Magic Competition and Awards

All beginners in magic should address their questions here.

Postby Guest » 04/10/06 08:40 AM

As a hobbyist, I have never done much research into the various magic competitions and awards in our art. Lately I have wondered what it really means when I read some magicians bio or business flyer and it says Award Winning Magic, Champion First Place etc. What are the main competitions and awards out there that can be won besides something like F.I.S.M? And for that matter, how do they come up with the criteria to judge these types of things? Does anybody have information on this or is there something I can consult? Thanks.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 04/10/06 09:04 AM

Being a contest winner means that you were lucky, and gave what is possibly your best performance ever on the particular day you competed.

The nature of magic contests was made entirely clear by the big contest at the Stevens convention years ago where seasoned pros like Al Goshman and Bob Read (and many others) LOST. Goshman and Read were among the greatest magicians of our time ... and they LOST.
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Postby Guest » 04/10/06 09:19 AM

Brian,

Magic contests are most often judged by amateurs who place undue importance on things professionals do not.

Professionals make their living working for lay audiences, so their emphasis is on the entertainment value of a given effect. The amateur, so often in love with methodology, focuses on the cleverness and execution of the method, not on the success or failure of a particular presentation's entertainment.

I remember typing a letter for Frakson to a judge at then-upcoming West Coast convention. Frakson wanted a friend of his to win "something." Sure enough, a few weeks later, his friend, an amateur with delusions of grandeur, returned from the convention with a First Place trophy and great pride. He thought he'd actually accomplished something.

I've seen contest winners do their covert juggling well, but couldn't entertain their way out of a paper bag. They were in love with the sleights and their perfect execution. They were performing to entertain themselves and other magicians, not lay people.
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Postby Pete Biro » 04/10/06 09:28 AM

Another angle. Competitions -- especially for younger performers -- gives you a DEADLINE... a goal. And, you bond with the other competitors and make friends that can last a lifetime. It is another EXPERIENCE another curve of learning. There is nothing wrong with competing, you just have to put it into perspective (the outcome)

Paul Daniels told me he entered a competition and did not win. Ken Brooke, his mentor, saw it and told Paul, "Don't change anything, the judges didn't get it, they were wrong."

The judges at an IBM didn't place Nathan Burton when he competed, but I saw his act and booked him to be on the big show the next night... now he's got a big show in Las Vegas.
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Postby Guest » 04/10/06 09:57 AM

This is excellent info and really mirrors what I've always thought about certain magicians and their awards. It seems that winning or losing some award at a given time is probably not a true reflection of who a "true" champion is, especially in how a layperson would be entertained. I see the same sort of thing close to home with those that are real entertaining and skillful performers, not for magicians but laymen, whom I admire greatly as magicians and friends. They treat the art with respect while a newcomer comes up with a few tricks from a year or less in magic, call themseleves a magician, and expect to charge hundreds of dollars to work in local resturants etc. What kills me is there hardly is any magic from what I've seen, it is all balloon animals, but that doesn't stop them from putting 'Magician' on a business card.
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Postby Guest » 04/10/06 11:27 AM

After hearing hearing about Johnny Ace Palmer's practice regimen when he was preparing for FISM, I don't think it's fair to say that it's all luck. Luck comes to those who are prepared -- effort, creativity, and all the other things that make a good magician. But it can sure be a factor.
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Postby Guest » 04/14/06 08:41 PM

As a hobbyist magician (of 45 years!) but a professional musician and music teacher, I can tell you that "competitions" literally stamp the life out of an activity. Bear with me as I point out the musical equivalent of the magic contest.

For years I taught school bands (the marching and concert types). When I was in high school in the 1960's, most marching contests didn't even exist yet. By the time I graduated from university in 1974, I saw a huge proliferation of them, and the number now grows every year. For one thing, the "local" competition is an easy one-day fund raiser for band programs, and more contests mean fewer bands to compete in each one, so "more winners"!

So, instead of learning music and having a variety of entertaining shows, school bands have narrowed their focus to ONE show of 8 to 9 minutes, which they "run into the ground" by practicing from July 20 to November 1! They perform only this show at all their home and away ball games, and their home crowds are bored to tears. Heck, the musicians are sick of it by the time they get it all learned, and then they gotta do it for two more months! Meanwhile, their musical chops for reading and emotional interpretation go down the drain, sacrificed on the altar of "perfection for making a I at contest." (Yes, I mixed metaphors like crazy, but you get my gist!).

Now I see "art contests" where oil painters submit their latest works for judging to see "who is the best." Who cares? Only those who buy and sell the art, as competitions attract those who value only the opinions of others rather than their own.

I have no doubt that competitions can and do set deadlines and then goals to be reached. But, in doing so, they can be taken to ridiculous lengths that destroy the intent of the creation in the first place.

Music, art, literature, cinema, sculpture, architecture, photography, theater, dance, and (yes) magic CAN all be fine art in the hands of creative people. At their best, they lift the human spirit by touching the emotions and making the perceiver "feel". At worst, they aspire to merely entertain.

Why denigrate these arts to the level of sports/games to have winners, and therefore, losers?

One man's opinion...

Jon
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Postby Guest » 04/15/06 10:19 AM

Originally posted by Richard Kaufman:
Being a contest winner means that you were lucky, and gave what is possibly your best performance ever on the particular day you competed.

The nature of magic contests was made entirely clear by the big contest at the Stevens convention years ago where seasoned pros like Al Goshman and Bob Read (and many others) LOST. Goshman and Read were among the greatest magicians of our time ... and they LOST.
But Paul Gertner, who did an excellent performance, won. It would have been great, had there been three first prizes to give.

When you consider the nature of music competitions and the nature of the awards, you realize that the criteria for certain prizes are measured in minutiae.

Schools such as the Juilliard can only take the finest. Every time one of these students auditions for a position in a symphony, he or she will be required to play just as well as during any competition they participated in when they were in school.

To paraphrase Dorothy Hamill, who went pro and lost a lot of money trying to promote her own show, these competitions don't really prepare the participants for the real world of performing. If she lost a competition or simply got a silver instead of a gold, because she didn't feel good, she could come back and try again later. When you are a pro, you have to give an olympic level performance every show. The audience doesn't care if you fell bad, or you are worried about paying your bills or anything like that, they want to see your best, and that's what you have to give them.

Sometimes the line between the best and the second best is very fine.
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Postby Guest » 04/15/06 11:37 AM

Bill Palmer,

I agree with you about symphonic players and auditions. These are "make it or break it" moments for aspiring professional players. If they make the cut, every rehearsal and every performance is another audition, just as you pointed out for Dorothy Hamill when she turned pro as a skater.

These, however, are highly specialized and rarified situations. For the high school musician playing in the band, the contest mentality has destroyed the musicality of the band and both the musical and emotional growth of the musicians. In what other high school class could you spend 105 days on 9 minutes worth of material?

Since the arts communicate emotion, the function of fine arts in society is to build sensitivity to emotions for both the performers and the audience. We are steadily engineering out this emotional sensitivity, replacing it instead with the sports/contest/winner-or-loser mentality. In a world that seems to value violence as entertainment, the contest mentality as applied to the arts is just another nail in the coffin of a civilized society.

Jon
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Postby Pete Biro » 04/15/06 07:08 PM

Goshman and Read's losses were not really their own making. What happened with Goshman was he got a totally horrible woman to sit as the close spectator and she ruined the act.

With Read an alarm went off in the middle of his set, and his ad libbing and antics caused him to go OVER the time limit.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 04/15/06 07:23 PM

Like I said, the only thing that matters in a contest is the winner getting lucky on that day. It was bad luck that Goshman had a bad spectator, and bad luck that an alarm went off in the middle of Bob Read's act.
I think Paul Gertner is a fine magician, but he isn't in the same league as Goshman and Bob Read were.
As for Johnny Ace Palmer, the story is well known that the FISM judges had decided there was not going to be a grand prixe winner that year. The TV company that paid for the broadcast rights demanded that there be a grand prixe winner. That's why they call Johnny Ace Palmer the luckiest guy in the world.
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Postby Guest » 04/15/06 11:23 PM

I was told the same story that RK relates by someone who was in the room when the demand by the producer was voiced and the decision made by the powers-that-be that whoever won the close-up competition would "win" the Gran Prix. Palmer is a lucky guy.

Geoffery Buckingham might be considered a close runner up to Palmer. I think it was 1951 at FISM when the judges wanted to award the Gran Prix to Frakson. He declined the honor and it was awarded to Buckingham instead.
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Postby Guest » 04/16/06 01:17 AM

Well I never won a contest.
I was never elected magician of the year.
But I almost got my picture on the cover of Genii.
However, I have judged a few contests.
Mostly I got heat for that.
There was a contest in Chicago one year that was as fair as it could be. The judges were laymen.

One of the performers had a stooge in the audience wearing a duplicate tie. The performer did cut and restored tie with the stooges tie.

He instantly got first place.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 04/16/06 07:53 AM

Al, your picture WAS on the cover of Genii. Orson Welles was larger than you, but you're still there (Orson Welles was larger than everybody).
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Postby Guest » 04/16/06 08:31 AM

A contest judged by laymen is far better learning experience for the performers than a contest judged by amateur magicians.

Unless one's goal is to be a "magician's magician," then working for lay people and accepting their judgement will break the cycle of bad advice from other amateurs who too often focus on things other than entertainment value.
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Postby Guest » 04/16/06 08:35 AM

By the way, a top club date performer in Los Angeles did the Cut & Restored Tie as part of his standard act for several decades. He always used a secret helper in the audience with a duplicate tie. The presentation had been honed to perfection and the audience laughed till they cried.

The method is inconsequental. The entertainment the presentation provided was the goal...and what the performer was being paid to deliver.
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Postby Guest » 04/16/06 04:42 PM

I recall reading an interview many years ago with Don Alan. he said that Pros should NEVER enter contests? Why? because if he wins, it' Well, it wasn't fair -- he's a pro." And if you lose: "He's supposed to be a pro, and he lost." You just can't win.

Better to win the hearts of muggles anyway. When I started hanging out with magicians, things got worse and worse for me! :p :D

John R
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Postby Guest » 04/18/06 12:34 PM

Have you ever noticed in Martial Arts competitions that Masters never compete, only their students?

Al Schneider
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Postby Pete Biro » 04/18/06 01:17 PM

Good point Al. Now... how do we get magicians to qualify as Masters? Heheheh... :D
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Postby Max Maven » 04/18/06 04:37 PM

Originally posted by Richard Kaufman:
As for Johnny Ace Palmer, the story is well known that the FISM judges had decided there was not going to be a grand prixe winner that year. The TV company that paid for the broadcast rights demanded that there be a grand prixe winner.
Richard, if you read the Genii history of FISM, you'll note that I refuted that story. I was at the Den Haag FISM in 1988, working as a coordinator for both television crews (Dutch and Japanese), and can tell you that the story is false; neither production group demanded a Grand Prix winner. The onus was on the judges.
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Postby Pete Biro » 04/18/06 04:48 PM

And after that the judging was separated with two groups, stage and close-up. I remember having to judge 135 acts one year, both close-up and stage.

That year it was a no brainer, Daryl was head and shoulders above the rest in cards and Danalin was likewise the easy pick for stage.

I "believe" Palmer had the most points, regardless of the category, hence the Grand Prix.
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