Abbotts 72nd Get Together 2009
by David Seebach
One of the things I do toward the end of every year is order one of those Mylar write-on/wipe-off calendars that I affix to my office's four-drawer filing cabinet's side. With its black marker I highlight Colon's "magic week" even though it's more than eight months away. That's how important those four days have become for me... and lots of folks like me.
Can I admit that performing at the Get-Together has become comfortable for me without sounding too egotistical? My first appearance at age twenty-one in 1972 was a little too exciting (you can read about that as a New TOPS submission), but I'm so familiar with the school stage, its limitations, the great stage crew and everything else that my shows have become comfortable for me to produce there over the years.
But, 2009 was different. I was not asked to perform; I was asked to lecture. I knew the bar was set high and that I had to "deliver." I had addressed groups in my home of Milwaukee about illusions and also gatherings in Chicago, Tacoma, Denver and the Twin Cities. For Colon, though, I knew I needed to have something to accompany my remarks.
Actually, I needed two things: a lovely assistant to demonstrate the illusions and the points I wanted to make plus a reference work so attendees would not have to furiously take notes on all my utterances.
Two of my valued crew people accompanied me, but none of my showgirl assistants could afford to join us in Michigan. That's where Sue Holstein saved me... once again. Sue is Bill Smetak's lovely daughter and the wife of Get-Together Stage Manager Mark Holstein. If you do not know who Bill Smetak was, you need to bone up on Abbott's Get-Together lore. To say he was a nice and generous man would be accurate, but not do him justice.
Sue has assisted me onstage in Colon before and in Aurora (IL) and at a Houdini Club convention, too. She was a quick study. But, no assistant can do everything especially with only a narrow window of opportunity to rehearse.
Of course, this wasn't a performance and so I was not expecting that level of polish. But, it was important that we all looked competent.
To lighten Sue's load, Duane Laflin offered up his enthusiastic and lovely niece as another box-jumping option. For awhile on Wednesday afternoon we had illusions set up way out in the audience seating area and I worked with Sue as my two crew people, Nichole and Brian, coached Duane's niece.
We heard the same comment several times: "All this gear is for a lecture? There are more illusions here than we've seen in some illusion acts on the evening shows."
Well, you cannot say I do not give my clients their money's worth.
I brought familiar (Broom Suspension), classic (Thin Model Sawing in Halves) and unique (Owen Magic's Enchanted Temple) among several others. I felt guilty asking Duane's niece to attempt this last extremely difficult routine. On the illusion-challenge scale of 1 to 10 where Modern Art can come in at zero (or even less!), the Enchanted Temple is off the other end somewhere. She tried and she tried, but she could not completely hide in the load area with the impressive 'stone' Buddha.
We reunited on Thursday by going through the routines again and we assured our new recruit that it was OK to struggle as this was a teaching exercise for everyone.
The lecture began with a straightforward performance of the Broom Suspension to polite response. However, response was much more animated when we repeated it a while later with Sue not wearing the costume.
This wasn't a salacious 'girlie' show; it was a demonstration of how the act is truly worked by an experienced illusionist. Sue then removed the mechanism from her body and we passed it out so everyone could appreciate this clever apparatus. I figured this would be a new experience for some, but I was surprised when the great Gene Anderson approached me afterwards with effusive congratulations and admitted, "I've never seen the Broom gimmick before!"
We arrived at our Waterloo and I introduced the Enchanted Temple, a beautiful prop and an effect that is not well-known. We placed the Buddha inside the structure and plunged the six gleaming swords through it. When we opened its front and back doors Nichole and I were amazed. Our brand-new assistant had done it! She hadn't been able to do it once beforehand, but the pressure of a real audience ---or something--- was just what she needed. When she appeared at its climax she received a two-person standing ovation from Brian and Mark. They knew they had just witnessed an impressive ---almost impossible--- feat.
She received a second round of applause as she demonstrated the gymnastic contortions required to pummel the Buddha into submission.
And, like that, it was over and I was happy to sell copies of my lecture-accompanying book, So You Want to be an Illusionist that I am proud to admit is still available and now is in its second printing. So, if you missed your chance to obtain a copy, please see me or Greg Bordner during the 2010 Get-Together.
Imagine my surprise, though, when I discovered that the most memorable part of my lecture was an offhand bit of costuming advice for assistants: "No panties onstage!" It was a sincere suggestion for practical reasoning, but, of course, sounds oh-so-naughty out of context.
Those are my 2009 Get-Together memories. I think there were some shows at the high school, too, but I was just happy that my first Abbott's Magic Get-Together lecture had gone so well.
I can't wait to discover what will be memorable in August 2010!
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