The London Festival of Magic

13th - 16th November 2012

Reported by Roberto Forzoni

What a great ‘warm up’ for the International Magic Convention. The Festival of Magic precedes the main convention and the format is a well thought out concept in convention programming; each day covers a different topic yet there has been a strong theme during the week so far of simply raising the standard of your magic performance and producing better magic. The lecture topics are followed by evening shows of the same theme. The four themes were

• Directions
• Card magic
• Mentalism
• Perception and deception – the psychology behind magic
• Comedy magic

A fantastic mix of magic for everyone, including magical technique, cards, mind-reading, direction, production, delivery, psychology, management and TV. The sessions have been delivered by a passionate, enthusiastic and extremely talented collection of some of the world's top performers providing a week of magical ecstasy.

Each lecture day has been concluded with a panel discussion with the day’s speakers and an opportunity for delegates to get up close and personal and ask questions of the speakers. A great opportunity to also explore differences of views and approaches from experts from the same field of magic. Whatever magic you were into you would have benefited from some real gems, which would help enhance your magical approach and presentation.

The Convention just gets better every year. Well done to all the MacMillan family and festival organizer Noel Britten, along with all the staff who made the week really special.

MONDAY - Directions
One of the areas many magicians tend to neglect (or dedicate minimal time to) is directing their performances and today we were privileged to have five exceptional people speaking. FISM award winner Richard McDougall opened the event sharing ideas on how we can engage more with our audiences. A delightfully delivered lecture highlighting ways in which we could all benefit from a more conscious approach to our audience interaction and our own demeanour. Morgan & West described the processes they go through to put their show together, and specifically, as time-travelling magicians, they spoke in depth on the subject of character development and how their own characters had developed over the past few years. Having only been performing for around 4-5 years, their rapid rise should demonstrate that whatever they were doing was working well. For magicians aspiring to get on TV, or simply interested in the process, the next session was another gem as Anthony Owen gave a great insight into working on TV and what producers may look for in artists. The final session was an energetic, informed and enlightening session with management agent Michael Vine who proved a real engaging speaker as he went into overdrive with an exhilarating view on management, agents and career progression.

Evening Shows
The evening shows were Rob James' 'Magicana' and 'Time Travelling Magicians. Morgan & West'. Entertaining concept and very well delivered and even better if you had been at their lecture and then viewed them!

The days highlight for me was Michael Vine’s infectious manner, passionate delivery and deep insight into the entertainment industry and speaking about his work with Derren Brown and other artists he represented.

A real international flavour to the card day with last year’s International Close up winner Spain’s Woody Aragon, along with an award winning line up including Vincent Hedan (France), Michael Vincent and Will Houstoun. The always elegant Michael Vincent spoke about structuring your magic delivery and the building blocks of effective and memorable card magic. As usual Michael demonstrated some excellent technique with equally astute explanations on top changes and double lifts and clearly showed how a simple effect could be enhanced by using his ‘building blocks’ of magic. The Spanish are well known for their enthusiastic and passionate approach to card magic and audience psychology and Woody Aragon did not disappoint; his personality and approach was contagious. What he can do with a stacked deck was simply incredible. France’s Vincent Hedan made his debut at a UK convention demonstrating some delightful foolers. I’ll be happy to say I was there…at his first UK lecture. Next Will Houstoun demonstrated skill, elegance and an encyclopedic mind of information about the origin of many of the sleights taken for granted today. If you get an opportunity to see Will lecture, just go.

The evening shows were a fun mix of science and magic from Oliver Meech followed by an incredible session from Woody Aragon which received one of the longest standing ovations I have seen following a show.

The day's highlight from a fantastic day all round had to be Woody Aragon for me

WEDNESDAY - Mentalism
One of the busiest days which resulted in a shortened lunch break to fit in five of the leading working Mentalists lecturing and two exceptional shows from Ian Rowland & Chris Cox (with completely contrasting performing styles).

Chris Cox gave an informative talk on the process of structuring a show, emphasising the importance of writing down loads of ideas and plans. He discussed his own show development and spoke honestly on how he put the show together, changes that were made' and why, during the process, what stayed in and what went out and why. A real gem of a lecture for anyone considering putting on a show or act. The distinctive style of Luke Jermay (whose first appearance at the International Convention was when he was 11 years old – entering the close up competition) demonstrated some fundamentals and spoke about going back to basics and using simple (and sometimes underestimated) techniques to bring huge dividends. Following the recent publication of his excellent book on Dunninger, Joe Atmore – shared his research the life and times of Dunninger. The lecture included many great insights into this fantastic mentalist and included how he successfully used marketing and publicity stunts throughout his career to promote his act. Following his debut yesterday, Vincent Hedan demonstrated his wide range of experiences with a great talk which included many gems…one of which was a brilliant technique for knowing what drink three spectators were merely thinking of simply by bringing an empty glass to his lips! Sorry if you missed it! He and Chris Cox also spoke of their influences from the world of films and theatre. It’s always fun attending a lecture from Ian Rowland, the man who taught the FBI and helped the British Olympic team this summer. Ian gave an insightful lecture on acting, lying and enjoying it – the basis of his approach to mind reading that has seen him travel the world. Some real corkers demonstrated and explained.
The evening shows were from Chris Cox with his Edinburgh fringe show and Ian Rowlands who proceeded to really baffle the audience with not only his mind reading abilities, but also with metal bending and eating glass! He blew the audience away with a torn and restored card to an impossible location.

My personal day's highlight was seeing Chris Cox's Edinburgh Festival and touring show following his lecture on the process of putting the show together.

THURSDAY - Deception and Perception Day
Another great treat for everyone who attended, whatever their interest in magic they would have learnt something today on how to be a better magician. Another international line up including Arthur Benjamin (USA), Peter Lamont (Scotland), Thomas Fraps (Germany) and our own Richard Wiseman.

Thomas Fraps opened the day with an intriguing talk on how the brain works and what do we do when we do magic. He spoke about the blind spot in the eye and why we miss things explaining why we don’t see what we don’t see because our brain fills in the large parts of an image. This, he suggested, was how magic and misdirection can work. He explained that the way we see things is very much with periphery vision which is actually blurred but ‘rectified’ by our brain – the basis of ‘change blindness’. Knowledge does not prevent illusion and misdirection is like camouflage – it has to be invisible. This was illustrated by an excellent demonstration in how to use time and space misdirection filled with logical disconnect and emotion to enhance the magic. Following Thomas, we were privileged to experience Arthur Benjamin, the mathemagician; if you’ve not seen Arthur perform he is working at Oxford University this year so book him! His energetic, crazy professor approach demonstrating incredible feats of multiplication – the man who beats the calculator to multiply 3, 4 and 5 digit numbers accompanied by verbalising the sequence of squaring a random 5 digit numbers! He delightfully delivered a birthday magic square with a female audience member which was explained in a really easy to follow manner and how to work out the day of anyone’s birthday in any year!

Next up, Peter Lamont University of Edinburgh explained about perception & deception – “there is always another way of looking at things” – His fascinating talk started with the Davenport brothers spirit cabinets, touching on people’s belief in the absence of normal explanations, and psychics – reasons for belief even in event of failures or magicians duplicating events and exposure. He gave a short and amusing history of psychics from DD Home (the first psychic!) and Maskelyne. The story of the Indian Rope Trick was fascinating in itself; how does a trick that can’t be done become the most famous trick in the world? A brilliant description through time and how a legend in magic was born...the greatest illusion in history. Peter also spoke about misdirection and what people do find interesting – novelty attracts attention – distraction as part of the effect – movement - psychological misdirection – con games - lying - suspicion that there is with magic - diverting suspicion and how pseudo / fake explanations can enhance your magic by helping to rule out explanations – where magic is no explanation! It cannot happen – it happened.

I’ve seen Richard Wiseman before and would watch him again tomorrow! A psychologist, magician and best selling author explained about ‘The Tricked Brain’ He went through unconscious illusions – you don’t perceive what’s in front of you but make assumptions; basically we trip ourselves up. Richard showed the first film footage of a magician – based on first stop photography. He explained about change blindness and how the brain is superb at creating illusions of what you see around a central spotlight and how you can hide the method in a narrative of something that seems trivial – get the magic right and the method will vanish from peoples mind! He demonstrated this with a study on how people miss the method 5 seconds after seeing an effect! Richard finished with two word clouds on thoughts from Magicians and audiences on how magic is perceived. The opinions (magicians mentioned wonder / astonishment etc whilst audiences mentioned tricks / annoying magician etc) between what we as magicians believe and what our audience perceives were miles apart! The discrepancy was enough to encourage any magician to review how he creates and frames his magic.

The evening shows were from Luke Jermay and the Card Ninja
My day's highlight…Luke frazzled the audience in his show with some incredible feats of pure mind other explanation was possible…

FRIDAY - Comedy Magic
Today's speakers were Stephen Bargatze, Juan Tamariz, Rick Merrill & Neal Austin

Rick Merrill 2006 grand prix world champion in close up – explained that he didn’t work as a full time pro and would practice 4hrs a night when his child went to bed!

Rick went through the process for coming up with comedy and the development of his act. He had started with one trick competitions where he had three jokes and 1 min of material! Any times there was a dead spot in the act or a move or sleight had to happen, he thought of a line to put in, eventually building up to an eight minute act (increased to 15 mins with applause and ovations!). He found that with the right lines they could be interchanged within different routines, and that if the magic and comedy was good they complemented each other and made the sum stronger than the parts.Rick then demonstrated a hilarious mind reading effect with a spectator (who turned out was our next speaker but unbeknown at the time!) that put off any other volunteers – you needed to have been there!

There followed a Q&A session with the audience where Rick spoke about competitions, life and lots more.

Stephen Bargatze started by explaining that his wife and family are much funnier than him! He then went on to describe his upbringing and some of the challenges he had encountered,how he had been bitten in the face by a dog and needed skin transplants. He gave an honest and personal account of his early life and (difficulties) and explained that he was quite shy and had had a difficult up bringing. He spoke about his experience of doing shows 7 days a week for years working a theme park and that is where he developed his character. His props (teeth/ top hat) helping to get there quicker.

Stephen plays characters and he spoke about trying out material, not good with colleagues but with real people (who don’t know you). You don’t make the rules, he said, they do. He explained how his act revolves around acting like he does not like children and proceeded with routine with 11 yr old Jorge. Steve explained to Jorge that he was going to lose and played out a nice routine with 3 wallets - & some money – Jorge won..but lost more in the end! A great comedic routine.

Neal Austin – His first performance since 1999 at a Convention.
Neal spoke of the difference between comedians and comedy magicians and the expectations from audiences from his experiences of working cruise ships; he would look at the comments posted on cruise ship review web sites and take on board comments made from clients who had seen him work. He believed he had to be as funny as comedians. The only way was to go out and do the shows and be willing to go through the painful process of dying on your feet. The truth is it's hard graft – you fail, get up and do it again..falling flat on your face.

How did he manage to get over failing? “I think of the worse thing that can happen – people don’t like you and won't see you again!” A great way to help get through those painful times. He often heard advice from performers like finding somewhere you can be bad or not getting paid and being a small part of the show – like a paid apprenticeship.


© Roberto Forzoni, November 2012