Abbotts 71st Get Together 2008
by Joan Caesar
Published in the October 2008 Linking Ring
Here's my story of my Abbott's Get-Together experience.
August and Abbott's are synonymous. People who attend this convention simply can't think of one without the other. The Bordner family has solely owned the Abbott Magic Company for over fifty years, and every summer, in keeping with the tradition set by Recil Bordner and Percy Abbott, they have brought together magicians from around the world to enjoy the wonders of the area.
When I was a child going to summer camp for a month, I'd come home and immediately number the days backwards on my calendar until I'd leave again. I thought I'd outgrown the habit until my first Abbott's convention twenty-one years ago. The first full week of August is simply the most important week of the year to me - and to a multitude of people who won't miss that convention.
The Get-Together takes place in an unlikely village with the unlikely name of Colon, in Michigan near the Indiana border. Try crossing the border and telling the national security people you're headed for Colon! The name was given to the spot for grammatical rather than anatomical reasons. The pioneers considered the area a good place to rest, but not to stop. Someone had a sense of humor! But Colon is misnamed. It's the perfect place to stop, at least for a week each August. It's a village too small to warrant a motel. There are a few bed and breakfast houses used mostly by men who fish the many beautiful surrounding lakes. There are also motels in nearby towns. However, during Magic Week, the village folk open their homes, at a ridiculously low cost, for magicians to use.
Some magicians have stayed in the same house for forty years and have developed a special friendship with their hosts, watching their children grow up and marry, as the older folk age. Others have lived in homes that have been sold with the condition that once a year the same magicians would be allowed to stay.
Abbott's doesn't forget the local people and the help they give during the convention. Abbott's provides a Saturday afternoon matinee to benefit the Colon Lions Club. It is a shorter, specially priced show that appeals to the senior citizens and children of the area but still includes illusions, comedy, and manipulation. Many registrants pay the low cost of this extra in order to see more magic, this year featuring contest winner Jeff Lee, David Ginn, Kevin Heller, and Matthew David Stanley.
Magic in Colon is ripe with history. This is the place Harry Blackstone, Sr. called his summer home. Each year he put together his winter traveling show in Colon and encouraged the residents to watch it before he took it on the road. It was the perfect way to find out what worked - and what didn't. From that less than humble beginning the now seventy one year old convention was born.
It's not often that the local cemetary takes one of the central roles of the area, except for the families of the deceased. Naturally Colon defies this rule. Their graveyard is filled with the graves of famous magicians such as Harry Blackstone, Jr., Karrell Fox, Duke Stern, and many others. There's even a gravestone for the very much alive John Booth. He will eventually be buried beside the other greats. Each year Joe Ganger, a Colon resident and historian, marks the gravestones so that visitors can easily find the resting place of their dead heroes.
Convention is not the right word for this event, although it resembles a convention with the lectures, gala shows, and contests. It's more than that. It is truly a Get-Together of friends. One person I was delighted to see this year was June Horowitz, one of the most charming and gracious woman in magic. Not to diminish the quality of magic over the four-day event, it's the friendships that make this convention special. There are great parties somewhere around the town every night as well as during the day, and those who don't attend the parties make their own at the bustling American Legion where beer and spirits cost next to nothing by today's standards, but where no one feels the need to have more than his fair quota. No drunks in Colon.
Well-known magic legend Jerry Conklin is a resident of Colon. A group of Jerry's closest friends led by Cindy Conklin (Jerry's daughter) threw a surprise birthday roast to celebrate Jerry's eightieth birthday, which was emceed by Al the Only. A number of Get-Together regulars shared stories and appreciations of Jerry. Tom Mullica sent a heartfelt letter that was read to the group. The party concluded with a "This Is Your Life, Jerry Conklin" slide show.
The Get-Together has created numerous traditions. Approximately twenty years ago, Jeff Bibik and Steve Rider divided up Franz Harary's garage sale purchase, a pink polyester three-piece suit. The three of them wore it to the Friday night show. Replacing Franz the following year, Al the Only (Al Ulman) and an expanding cast of characters decided to extend the tradition by wearing identical outlandish shirts to the Friday night show. There's a different flash shirt each year. Now known as "The Silly Shirt Society" the group, numbering over twenty, still draws attention from the general Get-Together population when all appear wearing matching flamboyant shirts. It's another example of the bonding and fellowship felt during "Camp Colon."
Not to be outdone, the Colon Chamber of Commerce annually puts on a huge display of fireworks after the Friday Gala Show. Imagine coming outside on a warm summer night to watch the skies light up with different colors and configurations. It's a wonderful finale to the evening.
This year Hank Moorehouse, Abbott's artistic director, brought us magical treats from Australia, Japan, and Switzerland, as well as many fine performances from within the United States.
Yumi, from Japan, is by far my favourite female performer. She is charming and delicate, with an act that is the most elegant I've seen. It is always a pleasure to watch her award-winning FISM performance. This year she won the Abbott's Neil Foster Award for manipulation.
Comedy magic is making its presence felt more than ever, Steve Walker, an Australian comedy magician and master of ceremonies of the Thursday Gala Show, was both charming and funny, and shared his down-under sense of humour with class and style. He travels to North America most years and hopefully will be hired by more conventions. Pavel, known for his walking knot and other rope inventions, is also a magician who shows both style and humor on stage with an act to music. As well, David Oliver performed a well-received gala finish on Thursday evening. His was a strong, well-thought out performance of high energy and lots of fun. Our own Tom Burgoon won the Senator Crandall Comedy Award for his outside the box, wonderfully crazy performance. He's a delight both on and off stage. However, magic wasn't the only comedy art form at the convention. Howard Mincone stole the Friday show with his juggling and personality. The Great Tomsoni and Company was the last show on Saturday. There could be no better way of saying good-bye to another memorable convention than the presentation of his classic performance.
What is a Gala Show without an illusionist? Devlin, Rick Walker, David Seebach, and Jay Sterling filled the bill this year, with Sterling being awarded the Jack Gwynne Award of Excellence in Presentation for his innovative illusions.
Lectures by such people as S.A.M. National President Bruce Kalver, children's entertainer David Ginn, the innovative minds of Pavel and Tom Burgoon, as well as a Magic Ministers Session with Duane Laflin, several Vent-O-Ramas with George Schindler, and a close-up show rounded out the something for everyone formula.
One event I usually avoid like the plague at conventions is the woman's event. I.B.M.'s Christy Henson has raised the bar at the I.B.M. Conventions, and Micky Pyle has done likewise at Abbott's. Once only a few yearly bingo games for the women, Micky took over the planning for this event and things changed rapidly. Micky travels widely, reading palms at corporate events, so it was natural for her to make this the first of many opportunities for the women. This year she arranged carnival games. It was lots of fun, with more than a bit of friendly rivalry among friends. Every woman wins a prize, and the largest this year was a coupon for gas large enough to fill a tank.
A convention isn't the same without a competition. This year Abbott's stage competition was strong. There were several very good acts and others that hold promise for the future. First place and the People's Choice Award went to Jeff lee from Taiwan. I predict that you will see him in future competitions and later as a paid performer in the future. He was nothing short of fantastic. A new kid on the block, Jake Prosek placed second. This was his first competition, and talking with him later, he admitted he was nervous on stage. He certainly fooled his audience. He had the energy and stage presence of someone who took performing in stride. He has what it takes to win. Third place went to Jeremy June who performed illusions, with an Asrah effect that was unique and well done.
So another Abbott's Get-Together is over, but the fond memories will see everyone through until August 5 - 8, 2009. It's with sweet sorrow that we drive away from our home-away-from-home, from the Brigadoon-like village that comes to life not just once each hundred years, but every year. It boasts one of the best restaurants in the world, if you enjoy watching a plethora of humming birds battle outside the windows as you eat. After dark, the night is shining above with stars and near the ground it's alive with fireflies. Colon, Michigan, is a magical place, made better by a great convention.
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