2023's Magifest convention is now over, but the magic continues. The venue was packed, the acts were top-notch, and the Dealer's Room was filled with so many great things.
Not only was this my first time attending Magifest, it was actually my first time attending any magic conference. I didn't really know what to expect, other than magic. I also didn't know anyone that was going, not including the few people I follow on Instagram -- but, I wouldn't count them since I don't actually know them.
So, I went into this one on my own with no expectations. The only thing I really wanted was to have a good time and experience magic. Here's a recap of the convention, from my experience, and the takeaways I have.
The conference was held at the Renaissance, Columbus Downtown hotel in Columbus, Ohio. All of the acts (or lectures) took place in the same large room and seating was, well, let's just say not friendly for anyone wanting to have any kind of personal space.
Adjacent to that large room was the Dealer's Room, but we'll talk about that a little more down below.
There was a large common area with a decent number of large round tables where folks would sit and show off tricks that they've been working on. Frequently there would be a table that gathered a standing crowd of fellow-magicians and applause would break out.
Another room, separate from these but on the same floor of the hotel, was where the youth program was held. Not being a youth myself, and not being one of the assistants, I didn't make it into that room so I don't have a ton of info about it.
The Gala Show, the big headliner show, was also held in the large room where the other lectures were. The big difference is that they ended up taking down the wall separating it from the Dealer's Room to make more space. Seating was even more cramped during that show, but trust me when I say that it only mattered while waiting for the show to start.
There were a few restaurants within walking distance of the hotel, and a coffee shop or two. The only issue with the coffee shops was that they closed at 2pm... but that's a discussion for a different day.
Let's Talk About the Dealer's Room
Lucy Darling, the MC of the Gala Show, put it perfectly:
I made the mistake of going into the Dealer's Room within the first 10 minutes of it opening on the first day. There was zero space to move. It was packed. I came back a few times throughout the weekend and it never really got much better until around 5pm on Saturday, a half hour before it shut-down for good.
I also overheard folks talking that the dealers themselves had even less space. Behind their tables, there was almost no space for walking, let alone storage. That aside though, they all did an amazing job in my opinion.
There were tables with books. Tables with decks. A table for deck alterations. More books. Pamphlets. Magic props. More books. Close-up pads. Even more magic props. And, did I mention books, or decks? They had them all! There were 28 dealers that were there sponsoring the event, and that doesn't include the lecture notes and whatnot that were available for purchase by the lecturers!
A Brief Look at the Jam-Packed Schedule
When I bought my Magifest ticket, it was still during the pre-sale time and Thursday's schedule was "Charles Green Historical Lecture", and that was it. Checking the schedule a day or two before the event itself, whoah!
Here's a quick overview of what the lectures were -- I'm omitting the youth events, of which there were several, since they didn't apply to me.
- Charles Greene Historical Lecture. The first lecture of the convention and Charles Greene took us on a journey into the past to explore the life of Ionia.
- Michel Huot Lecture. Michel Huot performed several unique and creative magic routines, and gave us the behind-the-scenes on how to perform them.
- Mark James Show. Mark put on an hour-long stage show, delivering a high energy approach to classic magic effects.
- Peter Turner Show and Lecture. The mentalist performed several effects, including dropping an audience member to the floor, and then let us all in on the secrets!
- Kyle Purnell Lecture. Kyle performed several really killer routines and then showed off the secrets behind them which happened to be just as impressive.
- Mortenn Christiansen Lecture. Mortenn performed a handful of original close-up and parlor magic routines, each with a comedic twist, and then blew our minds with how to do each.
- The Magifest Session. Charles Green performed, and explained, a few effects, followed by a presentation by Margalit Fox (author of the book The Confidence Men -- a true story about two men who used mentalism to escape from a POW camp). Additionally, there was a presentation from the Gahana High School Magic Program, featuring magic from students with disabilities.
- Mark Calabrese Lecture. Mark taught us some practical, doable card magic -- as long as you're willing to put in the practice!
- The Matt Pritchard Experience. Matt gave us a view from the "other" camera for some of his most famous online viral videos, hoping to lead to inspiration for the next big wave of illusions.
- Lance Burton Interview. Lance sat down for a candid, in-depth interview about his career.
- David Gerard Show. If you want to see a guy who's downed one-too-many red bulls but is still able to blow your mind by telling you what the name of your favorite stuffed animal you had when you grew up in a bedroom on the 2nd floor, 2 doors to the left -- this is just the show for you!
- You Flash, You Lose with Chris Ramsay and friends. If you don't know, YouTube is your friend =P
- Bar Magic with Mark Calabrese. Mark chilled behind a bar and entertained group after group of magicians who came for the show.
- Mark James Lecture. Mark was back and this time he taught us how to do several of the tricks from his show. On top of that, he went through several points about how to make a successful show (not an act!).
- Paul Gertner Show and Lecture. Paul was supposed to perform, and then teach -- like most lectures -- but it was mostly a talk. He gave a lot of insight into the Fool Us world, and he did show how several of his routines worked though.
- David Gerard Marketing Lecture. David provided a lot of experienced information on how to market and brand yourself to achieve the bookings you're after.
- Shoot Ogawa Lecture. Shoot shared some of the magic he took around the world, from Linking Rings to Coins, even disappearing a wand!
- Gala Show. MC'd by Lucy Darling, the show featured acts by Ruben Vilagrand, Mortenn Christiansen, Erik Tait, Paul Gertner, Shoot Ogawa, and JunWoo Park
- Bar Magic with Mark Calabrese.
Sunday was a special day; part of the conference, but separate. There were two workshops that day, I believe they were 3 hours each:
- Shoot Ogawa Workshop
- Mark Calabrese Workshop
I didn't attend either of them, but boy would it have been a great time.
My Experience and Takeaways
Overall, it was an amazing experience. Exhausting and overwhelming, but amazing.
There were so many people there, and not knowing anyone, definitely made it overwhelming. I was also not familiar with the area, so add to it the fun time of finding food and boy was I tired by the end of the night.
As would be expected, some lectures were better than others. However, none were bad -- which is a great thing. I did end up skipping one or two of them because they didn't sound like my thing, and I have no regrets about it.
The very first lecture, by Charles Greene, was informative and everything, but I felt like it didn't fit with Magifest. I read all about his book from Genii, and this lecture was a further extension of that. He spoke about Ionia, a woman who was a magician for a couple of years when she was younger and then she disavowed that part of her life and moved on to other things. The lecture focused on a lot of those "other things". Again, while informative, it did actually scare me a little into thinking that Magifest wasn't going to be anything like what I thought it was.
And then, Michel Huot came on stage! This guy was so fun, and I absolutely loved how he started showing how the tricks were done -- in full detail, and there was Q&A. Later on I found out that this was normal -- and the other lectures all did this too.
Mark Jame's show was fun, as was his lecture. They were "classics" in magic and while not card tricks, I actually knew how most were done! I felt kind of proud about that.
Peter Turner's show was really, really good. And then, he revealed how the mentalism tricks were done. I want to point out that I have the How to Read Minds and How to Control Minds kits, as well as Turner's whole "The Legacy Collection" of books... as well as a few other mentalism books. And yet still, while watching his performance, everything was just unbelievable. Unlike most magic tricks -- for me anyways -- when he revealed how they were done, I was very underwhelmed. Yes, I get the whole "once you learn the method it ruins the experience" concept for magic, but mentalism tricks just seem to go from amazing to "ugh" really quick once you figure out the secret.
Kyle Purnell's lecture was really, really great. His was the first one that I realized that there were lecture notes and things for, but there wasn't a break between his lecture and Mortenn Christiansen's -- the only lectures in all of Magifest like that -- and I figured I'd go grab them after Mortenn's. Unfortunately, everything was sold out =[
Speaking of which though, Mortenn's lecture blew me away. Similar to Kyle's, there were just things I had never contemplated before. You can be sure, I grabbed a copy of Mortenn's lecture notes!
Mark Calabrese was vulgarly fun. I first heard of him from Vanishing Inc's Experts at the Card Table. His lecture here was fairly similar, touching on second dealing and even a sneaky negative stripper card. I snagged his lecture notes too.
Matt Pritchard's lecture was less about person-to-person magic and more about visual, or social media magic. Camera tricks, so to speak. The level of work he put into some of his videos is amazing. Anyone at home can do it, but not many people could do it. If that makes sense.
David Gerard, holy crap. So, remember up above when I talked about Peter Turner and mentalism? David Gerard was that... except I'm pretty sure he downed a pot of coffee immediately before coming out on stage. I can't begin to explain the level of amazing that this act contained, it was simply mind blowing.
Paul Gertner gave us a lot of really cool behind-the-scenes information about the Fool Us show. It was nice to learn about, and to also get a chance to learn how he built -- and performed -- some of his routines. Like a can of coke under a small metal cup!
But, let's not forget the last lecture of the event, Shoot Ogawa. His entire talk had the audience -- likely 99% of which were magicians -- on the edge of their seats and holding their breath. In addition to being an expert sleight of hand artist, he also very clearly excels at audience control. His ability to control a coin and appear as natural as possible, while insanely difficult, also makes me want to start doing coin work... something I thought I wouldn't really care too much about.
I came back to the venue about a half an hour before the Gala Show was scheduled to start. I wanted to get a good seat upfront and center. All of my seats for the other shows were off to the side and while close, they required a bit of neck stretching. Unfortunately, even arriving 30 minutes early put me into a line that was a few hundred people deep. Yikes!
We eventually made our way into the expanded room where attendants were seating people row by row. I was quite literally shoulder-to-shoulder to both my neighbors until I scooted my chair forward so my knees were pressing to the back of the seat in front of me, but at least me and my neighbors now had breathing room.
The show kicked off with Lucy Darling as the host. I don't know why, but I was really excited to see her. I remember reading about her in Genii, but seeing her persona live and in person was next level.
Ruben Vilagrand, Mortenn Christiansen, and Shoot Ogawa each performed their winning FISM acts. I'm not sure if the other acts that were performed were the FISM-winning ones though.
Ruben was the first one out and it was a really, really fun experience.
And then, there was Mortenn. I tried explaining his act to my wife and quite honestly had a lack of words. However, one thing I am absolutely certain of is that I have never, never seen a standing ovation so loud and well-deserved. His act was by far one of the best magical acts I've experienced.
Erik Tait's act had a bad camera angle. If he were on "You Flash, You Lose", he would've lost -- and the audience groaned a time or two also. I was kind of surprised that he performed a three card monte routine too. The other acts were all very unique and robust, but Erik just did a normal three card monte demonstration. He mentioned that there were "invisible cards", but again, from the camera angle we had -- pointed straight at the edge of the table -- we saw everything.
Paul Gertner performed his dice act from Penn & Teller; if you know it, you know it. If you don't know it, he explained how it was done in his lecture too. All-in-all, it was nice to see it performed live.
Shoot Ogawa blew all of our minds with a spoon. A freaking spoon. And his "Japanese power". And a spoon.
JunWoo Park, whom I actually never heard of before coming to Magifest, came out and pumped up the jams! He performed a music-choreographed card manipulation routine that was very, very awesome. Afterwards, I found a clip or two of him on America's Got Talent that had portions of this routine, but none of them compare to the full thing that we saw.
By the way, did I mention Shoot's spoon? 🤯
During my flight to Ohio, I imagined that the first day at the convention I'd be meeting a lot of people and -- if all went well -- clicking with a group who I'd be able to hang out with throughout the rest of the convention. Folks that I could grab lunch or dinner with, session with, and eventually upon leaving the convention still keep in contact with. Unfortunately, that never happened.
There were so many people at Magifest. I kept hearing the number 1,000 thrown around, but I don't know if that's an official count or estimation or what. The issue with having a small venue with a large number of people is that there isn't an opportunity to "find a group". Yes, I met a bunch of people. Yes, I was able to session with a couple. No, I didn't really come away knowing anyone or building a relationship -- and that's unfortunate. I regularly grabbed an open chair at a table, and I didn't hesitate to "just talk" to people around me. Even at the bar downstairs I engaged in conversation and magic. And yet, with so many people around, it just didn't work out this time around.
I did, however, get a chance to say hi to many people that I've only talked to -- or followed -- online. I had a brief chat with Josh Jay (even though I hardly saw the guy at the conference), I spoke with Kyle Littleton, and Ryan Schlutz. I was able to give Mortenn Christiansen praise, and I had a conversation with Kyle Purnell about his lecture and his appearance on Fool Us that aired on Friday!
The best chat I had was actually with Chris Ramsay though. He had just arrived and I happened to be in the bar downstairs. The rest of the guys from the Big Trick Energy show were there too, but since he had come in only a few minutes before, the crowd of Magifest attendees weren't aware that he was there ... trust me, once they found out, it was a swarm of signature requests and photo ops. However, I had a chance to ask him about a trick I saw him perform once and he was so helpful in sharing how it was done. The trick itself is a "Do as I Do" routine, but I had never seen or read about one that came off that cleanly before -- and now I know why! While I doubt Chris reads my blog, I just want to say thank you again because I've been practicing it since then. I can't wait to be ready to show it off!
So, yeah. Magifest, 2023.
I had a great time there. I do wish that I came away with a friend or two that I could've kept in contact with, but I did come away with new goals and direction for how I practice. Next time, and yes there will be a next time, I'll try to be even more sociable.
Thank you Vanishing Inc. for putting on such a great convention!