The Retreat: A Review from Someone Who Experienced It
By Matt Baker - Wednesday, June 12, 2019
The Retreat was really special... unlike any magic convention I've ever been to before. Aside from the incredible magic and stunning natural beauty, it was a unique relationship-building experience. At most magic conventions, you get to know other magicians in a highly magic-related context: you learn what they’re like watching card tricks, but often have to just imagine what they’re like in “real life”. At The Retreat, we really got to know one another not just around the sessioning table but also on hikes through the rain forest, in a hot tub, and performing for kids from rural Costa Rica. I made some wonderful new friendships there which I’m truly grateful for.
Here's a quick, impressionistic roundup of my experience at The Retreat (with no attempt whatsoever at completeness).
Friday: I got into San Jose mid-afternoon. After getting settled into the villa, I hung out in the outdoor hot tub with a bunch of magicians and we exchanged dirty jokes and heard about an American crew team singing karaoke with members of the Japanese Mafia (you had to be there). Then we had dinner (the jerk chicken was outstanding!), followed by a welcome session where people introduced themselves and stated their goals for the retreat.
Josh Jay gave a great lecture called "Three Impromptu Card Miracles" where he taught impromptu versions of Simon Aronson’s Shuffle-Bored, Guy Hollingsworth's Cassandra Quandary, and Yves Doumergue's Ten for Ten. Ben Earl then did a highly abridged version of his neo-movement workshop, which was fascinating and thought-provoking and left me wanting much more. Then there was a surprise interview of Mike Caveney by Josh Jay. Mike told lots of stories, including one about an original Dante illusion which Mike owned and David Copperfield wanted to buy. For a long time Mike refused, essentially saying that it was worth more than David could possibly afford... One of the funny aspects of the interview was that Josh kept saying things like, "Tell me in 60 seconds or less what you think of (blah)", and Mike's response would last about 10 minutes. And Josh just completely gave up on trying to interrupt because it was all so fascinating. Mike also performed a couple of killer routines for us.
After the interview/lecture/show, Mike asserted during a small group discussion that, in his opinion, the greatest magician of the golden age of magic was Dante. This surprised some of the attendees, but not me — after all, Dante did win Trick of the Year a few years back with his effect "Inferno"…
At the end of the evening we roasted marshmallows over a bonfire, made S’mores using some weird-ass pseudo-graham crackers, and did card tricks late into the night (actually I went to bed early but I assume that people did card tricks late into the night).
Saturday: I went for a stroll around the villa, had breakfast (lots of fresh tropical fruits like mango, papaya, and pineapple), and then went to a yoga class with Tina Lenert as the instructor. I’ve been practicing yoga for about 7 years and Tina is one of the best instructors I’ve had. What was particularly cool is that she explicitly connected what we were doing — breathing, balancing, stretching — with the performance of magic in ways that had never occurred to me before.
We then went on an excursion which involved zip lining through the rain forest canopy (as one usually does at a magic convention). It was beautiful and thrilling, and on the bus ride there I got some great ideas from Josh Jay related to my “official" convention goal of developing a new closer for my parlor act.
After lunch, Andi Gladwin presented a lecture on the Multiple Selection. I've never actually performed a Multiple Selection routine myself, but after seeing Andi's lecture I'm inspired to work on and perform a routine of my own. I particularly liked Andi’s thoughts on blending structure and improvisation. Then Ben Earl did a 90-minute workshop on coin and card technique, and when he showed us his one-handed pass I had the sudden but very clear revelation that Ben is not actually human. I vowed to find out which superior alien race he comes from and how I can obtain a temporary visitor's pass.
After dinner, Paul Vigil did a highly entertaining and exquisitely polished 2.5-hour show + lecture. I especially appreciated Paul’s versions of several classic Johnny Thompson routines, including the Egg Bag and the $100 Prediction (Paul and Johnny were close friends for more than two decades). Paul’s take on The Endless Chain was a master class in professional presentation: in most people’s hands this is merely a topological puzzle, but in Paul’s it’s a full-blown show-stopper.
Rune Klan then gave an outstanding and highly memorable hour-long lecture featuring billiard ball manipulation, multiplying bananas, an umbrella which was supposed to represent a mic stand, and some deep thoughts on improvisation, body movement, and how to develop a one-man show. Rune is a fascinating guy, and he also happens to be incredibly nice and really funny. I hate him.
Finally, there was a surprise performance by Ernesto Molero, an incredibly original and skilled magician from Venezuela who is now living in Costa Rica as a refugee. Ernesto is not a man. He is THE MAN.
Sunday: I did yoga with Tina Lenert again and went for a swim in the pool. After breakfast, we went on a magnificent hike through an animal sanctuary and then encountered a series of waterfalls. Gorgeous! As a follow-up to Andi’s lecture, Karl Hein performed his own multiple selection routine for the tour guides in the middle of the animal sanctuary. It was fantastic, but I couldn’t help thinking to myself, “What's the deal with this latest fad of doing multiple selection routines in the middle of a rain forest"?
On the bus ride back from the excursion, I had a delightful chat with Ben Earl about neuroscience, 80’s films, quantum physics, golf swings, the cross cut force, and other topics. I realized that Ben isn’t actually a member of an alien race after all, he just thinks much more deeply about things than the rest of us.
After lunch, Tina Lenert gave perhaps the most unusual lecture in magic history -- it was a combination yoga class, mime demonstration, gripping personal story, and master class on character development and the Linking Rings. It was spellbinding and exquisite, and I can’t imagine it happening anywhere other than The Retreat.
Following Tina, we were treated to an extraordinarily moving Magicians Without Borders show where five high school students from underprivileged parts of Costa Rica performed tricks for us, and then we performed tricks for them. The kids beamed the whole time and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Kudos to Diego, the group’s director, for his extraordinary leadership and mentoring.
From a magic point of view, the piece-de-resistance of the convention — for me, at least — was Dani DaOrtiz's show + lecture. His show was perhaps the finest single hour of continuous card magic that I've ever seen. Wow. Shit. Unbelievable.
Finally, we made S'mores again and Josh and Andi presented various humorous awards (the "Trickies"), complete with cheesy little trophies, to a number of participants. For example, my new friends Lisi and Gui, who were at the Retreat for their HONEYMOON, won the Best Wife in the World and Worst Husband in the World awards, respectively. People then did card tricks late into the night... (I even managed to stay up reasonably late myself. Unbelievable.)
Monday: We jammed for a couple of hours in the morning before heading to the airport. By the poolside one last time, I managed to fool both Andi and George with a card routine right out of my book (which they’ve ostensibly read — it just goes to show that the best way to keep a secret is to put it in print). And Andi performed a super-clever Bob Farmer routine which he had brought to Costa Rica specifically in order to show me.
On the plane ride home, I kept thinking about a piece of wisdom which Tina Lenert shared in her lecture: when something in life gives you goosebumps, think about and remember that moment — it’s telling you something important about yourself. I experienced lots of goosebumps — along with moments of exhilaration, friendship, and laughter — during The Retreat 2019. Many thanks to the Vanishing Inc. team for making it all happen.
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