There are few things in life we enjoy more than attending the South Carolina Association of Magicians convention in beautiful Columbia, South Carolina.
We promised publication of this article/review several weeks ago but for some reason, we could not find ability to finish the project. This piece is a subset of several lengthy volumes summarizing, reviewing, and praising the weekend in Columbia.
We live by two doctrines in our writing: 1) lack of inhibition is not the same as talent; 2) the perfect is the enemy of the good and the good is a foe of the adequate.
So while this article is not as long as it has been, it is at least done. If you are bored, very bored, you can read the following to see how many different styles and approaches we tried and how poorly we have edited the various attempts into this final draft.
You can also take a big virtual marker and circle how many times the word “charm” or “charisma” is used.
We’re thinking of converting this article into a kid’s meal place mat for a chain of family restaurants and what better way to distract a hungry, sugar-crashing youngster than a good game of find the thematic inconsistencies?
SCAM is Special – But in a Good Way
When we left Mystic Hollow, Michigan, there was snow everywhere, the skies were gray and foreboding, ice made driving tricky, and we had just lost our glass eye in a crooked on-line poker game.
We looked forward to (albeit with lousy depth perception) South Carolina.
Our foster-grandmother used to tell us, “to make a tasty cake, you need to use tasty ingredients.” Her statement resonates in our horribly damaged soul as an example of her innate wisdom.
While the saying was also used to help prove up her marijuana smuggling conviction, it never took on the serious second meaning suggested by the prosecutor. To us kids, it was just a truism.
SCAM, like the special brownies and cakes Grandma Hempina used to make, is special because all of its components are special.
The folks attending SCAM have a warmth we have not seen since Grandma got the Chair. Unlike “Old Sparky” in Stark, Florida, the energy is created naturally from within the attendees. There is nothing fake or insincere in their friendliness, or their desire to share, teach, and learn.
We have yet to run across a negative or contrary person here at the beautiful Marriott in downtown Columbia.
Henry Pettit puts on a great convention. The events, lectures, shows, and sessions are constant but not unrelenting. His choice of performers is similar to a melange created by a great chef – except without inedible garnish,everything at SCAM can be devoured and SCAM needs no garnish.
GAZZO the Zelig of Magic
From garnish to garish we move our critical single eye to Gazzo’s significant role in the weekend.
As we pre-wrote this review of the convention — before even seeing the South Carolina state-line — we chalked-up Gazzo’s participation as “You either like his type of humor or you do not. If you do not like the often caustic, ribald presentation of a man who learned his craft on the streets, you will not enjoy Gazzo.
On the other hand, if you have the slightest sense of humor, even a wisp of merriment in an otherwise critical and darkened soul, you will have to admit he is a fantastic performer.”
We often write our reviews before seeing, reading, or performing the subject of our witty and insightful critique that has propelled us to the our hallowed place in the storm cellar of magic journals.
If in fact we do actually see, read, or perform the thing to be reviewed, we try to keep our prejudices in tact to avoid unnecessary work of revising our essay to meet the “reality” of the experience.
So Gazzo was a gimmie. He is well-known for his offensive routine, and dares audience members to like him in spite of his grouchy persona.
We were wrong. We’re not willing to say all prejudice is wrong. There is great advantage in deciding issues away from the dynamic situation of the actual event.
So while we will never enjoy tofu (even if we tried it), learn from a magician younger than us (even though that population is growing), or root for the other university in Florida (there is no exception for this one – prejudice is stronger than reality), we will admit when we’re wrong.
We like Gazzo very much. We like his bawdy performance, his wit, his quick attacks on the most vulnerable members of the audience. We could apologize for laughing so hard we had milk coming out of our nostrils — even though we weren’t drinking milk at the time — during his workshop and performance at one convention.
But we can’t lie.
We laugh when people make strange bodily noises in church, we don’t mean to guffaw when someone slips and falls, we still find great humor in any joke ending in “pull my finger,” and Gazzo brings all of these visceral triggers into play. He makes us laugh even when we know we shouldn’t.
The Universal Gas Law applies to the containment of a forbidden laugh — it is after all, universal — and our attempts to repress the laugh only makes it more potent.
But Gazzo did the unthinkable in Columbia. He changed to meet the more conservative and more family-oriented audience. As our uncle once observed after his third gender-change, “anyone can change, but not everyone can change and stay relevant.”
Gazzo lost none of what makes Gazzo great. He was charmingly naughty in his dealings with kids, women, and female children. Without a single swear word, he ad-libbed his way through 90 percent of the Cabaret Show where he was, in fact, 95 percent of the performers.
Through a scheduling error, Gazzo was only one of two performers available. His opening act was a tremendously energetic young-man who performed a solid 12 minutes of manipulation.
It takes guts bigger than ours to perform the sleights, moves, and productions he offered. He clearly has the drive to learn and practice some of the toughest pieces in our business and we’re confident he will mature into a formidable act on the pro-circuit.
Gazzo performed the Vanishing Cracker as an educational piece. It was a great routine and one which we have now stolen and incorporated into our post-dinner impromptu set. Unfortunately, we usually eat alone but the girls at the McDonald’s drive-through window love it.
Gazzo taught the assembled magicians the value of performance versus the value of one’s props. His Cups and Balls Routine rightly deserves high praise not only because of Gazzo’s polished skills but because it is 25 minutes of entertainment. The trick is just a tool through which Gazzo can meet audiences.
We got into a philosophical debate in the bathroom after the Cabaret show. One poorly-informed and uncoordinated magician commented Gazzo’s Cups and Balls outine was being used like a “commercial to get people to come see him and give money.”
The young man with horrible hygiene habits, said Gazzo’s approach to magic “was wrong.” “You should do magic for magic’s sake. Not just to get people to hang around you and give you tips.”
We’re not hifalutin and we almost never put on airs — except after a big meal or if we get scared. But if magicians performed magic for solely the “sake of magic,” we wouldn’t be magicians, we’d be institutionalized.
We’d perform tricks with or without an audience’s approval, leading to performing without an audience, and finally ending our self-centered careers performing without friends or family.
Magician is a performing art in the same sense as dancing, singing, or theatrical regurgitation.
One may dance, sing, or selectively bring up swallowed items or animals for the sheer pleasure or catharsis, but it adds nothing to society and renders the performer nothing more than someone who dances, sings,or regurgitate.
When audiences gather to watch a street performer’s 25 minute routine with arguably the oldest props in our tradition, they are endorsing his ability to entertain, not do sleights. The crowds that gathered around Gazzo often paid real money in the form of tips even though they could have walked from the scene immediately after the show.
His ability to entertain through magic is the reason they stayed to watch and why some reward him financially.
This doesn’t cheapen magic. A ballet star and opera singer can entertain their target audience just as completely as dancers in a “gentleman’s club” or singers delivering singing telegrams.
Gazzo’s lecture, close-up performance, Cabaret show/impromptu work, and his starring role in the final evening show proved forever his ability to judge his audience and recalibrate his presentation to meet the need. He was able to present his remarkable character in each venue. He interacted with the audience differently, performed different effects, and fit his performance for the stage or venue.
No matter where he was or what he was doing or how he was doing it, he was able to ensure he presented the same essence of Gazzo.
Joshua “Josh” Jay
The magic phenom known to Magic readers as Mr. Jay (alternatively identified during the weekend as “Josh Jay” or “Joshua Jay” but never “Jay Jay”) came to bat with three strikes against him. His innovations and discoveries in our craft are published for our review every month.
Many of us have seen his lecture several times and even purchased his effects and books. Surely, there could be nothing left to offer. “Those in the know already know what he knew and what he knows so there was nothing new, you know,” offered our debating buddy in the bathroom. We’re not sure he intentionally offered this whimsical dismissal of Mr. Jay. He provided it as a response to our asking if he attended Mr. Jay’s lecture.
Somehow, perhaps by magic, Mr. Jay was able to take the three strikes handed to him by the prejudicial bathroom magic authority and to score a miraculous run. In the real world of baseball this is possible if a called third strike is dropped by the catcher. According to one baseball stat man, 97 percent of the dropped third strikes do not result in the runner making it safely to first. Interestingly, of the three percent of the time where the batter does reach first base, 70 percent of those runners do so because they are plugged in the back by the catcher’s throw to first base. Very few, if any, runners have advanced on a dropped third strike all the way to second, third, or even back home.
We would like to spear the baseball metaphor now. It has served its purpose. Mr. Jay’s close-up performance — and in particular, one effect — was an event similar to watching the theoretical but unlikely play in baseball.
More than that, Mr. Jay’s incredible closing effect was akin to intentionally working the pitcher to throw three strikes, planning on the catcher dropping the third called strike, surviving the run to first base and advancing to score a run as the last out in the World Series.
We are able to now describe the effect with the benign adjective “remarkable,” but at the time of the performance, our ejaculations were less refined approximations of our amazement and awe.
Here is our description of the effect. We no write good enough to make you see it without you seeing it.
Mr. Jay shows us an old book. It did not have the title of any Book Test book we knew of. That could be because it was not a Book Test trick. One can never be too careful, though.
Mr. Jay shows the book has lots of pages and that it is a hard-bound book. Significantly, it was not Claudine the Circus Woman by your author (still available at Amazon.com and Borders.com in paperback).
Mr. Jay told the assembled magicians the book had secrets to be studied including one of the many attempts to solve “the card to any number problem.”
A card was selected, signed, returned to the deck. A number between less than or equal to 52 was called out. The cards were dealt to that exact number and with no fake moves, breaks, second-deals, or double-lifts, Mr. Jay showed the card to be . . . not even close to the one previously selected. He tried counting up from the bottom, sideways, around it, but it appeared he had failed.
We bowed our metaphor-boggled nugget and realized we sought too much.
No one hits a home-run every time and what better place to screw-up than a close-up magic show during one of the friendliest conventions in the country. (We note SCAM can take the title for “Friendliest Magic Convention in the US” but according to the National Organization for Exhibitors, the title for “Friendliest Convention in the US” again went to the National Association of Nitrous Oxide Sales Professionals held every year in very, very small rooms with poor ventilation).
But wait, hold on to your Fez! Mr. Jay reminded us all of the book of magic secrets. A little child near us commented “maybe the secret is in there!”
We don’t know if Mr. Jay heard the suggestion but he turned to the book, opened it fairly to the selected number to show the card to thunderous applause.
Our tired baseball metaphor was inspired by the child’s helpful suggestion. She clearly hoped Mr. Jay would perform real magic to save the show. It reminded us of the heart-breaking scene when Shoeless Joe Jackson was confronted by a young fan on his way to court, “Say it ain’t so, Joe!”
Mr. Jay’s charisma remains in place despite his rapidly maturing physical presence. He is no longer the skinny 17-year-old boy but an ebullient young man who continues to impress despite the incredible demands of his schedule.
It is nice to see someone as nice as Mr. Jay do well. It would be nice if he had the basic decency to tell us how he did the amazing effect, but apparently there is a limit to his nice. How special.
We loved Jade’s performance at the wonderfully attended big Gala Show. We should say we loved seeing Jade in her various incarnations but we had a real problem with the transition. That is our problem, not hers. But since this is our article, we’ll spend a few moments exploring why we felt so frustrated watching the beautiful Jade.
There is the Jade who performs her silent routine with grace and style. Her moves flow perfectly, her charm carries to those of us sitting in the cheap seats, her skills are perfectly hidden by natural movements, and audiences are captured by her.
At the conclusion of the traditional portion of her show, she performs an instantaneous costume change into another traditional costume — but in the tradition of Vegas performer.
Through counseling, we have recently come out of the closet and now embrace our flaming heterosexuality. We like women, we like them a lot. We like to look at them, talk to them, and talk to them about looking at them. And we’re coming to accept that part of our complex personality. We are ready to defend our lifestyle as being “natural” or “normal.”
So, you ask, why would you rather see Jade in her full Chinese costume rather than her sultry, sexy, and teasingly skimpy Vegas-style costume?
Because, and this will come as a surprise to those who think they know us, we’re considering her performance from a perspective other than sexual appeal.This enlightened perspective may be a sign of maturity or some noble and higher sense of appreciation for magic as an art form.
Jade’s talking act plays on her sensual appearance and her confidence that men in the audience may find her to be physically attractive. Her talking act is more than just sex appeal, though. She performs an outstanding thumb-tie and works with her male volunteers very well. But she doesn’t seem to be as mysterious or as wonderful as the character we just watched perform truly beautiful effects. It could be the contrasting persona that throws us.
When she is performing her silent routine, she shines so purely and beautifully while performing effects just as beautiful and pure. When she takes the mic the illusion is torn asunder. The audience (or at least those of us in the cheap seats) realize she is not the graceful Chinese performer imbued with special talents of grace and mystery. She plays to our stereotype a female Chinese magician standing in stark contrast to the sexy siren she then becomes.
Perhaps, as usual, we are devoting too much time and thought to the matter.
We loved both parts of the show, we just had problems with the transition and contrast.
But there is a third iteration of Jade as well. We love SCAM because unlike any other convention we attend, it allows for the free mingling of performers and attendees. There is a wonderful tradition where the stars attend the lectures, the close-up shows, and even the impromptu bar gatherings as if they were real magic enthusiasts. We don’t know why this situation is unusual in magic conventions, but it is.
It is only at SCAM where a no-talent magic writer can hang with the likes of Losander, or a David Kaye, or a Gazzo, Mick Ayres, or a Joshua Jay,or even a Steve Beam, and others. We don’t mean “hang” as in “loitering” as standing in the hotel lobby hoping to say hello as they are whisked into and out of the performing area.
We mean “hang” as in having substantive conversations about magic and the magic life with the folks that know both much better than us.
SCAM gave a chance to see Jade up-close. Her physical beauty goes without saying (although we apparently felt a need to mention it quite often).
She is one of the most attractive magicians we’ve seen and we’re not comparing her looks only to Losander, David Kaye, Gazzo and Mick Ayres. Even more attractive, however, is the off-stage and presumably more authentic personality of Jade.
She consciously works to engage her fans on their level rather than from the pedestal upon which we’ve placed her. She is graceful and kind. She shows interest in all those who share her excitement about magic.
Jade does not need to be nice. She could accept either of her two on-stage personalities and be a prima donna off-stage. She could require convention organizers to whisk her past the adoring fans but she didn’t and presumably is not the kind of person who would enjoy such treatment.
If this was a review of Jade’s performance throughout the weekend, we’d give her high marks. We may have problems reconciling her two on-stage identities but that’s our problem not hers. If she was a jerk off-stage, however, we’d project that problem back on to her and publish this article with a self-satisfied belief we had done justice.
SCAM gives all attendees a chance to meet performers in so many venues and situations. Some performers exude charm and grace in the spotlight as well as the blanching glare of late night bull sessions. It is a credit to Mr. Pettit and the organizers of SCAM that each year the stars can be safely exposed to their fans.
Overall and Conclusion
For some reason known only to our court-appointed psychologist, we have had a very difficult time writing this article. SCAM continues to impress us as the premier magic convention. We love meeting new people at magic conventions. But unfortunately, like 73 percent of the tricks we buy at conventions, we do not revisit those contacts once we’re back home in Mystic Hollow. The exception to this rule is SCAM. We’ve met so many wonderful people at the convention and are happy to report we maintain contact during the year between get-together.
So why is it so difficult to complete an article we promised several weeks ago? It is not that we are fighting a desire to criticize the convention. While no convention runs as planned, this one comes as close as we’ve seen. It isn’t a matter of trying to boost the convention to readers. If anything, we have to tone-down our enthusiasm and try to appear objective. As long as this article now reads, it was twice as long when first written.
The magic of SCAM is complete and unrelenting. John Tudor holds court better than any magician we’ve witnessed. His easy-going and earnest attitude invites conversation and the conversations usually evolve into lessons or brain-storming sessions.
We cannot say enough about Henry Pettit and his ability to bring the artistry of magic into the spatial and temporal confines of a magic weekend. The vendors(with one exception) have been gracious and patient with the crowds loitering around their tables between events.
Ricky Boone is a natural salesman and enthusiastic supporter of those he encounters. We’ve documented Mr. Boone’s incredible strength and drive to overcome severe physical impairment to succeed but our articles on the subject are faint praise and inadequate depiction of his charismatic presence.
Dave Tanner and Bobby Jonte organize and lead the more delicate portions of the convention with humor and compassion — they are after all responsible for the Stage and Close-Up Competitions respectively.
Perhaps the reason for our inability to complete this article has been our reluctance end our wonderful experience in Columbia this year. But we can look forward to next year and hope you will join us there.