On Magic Competition

Part One: Technical Preparation

After years of involvement with magic competitions, I'm more than happy to leave the field to the current wave of young and hungry future stars. But once again the internationally prestigious FISM competition is around the corner, and my thoughts turn to the excitement such challenges bring. It was a milestone in my career when I won First Place in HSM's Sleight of Hand Championship in 1982 in Switzerland. Here I will tell exactly how I would go about preparing if I were to compete again. For those few daring souls who venture to enter the contest, I think this will be an invaluable guide.

The first and most obvious step is to find out exactly what the judging criteria would be for the arena I would be competing in.

Some people, of course, have a strictly routined act, and they would perform their act in its standard formatno matter what the judging criteria are. I am not one of those people. I sometimes wish I had such a structured act, but on the whole I prefer the flexibility of a larger repertoire over commitment to a single act So... if a performer is not locked into any specific material, it makes sense to select material that will most accurately reflect the criteria of those judging the competition.

Generally, magic contest judging criteria covers Presentation, Creativity, Personal Appearance, Originality, and Technique>. But the whole point is... these are not absolutes. Not only might other criteria be considered, but the impact each criterion will have on the outcome will rarely be evenly divided. In some contests, TechnicalAbilitywiW carry 40% of the weight; in other contests, Originality might be responsible for 40%.

Why is this important? Clearly, different routines in your repertoire reflect er. i abilities. For example, if Technique is by far most important, then don't worry about that new off-the-wall idea you have. Just perform Vernon's Cups & Balls flawlessly. And, by the same token, if Originality is given the greatest weight, by all means consider creative effects your highest priority. One creative idea that comes to mind, that wouldn't involve technical sleight-of-hand, comes from Paul Harris, wherein the oxygen in your lungs changes places with the helium inside a balloon you're carrying.

After finding out just what the judges will evaluate, it is important to find out the specific performing environment the contest will be held in. More talent is tripped up by not being properly prepared for the actual performing environment than you could ever imagine. For example, in most all magic contests, "Close-up" rarely means close up.

When I competed in Switzerland in 1982, the competition took place in a small room. Only ten or fifteen people, counting the judges and camera men, were able to fit into the room. There were, as I recall, two cameras in the room filming procedures and transmitting the picture onto a giant screen in another room. In this room an audience of several hundred watched the competition.

However, the next H$M competition, held in Madrid, Spain in 1985, was entirely different The close-up competition was held in a large, cafeteria-style meeting room. Two or three hundred people were sitting in long rows on a flat floor watching while the perf ormers worked in front with a card table placed on a six-inch riser.

If you observed the contest in Switzerland at the 1982 convention, you might naturally put together a real close-up act for the 1985 contest This act might include working out of someone's hands in the first row, or it might include placing something - coins, cards, whatever - on the table so it can be seen by the audience. All of this would seem logical, wouldn't it? Yet if you had drawn those assumptions, you would not have stood a chance in Madrid, i/you ended up performing the act you spent so much time preparing for world-class competition. And how effective would your material andstateoj mindbe if you had to wing it at the last minute?

It may seem amazing that two back-to-back "world competitions" would have such tremendous differences in the conditions of the same category, but this is the rule in magic, rather than the exception, Until the contest committees come up with some way to clearly define and structure the environment of the contests (which doesn't appear to be in the cards at this point), contestants must find out the conditions and prepare for them.

Michael Arrima?

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