Last week I was hired to perform at a Magic Convention in China. It was one of the weirdest – but also greatest – experiences I’ve had in a long time.
This was the China Beijing Asia College Magic Convention (trust me, it makes more sense in Mandarin). It was a four day event of shows, workshops, competitions, and other miscellaneous magic stuff, aimed at college age magic enthusiasts in Beijing.
It was… fascinating. I don’t even know how to even begin describing some of the things that happened. We did a show in a 1000-seat venue with a cinema sized projection backdrop. The venue itself looked like it had been inspired by epic Greek architecture; giant stone columns and steps. Atop the front was a gigantic billboard with photos of the performers.
I was one of the least significant on the bill. Apart from the huge array of Chinese/Taiwanese/Hong Kong performers, there were several internationals that it was very exciting to be booked alongside. Names like Jeff McBride, Michael Ammar, and Juliana Chen won’t mean much to you, dear members of the general public, but in the magic industry these are household names.
To the college aged magic enthusiasts, these people were unto gods. It made the whole Parthenon-style venue seem thoroughly appropriate. Of course, my photo being on a billboard alongside the megastars implied that even though they hadn’t heard of me, I must be a similarly big deal.
Hence I spent four days getting regularly mobbed for autographs and photos. After literally the hundredth autograph, with every sign of there being another several hundred to go, I started developing an abbreviated version of my signature just to avoid RSI.
That wasn’t even nearly the most surreal part. On the second night we, the performers, were invited out to some kind of vaguely described after dinner performance. We were told it was going to be a magic themed improvisation contest, involving people from the convention. It sounded fun and harmless enough.
When we got there, it turned out to be another huge theatre room decked out with full lighting and sound gear, hordes of screaming magic fans, district government officials, and what looked like about five different TV cameras.
It also turned out that we were going to be the participants.
The next two hours were almost impossible to describe. A very confused Michael Ammar danced the robot to wacky Chinese pop music while performing a vanishing/multiply balls routine. Jeff Mc Bride and Dale Salwak competed for who could palm the most playing cards while “What Does The Fox Say?” by Ylvis played in the background. Eric Eswin, ex-president of FISM, rock and roll danced on stage with Miss Katalin. For the final round, in a sequence of events that still baffles me slightly, I ended up reciting some dialogue in German and then singing a Chinese pop song. Throughout all this, various cartoon sound effects played at apparently random intervals, interspersed with canned laughter and applause.
And that was only the second night.
The rest of the convention went past in a fascinating, bemusing, and joyous blur. I then got back on the plane, returned back home to Melbourne, where I now sit writing this in a cafe, wondering faintly whether it was all just some kind of drug induced hallucination.
That would certainly explain the game show.
Thank you to Borg Yuan for organising the whole remarkable experience, and all the other performers and participants for making it a fantastic and thoroughly trippy experience.