7.30am and the 23rd FISM World Championships of Magic has officially begun! We finished our breakfast in the very modern Rica Talk Hotel (the rooms can only be described as state-of-the-art Ikea) and headed next door to the Stockholm International Fairs - Magic HQ for the next week.
The first thing that struck us is how slick and professionally presented the venue looks with banners and signs everywhere. It made registration really easy and from there we headed over to the goody-bag collection centre. For those who get excited about this sort of thing (you know who you are) here's the guff:
We collected a wallet filled with tickets and our name badge from registration, and one of those tickets entitled us to collect our goody bags. The bags themselves are a very nice black, over the shoulder number with the FISM logo printed on the front. They have a secret zipper compartment at the back (empty), a zippered mobile phone section (also empty), and plastic holder where you can put your a card with your name on it that they provided (good idea to stop our bags getting mixed up) and, inside the main section of the bag:
- What's On Stockholm
- Stockholm Map
- El Duco Catalogue
- Jumbo Deck of FISM Playing Cards
- A Hanky Panky Magic Promotional Pack containing an embossed FISM Wallet
- The Spiral Bound FISM Programme
They were also handing out the first edition of the FISM Daily News which had the day's programme in summary, tips for the day's activities, last minute changes in the competition, and much more.
The venue has pretty much everything under the one roof. In addition to the various theatres, lecture rooms and dealers fair, they have a cafe/bar, a snack stand, a small shop, a business centre, press room, and a very central information desk.
A jazz band in the foyer kept everyone's energy high and by 8.30am there was a line of around 300 people waiting to get in to the Victoria Hall for the first day of competition. As soon as the door opened people jumped the queue and rushed from every direction to run into the theatre and get a good seat (the theatre holds 1900 people, and there are 2500 people attending the convention).
The theatre itself is not an ideal magic venue. It is very wide and has electric curtains that take forever to open and close. But, what it lacked in atmosphere was more than made up for by the energy of the the registrants as they sat in eager anticipation of the first contestant. (I'm still not 100% convinced starting with a contest instead of an opening show is such a good idea....)
Frank Wilson, a FISM favourite, entertained on the keyboard as the Hall filled up and the clock ticked on to 9.00am. As promised, the first event began right on time!
(We'll publish a full report on the contestants at the end of the week, suffice to say the standard is not as high as usual in either stage or close-up so far).
At the same time the Dealer Room opened and what a surprise that was! It was laid out with trade show booths that really added a professional air to the whole proceeding. 101 Dealers filled the room which was also equipped with a beautiful stage and projection screen (for Dealers Shows) and a cafe.
At 10.30am Kevin James lectured and Jeff McBride presented a Masterclass in other rooms, while many other people started lining up for the Close Up Competition. Now the close-up room only holds about 200 people, but they have a good system whereby those lining up early get a seating ticket so they don't have to wait around doing nothing, great idea! Meanwhile they have a second room seating 800 where registrants can watch a live feed of the the competition on the big screen.
There were only 8 contestants in the 11.30am close up session, and it ended early while the stage competition ran late.
From there we headed into the banquet room for the 2.30pm 'Opening Ceremony'. As guests entered the vast darkened, smoke filled room there were not only struck by the total lack of seating, but by the laser and light show and a very 'Cirque du Soleil' looking ballerina in a bubble moving through the crowd. People wandered and wonderd until, after a laser show set to 'It's A Kind of Magic', the Secretary General of FISM Eric Eswin walked onto stage and greeted us. He explained that FISM President Dag Lofalk was at the City Hall and we crossed "by satellite" to him. As the live cross was projected onto a wall of water, Dag made an impressive entrance by stepping off the video screen, through the water and onto the stage. After a brief address he welcomed all of the FISM Presidents onto stage (complete with their flags) and confetti cannons and balloons officially launched FISM 2006.
One half of the registrants headed back into Victoria Hall to see the Nordic Hall, while others went to see Pavel lecture. Meanwhile the FISM General Assembly met and voted on a number of matters and I'm delighted to be able to announce that Australia is now officially a FISM member country! (So keep your eye out for the Aussie flag at FISM 2009!)
At 6.00pm the first group of registrants left Victoria Hall and headed off to City Hall for the Mayor's Reception. Our group moved into the hall to see the Nordic Show.
This show was compered by Johnny Lonn who opened the show with his classic comedy act. He began as a violinist and then, after a series of comical mishaps (and his pants falling down) he attempted to vanish a huge gramophone player. I say attempted because, although he covered it with a cloth and lifted it in the time-honoured manner, it fell to the stage with a crash and a big round of applause.
(For some reason the video screens weren't on during this show and many people said they simply couldn't see what was going on on-stage a lot of the time).
Kenny Quinn from Denmark was on next, and he recreated the award-winning act of the 1949 FISM Grand Prix Winner Viggo Jahn. It was a nice display of manipulation with canes and ferrules as thimbles. It was very nicely presented but really stood out as a reminder as just how much magic has (and in other ways hasn't) changed in the last 57 years.
The Gallos were next with an act set to nostalgic music where dollar bills were produced in a lovely miser's dream effect, a canary in egg in orange was performed, and a spirit tie involving a spectator's jacket was executed.
Johnny Lonn paused to point out that many, many magicians have passed on since last FISM and he suggested that instead of giving them a minute's silence (which performers hate!) we should give them all a standing ovation, which we did. It was a nice gesture, but I really had hoped they would give an audio visual tribute to recognise the magicians individually.
Robert Jagerhorn from Finland was next and he presented his award-winning act (3rd prize Parlour 2003) where he plays a traveller freshening up in an airplane bathroom just as it's going to land. This is a fun act with lots of little touches but, without the video screens, it really suffered as many people simply couldn't see the small items he used.
Johnny Lonn returned with a dead mic that really looked like it was going to be a great set-up for a gag, but it was just a dead mic and the stage crew sorted him out quickly. Johnny introduced Kenny Quinn who returned as himself this time (but with a dead mic too) and after taking quite a long time to find three volunteers he performed a pick-pocketing act which was well received.
Finally Finn Jon was introduced to close the show. Finn performed a selection of his classic effects including smoke bubbles, smoking the thumb, and bringing a borrowed neck tie to life. His effects were great (his music was a weird kind of jazz...) but he suffered from an extremely underlit stage. As he took his final bows the side doors of the theatre were opened and we were rushed out and down the path to the Alvsjo station where a chartered train took us to Stockholm Central.
From there we took a brief walk to City Hall for the Mayor's Reception. The building itself was absolutely stunning. We were addressed by various city representatives including one lady who did her best to give us a brief history of the building despite some people at the back of the room who simply couldn't stop talking to each other. She concluded by saying it was clear that some of us were very eager to get into the buffet so she declared it open and we all had our fill of herrings, salmon, meatballs, and dozens of other dishes plus as much wine, beer of soft drink as we liked! No repeats of Yokohama or Lisbon here! The atmosphere was great and the Swedish hospitality superb. We even got to go upstairs to the "gold room" (which was even more amazing) where the Nobel Prizes are presented.
From there, many people headed back to their hotels, others went straight to the late night sessions in the magic bar at the Scandic Sergel Hotel. As for what magic tomorrow brings... stay tuned!