Think about the first time that you saw something that was truly magical. Perhaps it was as a child when a relative asked you to pick a card out of a deck and then miraculously located it after it was seemingly lost forever, or perhaps it was on a television special where a magician performed feats that you were sure were the result of powers obtained from somewhere other than this world. Magic was not something that was just a trick that confounded you, it was something that resonated on a much deeper level with you. Magic was something that demonstrated that there could exist something just outside of our realm of understanding and introduced us to the concept of wonder in our lives. I still remember what that moment was for me. I was four years old and my parents had taken me to a small magic shop in Phoenix, AZ. There, an old vaudevillian and magician, Bert Easley, demonstrated the linking rings for me. I was completely mesmerized as I stood watching with rapt attention as the various solid metal rings linked to one another and then separated once again. I had absolutely no explanation for it, and when I asked him how it was done, he explained simply, “It’s magic.” I was forever hooked.
Fast-forward three and a half decades and I still have the same passion for magic and am still just as optimistic that magic has the possibility to create that feeling of wonder for the individual. The truth of the matter is though, this is rarely the case. So often now, magic is done simply for the effect itself and without any consideration of creating a story to connect to the audience that will instill that sense of the magical within them. Take street magic for example. People have been performing magic in the streets throughout most of recorded history, but when David Blaine appeared in his first television special, “David Blaine: Street Magic” in 1996, audiences were completely captivated. Blaine had created a strong character, that of an “urban shaman who brings wonder into people’s lives and then disappears,” that connected with spectators instantaneously. Watch any of his specials again and you will see that it is not the effect that is at the center, but rather the audience’s own experience with the magic and how they relate to that which they are seeing. Unfortunately though, a myriad of imitators soon sprang up trying to copy Blaine, and the internet and sites like YouTube became congested with the exposure of these “tricks,” completely missing the point that it is not the methodology behind the tricks that is important, but rather how the magician’s character and the story they are telling relates to the spectator on an emotional level that is at the true heart of magic.
With the goal in mind then of producing a conference on magic that would be completely unlike any of the plethora of magic conventions and gatherings that take place every year, magicians Dave and Dan Buck and Syd Segal, set out to design the inaugural Magic-Con, held March 18-21 in San Diego, as not just another venue where amateur and magic enthusiasts can gather to learn a bunch of new tricks, but rather as a serious arena where some of the most creative minds in magic could assemble to help further develop the art. Boasting a lineup that included international magic legend Juan Tamariz from Spain, alongside notable figures such as Guy Hollingworth, Chris Kenner, Max Maven, Sebastien Clergue, John Carney, Daniel Garcia, Derek DelGaudio, Bill Goodwin, Chad Long, John Lovick, Eric Mead, Michael Weber, R. Paul Wilson, Jason England, JC Wagner, Bill Kalush and David Blaine, it was evident that Magic-Con’s focus was on not just assembling those who are remarkable performers in their own right, but more importantly, those who are some of the most innovative thinkers currently in the world of magic.
Kicking off the event, magician Michael Weber stated that in life, “Whoever tells the best story wins.” This established a baseline for the conference and challenged those in attendance to reexamine their own performing styles to ascertain exactly what story they are trying to convey to their audiences, and thus set the tone for the entire weekend. Lectures over the three days ranged from talks on the importance of building and establishing one’s character by magicians Eric Mead and John Lovic, to the examination of magical history including a look at Erdnase’s 1902 penultimate treatise on card magic, THE EXPERT AT THE CARD TABLE by R. Paul Wilson and Jason England, as well as Bill Kalush’s discussion of the historical background of some of the effects performed on David Blaine’s specials, including the 5,000 year old illusion that was first performed in Egypt for the pharaoh Khufu and that was included on “David Blaine: Street Magic.” David Copperfield executive producer Chris Kenner presented a lecture on the importance of appearance for the magician in creating a character’s identity, complete with technical advice on shooting magic, and Dan and Dave Buck held a Q&A with David Blaine about what inspires him in magic and about his upcoming television special, which was announced to be his last, and which will find him in a bottle adrift at sea that will air in May 2011. Magic-Con offered something for everyone, and magician attendee Robert Livingston who had come to the event most excited to hear Wilson and England’s discussion of Erdnase, entitled “Artifice, Ruse and Subterfuge,” ended up being inspired to look more closely at his own presentation style. As Livingston described, “I’ve learned how to create a character and make a plot for every trick that you do. And to make everything more about the spectator and less about yourself.”
There were of course some brilliant presentations of magic as well, including a spectacular show and lecture by the legendary Juan Tamariz who reminded the attendees that in magic, each effect must have conflict and drama and that in the end, magic as an art must be both impossible as well as fascinating.
With over three hundred guests in attendance from all across the world and spanning all age groups, Magic-Con aimed to create a forum that was not just didactic in nature, but was also something more of a conversation between the professionals and those in attendance. The result was a resounding success. At any moment one could walk through the lobby and see David Blaine working on a new move with an attendee or see R. Paul Wilson, star of the BBC show “The Real Hustle” talking over a card move with a small group. This intimate setting and accessibility to the stars who were presenting allowed for Magic-Con to transcend that of the ordinary and to become something unique. As conference organizer and magician Dave Buck explained, “What really hit me hard was seeing such a passionate group of magicians all come together. It wasn’t seeing everyone glued to the presentations in the conference room, but rather seeing everyone socializing, sharing ideas, laughing, applauding and just having an all around good time in the hallway that made me realize how important it is to assemble such a meeting place for magicians, artists and intellects. Anyone can be inspired from a talk, but it’s the hands on process that really advances an art form.”
In the end, Magic-Con never appeared to be an inaugural conference. Well-organized and efficiently run, all while staying true to its vision, Magic-Con established itself as a conference that is in a word, inspirational. Challenging those in the art of magic to look beyond the ordinary and to consistently seek out innovative and creative ways to reinvigorate their performances, Magic-Con became not just a contender for one of the most influential and valuable magic conventions to attend, it now sets the standard, and ultimately encouraged those in attendance, both professionals and amateurs alike, to strive to put that magical sense of wonder back into the world of magic.
The second annual Magic-Con will be held in 2011. To keep up to date, and for registration information, please visit magic-con.org