Inside Magic View of FFFF by Robin Dawes

Robin Dawes – Inside Magic Guest Columnist

One of life?s lessons is that it doesn?t matter so much where you go ? what matters is who you are travelling with. Batavia New York is pleasant enough but with nothing much to recommend a visit … unless you happen to be travelling there during the last weekend of April, when you will be in the best company in the world: the collection of 150 or so oddball geniuses that Obie O?Brien summons each year to convene for the gathering affectionately known as FFFF or 4F, more formally titled Fechter?s Finger Flicking Frolic.

2003 marked the 33rd iteration of this gathering of close-up gods and goddesses (and a few mortals such as myself) for more than three days of virtually non-stop teaching, learning, laughing, and bonding.

The invitation says ?The Magic Starts Wednesday 8 PM? and by golly, it does! One of the features of FFFF is that Obie never announces his roster of lecturers in advance, so the Wednesday night lecture is always a surprise. This year the opening lecturer was none other than Patrick Page, FFFF stalwart and possessor of an astonishing breadth and depth of magical knowledge and wisdom. Pat demonstrated and taught (not just explained) eleven items, ranging from insightful advice on top-change misdirection to a brilliant alternative to the Devil?s Handkerchief … and that was all before the break. After the break, he taught nine more lessons, ranging from a routine with ESP cards to billiard ball manipulations. I use the word lessons intentionally. Each item, be it a trick, sleight, or utility prop was infused so thoroughly with his insight that it became a true lesson in magic. I don?t think I have ever seen a lecture with so many excellent effects from such a variety of fields (cards, coins, mentalism, beer,…

Robin Dawes – Inside Magic Guest Columnist

One of life?s lessons is that it doesn?t matter so much where you go ? what matters is who you are travelling with. Batavia New York is pleasant enough but with nothing much to recommend a visit … unless you happen to be travelling there during the last weekend of April, when you will be in the best company in the world: the collection of 150 or so oddball geniuses that Obie O?Brien summons each year to convene for the gathering affectionately known as FFFF or 4F, more formally titled Fechter?s Finger Flicking Frolic.

2003 marked the 33rd iteration of this gathering of close-up gods and goddesses (and a few mortals such as myself) for more than three days of virtually non-stop teaching, learning, laughing, and bonding.

The invitation says ?The Magic Starts Wednesday 8 PM? and by golly, it does! One of the features of FFFF is that Obie never announces his roster of lecturers in advance, so the Wednesday night lecture is always a surprise. This year the opening lecturer was none other than Patrick Page, FFFF stalwart and possessor of an astonishing breadth and depth of magical knowledge and wisdom. Pat demonstrated and taught (not just explained) eleven items, ranging from insightful advice on top-change misdirection to a brilliant alternative to the Devil?s Handkerchief … and that was all before the break. After the break, he taught nine more lessons, ranging from a routine with ESP cards to billiard ball manipulations. I use the word lessons intentionally. Each item, be it a trick, sleight, or utility prop was infused so thoroughly with his insight that it became a true lesson in magic. I don?t think I have ever seen a lecture with so many excellent effects from such a variety of fields (cards, coins, mentalism, beer, etc.) It would be hard to choose a highlight of this lecture, but if forced I would pick his brilliant analysis of the retention of vision vanish. Suddenly, I am fooling myself with this move because it looks so good.

After this tremendous kick-off, the hospitality room opened with the traditional free donuts and soft drinks. Sessioning went on far into the night. Old friendships were rekindled, and new ones formed. It always happens that way at FFFF, where the inner circle has a seat for everyone.

Scheduled events on Thursday began at 11 AM with a lecture from Rey Ben of Argentina. Mr. Ben was substituting on short notice for Yves Doumergue who was hospitalised after a traffic accident in France. I hope that by the time this report reaches you Mr. Doumergue will be well on his way to recovery.

Rey Ben presents high-energy magic filled with infectious good humour. He taught us a wide range of effects including several routines that would be perfect for corporate and trade-show performances. My favourite was a routine in which a volunteer used a laser pointer to ?burn? his own initial onto another volunteer?s chosen card.

Thursday afternoon brought the traditional Teach-a-Trick session. This is always a lot of fun, and there are always some gems. This year, the first two teachers were Roger Klause (hey Roger, congratulations on the MAGIC cover) followed by Professor Rem teaching a card trick, for which he supplied everyone at the convention with the necessary set of cards! I promised Rem that I wouldn?t tell anyone that he taught a card trick, so please keep it a secret! The teaching roster also included Roy Cottee, Hank Moorehouse, Karl Norman, Marc DeSouza, Craig Dickson, Tom Jones, Howie Schwartzmann and Scott Wells.

Also on Thursday afternoon was the first actual show of the convention. First up was Steve Dobson, followed by Greg Frewin. Mathieu Bich showed a unique routine with holes punched in cards. Light shining through the holes formed the initials of several selected cards.

The irrepressible Camilo described his habit of ?borrowing? things from hotel rooms, and then performed magic with some of his souvenirs. Steve Duperr? and John Luka closed the show. Greg and Mathieu were both making their debut FFFF performances. I remember the trepidation with which I approached my first time in the spotlight, so I applaud the aplomb of all the first-timers who acquit themselves so admirably.

This show was followed quickly by a lecture of top-notch card magic from France?s Jean Jacques Sanvert. This was expert-level material from a card-worker who really has the chops. My favourite effect from this lecture was his clever application of the white-on-white principle.

Closing out the Thursday schedule (remember, this was still just the first full day of the convention) was a lecture from the Guest of Honour, Meir Yedid. Meir titled his lecture ?Published and Unpublished? since it included a number of effects from each of those categories. Meir delivered a generous lecture filled with a combination of effects, sleights, and practical techniques. He focused mainly on effective card magic, suitable for the real world. My favourite was a two card transposition effect, in which the two cards are widely separated from each other and from the deck, and remain in plain view throughout.

After the lecture, of course, magic continued until the wee small hours of the morning. David Williamson reprised his famous ?vanish from a washroom? mystery. He entered the washroom (which had no window) … some noises were heard … people were allowed to enter the room and search for him … without any success! From time to time, between search parties, a crash would be heard and David would reappear, looking exhausted.

The first scheduled event on Friday was Pat Page?s annual workshop. The theme this year was ?Solid Through Solid Penetration?. Pat led off with a beautiful ring and rope penetration. Coins-through-table was the choice of David Neighbors, Tony Eng, Pat Page, and David Regal. I found the methods of the two Davids to both be brilliant in their originality. Penetrating a thumb was the goal of Phil Willmarth, Howie Schwartzmann and Peter Tappan.

Robert K. Miller passed a $1 bill and a $5 bill through each other. Ali Bongo had a very subtle ring and rope effect. Bob Swadling taught us a novel Okito Box method. Tom Craven tied himself up with a long rope, then pulled the rope entirely through a small hole in a large board. David Williamson borrowed Tom?s props and attempted to pass the rope and/or John Carney through the hole in the board. It was a valiant effort that ended with John sprawled unconscious on the floor.

The next event was a lecture by the great Pavel. (Do you get the impression that FFFF is packed with first-rate events? It is!) Pavel themed his lecture around the problem of finding better and better methods for a given effect. The Professor said that most magicians stop thinking too soon. Pavel is one magician who never stops thinking. He presented us with effects involving rings, ropes, silks, sliding knots and balloons. Each effect had at least one clever subtlety that highlighted Pavel?s ingenuity.

Pavel?s lecture was followed by another show with a mixture of veterans and first-timers. First on deck was Patrick Drake, followed by Lance Pierce. Lance ran into some technical difficulties but he delivered such an erudite and polished stream of patter that nobody minded at all. Bob Escher (PIP of the IBM) and Mike Stratman, our International President, each performed strong card magic.

The next performer was the charming Trixie Bond, with a silk-through-arm effect and a very brisk ring and rope routine. Nick Sacco, Duane Laflin, Etienne Morenceau, Jason Juliano and Frank Truong entertained with cards, silks, coins and balloons (in various combinations). Michael Bairefoot, the politest man in magic, presented a very professional act. Finally, Michael Tallon and Doug Gorman performed an excellent cups and balls routine ? in stereo. Seated side by side, with matching cups and balls, they performed the routine in perfect synchronisation. They were rewarded with a standing ovation from the assembled multitude.

One of the best things about FFFF is that there always seems to be at least one person I?ve never heard of who completely amazes me. This year it was Brian Ochab, the leadoff performer in the Friday evening show. Brian performs rapid-fire magic and delivers his patter in a stream of voices that are immediately familiar to anyone who grew up watching Loony Toons. Brian was followed by the one and only Ali Bongo, who introduced Obie O?Brien to an ancient Japanese gift-giving game called Amida-gotchi. David Regal regaled us with a story about his grandfather, who seemed to bear an uncanny resemblance to William McComb, Esq. Jim Cellini, Jay Scott Berry, Rey Ben and Terry Lunceford all demonstrated their astonishing and individual skills.

Rich Marotta produced a full fish-bowl ? some of the water spilled onto the table, and everyone in the audience gasped ? the table cloth at FFFF is sacrosanct! Jean Jacques Sanvert and Pavel showed that they had not given everything away in their lectures, performing some more amazing magic. Richard Pinner worked with cards, a floating ring, and three colouring books. Yes, he really did, and it was great. Michael Vincent presented a sophisticated and smooth card act, and then the always-impressive Boris Wild closed the show.

The day was not over yet. Cellini, the King of the Streets, presented a late night lecture on establishing yourself as a street magician. He spoke simply and sincerely about the delights and challenges of working in the streets, and every word was clearly the product of his years of experience and his deep understanding of magic. As a student of Slydini and a good friend of Frank Garcia, Cellini learned his magic from some of the greatest. His linking rings routine is pure poetry.

Saturday morning, for the insatiable (i.e. everybody), Boris Wild presented his new lecture. He worked through some of the miracles that can be done using his stacked deck and his marked deck, including a very clean version of ?Any card at any number?. He also taught a very fine (and clean) routine using a deck of ?Hooters? playing cards, a great wild card routine, and an excellent prediction effect that could be adapted to many different presentations.

David Stone presented the Saturday afternoon lecture. David presented some of his classic effects, and then shared with us to his philosophy on making magic relevant. His application of these ideas to the real-world problem of approaching a restaurant table to perform was brilliant. It was a real A-HA! moment, when things suddenly make sense.

The Saturday afternoon show began with Tyler Ericson, who entertained with coins and cards and a very dry wit. Philip Young, Allan Nackan and Garrett Thomas followed with cards, money rings and cubes. Rolando Santos beguiled us with tales of Marie Lebeau, the voodoo queen. Ryan Swigert had a musical prediction. Camille Ghastine discovered that Piet Forton was his long-lost twin brother. My good friend Phil Messina delivered a four Ace routine in rhyme, then presented Trixie Bond with a Happy Stone.

When Tony Eng took the stage, a volunteer?s card repeatedly appeared on top of the card case. Tony?s exceptional rapport with his volunteer was very popular with the crowd. Jack Chancellor performed a mystifying penetration effect. Richard Hatch punctuated his magic with some highly appropriate comments on the state of the world. Nicholas Anthony and Pablo Kusnetzoff rounded out the performance with their excellent card effects.

The grand finale of the convention was the Saturday night show. The festivities began with presentations to this year?s Guest of Honour, Meir Yedid. Meir was presented with a Swiss watch from Roland Meister, two commemorative plaques, a letter of congratulations from Max Maven, and a crystal wand from Herb Zarrow. This wand was hand-made by Vic Trabucco.

Meir was the first performer in the evening show. He presented his signature ?vanishing fingers? act, and received a warm standing ovation from the audience. He was followed by Frederick Sharpe of England, who performed a routine based on magical bartending. Eric DeCamps demonstrated the mysteries of Davenport?s Spirit Cabinet in miniature.

When David Stone took the stage, things started to get surreal. He borrowed a crutch to perform a Card Sword effect, then transported us all (via the large video monitors) into Blair Witch territory. Oscar Munoz was up next and performed an elegant set of ball and silk manipulations. John Carney presented his rendition of Zone Zero and an utterly mystifying version of the Shrinking Cards. Rocco closed the first half of the show in his own inimitable style. Rocco?s performance is always unpredictable and profoundly magical ? for example, he poured water into his hand and squeezed it into ice. Rocco received two standing ovations for his set.

Nicholas Einhorn performed a strong set of classic magic, ending with a selected card inside a sealed bottle. Bob Sheets presented what he called the Tower of Logic, in which numbered cubes rearranged themselves while inside a tight-fitting tube. Henry Evans was next, with a rope-through-body repeat and some fine card magic. Michael Robinson (with Terrence) performed a comedy vent. routine that earned him (them) a standing ovation.

Bebel sat at the table and proceeded to work miracles with cards. There?s no other way to describe this man?s incredible magic. David Williamson had an hilarious interaction with an animated poster of Max Maven, which was eventually interrupted by a life-size cut-out of Obie-wan O?Brien. Closing out the show was once again Steve Beam, who presented his version of the ?52 Most Wanted Magicians? deck of playing cards. Acceding to popular demand, Steve actually performed a card trick this year.

It was announced that this year?s MVP was David Stone. Next year?s Guest of Honour will be none other than Pat Page. Needless to say, I?m already looking forward to it.

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