Do you have a favorite magic convention? What? You’ve never been to a magic convention? Well I can certainly tell you which will be your favorite (and I won’t even use magic to do so). Your favorite magic convention is…your first!
So you’ve decided you want to attend your first magic convention. Great! It’s so awesome to meet others who are like-minded. And you finally get to share all those moves you’ve worked so hard on that no one gets to see.
1) Decide on which convention to attend –
Magic conventions have been on the rise for the past decade. There’s so many new magicians thanks to the online market. But if you’re new to magic, it might be a bit daunting to decide on your first convention.
If you tend to get overwhelmed by crowds, consider looking for smaller, local conventions to get your feet wet. Look in your state for the big magic clubs. They’ll usually host an annual convention either in your state, or in a state nearby. The smaller ones are awesome if you’re on a budget. I’ve attended local conventions that I would have paid much more for! Plus, in smaller conventions you’ll have more opportunity to meet the talent face-to-face.
But, if you’re looking to meet some of the biggest names in our industry, go for one of the major players. There’s three major international conventions in the US. The Society of American Magicians, the International Brotherhood of Magicians, and Genii Magazine all host the biggest magic gatherings in the US.
Be sure to check out the lineup of talent. You may find some familiar names of magicians that you’d like to see perform or even meet. Also, check out the theme of the convention. If you’re into card sleights, you might not find much benefit in attending a convention for mentalists or kid-show performers.
2) Planning your schedule –
When you’re working on your schedule, take into account all the different lectures being offered. Most convention organizers understand the flow of one event into the next. So breaks are often built in to the schedule seamlessly. Sometimes, there’s a bit of dead time around dinner (before the evening gala shows). That’s a great time to get to know some of the magicians around you. You’ll have time to show a few tricks and to see some new magic that you never expected!
Now as for the lectures that may not interest you, I can honestly say, GO ANYWAY. You will always learn something new that applies to the type of magic you like, no matter how unlikely the source. Don’t dismiss a lecture because you think you’ll never do a kids show or you’ll never twist a balloon. There’s some great ideas that can apply to your own interests.
Final thought, be sure to bookend your convention with enough travel and recovery time. You don’t want to drive out from your hotel on a Sunday afternoon only to arrive home late Sunday night then get up early and work Monday morning. Try to give yourself a one-day post-convention chill day. Plus, you’ll get to play with all the cool magic you brought back.
3) Take care of yourself –
Tom Mullica once described the magic convention as an exercise in sleep deprivation. Magic conventions differ from other types of conventions. If you’ve ever attended say, an anime or comic convention, they usually wrap up around seven or eight pm. Magic conventions can go until very late. You might find yourself jamming in the close-up lounge until three or four in the morning (and loving every minute of it)! But eventually, you’ll need to get some rest. Try to maintain a good pace. You might even have to miss that first, early lecture to get another hour of shuteye.
Oh and be sure to take advantage of lunch breaks. You don’t have to hunker down in a corner and chew down an energy bar. Find out where people are going and go with them! Magicians at a convention are very open and inviting. You’ll meet some talented people who can share killer ideas.
4) What to pack –
Bring a small bag, either messenger style, over-the-shoulder, or a small backpack. You’ll want to travel light. Be sure to have a charger, bottle of water (or two), a few snacks, and have a notebook and some pens. Oh, and be sure to bring several of your favorite effects to perform. I’ve seen magicians try to outdo one another over how many coins they carry. One had over a hundred! You don’t need to go that far, but have one or two decks of cards and whatever else you want to show (or get feedback on. But more on that later).
5) The lectures –
Now we get to the meat and potatoes of your weekend. Conventions will book the best talent they can (based on budget and scheduling). The talent are oftentimes experts in their field and have tons of great knowledge to pass on. You’ll want to arrive a tad early to get a good seat. My recommendation is center first, then front. Meaning, if there’s a front-row seat way down on the end, it’s not as good as a seat a bit further back and in the center.
Have your notebook and pen handy for notes. I can’t count the number of times I’ve kicked myself because I didn’t write down some vital information.
Hey, also don’t be that guy (or gal) that shows up twenty minutes early and tosses a sweater on a chair in the front row. That’s considered poor form and in some cases can invoke sanctions from the convention organizers. Seat saving is a no-no. But if you’re already seated, you can certainly save the seat next to you for a friend that hasn’t arrived yet.
Often times, a lecturer will pause and ask if there’s any questions. Please don’t be shy about raising your hand. You’ll find that often times that when someone asks a question, it mirrors some uncertainty that you were just thinking. If you ask, there will be others in the room that will also benefit from the answer. So raise that hand!
If there was a particular magician who’s lecture you really enjoyed, consider approaching his table afterwards. The lecturers make most of their money by selling lecture notes and magic tricks after their lecture. Buying their materials is a great way to support your favorite magicians. You can expect to spend anywhere from $10 to $50-60 and you’ll come away with some killer material.
6) Talking with other magicians –
I just want to mention a few points on how to approach other magicians. You’ll see them “passing the deck” or just jamming in the lobby between lectures. There’s a few bits of etiquette to observe when approaching these groups. Don’t point and say, “Ha, I know how you did that.” A lot of magicians know how magic works. Most times, magicians are keen to share their presentation ideas rather than the mechanics of how a trick works. Puffing your chest and showing off your knowledge is not a great first impression.
If you show a magic trick that you’ve been working on, you’re likely to get feedback. Don’t take anything they say personally! I can’t stress this enough. Most will try to give you helpful advice and you should listen to what they say. Even if they point out some flaw in your technique. The advice they give can be worth the price of the convention alone!
No doubt, you’ll see magic performed that you absolutely have to learn. Unfortunately, you can’t just ask how a particular trick is done. Asking for someone’s secret is bad form and you’ll out yourself as a newbie. You might as well ask their bank account balance! The best way to ask for the secret is to say, “Where’s that published?” Then listen for the answer (or even write it down). They’ll usually cite a book or magazine and mention the originator and name of the trick (along with their own personal touches on the effect). Or, you might see a trick that’s wholly original and hasn’t been published. Then it’s permissible to ask, “Would you show me the work on that?”
That’s about the most polite way to ask for a secret. And if the answer is no? Then so be it. You should respect that and let it go. Persistence is great in the real world, but at a magic convention, it can get you a bad reputation. Fast.
Bottom line – never be afraid to share and to listen to advice.
7) Travel –
Just a word or two about traveling to any convention, everybody wants to save money. A hotel room can cost as much (if not more) than the convention itself. Getting a roommate or two is a great way to cut that cost. If you don’t know anyone, you can actually contact the convention organizer! They’ll spread the word to others who are attending who are also looking for roommates.
To get to your city of choice, it can be a tough call to spend the money on a flight or several tanks of gas. But taking a bus may not be a bad idea. At the time of this writing (September, 2016) Megabus has great prices on travel. I once rode from Orlando to Atlanta and back for less that fifty bucks! It sure beat buying all that gas and it’s also an order of magnitude cheaper than a flight. You might even be able to travel together with a few people from your local magic club. Now’s a good time to reach out to them!
No doubt, after you’ve been to your first convention, you’re going to be hooked (like I am). Be sure to set a few dollars aside during the year so you have something to spend at the next one. You can thank me later for that advice. I’ll see you at the next convention!