Tango did a
super clean version of ACAAN. Next James Jien did an amazing
transposition effect with Aces and Jacks. Will Gray produced a
live salmon from the sleeve of someone else's jacket. Christian and
Katalina re-enacted a dinner with the Borgias involving fine food
and deadly poison. Wladimir did whimsical, sophisticated magic
with rope. Mike Chao closed the show with his sublime "green" act
of productions and manipulation.
Kid interrupted with "A salmon?" Old Jake looked at him steadily. "Some
say it was a goldfish... but I say it was a salmon. You wish to dispute
the point?" The Kid said nothing. Old Jake resumed his story.
time around then the temperature started to drop. A couple of guys
started talking about the polar vortex, but I knew what it really was.
I'd seen the signs -- it was the Great White Bear approaching, dragging
a cold front with it. I knew right then that we were in big trouble.
that night we got back together for a lecture from Bruno Copin.
It was incredible -- he had things flying and jumping and flipping over
like they were alive. Then it was off to the campfires for a long night
of yarning and magic-swapping -- see, Kid, FFFF is like that: it's all
about the sharing, eh?
the night went on it got colder and colder. When I finally went to bed I
slept between blocks of ice just for the insulation. Around 4 AM I woke
up to the sound of screaming -- I ran outside and found a single
bitten-up Seven of Diamonds. A quick role-call revealed we were missing
the guy who had forced the same card nine times on his volunteer. I knew
the Great White had struck.
that, things were pretty quiet until 11 AM when Obie started tooting his
whistle again. It was still getting colder -- big chunks of puffy ice
started falling from clouds that had frozen solid overnight. I rolled
out of my blanket, swigged a gallon of boiling coffee straight from the
pot, and settled down for a lecture from Tim Ellis. Tim started
by eating razorblades, then showed us something he must have learned out
in the tall pines: how to handle a wolf-trap safely… except it didn't go
so well for his hand. He talked mostly about how to make the audience
care about your performance. He made some really wise observations about
the difference between "magic concerts" and "magic theatre." Important
lunch we had the Kick-Off Show, MC-ed by Steve "Lost in the Barrens"
Beam. First up, Joel Greenwich predicted the exact number of
cards a volunteer would deal. Then William Watt made magic with a
ribbon and a borrowed ring. Tyler Erickson made some coins travel
magically into a volunteer's hand. Davio Wu made magic with LEGO
bricks -- I never saw that before, eh? Next, Riccardo Negroni put
away his coins and made great magic with cards. Daly did clever
magic with coins and bills. Eric Roumestan made coin magic happen
in the hands of my old trail-buddy Mike Hrab. Then Clemens
Ilgner made the tastes of two soft drinks trade places. Closing out
the show was Michael Dardant… only he looked and sounded just
like Shawn Farquhar (and was almost as adorable). His spot-on
characterization brought that hard-bitten crowd to its feet in a
was about that time that the Great White struck again. At lunch we had
all heard a guy say "Oh, that was the clean one". Just before
dinner we found his top hat, chewed to shreds, and no sign of him.
next show was called "Familiar Faces," and the MC was Gary "Medicine
Hat" Morton. The first performer was Mike "Six" Muldoon, who
showed an amazing rendition of Triumph. Then Bruce Kalver told a
moving story about his ancestors -- while pictures of them materialized
inside an empty box. Ice McDonald was able to name the cards in
separate parts of a shuffled deck. There was a change of pace as
Xavier Belmont demonstrated the use of muscle reading to find a
chosen card. Vinny Grosso had the strange ability to identify
cards by taste. Brian Roberts performed an astonishingly visual
two card transposition routine, eh? Roy Eidem magically produced
coins from the frame of a purse. The final performer was David
Corsaro, who magically transformed into Dai Vernon to deliver
pungent opinions on Shawn Farquhar and everyone else.
took a break to eat -- the hotel restaurant was serving poutine and
beaver-tails -- beauty, eh? -- then sat down for the Shawn Farquhar
lecture. Shawn taught the book test he had performed earlier
and some really clever magic using credit cards and hotel key cards.
Then he taught us the workings of his excellent card to wallet and his
brilliant torn-and-kind-of-restored signed photograph. It was an
outstanding lecture from a world-class magician, eh?
the lecture we noticed the cold was closing in even more, and I knew the
Great White was still hunting. It was so cold there were two hound dogs
putting jumper cables on a rabbit so they could start it up and chase
night I sat around campfires with John Bannon, Raj Madhok,
Alan Zola Kronzek and others. The magic was flying thick and fast
-- smart, original, powerful magic, the kind that may come up from the
underground some day. Later I saw Riccardo Negroni and Tony
Polli make coins fly through the air, vanish and reappear in ways I
had never seen before.
next day started with Mike "Pemmican" Powers MC-ing the Pat
Page Memorial Workshop -- always one of my favourite parts of FFFF.
This year the theme was "Magic that was published at least 50 years
ago." Mike led off the teaching with an excellent poker routine from
Stewart James in Print. Then Peter McLanachan taught us a
variation of Charlie Miller's "Dunbury Delusion" from Expert Card
Technique. David Neighbours shared a very visual coins
through the table routine from the Bobo book. Steve Friedberg
mixed card magic with the true history of Kid Canfield, a reformed
gambler. Next, Bruce Kalver and Joan Caesar taught us a
2-person code system that has been in Bruce's family for generations.
Gene Gordon shared a clever bill transposition effect from
Tarbell Volume 3. Tony Gerard taught his excellent version of
a trick by Annemann called "One in Fourteen," which first appeared in
The Linking Ring in 1927. Tom Craven taught one of my
favourite coin routines, the "Sympathetic Coins" from The Fine Art of
were three shows that day, and the Great White struck three times.
first show was MC-ed by Buddy "Frobisher Bay" Farnan. He
introduced Eric DeCamps, who made 10 cards travel up his sleeve
one by one. Yuri Kaine was up next, with an Ace Transposition
routine. Hae-suk Oh followed with an extremely clean-looking
coins-across effect. Rémy Robert was whimsical and funny with his
torn-and-restored cookie routine. Mario Lopez, who might be the
reincarnation of Doug Henning, did an hilarious act with cigarettes that
brought us to our feet in a standing ovation. Tim Ellis performed
a baffling version of ACAAN then did his famous "Run-Around Sue" cups
and balls act. Rune Carlson made a sequence of increasingly
impossible predictions, all of which were correct. Tony Montana
predicted the order in which a set of scarves would be tied. Eric
Jones closed the show with elegant and graceful coin magic.
then there was a huge roaring noise out in the parking lot. We ran
outside -- there were deep claw-scratches in the walls, and a hotel
security guard told us he had just heard someone say the fatal words
"What, I'm not one of your friends?" We all knew the Great White had
claimed another hack magician.
next show had Oscar "Moosejaw" Muñoz as MC. First up was Daryl
Rose, who played a terrifying game of Russian Roulette with a
balloon gun. Next Wayne Anderson bent some silverware with
the power of his mind. Will Fern magically transported coins
under a napkin that jumped when each one arrived. Then Mirko
Ferrantini borrowed a deck of cards and cut to the four Aces.
Karl Hein transformed plain paper into real money. Next
Chris Pilsworth did a funny and theatrical rendition of the
cut-and-restored fabric. Howard Hamburg spoke movingly of what
magic has given him, and performed powerful card magic. Then
Gérald Mainart performed an excellent version of Twisting the Aces.
David Regal closed the show with an incredible transposition of two
cards between two decks held by two people.
the show we realized nobody had seen the "Oh, you're happy with the mind
you have?" guy since before lunch… we never did see him again, and to be
honest we never looked too hard. The Great White got him and that was ok
evening show was introduced by Meir "Yellowknife" Yedid. He
showed us a Youtube video Matt Episcopo had made earlier in the
day -- you can find it at
http://tinyurl.com/kwbtzvl. Then Andost started off the magic
by predicting three selected cards, including the colours of their
backs. Ludovic Juillot performed strong coin magic in the persona
of Don Corleone. Next Hannibal presented a beautiful and poignant
act combining stories and magic. Then Jaque earned a standing
ovation with an act that included poker chips, dice and whisky.
Shimpei Katsuragawa spread his cards out like piano keys and
performed music-themed magic with them.
a short recess Garret Thomas performed magic with a Rubik's Cube
and with finger rings, and got a standing ovation. Then Seol
Park did high-speed magic while an instruction-tape played at "fast
forward" speed -- he also received a standing ovation. Martin Cox,
the Hard Man of Magic, balanced an egg on a tray on a glass on Shawn
Farquhar's head then knocked away the tray. Bruno Copin
transported a signed postcard into a sealed envelope. The show
closer was Pierric Tenthorey, who
exploited the time-limit on FFFF acts by cutting straight to the
conclusions of all his effects. The audience loved it and
rewarded him with a standing ovation.
thought maybe the Great White was sated, but the temperature was still
dropping. Down in the hotel kitchen the bubbles froze in a pot of
boiling water. I saw some guy cascade a deck of cards and they froze
stiff in mid-air. We had to walk around them for the rest of the night.
that night I saw my old buddy Ray Roch performing his "Impossible
Box" routine -- it's amazing! He built a little box out of six playing
cards, then produced objects out of it over and over. It was a huge hit
with the gang around the fire.
"Saturday started with a lecture by Henry Evans, the world's
happiest magician. He started by making his watch jump into a knot in a
piece of rope -- it was incredibly visual and magical! He continued with
outstanding magic using cards, coins, faux hypnotism, and paper
currency. This was smart, practical, cutting-edge magic, beautifully
conceived and executed.
first show of the day was managed by MC Pattrick "Petawawa"
Przysiecki. First up was Jimmy C, who surprised us all by
bringing back Jay Marshall's friend Lefty. Next Shank Kothare and
Ed Ripley delivered a clever act based on the idea of outsourcing
magic. Jérôme Bourgeon showed how a card shark might find a
chosen card, by bringing on an actual flying shark! Then
Hayafumi combined the values of two chosen cards in four different
ways to find relevant cards in the deck. Hayafumi's magic is always
original and unique. Kirk Patrick followed up by making a
volunteer into a magician. Funny thing is the volunteer was Boris
Wild, who is already a great magician!
The next act consisted of all
the women at FFFF working together to cut Shawn Farquhar in half with a
power saw. The stage wasn't exactly crowded -- there were only five
women there: Mandy Farrell, Yumi, Katalina Absolon, Maria Schweiter
and Joan Caesar. Then Roger Nicot did an amazing
four-way prediction using a numbered deck – this was one of the most
puzzling things I saw at FFFF. Auke van Dokkum performed graceful
coin magic that was a joy to watch. Bob Swadling presented a
humorous tribute to Tommy Cooper. Hide Kimoto ended the show with
a beautiful rendition of the Linking Rings using small rings.
"Suddenly the temperature dropped faster than Hank Lee's reputation. It
was so cold the flames froze on my multiplying candles -- I used them as
reading lights for the rest of the week. Everyone went silent, and we
heard a single voice from the lobby "Defacing a dollar bill… you just
committed a felony… AAAAGH!" and we knew the Great White had thinned the
the next show the MC was Dan "Haida Gwai" Garrett. Dan introduced
Alain Ianonne who performed a card stab routine using William
Watts' back as the table. Then Bill Evans called upon the
power of bacon to work his magic. Ouka was next with an exciting
yo-yo act that looked very dangerous -- he earned a standing ovation,
eh? Joe Monti followed that with one of the funniest 3-card monte
routines I have ever seen. Mike Maione used a tin-can telephone
to transmit a card from one person to another. Then Derick Finn
performed a powerful version of the Christ Aces. Michael Kaminskas
was next, with a torn and restored Skittles bag that really caught
everyone's attention. Then Keith Fields performed his trademark
hat juggling and an excellent cup and ball routine. Geoff Williams
ended the show with a great moving-hole effect.
cold, colder it got, and colder still. I stepped outside and my shadow
froze to the ground -- I'll show you tomorrow that I don't have one. By
this time we were all looking over our shoulders every time anyone did a
trick, but there was no sign of the Great White. I knew he was out there
though, just biding his time.
too soon, it was time for the last event of the Frolic: the Grand Finale
Show. Obie O'Brien did the MC duties. After a number of awards
and presentations to Shawn Farquhar and another very funny video
by Matt Episcopo, the magic began. First Albert Lorenzo
did a beautiful cups and balls routine using dice of many sizes, and
received a standing ovation. Then Bébel presented his incredible,
astonishing card magic. Next Soma did something astounding and
completely unique: he composed and recorded a song right before our
eyes, using the sounds of magic (riffling cards, clinking coins, etc.)
on a looping recorder to build the music piece by piece. When he
finished the crowd rose in a loud ovation. Then Rocco took
the stage and filled it as only he can with intensely magical
productions and transformations. Somehow smoke, rice, milk, ice cream,
pretzels, eggs and many other things became part of an unbroken magical
experience. We gave him a big standing ovation.
a short break where everyone went to walk their huskies, Angel San
Martin did what I can only call Cups and Balls+++, involving not
only cups and balls but his hat, shoes, vest and tie. He was rewarded
with a standing ovation. Then Ouka returned to the stage and
performed his unbelievable 8-ring contact juggling act, and received a
HUGE ovation. Jay Scott Berry followed up with open-hand
productions: coins, bills and balls appeared from thin air with no cover
-- incredibly visual magic. Henry Evans, still happier than
anyone else in the world, was the last magical performer: he did
jaw-dropping magic with four borrowed and shuffled decks -- when he
finished there was an instant standing ovation. There was a slight pause
in the show so that Obie could announce the MVP, as voted by us:
Michael Dardant was the happy recipient and we gave him a standing
ovation. Then, closing the show as they have for several years, Steve
Bargatze and Rick Merrill gave their sharp-witted
observations on the whole convention. They were dead-on and merciless,
and when they finished we sent them off with a standing ovation.
then … it started to get really cold. First the beams of light in
the room froze -- they fell to the floor like long, glowing threads.
Then it got colder than Ozzie Osbourne's welcome at a PETA rally. Then
it got colder than a booking agent's heart. And then…"
Jake's voice dropped in pitch. "Then the Great White came slowly through
the door. None of us could move. The Bear swung his huge head from side
to side, and every magician in the room regretted ever using those tired
old stock lines we've all heard too often. Finally the Great White Bear
took one mighty step towards Shawn Farquhar and opened its jaws wide.
no," said Shawn. "Earlier today I said 'I'm not psychic, I'm psychotic'.
Great White Bear snatched Shawn up in its terrible teeth and started to
chew. With one voice we all shouted, "No! Nooo! It's ok, because he's
the Great White let him go. It just set him down on his chair, glared
one more time around the room, and shuffled out the door. Shawn was a
little mangled but none the worse for wear. You can bet we partied all
night long after that, and there was not a hackneyed, stock patter line
to be heard anywhere. Every one of the magicians at FFFF had learned the
danger. When we finally said our farewells we all took home something
very important -- something to hold onto."
the Great White Bear?" whispered the Kid.
Jake's voice got real soft. "Oh he's out there son... still hunting.
Some say he'll never stop. He was seen last month up near Lake
Athabasca. And if you've ever stolen a line or a trick from someone else
he'll track you down, and then, some night, when you least expect it,
you'll hear a soft breath behind you and then..."
that was me, having left my seat and snuck up behind the Klondike Kid.
See, Old Jake has told this story a hundred times -- except for the Kid,
we had all heard it before -- and it was my turn to play the GWB. We
laughed ourselves silly.
Kid? He launched himself over the fire like a jet-plane off the deck of
an aircraft carrier. For all I know, he hasn't touched down yet.