I greatly enjoyed it, as I do almost every convention, because even the worst has a few extraordinary moments, but this one was truly good, in many ways as you’ll read below, and I can certainly recommend it to anyone, especially to advanced levels, but even beginners will find something. The fact that it is the first magic convention of the year, as far as I know, makes it an ideal start into a magical year, to meet old friends and make new ones, all the while discovering new talent (there is a lot!), to pick up new information, to see new interesting problems, and to look at old problems from a fresh angle. The more you know, the more you find out how little you know. Uplifting and humbling, briefly, a pleasant and necessary experience.
The event took place at the Radisson RED Hotel in London Heathrow (LHR), making it logistically practical for international visitors who fly into Terminal 3 or 5. However, several visitors from England, to whom I talked, said it was not so practical for them. Personally, I don’t think the location is a first priority: If Blackpool manages to get several thousand people to one of the most inconvenient magic locations in the world (it’s a real hassle to get there, especially for international visitors, and there are a lot of them), then a smaller convention like the Session could be anywhere – much more important is the venue.
In my opinion the very first thing to consider when organizing a convention is the venue. In this respect the Session has almost everything right:
All activities are under one roof, including bar (social area) and hotel, making it easy to go from one place to the other, and quickly go back to your room, if necessary (and this is necessary for most). This said, there are some conventions, like Magialdia in Spain, that have the hotel, convention center, theatre and other activities spread over the city. And still, it works very well, provided the locations are within walking distance. Such a layout has the advantage that you get out, see parts of the city, eat in a variety of restaurants, etc. So, both formula work. The advantage of the Session’s location in a “remote” place like an airport hotel where you can go nowhere else, is that before and after the official events everyone stays in the same place (bar, restaurant, lobby), rather than taking off in different directions as this would be the case, e.g., in Las Vegas, to see some attraction. Everyone staying in the same place allows for much better social interaction and results in a great atmosphere. The hotel offers a large bar area than can take the attendants, with service open until very late (ca. 2 am!), and this is one of the most important things that any convention should have, but only few do. The Session has it. And the bar has a wide selection of drinks (however, coming from Switzerland, I’m surprised that people say Switzerland is expensive, because this bar had the same prices, and even higher, than we have in Switzerland).The schedule is such that there are no events going on at the same time, and everything takes place in one room. I like this “symposium” setting known academia. And I particularly like those 60- minutes sessions, which I would extend to 90- minutes sessions, where several presenters talk for 10 or 20 minutes about a specific subject (more on that below under “Program and Presenters”). Fact is, that even big conventions could adopt this idea more often. The biggest problem of the Session is the room where the activities take place. Although they put a tremendous effort into the production value, have great equipment, and competent people (headed by the formidable and tireless George Luck, who should have a street named after him in Magic City it is impossible to see what happens on a table on stage, regardless of whether you sit in the first or last row. This is a fact, not an opinion. And the day they acknowledge this, they will have a better event.
Yes, they have THREE cameras, and two monitors, beautifully imbedded in the backdrop of the stage, all exquisitely designed in sync with their CD, but it does not resolve the basic problem all close-up presenters have. And yes, they even have a director who decides which camera is active on the monitors, but unfortunately this is limited for mainly two reasons.
Problem One: The performers, most of whom are not acquainted with this setting, and simply don’t know the communication grammar of the cameras, keep going out of frame, which leads to Problem Two: The switch of the half-total camera to the close-up camera, or the overhead camera, in many instances occurs too late (understandably they do not have time to rehearse).
AND: Their front half-total camera is not steep enough, being at an angle of about 25-30 degrees, instead of at least 45 degrees, does not show the table top while at the same time showing the performer’s bust.
Solution: If they can change the angle of this front camera, it might be possible to at least improve the situation. The acts of Markobi and Jeki Yoo in the SUN gala suffered most from this problem: Even sitting in the second row and in the center – best seats, you may say – I was not able to follow some of the effects, as some of the important visual information couldn’t be captured by the camera.
However, I’m afraid that even IF they manage to improve this, you are still forced to watch the monitors most of the time in a close-up lecture (I attentively observed my neighbors who sat, as I did, in the front row, and most of the times they simply watched the monitors instead of looking at the performer). This is not what you want, is it? The best solution is to find a new venue that has tired seating, like some big universities have. Maybe you have to limit the attendance and double the price for it, but this venue has to be changed.
The first was Matt Baker, who is a professor of math, and it was his first appearance at a magic convention out of his native USA. So, understandably, he was quite nervous, but managed very well, and his demonstrations and explanations about essentially mathematically-based card tricks were well received.
The biggest problem with these tricks (not all were self-working, as you might think) is that they are quite procedural.
Generally speaking, Baker had the merit that he had framed every trick with a good presentational plot, I liked several of his prologues a lot. In one instance the presentation around the trick I experienced as much more captivating as the trick itself (one using M&M’s).
Baker brought me up, pretending not to know who I am, all the while going on to explain that the following trick was called “Card College”, in three phases, in each you get a degree (Batchelor, Master) until a Ph. D. The audience was highly amused, some not sure if this was straight or set up, and several came up later and said that this was their favorite moment of the morning
All in all I found Baker’s lecture to be an excellent start into an even better convention.
Turner, who has more tattoos than skin surface available, a feat in itself, started out with some mental experiments. I freely admit that mentalism is not my cup of tea, as the British say (the German say “das ist nicht mein Bier – this is not my beer”, which tells you everything about cultural differences…), but I’m always curious to learn. However, I had to give up on my principles, and left after twenty minutes. His presentation reminded me of what Helge Thun said at a recent Austrian Convention about mentalism, “A lot of bla-bla-bla, and at the end it’s correct.” Well, Turner certainly complied with the first part, a lot of bla-bla- bla, but at the end it was not even correct. Several I asked later told me the lecture had not improved after the first twenty minutes, so I’m not the only one…
Difatte is a funny man, knows what he’s doing, and was very successful with his one-hour one-man show. I’m glad I came back to see it, and it was a lovely closure to the first day. Difatte comes across as very likable, and since I was sitting near to the stage, my experience was “live”. Fortunately, almost all of his effects took place on a vertical plane, and he was obviously experienced to play to a larger audience, so he did not depend on the cameras and monitors, a true professional.
I was reminded when as a child my father took me to a circus where musical clowns performed. They were doing very funny clowning routines, but at some point my father whispered to me, “You’ll see in a minute that they are also excellent musicians.” And when they indeed started playing the violin, or whatever the instruments were, I was very impressed, as I thought to myself, “Wow, they are not only very funny, they are also excellent musicians.” I believe that if Difatte would stage the moment of the climax differently, the audience would leave by saying, “This was not only a very likable and funny man, he’s also a great magician.” If Difatte reads this, he might hate me, as every author hates a non-positive comment, but if he applies my advice intelligently, in a few years, when we meet again, he will buy me a whole bottle of Glenfiddich.
This young man from Denmark, to me, was the discovery of the convention. He oozes with talent, as an original performer, as a technician, as an originator.
An excellent lecture. You can’t get any better, different, yes, better, no.
Also, he had the good sense of picking material that could be seen without the cameras and monitors, or the organizers had the foresight to pick someone who fitted the infrastructural requirements…He was a hit with the audience, who all seemed to agree to have seen an extraordinary talent, and best of all, someone most had never seen before. This is one of the talents of Andi and Josh, who scout a lot to get interesting and unknown people to the Session. More power to them!
Here is what even the term “consummate professional” (my highest praise for a performer) doesn’t accurately describe: Jermay is a unique blend of everything you need in magic, and a bit more.
Untypical for him, he did not talk about his core competence, mentalism, but about a coin trick and a big conceptual subject.
The first part of his lecture turned around how to study a trick, from the moment you pick it, to how you practice it, to the moment you bring it in front of an audience. He did this with an original and well-performed Coin Assembly routine that had various surprising phases. This is how a theory presentation should be: Do something practical that fascinates the audience, afterwards talk about the “hidden” aspects of it.
The evening was closed by Richard Turner with an almost 90-minute performance. I particularly appreciated that this was a “show” Turner does for laypeople a lot in his own country and abroad.
I had met him before on two occasions, the last time at a convention in Las Vegas, where we had dinner with Paul Wilson and Bill Kalush, quite a memory, and where he did several things for me, and I did a few things for him, which at that time he could see and liked – he even used my deck to put in the special “work” he uses on certain cards…
Turner deserves a long write-up I can’t do here. Briefly: Although I had seen Turner several times and knew him personally, this was another absolute highlight of the convention, for beginners and experts, and well-chosen.
Sunday Final Gala Show
This is the closing event before about half of the conventioneers head home and the other half talks into the night at the bar (see below). Mark James, another very experience professional, emceed the show and kept it moving – an always difficult job, and well done. The first up was math-professor-mental- prodigious-calculator Arthur Benjamin, and he was a joy to watch and listen to (I missed his early-morning lecture, as I had just gone to bed, but heard it was excellent and various said they wished he had been their math teacher).
I simply love those unpretentious people on stage, no laser, no smoke, no show-business braggadoccio, just the man, his instruments and his words.
He had the audience in the palm of his hand from the first moment, and fascinated everyone with just “mental” pieces. He’s the epitome of what Tamariz called “prodigious magic”, as opposed to “miraculous magic”. “Prodigious magic” builds on effects that although not impossible and miraculous, are absolutely improbable, and gain their effect through the degree of difficulty necessary to achieve them.
Next up was Mortenn Christiansen, whose performance was even more brilliant than his lecture: Astonishing, very good and original, period.
Had the show stopped here it would have been already worth attending.
The last two performers, Jeki Yoo and Markobi, both had excellent acts, but where the wrong choice for this venue.
Although the first part of Yoo’s performance played very well, as it was part of his stand-up act, the second part, with his FISM card routine, simply did not work, at least not for me, as he kept going out of frame, and the cameras had difficulties following his whimsy movements. Furthermore, the effect category on which almost the entire act was based, was travel-transpositions, the most difficult effect category of them all: You have to follow two locations and two identities, that’s four pieces of information, and with Yoo it was even worse, as he used three signed cards. For- tunately, I had seen this act years before in Switzerland and remember having ben very impressed. But this time I could not repeat the experience.
The same was true for Markobi, FISM 1st prize in Card Magic, whose act can be seen on YouTube under better conditions, as several effects happened out of frame, and the final effect simply did not register as it should have done.
I had identified the problem in previous Sessions already: Close-up acts simply don’t work under these conditions. They can be OK in the context of a lecture, but not in a gala situation.
You either have to change the venue, or simply book only acts that play on stage. But I know what it is: the Session started out essentially as a close-up convention, and they want to keep this spirit, which of course is laudable. But, they have become so big, that most of the time the concept no longer works. It’s hard to admit this, I know, but that’s what they need to do.
What I find to be missing at the Session are decisions makers: Curiously, there are no, or only very few, presidents of clubs, organizers of conventions etc., those that book talent. On the opposite of the spectrum you have conventions like FISM, which have A LOT of them, fortunately also a lot of artistic talent. However, the decision makers are those who book you for conventions, lectures etc.
Note from the editor
This is a “short” version of Roberto’s review from “The Magic Memories” . The Magic Memories appear every Sunday at 0:07 sharp. You don’t get it automatically, to avoid spamming, of which there is too much. Also, you can order his products directly from him. Roberto ships from Germany, meaning within the European Union. It’s cheaper!