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Topic: Texas Association of Magicians - 2006 Convention Review
Message: Posted by: Scott Wells (Sep 7, 2006 04:34PM)
Big Talent in Big “D”

Another year and another good T.A.O.M. convention. This year Dallas played host to nearly 800 registrants drawn from across the country and indeed the globe. It was perhaps the largest domestic convention of the year! As more “big names” were added, more people registered. As the Labor Day weekend approached, more people kept coming. It goes to prove that if you build it, they will come, or to paraphrase, if you “bill” it, they will come. And what a bill Dallas had! Talent like Johnny “The Great Tomsoni” Thompson, Rene Levand, Vito Lupo, Mike Caveney, Banachek, John Carney, Trevor Lewis, Scott Cervine, Eric DeCamps, Chuck Smith, Bob White, Levent, David Williamson and so many more. Wow, how can you go wrong with that kind of a line-up!

The Intercontinental Hotel should have been about the most near perfect venue for any magic convention. Everything was within easy walking distance in the hotel with the hotel staff providing meals on-the-go, special buffet prices and late night cocktail lounge hours. Also there was a spacious lounging area where everyone hung out day and night. There was one room that was more like a Las Vegas showroom that was perfect for cabaret performances though too small for the evening shows. All of the activities were in the hotel so there were no logistical problems with shuttles or an outside theater. A more than adequate stage was constructed in the ballroom with two large screen monitors flanking the stage that made it easy to view the performances. But with the sight lines, there really wasn’t a bad seat in the house. The hotel was situated in Addison, Texas which boasts the most restaurants per capita of any city west of the Mississippi. And we were only one block away from the culinary paradise. And on a holiday weekend, this was especially nice since most of the restaurants were open. So the only thing that kept the venue from ranking a perfect score was the problem with the room temperature. Nearly every room was near freezing that discouraged registrants from staying too long in any one spot. The organizers tried to get the management to control the temperature but it was apparently beyond anyone’s capability.

Without going over who did what, let me take a higher level viewpoint of the overall convention. Upon arrival on Friday, Dick Koornwinder kicked off the lectures with a talk about “Squirmies”. Johnny Thompson next lectured on a variety of effects but let me say here that though all the lectures were good, there was technical problems with viewing them (bad camera angles, shaky camera, not moving with the action, etc.). Moreover, a precedent was set on Friday that continued throughout the weekend with events starting late due to technical problems. In defense of the camera operator and technical person, it appeared that they were extremely short handed with only one guy who ran around setting up the camera from room to room and shuttling his cart all over the place from one event to another. It was hardly fair to the guy to not have support personnel.

The evening show in the ballroom was hosted by Trevor Lewis and opened with Scott Cervine followed by Dan Rodriguez’ golf act, Mike Caveney with his bow and arrow routine, Tina Lenert with her Magic Maid act, John Carney as Mr. Mysto and closing with Vito Lupo and his elegant manipulation act. All received a warm reception from the group but no standing ovations this night.

The day was brought to a close with two more lectures the first by Rafael Benatar on some card routines and the late night joint tribute lecture on the late Fred Kaps by Mike Caveney and Dick Koornwinder who showed a few clips of Fred’s performances and some of his promotional material.

Saturday started with a new event: the Order of Willard breakfast which is reserved for those who have achieved 25 years of consecutive membership in the T.A.O.M. The guest speaker for this event was Gene Willard, son of Willard the Wizard. For some reason the annual meeting was scheduled opposite of this event which made for a problem with attendance. The stage competition began in the ballroom while the spouses left for their event. Avner the Eccentric also began his workshop on Freeze, Fight or Flight which was quite different and enjoyable.

Arthur Moses gave us a rare treat by displaying part of his Houdini collection in a side room along with Bill Palmer who brought some examples from his Cup and Ball Museum. And speaking of historical events, Levent next lectured on Roy Benson. Following lunch the professional close-up show began. The program did not list the close-up event nor list the names of the performers. In fact, the program did not contain any real schedule of events. One had to rely on the small program folded and stuffed into the badge holder. As mentioned earlier, there were technical problems which included a lack of adequate camera coverage. It was never more noticeable than for the close-up shows where a camera would have definitely helped. There were no monitors in the close-up shows which made it impossible to see many of the performers’ acts (professional and contest alike) unless you were seated in the first row. So, I didn’t stay to watch the show and their names were not listed anywhere in the materials provided to us. But from my recollection, the performers included Eric DeCamps, Bob White, Johnny Thompson, Brian Nordstrom, and Jon Armstrong. There may have been others and for that matter, there may have been different performers each day but who knew? There was no record of it in the program nor will there be here. The performers rotated among three different rooms and then repeated it the next day in order to give everyone a better chance to see them. But again, a television camera and monitor would have certainly helped.

Vito Lupo gave a lecture opposite of Chuck Smith (too much going on here, maybe?) and since the camera was in Chuck’s room, it made the Rene Levand show / lecture start a half hour late as they had to wait until they got set up and teched before they could even open the doors to the anxious throng. Levand’s performance was highly anticipated and did not disappoint. It has been years since his last convention appearance that I know of and it was worth the wait. Tina Lenert translated for Rene and all went well…even the video after it finally got set up.

The groups were split up that evening for half going to the cabaret show with the other half attending a special “Battle of the Dealers” both of which was a lot of fun. After the show let out across the hall, the groups switched and the events repeated which made the dealers very happy, I’m sure. The show was hosted by David Hira who kept things moving quite well and was a lot of fun as an emcee. The show opened with Kinetic Shiva, a kind of four armed Midwestern Shiva juggling four glowing orbs…quite different and very unique. Rafael Benatar was up next with a slow paced routine followed by the S.A.M. National President, Andy Dallas who put in a solid performance with a silent act that included some zombie moves I had not seen. Bob White next did a Cards to Pocket (as I recall) then Mike Caveney did his famous and hilarious Three Arm Juggling routine. Eric DeCamps performed a wonderful egg bag routine then David Williamson closed with a “Person Across” routine that filled the stage with people, confusion and laughter.

The night was not over as Roger Klause hosted his annual Midnight Madness that featured, among others, Mike T., Brian Nordstrom and Barrie Richardson. As this was nearing its end, Banachek performed his full evening show in another room that kept everyone riveted to their seats until after 1:30 a.m. despite the coldness of the room.

Following the Sunday morning gospel service, John Carney lectured to a nearly full house as the close-up competition began in other rooms. Banachek’s lecture followed John in the same full room. After lunch the pro close-up shows repeated from the previous day (see my comments above on this show.) Another spouse event was scheduled though I still don’t know what they did. Mike Caveney gave another wonderful lecture interspersed with humor and lots of great ideas from past and present. A kid’s event followed on the schedule followed by a lecture by kid show specialist Trevor Lewis. Bill Palmer then gave an esoteric and interesting lecture on cups and balls.

The final evening show was compeered by Rafael Benatar who was a little hard to understand due to his accent and certainly slowed down the evening’s proceedings with tricks he interspersed in the show. Avner the Eccentric opened with a 20 minute silent act that had mixed reactions. Either you loved him or wondered what the heck he was doing. Apparently the majority of the audience loved him as he received the only standing ovation of the convention. It goes to show again the importance of the variety act. Levent presented his very funny act with the stuffed rabbit and closing the show was the inimitable Tomsoni and Company. Johnny performed his signature Polish magic act with doves that has entertained audiences around the world for decades and he proved just as solid again that night.

For some reason what followed was a example of a massive failure to communicate. The audience was let go but encouraged to return in 30 minutes for the award ceremony and a special event to “Meet the Legends.” It was very unclear and people milled around for quite a while going downstairs to the dealers and to an area that was set up for an after-convention party with food and drink. When the few people did return, the trophies were awarded and the power was passed from one president to the next. While I agree that this event should not be open to the public, the announcement could have been more clear.

The winners of the trophies were: Junior Close-Up – George Hanna; Senior Close-Up – Marcus Eddie; Junior Stage – Sterling Dietz; Senior Comedy – Chris Walden; Senior Club – Daniel Reyes.

What followed next was another fiasco and technical nightmare. I was to present a portion of “Now You See It with Scott Wells” which has been shown at the I.B.M. convention in Miami and at the Midwest Magic Jubilee in St. Louis; however, the stage crew knew nothing about the event or the Meet the Legends panel discussion that was to follow. So they did not have anything ready for the stage setting. To add to the problem, I had arrived hours earlier to tech the show and make certain everything was working properly. Due to the problems outlined earlier (one videographer shuttling back and forth and setting up and tearing down from room to room), he was unable to have time to make sure everything was working. Literally minutes before the evening show, it appeared that all was working but when it was curtain time, nothing except the microphone worked. The PowerPoint had problems, the video wouldn’t play or there was sound and no picture, etc. In hindsight I should have scrapped the event and immediately gone straight into the interviews with the legends.

Meet the Legends went off without a hitch and was a classy event. The organizers had secured clips from a variety of performers who gave warm greetings to their friends Johnny Thompson and Rene Levand. Clips were shown from Lance Burton, Camillo, Criss Angel, Darwin Ortiz, Norm Nielsen and many, many more. The curtains parted and the stage was elegantly set with five chairs, side tables and flowers. I sat stage left and hosted the event as I interviewed these two titans of tricks. If you are familiar with the Actor’s Studio on the Bravo TV channel, this was a similar format where personal questions were asked and answered. Nothing was held back and the personal sides of these people were vulnerable. Tina Lenert translated for Rene Levand and Pam sat alongside of Johnny as she talked about her role as an assistant. This was a wonderful event but due to the earlier miscommunication problems and people not knowing what to expect (nothing in the program and no announcement from the stage) plus the low temperature in the room and the late night hour, only 40 or so people stayed to see the one-time event. ‘Tis a shame.

Monday morning saw most people bidding old friends adieu until next year while some attended Jon Armsrong’s “Super Hero” lecture, Jeff Crilley’s lecture on “How to Get Publicity” and then later the Collector’s Meeting. It was another quite full morning.

With so many registrants and only 18 dealers, everyone seemed happy this year. I like the fact that we are now giving the lecturers at least an hour and a half to cover their material. There was also something for everyone: youth, spouses and those of every interest whether close-up, stage, mentalism or whatever. So, in the final analysis, while the talent rated 9 out of 10 for talent, 7 for dealers and an 8 for the venue (downgraded only because of the uncontrollable temperature in the rooms), the technical problems that rated a 3 brought down the overall convention rating to a 6. There was great talent in big “D” but there was a little “d” that stood for disappointment and delays. The overall enjoyment was severely diminished by the technical issues that could have been prevented.

Next year’s convention will return to the “third coast” in Corpus Christi where I hear that the nonagenarian, John Calvert, plans to attend. I hope he does. I’ll certainly be there.
Message: Posted by: Scott Wells (Sep 10, 2006 11:15PM)
Point and Counter Point

After I posted my review, I received a private e-mail from Gino Garcia who said I can post his comments here. He was not as enamored with the convention as I was. David Malek from "Earth's Largest Magic Shop" (elmagicshop.com) thought it was "one of the best conventions (he) had ever been to." His posting was made public in a mass e-mail so I think it is appropriate and fair that I can give his side of the story here, too.

So first are excerpts from David Malek:

My good friend Norman Beck called me and said that he would be going to TAOM and that the legendary Chuck Smith and Bob White would be there as well. Within an hour I signed up for the convention. There were so many highlights there is not enough room to talk about them. However if you are interested I’ll share some of the better parts throughout this e-mail.

Bob White

I knew I would get along well with Bob White, but I did not know it would be such a pleasure to sit across from this man. I also got an opportunity to view his next DVD on the Cups and Balls. It has to be the best DVD of its kind on the subject. Just the section on the false transfer is worth the asking price. It makes no difference how skilled you are in this area this DVD is a must have.
Bob's signature trick is the cups and balls with influence from Vernon and Charlie Miller you are not going to find better instruction anywhere. The DVD will make learning to do a nice routine about as easy as it will ever get.

Bob knew Charlie Miller rather well and if you ever get to meet him you must ask him to do his bottom deal for you. It does not get any better than that.

Bob also is a maven when it comes to dressing correctly. During his performances he was immaculately dressed in a beautiful navy blue mohair custom suit. Suits like this run in the 4 digit category without the decimal point.

Interestingly enough Bob has used his vast knowledge of textiles when it comes to magic to improve of all things the egg bag. Now I'm not going to tip the secret but if you ever get to meet Bob it's one of the things you should ask him.

There are literally dozens of additional things I could tell you about this most excellent magician and person. I feel it's enough to say, I consider him a dear friend for life.

Chuck Smith - A Magic Icon

Chuck Smith is the man Ricky Jay, Steve Freeman and even Steve Forte have flown in to see. Add to that list yours truly and I can tell you first hand Chuck Smith is a magic genius.

Now you are not going to see all the good stuff at once, so if you ever meet Chuck Smith you will have to dig for the info, but I promise you he will meet you on any level.

One of the many brilliant routines in his bag of tricks is the Endless Chain. Imagine not using a table and being able to perform this trick in your strolling performances. Not only that, the trick thanks to Chuck has a killer ending to add to an excellent routine.

That is just one of the many excellent ideas, tricks and routines he has in his arsenal. He will catch you off guard and fry you. Steve Forte said after spending an entire day with the man that it was one of the most enjoyable experiences with magic that he had had.

Mr. Richard Turner @ TAOM

One of my favorite card men and a world class technician and performer is Richard Turner. I had the opportunity to spend a few minutes with him at the convention and if it were the only thing I did for those five days it would have been worth it. Richard is second to none when it comes to gambling demonstrations with cards. He deals seconds, centers and bottoms equally well and runs up cards with lightning speed.

On top of all that he is a 3rd degree black belt and without a doubt the most physically fit magician I know. We all have a lot to learn from him.

Gary Plants and the Breakout Card Trick of TAOM

After many years I finally saw my good friend Gary Plants at the TAOM Convention. Now here is a man with the most deceptive bottom deal I have ever seen. Not only that his Zarrow Shuffle is world class and so many other things that he does are tops as well. One of those things is make gaffed cards. WOW! Does he make awesome gaffed cards.

However what I do want to tell you about is the new trick he was demonstrating at the convention. If there is one trick you should get this summer his newest trick (a Hofzinser trick) is it.

Three cards are selected from an ordinary deck. The spectator is hypnotized. Under this hypnosis the deck takes on the likeness of each of the selected cards one at a time. Finally as the hypnotic trance is lifted the deck is normal again.

This is the first time I am giving out a link to another web site. I am only doing it because I think the world of Gary Plants and I am very fortunate to call him my friend.

Trevor Lewis - Uncut - The New Book

After many years of hearing the name Trevor Lewis I finally got to meet the man. We sat down and had a great chat about his career and his new book Uncut. After reading the title I knew right away he was not Jewish.

That aside it’s a book jam packed with all of his writings including the re-print of all the Party Pieces. Kinds entertainers in particular should jump on the chance to purchase this book as it contains some of the best ideas for entertaining children that have seen print. Every children’s entertainer needs this book in their library.

The Best Lecture of TAOM

I did not go to every lecture at TAOM - I confess. However I went to all those that I thought would be of interest. Of them all only one stood out - head and shoulders above the rest. It was Levent and his lecture on manipulation from the Roy Benson book. You will in your life not see many lectures as captivating as this one was. It moved very fast and was super interesting. It took literally 90 minutes and only about 25 pages of the Roy Benson book were covered.

Mr. Eric DeCamps

Have you seen this man perform? If you have not you are really missing out on one of today’s fine performers. Not only is his magic sleight of hand superb, his presentations are excellent. 1000% professional in every way – on stage and close-up. If you get a chance to see this man in action - do it, you cannot go wrong.

More About TAOM

There is a lot more to be said about TAOM. All in all it was one of the best conventions I have ever been to. It also happened to be the biggest convention in North America this year.

There were some rising stars there too - I'm talking about real talent that you will be hearing about in years and decades to come.

David Malek
Message: Posted by: Scott Wells (Sep 10, 2006 11:25PM)
And The Counter Point

Here are comments from Gino Garcia:

Mr. Wells, I just read your review of this year’s TAOM. You were way too generous. The talent was GREAT!! The Parlour room and parlour shows were GREAT!! The lecturers were GREAT!! The hotel lobby area for the late night sessions was GREAT!!

But the overall planning and execution of the event had something to be desired. The so called ballroom stage room was TERRIBLE!! The sound was TERRIBLE and other than Rene Levand show and last evening show the video was TERRIBLE. I enjoy comedy acts but there were too many stage comedy acts. The last night all three performers were comedy acts. I expected to see some great stage acts but the lack of a stage prevented that.

The camera man there on the first night was dressed in a tank top and jeans. That’s not very professional for an evening show. The room for the professional close up show was TERRIBLE!! A close up show in a room that seated 250 people. That was not close up. It was parlour magic. No fault of the performers. They had to deal with what was given to them to work with. Bob White even made a statement while he was performing that it was not close up magic. The close up contest was held opposite of lectures. That is not the way to promote attendance to the contest.

How many versions of the egg bag or cards across did we see? I didn't go to a convention to see those types of effects. And the most irritating thing of all was NOTHING and I mean NOTHING started on time. Every event I went to, which was most of them, was at least 15 - 30 minutes late in starting. Some rooms were too big and at times there was too much going on at the same time. I assume you don't want to be totally negative in your review but the truth is the truth.
Message: Posted by: Scott Wells (Sep 10, 2006 11:35PM)
These are excellent observations and all quite true and all a matter of perspective. I mentioned some of the failures in my initial post, but I certainly agree that there was something lacking by having a stage in a ballroom so we really didn't see an evening show on a grand scale, though it was one of the best ballroom stages I have ever seen. But on the whole, it was quite disappointing not to have the complete theatrical experience for the best display of our art. In fact, if one came to see grand illusions then they were disappointed as there wasn't a big illusion act presented during the whole convention (the irony is that the only large illusion all weekend was presented in the close-up competition!). It seemed like a "poor boy" way of doing it...and the results were evident. I didn't read any glowing remarks from David Malek about any of the evening shows. Sometimes silence speaks louder than words.

Another reason they may have set up the stage in the ballroom is to assure that they would make money this time around. They had no bus, theatre or union expenses so that saved them a ton of money. I know we lost money on the 2000 convention, because I was the President then and it was my responsibility. But because of corners cut this time around (as mentioned above plus not having adequate camera and television coverage), they probably made money.

In the "minutia" folder, I must point out that the conflicts in the schedule could have been avoided but for some reason the organizers chose to overlook it and "do something different." There is a reason why some things have been done the way they have been done.

I rated the overall convention a 6 which is about as average as you can be. It wasn't good and it wasn't bad but it was luke warm.

I am finding that conventions that the registrants love are those that lose money for the organizers. Those that make money average at best.

Having said that, let me say that those conventions that charge a higher registration fee in excess of $200 or $300 (i.e. MAGIC Live!) do make money and the registrants have a great time, too. It's a win-win situation.

Maybe we should all go hitch up our pants and go in that direction if we want to see the magic conventions improve.
Message: Posted by: Scott Wells (Sep 12, 2006 02:08PM)
Re: Professional Close-Up Performers Listed

I have been told that the close-up performers in the professional close-up show were listed on the TAOM 2006 website. It didn't help after we arrived at the convention because again as I mentioned in my first posting above, "their names were not listed anywhere in the materials provided to us." We didn't have a physical written listing of the performers in the program or on the abbreviated schedule supplied with our name badges. I didn't see any listing of their names outside the performance rooms either.

But I stand corrected by stating that their names were provided to us...through a link on the website (if you knew to click on the links on the schedule.) So, to keep the record straight and to actually keep a record, here are the performers that were listed on the website:

Saturday Pro Close-Up: Johnny Thompson, Jon Armstrong, and Dick Koornwinder
Sunday Pro Close-Up: Rafael Benatar, Bob White, and Eric DeCamps

I think that Brian Nordstrom may have been in there somewhere. I didn't see him work, but I saw that he was dressed and ready to perform and looked like he was prepared to go into the rooms to work on Sunday.
Message: Posted by: Scott Wells (Sep 18, 2006 11:45AM)
For the record, Brian Nordstrom was a host in one of the close-up rooms and not a performer. Chuck Lehr and Mike Squires rounded out the list of emcees for the other rooms.