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Abbotts 74th Get Together 2011

by Sue Holstein

Being asked to write this introduction to the Compendium brought a mix of emotions - joy, honor, sadness. Let me explain .

I’m Susan Holstein, a “box jumper”, married to Mark Holstein ,stage manager of the Abbott’s Magic Get-Together, and daughter of Bill Smetak, the former stage manager. Dad (Bill) was friends with Werner Dornfield (Dorny) – the stage manager before him. And so the circle of life has continued.

When I was a kid, Dad looked forward to Abbott’s like a child did to Christmas. My mother was never interested in magic so she took my brothers and I to Wisconsin while Dad journeyed to Colon – a place that seemed far, far away from the northwest side of Chicago. It was a place, I knew even then, that brought joy to my father and rejuvenated him.

It wasn’t until I began dating Mark that I actually ventured to Abbott’s. It was, in fact, magic and friendship that brought Mark and I together. Little did Dad realize that when he asked me to assist his friend Mark with a show that the rest would become history. You see, I moved out at age 18, so I did not know that Dad’s friend Mark was my age. I assumed that Mark was a doddering old guy!

I experienced the Abbott’s Get Together for the first time with Mark’s sister, Sonja (his assistant at the time) and her best friend. Mark and I were not yet married. I was 24 years old.

Arriving in Colon I felt surprise. A sleepy, quiet town with Amish influence, large open fields, huge evening skies. No hotel, no movie theatre, no department store, one grocery store, a bank, one restaurant, two cafes, and two gas stations. For one week a year, the townspeople of Colon open their homes, yards, basement, spare rooms, and hearts to the hundreds of magicians that descend on this otherwise quiet place.

I knew the shows took place in the high school auditorium. After all, there is no theatre. I remember helping Dad fold what seemed to be endless yards of curtains before and after the Get Together. We organized his tool kit, his back stage box and all the assorted things needed to turn that gymnasium into a theatre. And all the while, he regaled me with stories from the Get Together – news about friends, acts, lectures, conversations from “the back room” of the Magic Carpet (the restaurant where my Dad and his friends gathered after the evening shows).

For the first time in my life, I met the friends my father had talked about for years : Greg and Debbie Bordner, Hank and Jackie Moorehouse, Gay and Harry Blackstone, Peg Weikal, Harriett Jacobsen, Gordon (Mike) Miller, Gene Anderson, the Conklin family, Jay and Fran Marshall, Tommy Edwards, George Johnstone, Neil Foster, Karrell Fox. . . too many friends to mention here. Each and every one of them embraced me into this truly wonderful family of magic.

I even had the joy of meeting Bob and Elaine Lund, owner of the American Museum of Magic in Marshall, Michigan. On Sunday after the Get Together, we drove to this incredible collection of magic and history – and we visited with dear friends who always had time for anyone who visited. I learned a lot about the history of magic on these tours from both Bob and my father. I also learned about an important part of my father’s life and friends.

Once I attended the first one, I never missed. Many, many people have shared this very same experience! Returning year after year often means staying with the same family who graciously open their home, or in the same cabin or campground with friends. My father rented the same basement, in the same home, for decades. Mark and I have stayed with the same Colon family for the last 23 years. We’ve watched their children grow up! They’ve watched us grow up! We’ve shared weddings, the birth of children and grandchildren, graduations, job changes, retirements, the loss of parents, relocations. Many attendees and performers make the Get Together a yearly family event bringing their children, friends, parents, grandparents. . Mark’s family comes every year – his sister, his mother, our niece and nephew; our brother in law brings his parents, our dear friends bring their children and the grandparents . . . and so the magic of Abbott’s Get Together spreads.

Over the years my part in magic grew. I’ve had the honor of assisting on stage with many performers – John Calvert, Senor Rai, Rick Walker, Don Theobold (I was “Miss Electra”), Abb Dickson, David Seebach … as did other box jumpers (Lori Ulman and Jania Taylor for example). After all, Colon and Abbott’s became a family and that’s what family does – you help each each other in whatever way you can. Performing on that stage are some of the most cherished experiences I’ve had.

I’ve also had the honor of performing at Abbott’s Get Together with my husband, Mark. Whether performing on the afternoon matinee or the evening show, performing on this stage is special. It is an honor to perform where so many great performers have appeared. It feels daunting to perform in front of so many prestigious magicians, illusionists. For me, this creates more anxiety than almost any other venue – and then I find myself backstage surrounded by friends and in good hands with the stage crew; I look into the audience and see cherished friends, feel the support, and remember that I am “home”.

The heart and soul of Abbott’s is Greg and Debbie Bordner. Hank Moorehouse produces the shows. Mark stage manages. His stage crew is amazing – a professional team committed to the precise execution of each show and lecture. Dedicated and working long hours to ensure that each act is perfect because nothing less will do. Each act, every performer, becomes a part of this family. And, the stage crew is in itself a family. It is now in my father’s honor called, “The Bill Smetak Stage Crew”.

I’ve also had the profound honor of being asked to judge the stage competitions. It is a daunting task. As one of several judges, I’m charged with evaluating, critiquing, and trying to offer constructive feedback and advice to a performer wanting to grow and develop a magic act or routine. Every participant on that stage is courageous and has spent long hours rehearsing and showcasing their act. And, as most performers will tell you, if something is going to go wrong, it will usually happen at Abbott’s! In front of your peers, prestigious performers and guests! They will also tell you that the audiences are supportive and encouraging. Many of us remember what it feels like to be on that stage!

Even today, as I walk the halls of the high school auditorium, spend time in the exhibit room, enjoy a peanut butter milkshake (a tradition at the Get Together), spend time backstage, visit at the Legion or Five Star Pizza (the current gathering places after the evening shows), I feel my Dad’s presence and the presence of all those wonderful people who shared his life and this place. I still rejoice in hearing stories about my Dad from friends who have known him for all those years before I started coming to the Get Together. And that’s what it is all about – more than teaching tricks and technique or sharing routines, it’s sharing stories and life experiences, sharing time, knowledge and friendship. And so the magic continues, year after year, from one generation to the next.

And to think I almost missed Christmas.









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