The Retreat 2019 - Recap
By Joshua Jay - Thursday, June 6, 2019
I’m now on a plane, homeward bound, after the first-ever event of its kind for us: The Retreat Costa Rica. I can’t speak for anyone else who was there, but without exaggeration, it was one of the most fulfilling, exciting magic events I’ve ever attended. We have just announced The Retreat South Africa for 2020. So if you think you would have enjoyed the event described below, don’t delay in reserving your spot for the next Retreat.
For years Andi and I had kicked around the idea of a small event in an exotic location, and we even began planning a “retreat” for just us and our team, as a way of thanking our employees for their hard work. The original idea was to invite a magician we wanted to spend time with, and just hang for a few days.
This blossomed into an event in which we would invite thirty guests to Costa Rica for a blend of magic shows, lectures, jamming, and outdoor excursions. Costa Rica seemed like a great location; it was outside the US, had endless opportunities for outdoor fun, and wasn’t terribly far from most places in the US. We went on a site visit to Pura Vida Spa Resort, and immediately fell in love with the place. We pulled the trigger. We invited Paul Vigil and Dani DaOrtiz, two magicians who are not only exceptional talents, but are people whose repertories are vast, and would be ideal for the “deep dive” we wanted to explore with them. There are a lot of magicians who do great shows and lectures. But not every magician would be captivating for three straight days. With Paul and Dani willing to try something exotic, we announced The Retreat.
Andi and I took bets on the response, but neither of us thought we would get more than ten attendees. To our complete shock, it sold out within 72 hours. The waiting list was eventually longer than the list of attendees. With other invited guests and speakers, our total number was forty-two, and this seemed the perfect size for The Retreat. It’s enough people to feel like a show, but small enough that everyone can hear without microphones, see without monitors, and ask questions without shouting.
Here then, is my brief overview of what we experienced at The Retreat.
The event started in earnest the day before scheduled events. About a dozen of us arrived a day early, and it turned into a big jam-session for about seven hours. Danny Garcia, Rune Klan, and Ben Earl all held court at various times and locations. My favorite, by far, was a poolside jam. One of our ideas was to create floating close-up pads and supply waterproof playing cards. This way, not even a swim would deter the magic. The concept worked, and all afternoon we were doing assemblies and runups while waist-deep in the pool. There are mango trees surrounding the pool area, and at one point someone picked a few and we started doing run-and-catch pool dives, one person hurling a mango into the air as someone leapt into the pool to catch it. The big lesson I learned here is that Andi is a better magician than he is athlete. There are some pictures from this time I will cherish (and use as blackmail) forever.
Everyone brought a works-in-progress, and that night Tim Hill, an old friend from Cleveland, Ohio, debuted his. He has built a contraption that allows for the cleanest Coins to Glass any of us had ever seen. It was sensational, with a method as cool as they effect. Karl Hein sat with me and worked on my works-in-progress, which is a coin effect, and I felt like we made real progress.
The next day the event started in the afternoon. As each attendee assembled into a yoga studio, they were greeted with a cold coconut water drink served in the coconut and a handwritten welcome note from Andi and me. We realized that we knew almost everyone at the Retreat in some form, and so we were able to write highly personalized notes to each person, thanking them for coming.
In the welcome event, everyone stood and announced their name, where they live, and what their weekend goal was. We were surprised at the diversity. Though only one female attended, we had guests from Dubai, Germany, Croatia, Australia, and Brazil. We heard goals about putting together a parlor show, finding a good opener, increasing walk-around repertoires, making their magic more meaningful, and a dozen other worthy wishes. We explained that the purpose of The Retreat was to see the weekend through the lens of these goals. if ANYONE thought they had a way to help another attendee toward their goal, they were to seek them out. And, they did. It was beautiful.
We presented each attendee with a gift pack, and these came out better than we had expected. The large, foam-fit boxes included two decks of cards, a framed, custom-printed artwork, and Retreat notebook. There was also space for five booklets. Throughout the weekend, various speakers would distribute their matching booklets after their lectures, and they fit perfectly inside the kit. This way, each attendee would have thorough, printed notes on what they had seen.
The opening event ended with a performance by Andi and myself. We were off and running.
Each day we took our meals together in the dining area. We were concerned about the food—I should say, we were concerned about how the guests would react to the food. Pura Vida Spa is a wellness resort that caters mostly to yoga enthusiasts. The food is all gluten-free, mostly vegan, and all healthy. We viewed this as a welcome change from the deep-fried, fast-food diet many of us are forced to go on at conventions, because of the limited options and time. But everyone seemed to embrace the food, and mealtimes were some of the best jam-sessions of the weekend. Our distinguished guests and performers sat at different tables every night, so everyone got some one-on-one time with Dani, Paul, Rune, Ben, as well as Danny Garcia, Mike Caveney, and Tina Lenert.
My lecture was next. It was a huge thrill to give an almost entirely NEW lecture, after delivering the same lecture for so many years. I focused on three unpublished, impromptu card routines, and I was grateful for a kind response, and spent the weekend helping several guests through a new routine I debuted, called “Overclocked.”
After dinner we packed into a huge Yoga room, and with the night skyline of San Jose in the background, Ben Earl conducted a class on movement and rehearsal. He passed out small bouncy balls, and showed us drills we could use to enhance our magic.
A latenight surprise event was a discussion with Mike Caveney, who demonstrated two effects and shared incredible insight from his storied career.
After the events each night the staff at Pura Vida built us a huge bonfire, and we had supplies to make S’mores as we jammed on works-in-progress.
Each morning Tina Lenart conducted a yoga class geared entirely for performers. At one point she told us to grab a deck of cards and our phones, and showed us yoga positions that we could practice with both in our hands.
After breakfast, ziplining! We went in three busses to see, up close, one of Costa Rica’s beautiful Cloud forests. I can’t begin to tell you the strange thrill I had, watching Paul Vigil in a helmet screaming as he sailed over the treetops of the cloud forest. There’s something truly special about doing an unusual, thrilling outdoor activity like this with magic friends. It brought us closer together, and was a welcome break from the magic.
After we got back and had lunch, Andi Gladwin hosted a fascinating lecture on his longest pursuit: the multiple selection routine. He spoke with insight and experience about how he devised his routine, and how we might construct our own.
Ben Earl was up next, with ninety minutes of hardcore card material that, as usual, astounded the attendees. After dinner the entire evening was given to Paul Vigil, who commanded our intimate stage with an hour-long show (which spouses and guests were welcome to attend), and then a deep dive into some of his pet routines. He was magnificent, and a highlight of the weekend. The latenight event was Rune Klan, and his honest, free-flowing lecture focused on billiard ball manipulation, and it was unlike anything any of us have ever seen. Technically new, and delivered in a hilarious way, Rune was a perfect counterpoint to Paul Vigil, and the evening ended with latenight jamming in the dining hall.
A latenight surprise was an informal show from Ernesto Molero. Ernesto was originally from Venezuela, and that’s where I first encountered his unbelievable sleight-of-hand. I invited him to be part of our Retreat, and he stunned everyone with his card work and Linking Ring routine. His latenight show was a personal highlight for me.
The next morning, after Yoga, we did a waterfalls hike. This is a beautiful animal rehabilitation center that allows you to get close to hummingbirds, butterflies, snakes, sloths, and puma, all rescued from the pet trade. Many of the animals we saw will later be released back into the Costa Rican jungle. At the end of the trek was a stunning series of waterfalls. We paused for the proverbial group photo, and were then treated to an optical illusion, a befitting end to the excursion. By staring at a certain place in the waterfalls and then looking away, the eye plays a trick on the brain and you can see the ground warping in impossible ways.
Our last afternoon together started with a cathartic, fascinating, honest lecture by Tina Lenert, who spoke about the evolution of her act, showed us some techniques to calm nerves before a show, and even tipped a HIGHLY deceptive, beautiful move from her Linking Rings routine.
Magicians Without Borders is a non-profit that seeks to teach magic to disadvantaged kids in various places in the world. One of our attendees from Costa Rica, Diego, is a group leader for Magicians Without Borders, and he gave a touching talk on his experience working with these young magicians. Six kids then performed a show for us, and the experience was moving. Happy tears were shed, and we gifted the kids with care packages of magic from Vanishing Inc, so they could continue their pursuits.
Dani DaOrtiz held court for the remainder of the evening, and he received numerous standing ovations during his show and lecture. He performed an almost entirely new repertoire of material. So while most of us were familiar with his magic, his show was mostly new to us.
The last event of the weekend was “The Trickies.” Inspired by the Dundees—the fictitious awards from the show The Office, we awarded trophy prizes for Best Trick (Tim Hill’s Coins to Glass), Spectator We Most Want in the Front Row of our Show (Diego Vargas), and more. We announced that the Retreat 2020 would be held in South Africa, and opened up registration only to attendees of The Retreat. We will, very soon, open up any remaining spots for The Retreat 2020 to magicians worldwide.
Our two fears about The Retreat were that it would devolve into a booze fest, as several of the close-up “jam” conventions have a tendency to do, or that the group would break into cliques, and remain formal and rigid in who jammed with who. With full credit to the fantastic group who took this risk with us, we were delighted that the entire event had a close-knit, studious feel. Everyone wanted to help each other, and get to know everybody else. The focus was on the magic, always, the best compliment we received, came on the last evening, from an attendee. He pulled me aside and said that he never thought he would reach his goal of adding an opener to his show, but that he now had exactly the opener he needed. “But more importantly,” he said, “I know I was able to help two other people reach their goals, and that made me feel great.”
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