Welcome to the 90s! A new decade has begun and with it a new series of Abbott Magic Get-togethers. This year’s edition took place over August 8-11 and proved to be four sun-filled days and four fun-filled nights! The weatherman was very magical this year. Not too hot, yet not too cold -and no rain! Official activities are kept to a strict minimum on the opening day, which allows for late arrivals. Wednesday’s lecture was presented by Doug Anderson. He presented his ideas to a packed house with the questions and answers following him out into the parking lot! Doug knows magic and the amusement/theme park business and he is very willing to share these ideas with all.
The Wednesday night show started on time with what has become somewhat of a tradition – Gordon Miller (the M.C.) presenting the Welcome Magicians skit. This year’s had a distinct Copperfield influence preceding the falling of the message banners and the show was under way. Plus, this year, we had a television celebrity to guide us through the singing of the Star Spangled Banner – Rose Abner Barr! As usual, Abb Dickson garnered big laughs without a word!
The magic began with Theodore Preston. Theodore is from Rice Lake, Wisconsin and was a former student of the late Neil Foster. He has blended his Chavez training with his own theatrical staging in an act featuring the production, flotation and envanishment of flowers. In addition, Theodore composed the background music used throughout his act. Theodore Preston, an act that marches to his own music and tempo.
As if to prove that he knows what he was talking about that afternoon, Doug Anderson took the stage. He presented portions of the acts that he has featured on cruise ship bookings and theme park engagements. He rapidly zipped through card effects, rope effects and a super (Whit Haydn) Linking Ring routine with a spectator (Bill Tresslar) from the audience. A true professional entertainer.
And then everybody caught their breaths (and covered their heads) for the grand entrance of David Cresey – assisted by Leah. David is quickly becoming one of the maddest of magic’s madmen. The stage begins cluttered and ends littered! There are explosions of smoke, fire, confetti and paper streamers. There are enormous silk and flower productions. Everything is visual and everything is funny. (David appeared on the first night’s show so that he would have three more days to clean up and pack up!)
Master of Ceremonies Gordon Miller welcomed us back from intermission with an offering of What’s Next? (with a twist); his own version of Mark Leveridge’s Cut & Restored Credit Card and closed with Professor Cheer’s Comedy Rope.
Our next attraction was a distinct novelty to most in the Colon audience. Tony Clark (originally from Connecticut) now lives and works out of Los Angeles. He rehearses on a regular daily basis and it has paid off! He now works on a regular nightly basis. The act appears flawless and seamless. It involves cards, candles and doves (as do many acts) but there is a difference. And that difference is attitude. Tony is a good-looking and theatrical young man. His effects are presented and highlighted. There are many, many original touches and surprises throughout the act. In a short few minutes Tony took the audience from casual interest to a state of excitement.
The closing feature of tonight’s show was in the capable hands of Terry Evanswood. With a stage full of special effects, special lighting, special music and staging, Terry ran through a gamut of standard illusion fare. There were productions and vanishes, levitations and transformations, substitutions and transpositions. We saw beautiful girl assistants, choreography, costuming and even that magician’s best friend the rabbit! For a very young man, Terry has shown that, in a few short years, he has grasped what it takes to present a Vegas-style, Vegas-paced illusion spectacle. The audience showed their appreciation with loud and long applause.
Following the evening show, many return to the Showroom to look over possible purchases. Others make their way to private parties and sessions. Most congregate downtown at the American Legion (the unofficial night time headquarters) for an extended evening of card tricks, jokes, stories (lies?) along with a favorite beverage and a late night snack.
Early risers on Thursday (and Friday) morning took advantage by attending the Talent Contests. These contests are becoming increasingly popular and the competitors from past contests are now appearing regularly at magic conventions and the like. Others like to beat the crowd at the Showroom and get there shortly after the 10:00 A.M. opening time.
The Thursday afternoon lecture slot was capably filled by Jay Scott Berry. Jay has developed a highly original professional act and has so many ideas that they overflow into his lecture. There are tricks with rings and ribbons and ropes; tricks with dry ice smoke and fire; and many other novelties utilizing space age materials and ideas. Jay’s lecture assured him of crowds before his dealer’s booth for the rest of the week.
Thursday night opened with a mild surprise. Hank Moorehouse appeared, filling in for the originally scheduled Jay Marshall. Jay was facing possible heart surgery (since successfully completed) and wasn’t sure he would be able to attend. So Hank very quickly and very professionally took command of the show. And what a great show!
Always pleasing … always dependable … and always magical. Those phrases aptly describe John and Maria Kurtz. They have crafted and honed their stage offering to its current state of pleasing perfection. Doves appear, change shapes and color, and then vanish – like magic! This act is colorful and builds to a surprise double (or triple) climax with the surprise productions. John S Maria walked off winning both applause and friends.
Michael Lair is a lecturer, an author and a creator of original magic. His books on cane and candle magic and his books on coin magic are welcomed by magicians everywhere. His stage act is a curious amalgam of styles: Samurai oriental, old west gambler and Kabuki mask performance. The magic is sometimes sensational and sometimes secondary to the overall effect. There are candles and fire and showers of sparks and confetti and paper streamers – but no underlying central theme or core.
The shows in Colon are held in the high school auditorium. Perhaps it was fitting, then, to present, as the next act, a graduate. No, not a Colon graduate but a previous winner from the Get-together Talent Contest. After several years of competition (each year finishing a little higher than the previous year), last year Stuart Beck won it all – First Prize. This year he parlayed that opportunity by presenting his brand of magic on an evening show. Stuart (and his parents, friends and supporters) have collected and produced an excellent stage presentation. It combines youthful enthusiasm, dance, light and color with the best in magic. The illusions were smartly framed, rapidly paced and completely compatible to the ages and appearances of the performing troupe. A living tribute to the mixture of magical dreams and hard work! (And that works continues. Stuart is currently taking Chavez instruction to strengthen his manipulative skills.)
Hank Moorehouse greeted those coming back from intermission with some comical by-play with two audience spectators prior to his justly well-known Strait Jacket Escape presentation. The physical gyrations and the raucous Minskey’s music allowed Hank to, once again, successfully make his escape.
Bruce Block returned to the Colon stage after a few year’s absence. The intervening years have allowed him to polish his juggling skills (in the Sugar Babies musical revue, for instance) and it showed! The finale to his turn was, as usual, the fantastic balancing stunt with the cigar boxes on his chin, that earned him a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Next came one of those special Get-together moments – the surprise appearance of Jay Marshall! With his doctor’s permission, Jay decided to earn a dosage of magical medicine (that’s applause) by presenting the Tale of Juan Escadero and, of course, Lefty! (Jay also cleverly wired all the seats in the auditorium! At the end of his act he must have turned on the switch for they all stood up!)
Every few years a leprechaun from Switzerland(?) appears in the United States. He sells all the American magicians his clever rope and silk tricks and then flies home to his happy banker! He is Pavel. Onstage Pavel presents one clever idea after another – always assuring us “Don’t worry, I have plenty of rope!” The new finish with the two-colored walking knot fooled a lot of magicians.
And then it was time for the premier act of the night – Blackstone! From the traditional presentation of the Vanishing Bird and Cage (and its repeat presentation with the stage full of children) through the charming interlude with the Vanishing Milk in the Newspaper (featuring daughter Bellamie) to the sensational intensity of the Floating Light bulb and finally into the Rope Tie sequence with the assistance(?) of audience volunteers, Blackstone was in complete command. When the history of magic is finally written there will be two chapters titled Blackstone!
Also of note was the presence of a PBS film crew in Colon during much of the Get-together. They were gathering material for a proposed half hour television special. This will be tentatively scheduled for spring of 1991. We’re sure everyone who was asked to appear on camera will be looking to see if they made the final cut!
Friday is a busy day. In the morning is the second of three meetings of Vent-O-Rama (for puppet masters and voice throwers) and also, the second and last of the Talent Contests. The lecture on this day was presented by Petrick & Mia. This delightful couple present a novel and colorful educational session, filled with ideas that others can use. (We’ll bet more than one performer will be using the ingenious Coke bottle vanish from this lecture.)
Immediately following the lecture was the Close-Up Show. Each year, four (or more) highly skilled intimate magic workers are invited to appear. The conditions are tough (elevated seating but large groups with applause and laughter overlapping from group to group), but somehow each performer seems to register. This year we saw four of the best: Pavel, Petrick (this time without Mia), Jay Scott Berry and Tony Clark. The offerings were widely varied and widely appreciated.
Friday night’s show was placed into the capable hands of Gene Anderson. Gene is a clever fellow and he had a clever lineup of talent to introduce. And he began with Dale Salwak. Dale is certainly no stranger to the Colon conclaves. His act is pure entertainment – precision manipulative magic presented with style and confidence. Dale successfully keeps fresh an act that he has probably presented a thousand times – the true mark of a professional.
Another old friend was presented next – Bill DeMar. And yet, this was Bill’s first appearance in Colon. That’s what happens with an act that works and works and works! Bill’s ventriloquial skills were shown with a number of figures and through a wide variety of styles and types of material.
And then the stage and the theater darkened. Clouds of fog appeared -then a shower of sparks! It was time for Jay Scott Berry. This act is technically very busy. Lots of special effects and stage movement. The magic is streamlined and almost underplayed. Jay is selling, through the use of all the theatrical arts, his image of the modern magic maker.
Gene Anderson then presented his tribute to the newspaper industry. All the old favorites: newspaper chapeaugraphy, special cut-outs, paper fir trees, the much honored C.A. Newspaper Tear and the monstrous special lace-like design honoring the Abbott Magic Get-together. What a finish!
The curtains closed (to clean up Gene’s litter) and we were introduced to a young man who had made a previous appearance in Colon – ten years earlier! Then he presented a classical and sophisticated sleight of hand act. A fine act. An award winning act. His name is Hobson (first name, Jeff, but he no longer uses it). And the act is now outrageous! Uproarious! Impossible to describe without laughing! This is a funny, funny young man who has captured the comedy club approach and had made it his own. Yes, there is fire eating. Yes, there is magic. Yes, there is comedy. But, mainly, there is entertainment! Look for him in your hometown – Hobson!
To close tonight’s stellar showcase, we met Scorpio & Fantasy. This attractive young couple presented many standard illusions – each presented with original touches. These included a Guillotine presentation, the Assistant’s Revenge and Scorpio’s favorite (and his first illusion purchase) the Hindu Basket Illusion, This is an act that obviously works for real people on a regular basis.
Friday night, after the show, the awards for the Talent Contest are made in the Showroom. Talent coordinator Chris Jakway presented the following awards in the Junior Division: Third prize = Phillip Leja; Second prize = Larry Maples; and First prize = Jason Cunningham. In the Senior Division the winners were: Third prize = Christopher Scott; Second prize = Joe Spillers; and First prize = Greg Smith. Congratulations to all the contestants and continued luck in the future.
Saturday morning, in addition to all the other activities, includes the Magic Ministers Session. Then everyone rushes over to the high school for the final lecture. This year that task fell to Pavel, who, for over an hour delighted the audience with a diverse display of rope, silk, card and mirror magic. The ideas never seem to stop from this creative wizard.
The Special Benefit Matinee performance is held on Saturday afternoon. The proceeds of this show go to the Abbott co-sponsor, The Lions Club, for their work with the blind and those with sight impairment. This year’s edition had everything. Hank Moorehouse put the show together and acted as master of ceremonies. Young Lindsey Jansen captured the hearts of the audience with her delightful magical presentations. Lindsey has been a consistent talent contest winner at many magical conventions and she fit it well on a show packed with all-stars.
Gil Scott has appeared on several previous convention shows, both onstage and in close-up. This year he offered selections from his regular club show and received a warm and enthusiastic response.
Several years ago some students at the University of Michigan were attending a comedy club show. Afterwards they got to talking, thinking that they could also perform comedy under those conditions. And thus was formed Stunt Johnson Theater. Their appearance for Colon was specially prepared to include as much magically themed material as possible. They are bright and aggressive and funny – and you’ll see more of them at magical functions.
The original billing was: The George & Jasper Show. This proved to be George Johnstone and Jay (Jasper) Marshall – together again, for the first time! Each performed a single turn, then they banded together for some bits and pieces. Finally, they combined to present the ancient sideshow illusion – The Blade Box. This was run off exactly like a sideshow pitch – with the proceeds (considerable) again going to the Lions Club!
Saturday nights in Colon are always special (during the Get-together!). This evening’s show began with a pitch – a magic kit pitch fronted onstage by Hank Moorehouse (and wasn’t he busy this week?). As the hub-bub died down from this frantic activity, it was time to meet tonight’s master of ceremonies.
In a flash of sparks and in a cloud of fog we met the be-masked Karrell Fox. Karrell has the record for the most Get-together appearances (next year’s will be his 50th!) and for the most consecutive appearances. The dazzling duo of Petrick S Mia opened the magical part of the evening. This year they featured their current act featuring sheer silk scarves, flowers and coins. The ideas are original and the presentations are fresh and fun.
It takes a strange bird to appear onstage as a strange bird. The act is called Dovino but that is only the alter ego for the lunatic from Hatboro – Bob Little. For a few brief moments we saw the “dove act” from the perspective of the dove! George Johnstone then offered several of his magical and comical conceptions. All the visual quickies followed by an almost straight razor blade threading. In and about the various acts, Karrell and his band of cohorts cavorted with real magic, comedy magic, bizarre happenings and visual varieties.
After intermission we met Jim Hyams. It seems that the airline had lost Jim’s luggage and his props – so he just showed colored slides of what we would have seen. (Everywhere that Jim appears, that same airline always loses that same luggage.) A very clever concept. Bob “Whits” Whitcomb next occupied the stage (and he can almost do just that!). Bob is a big man and a big juggler. Objects were flying all over the place – mostly under his control! A fast and colorful act.
And then the man many had waited all evening for! The act runs just seven minutes – and not a second is wasted! We’re talking, of course, of Norm Nielsen. From the opening card productions, the flute vanish, the coin productions and the musical coin ladder to the climactic and mindboggling Floating Violin, this act is perfect. It is easy to see why Norm has traveled and performed all over the world. And, of special note was the final bow during Norm’s standing ovation, when the violin zipped onstage under its own power and took its own bow! The perfect ending to four fun-filled days and nights!
The only remaining business was the awarding of the trophies. This takes place back at the Showroom. The award for manipulation used to be known as the Bill Baird award. Then it was changed to the Neil Foster award. For reasons as yet undiscovered, this year it was again called the Bill Baird award! No matter, under any name it was going to be the sole property of Tony Clark. Tony was genuinely surprised and genuinely happy receiving this award.
The Clarke “The Senator” Crandall Award is given for comedy. This year it was no contest. The unanimous choice was Hobson! (If memory serves, Jeff Hobson is the only performer ever to achieve multiple awards; this year’s Crandall, a previous Baird and twice winner of the Duke Stern Talent Contest Award!) The final, and most prestigious award is the Jack Gwynne Trophy. This is given for excellence in showmanship and presentation. After short deliberation the winner was announced – Norm Nielsen! (A most popular choice, judging from the audience reaction!)
And so, another Get-together passes into the pages of history.