Trix in the Stix 2017
Two hundred and forty children’s and family entertainers gathered in a hotel near Oswestry last week. Trix in the Stix 2017, organised by Practical Magic, was always going to be a little different to the four that had gone before owing to the sudden death of its founder, Jeremy Le Poidevin, late last year. But the overwhelming opinion was that Jeremy would have been very proud of the show put on for a day and a half in the Shropshire countryside.
Each of previous four conventions opened with a live fireside chat between Jeremy and John Kimmons, but this year we were presented with a number of tributes, some recorded, some delivered live, to the late ‘Fabulous’ Jeremy. They were respectful and incredibly moving on occasion, yet didn’t lose the Trix trademark of poking gentle fun at itself and the magic industry in general. It was a fine line to tread, but one that was negotiated with great sensitivity and aplomb.
Then, as Jeremy undoubtedly would have wanted, Trix burst into life with a fantastic cabaret show, followed by the Breakaway Wand Show for those not offended by adult themes. The whole event was MC’d with gentle sophistication by Pat Fallon. Make a note of this name: Max Fulham. Max is just seventeen years old and sat an AS-level exam on Monday morning. At nine o’clock on Monday evening he was performing to 240 of his peers on the stage at Trix. The highlight was probably a number of impersonations performed with a pair of child’s trousers on his head, and as if that isn’t amazing enough, he only dreamt it up on the Saturday evening – when he should have been revising for his exam!!
He was joined in the cabaret by Quentin Reynolds, Ken Scott from America and Belgian magician Rafael, all extremely experienced and talented performers, but Max more than held his own. A very bright start to the entertainment.
The Breakaway Wand Show is a mad mixture of under-rehearsed skits (all the funnier for that), recorded sketches and songs, stand-up comedy, and some serious micky-taking of performers – both present in and absent from the room. Personally, I thought last year’s show was slightly stronger, but it was a hilariously funny series of performances. (Seriously; I actually pulled something in my side during one of the sketches!)
Many, myself included, awoke on Tuesday morning in need of far more sleep than we had managed, not quite ready for the serious business of the convention: the sharing and learning of ideas and experience in family entertainment. The day comprised of four full lectures and four shorter ‘power presentations’, two of which kicked off the morning.
Master Payne, a name new to me, presented a recorded presentation on the subject of originality; of not being the magician the audience expects; of being something new, different, original. Those I spoke to had mixed views of the presentation. Some thought it was “great” and “thought-provoking”; others thought it “boring” or “not my cup of tea”. If you want my opinion – and you’re gonna get it whether you want it or not – I felt the message was strong, but that taking twenty minutes to suggest being yourself rather than a bland copy might have been ten minutes too long. That said, this was a recorded version of a lecture Master Payne has given in the States, and my betting is that it suffered from the medium of being recorded rather than being delivered live.
And then, there he was again: Max Fulham delivering his presentation ‘Playing Around’. It’s not just that his ventriloquial technique is virtually flawless, nor that his script-writing is top-notch; I think the thing that is going to make Max a star is his creativity. ‘Playing around’ is how Max refers to his creative brainstorming. For instance, he took the simple Snake Can and showed how you can get three or four minutes of entertainment out of this prop after the snake as sprung from the can. As I say, a name to watch.
The first lecture came from Quentin Reynolds, who continued where he left off last year by demonstrating how a performer can get loads of mileage out of forgotten props from the past. From memory, I recall a lovely story accompanying The Rope with Four Ends, Quentin’s famous Five Minutes with a Pocket Handkerchief, Supreme’s Little White Hen and Big Red Fox props, a wonderful Human Bingo Card Game, and a very nice forfeits routine using a change bag, white and coloured silks, and an array of dressing-up props which saw Quentin looking more and more outrageous as the routine progressed. Very entertaining, and lots of ‘schtick’ to work into our own routines.
Ken Scott from Atlanta, Georgia, gave us two lectures during the day. The first was the standard convention fare of the routines he uses to make a living, all delivered with a large dollop of self-deprecating cheek. I was pleasantly surprised that I really warmed to Ken; I’ve seen him on DVD and found the experience somewhat underwhelming. In the flesh, though, it was a laugh-a-minute lesson in how to deliver five-star entertainment to families and children, including his renowned Fantasy Magician routine. A big hit with the whole audience.
Later, Ken returned with a more thoughtful lecture on the business of making a living from family entertainment; from using music and technology; to scheduling gigs to cut down on travel time and costs; to even turning down gigs to maintain the quality of your brand. Very thought-provoking, and many of us got a whole heap to think about.
Julie Carpenter and Martin Duffy
Our other ‘power presenters’ were Julie Carpenter and Martin Duffy. Julie told us how important it is to learn (and remember) children’s names at a party, something on which her customers frequently comment. Knowing each child’s name empowers you as the performer to exert discipline, but also to instil confidence in shy and reserved children. I’ll certainly be doing my best to remember children’s names in future.
The last presentation was from Martin Duffy and was a twenty-minute excerpt from the full one-hour lecture, Magic in Schools, he delivered at the Northern Magic Circle Summit earlier in the year. First Martin showed us the potential market: the number of schools in any given region, and the vast sums of money invested in education, some of it specifically allocated to ‘special needs’ education – what you might call education outside of the box delivered in novel ways; like, say, through the medium of a magic show. He then went on to give examples of some standard effects – Colour-changing Streamer, Lota Vase, A-B-C Blocks – which, with a change of theme or story, can be used as educational tools. Judging by the queue for his lecture notes and routines, I think it’s safe to say Martin’s presentation struck a chord with many at Trix.
The other lecturer was Rafael, a name new to me – or so I thought, until I had it confirmed that I had seen his vampire illusion act in the gala show at Blackpool last year. I was told that he has at least five other acts that I have not yet seen, and what we had at Trix – both in the cabaret show and his lecture – was some of the most surreal comedy I have ever seen. And it was SUPERB. My highlight was his cheat on the second deal, which I really need to make use of, and his Jaws rabbit ears (you had to be there). Not to mention his antics in the wings, Kleenex, and his reaction to a passing police siren. If you have not seen Rafael’s comedy act, you have missed a thing of great beauty. (And he certainly fits into Master Payne’s clarion call of being an original!)
And so the cloth was pulled over the Great Tit of Shropshire (you had to be there) and the convention drew to a close. Tickets for Trix 6 in May 2018 go on sale at 11am on 1 June, and my guess is they’ll be sold out by midday. Trix is THAT popular – and for good reason. If you entertain families or children and you’ve not been, get yourself a ticket. You won’t be disappointed.
Photos: Jamie Maidment