After a few delays caused by ‘you-know-what,’ Magic Live had finally arrived. We’d booked our flights, chosen our schedules, checked into our rooms at the Orleans (fridge optional), and before we knew it, we were back to old times. I’ve met some of my closest friends at magic conventions, and Magic Live has always been on my wish list. All I knew in advance was to expect the unexpected.
The convention format is the same each day, depending on which color lanyard (green or yellow); you start the day with a General Session in the Showroom followed by two Focus Sessions in the afternoon. Each night there are two special events.
Kicking off with a pizza and cookie party on Sunday night, delegates roamed the dealers’ room while filling out raffle cards to be in with the chance of winning some envy-inducing prize packages. The dealers’ room, or ‘Magic Shop’ as its affectionally signposted at Live, was just large enough to fill time between the sessions but manageable in that you could see what you wanted within a couple of hours.
Compared to somewhere like Blackpool, there’s a smaller quantity of stands, but the overall quality is higher. Fewer stockists and more creators help to ensure the relationship between seller and buyer is more direct. Big names such as Tannens and Vanishing Inc. occupied the prime real estate and their ‘shop-within-a-shop’ setups, meaning you could hang out and jam and browse their latest releases.
In a backroom at the Tannens booth, you could check out L.I.F.T., a re-release of their Live Impromptu Floating Table - which is pretty much as it sounds. And yes, it does look that good! Over at Vanishing Inc., their Taschen-style two-book set compilation of Joshua Jay’s Talk About Tricks column (over eight hundred items) drew serious attention. Josh covered twenty-two of those in his Focus Session on Monday.
Anyone visiting the Potter & Potter stand was probably there to pick up another of the convention’s hot-sellers, Nick Diffatte’s book ‘Offbeat,’ following his innovative presentation on Monday, where he covered the art of audience interaction.
Monday was a chance for us to take stock of the past couple of years and recognize how lucky we are to be able to all meet up again. Day one was one of reflection. In the morning’s General Session in the Showroom, Stan spoke with Luis De Matos about his incredible drive-in show that he put on Portugal at the height of lockdown. Seventy cars a night witnessed a live show which combined intelligent video design with some of Luis’ signature tricks on the backlot of Studio 33.
The General Session was rounded off with a montage of the magicians we had lost since the previous convention - an in celebration rather than in memoriam. One of the many prominent losses was The Amazing Jonathan - on Monday night, a tribute show for Jonathan at the Orleans played to a packed room.
Outside of the convention, the feeling was shared by performers on the Strip. During his show at the Strat, Banachek took a moment to reference Magic Live, and the struggles performers have faced, even inviting fellow performers present in that afternoon’s audience (an unsurprisingly large number) to stand up and make themselves known.
Michael Weber’s Focus Session reflected on the dousing plot and Harry Roydon, re-examining tricks that most had written off or grown out of performing. In updated presentations and contexts, Roydon’s Crazy Cube and Jastrow’s Boomerang Illusion took on a new lease of life.
In the evening, Documentary Live in the Showroom was a showcase for performers we know and love to revive their old acts that perhaps we didn’t know existed! Amongst them were Mark Kalin performing his pool shark act, Paul Gertner’s feathers, Tina Lenert as a clockwork doll, and Mac King when he was Baron Maximilian Von King, the Viking magician.
This was followed by The Close-up Experience in a venue upstairs with its tiered, curved seating providing an intimate setting for three incredible performers to do what they do best. Pit Hartling, Shoot Ogawa, and Asi Wind each brought their unique personalities and well-honed routines to the room. We were in safe hands, and it’s safe to say we were left wanting more. Easily one of my highlights of Live!
If Monday was focused heavily on looking back, Tuesday was all about looking ahead in magic. The General Session led by David Regal featured talks from Thomas Kuntz, a fastidious automator whose remarkable creations were featured in a special exhibition at the convention. Yuki Iwane, a twenty-one-year-old from Japan, demonstrated some super creative card manip sleights utilizing black art and confetti - it was clear to see how he placed at FISM when he was still in his teens.
Hector Mancha drew some laughs with a harmonica card trick and pickpocketing. Still, the session’s final section, an interview with Randy Pitchford and Erika Larsen (moderated by Regal), really stuck out. It was a brief look at the Magic Castle’s recent history and what we can expect to see in the future. To top it off, Milt Larsen, now ninety-one, made an appearance to a rapturous ovation.
Tuesday’s focus sessions were more varied than Monday’s. The centerpiece for many was, no doubt, the Close-Up Clinic. I’m usually not a fan of these setups where you have multiple speakers in one room at separate tables, each competing for your attention. It’s messy, hard to hear the person you want to, and it’s all too tempting to just go to another table after the first five minutes if you’re not engaged (also why I don’t have Netflix).
Nevertheless, there was a range of topics on offer: Eric Mead teaching a finding-the-aces, Lee Earle giving a center tear masterclass, Erik Tait going in-depth on false shuffles, Mathieu Bich workshopping the art of card splitting, and more.
Next door was R. Paul Wilson offering a lesson on The Rules of Engagement, namely ‘direction’ instead of ‘misdirection.’ Tamariz, Carney, and Ramsay were all mentioned in a detailed session. Starting with his take on Chris Kenner’s 3-Fly, he then delved into an updated Roy Walton king/queen transpo and a lesser-known Lennart Green item which is so good I might leave it to you to find.
On Tuesday night, Truth Truth Lie was a fun game show which got the audience involved as they went up against the panel of Colin Cloud, Farrell Dillon, and Michael Goudeau. Elsewhere, attendees enjoyed Rob Zabrecky and Stuart MacLeod.
Later that night, ProMystic’s party went on until the early hours of Wednesday morning, long after guests had their photos taken in the Delorean parked in the driveway. The buzzy night was fuelled by pizza and Krispy Kremes and will surely be a memorable night for everyone lucky enough to attend.
In a flash, it was the final day of Live! As per the previous two days, it began with a General Session hosted by Carisa Hendrix (aka Lucy Darling). Asi Wind went behind the scenes on his Tommy Wonder-inspired Fool Us routine, taking us through the process of the famed 52- deck table he built with Ray Lum. Jason England interviewed long-time friend and magician Derek DelGaudio (one particular story about an early performance of the renowned In & Of Itself drew astonishment from the crowd - complete with video proof).
This session’s highlight was Andi Gladwin detailing his battle against magic piracy as he and business partner Josh Jay in lockstep with the Vanishing Inc. team, tracked down a notorious magic piracy ring across years and continents. It was a gripping true story with enough drama to rival Netflix’s ‘Tinder Swindler’ (OK, I sometimes borrow a Netflix login).
In the afternoon, delegates took their seats for the final round of Focus Sessions. Shoot Ogawa’s session was centered on audience expectations and how to structure a routine around their reactions. Nate Staniforth dazzled with his tips on the simple act of adding tension to your magic down the hall.
Far from a lofty hour full of theory, the talk showcased Nate’s approach to making tricks magical in a closing trick involving billets which cut out superfluous methods and proved just how effective silence, anticipation, and awkwardness could be when used in the right places.
While closing down possible avenues for the audience isn’t a new one, Staniforth distinguishes between creating ‘false’ methods purely for this purpose rather than cementing what is already there.
After a whirlwind of three days, the organizers rounded off proceedings with Live! Onstage, a 90-minute spectacular in the Showroom followed by the late-night closing party gave attendees a final chance to catch up before remarking, “next time, let’s not leave it so long.”