What I've Been Working On: Contest of Magic in Orlando, Florida

This past weekend I attended the annual SAM National Convention in Orlando, Florida. For the uninitiated, those letters stand for the Society of American Magicians. SAM bills itself as the oldest magic society in the world, heralding a star-studded lineage dating back to 1902 with the likes of Harry Houdini, Harry Kellar, and Howard Thurston joining (and leading) their ranks.

 Perfect rainbow over an Orlando parking lot. Photography copyright: Chloe Olewitz.

Perfect rainbow over an Orlando parking lot. Photography copyright: Chloe Olewitz.

Each year, the convention is packed with lectures, workshops, and shows all celebrating and furthering the art of magic. My friend Vinny Grosso asked me to support him in his role as Chair of the esteemed Contest of Magic, in which six SAM member contestants performed close-up, parlor, and stage magic in the main theater for a packed house and seven mystery judges.

Over the course of the weekend I assisted with the contestants' and judges' briefings, managed the tech rehearsal, supported logistics and planning, and tabulated and analyzed the judges' scores and audience ballots to determine the high score, second high score, and people's choice award winners.

In addition to supporting the contestants through the many steps of the weekend, it was a treat to be able to soak up some wisdom from a judges' room full of renowned magical minds. The judges were eventually revealed at the awards ceremony on Monday evening: Peter Samelson, Fred and Bobbie Becker, Leland Faulkner, Blake Vogt, Hal Meyers, and Greg Frewin. 

 SAM 2018 Contestants, left to right: The Amazing Barry, Jeremy Mikaelson (high score winner), Ryan Lally, John Dahlinger, Merritt Ambrose, Raul Adatti (second high score winner and people's choice award winner), and MC Alan Howard. Photography copyright: Chloe Olewitz.

SAM 2018 Contestants, left to right: The Amazing Barry, Jeremy Mikaelson (high score winner), Ryan Lally, John Dahlinger, Merritt Ambrose, Raul Adatti (second high score winner and people's choice award winner), and MC Alan Howard. Photography copyright: Chloe Olewitz.

Beyond just evaluating the six acts on stage, the judges' commitment to supporting emerging talent was apparent and their deliberations on each contestant were thorough, insightful, and inspiring. In his role as Contest Chair, Vinny was adamant that the event be referred to as a contest, not a competition. Contestants (not competitors) are judged against a standard, not pitted against each other. The spirit of the contest is designed to embody what Vinny sees as SAM's true purpose: supporting and furthering the art of magic.

 We escaped the Gold Rush room. Photography copyright: Chloe Olewitz.

We escaped the Gold Rush room. Photography copyright: Chloe Olewitz.

We also managed to get up to some non-convention fun while in Orlando. A group of us escaped the Gold Rush room at The Escape Game Orlando, and considering it was my first escape room after years of wanting to try one (my friends back home all thought it was too nerdy, apparently), I was on a high from the whole experience (hence the wall sit). We squeezed in a little bit of pool time, a handful of jam sessions, and a tour of the ICON Orlando 360 center.

What a weekend! There's more magic to come in August.