The Little Egypt Gazette presents:

During the eighties Tony Andruzzi began a series of small conventions in Chicago that he called Invocationals, after his magazine, The New Invocation. I wrote the following review in 1990, upon my return from Invocational 90, which turned out to be the last of these extraordinary gatherings. The convention transpired at the Allerton Hotel, in the Loop. Tony Andruzzi's wife had died earlier that year in a tragic fire, and so it was rather an emotional event for all. Sadly, Tony himself died not long after. I had meant to run only the photos here, as a Halloween gesture, but since I was able to find this review (however unpolished it may read), it seems fitting to run it to establish the context in which we all had such spooky fun. By the way, the "best" awards noted below are merely my naive way of saying which things impressed me, and not awards that were actually handed out at the convention.

A truly enjoyable convention. Everyone involved should be very proud. There were no bad acts, and no bad acting. By categories . . .

You mean I can confess right here? Without getting into a little booth? Son of a bitch!

Tony: Tony looked great, and seemed to be in great spirits. He even allowed me to do a card trick for him. Throughout the event, Tony appeared in numerous costumes and guises. My favorite was when he appeared with some little monster or creature sitting on his shoulder that could nod yes or no and move most realistically. One can only guess as to his thoughts after such a tough year, but I think he was most appreciative as to the efforts everyone put into this year's convention. He knew that they were really doing it for him.

The Allerton: Either we were all luckier this year, or there has been some remodeling done. Everyone I spoke to occupied a much nicer room than last year. The best new room was the hospitality suite, a large corner room on the top floor, with fireplace and sunken conversation pit, a well-staffed and stocked bar, and a sweeping view of the Chicago skyline. Now, if only bizarrists didn't smoke so much . . .

If I have to explain the pronunciation of the magazine one more time . . .

Lectures worth mentioning: (1) Dick Newton gave a fascinating lecture on doing the midnight theater spook show circuit in the '50s, with his "Chasm of Spasms." Lots of great stuff, like doing the foo can and funnel tricks with "zombie juice," green liquid with Alka Seltzer in it to cause it to foam. (2) Charles Cameron on Castle Dracula, an event he conducted in a Scottish castle. This guy never heard the phrase "less is more." He packed the show with effects and surprises.

Let me get this straight. He was Tom Palmer first, and THEN Tony Andruzzi? Then who the hell was Masklyn Ye Mage?

Most charming act awards: (1) Runaway favorites here are Ian and Hillary, the 7 and 5-year-old children of Brian Flora. Really cute kids. Ian did a memory routine, beginning with a list of 10 items called out from the audience. Some ne'er-do-well called out "multiplexer," and the kid absolutely leveled him by turning to him sweetly and saying, "I can't remember it if I don't know what it is." Ian followed by doing the magazine memory stunt with a copy of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Magazine. Just terrific stage presence, and I'm sure this stunt sold lots of copies of the magazine test for his dad and mom. Hillary, who at five has already appeared on Japanese TV, did the physical stunt of making herself so heavy that no one could lift her. Also terrific stage presence. (2) Jan Orleans. Jan took the stage as Danny selected random spectators to bring up random objects. She was great at this. Danny had previously announced that Jan had placed 4th this year out of 3000 women in a national aerobics contest. In a strapless dress, she gave us a taste of this by flexing for us. She could have been a hit this night even without the mentalism. (3) Cheri Soleil. I'm a big fan of Cheri's, and she did great this year, especially with a spirit slate stunt. She was selling the new T.A. Waters video at the dealers' bazaar.

OK -- I've got the steel plates in my shoes. Now if I just stand over that electromagnet, no one will be able to lift me.

Best straight mentalism: Ross Johnson. First time I've seen Ross. He did a blindfold routine, and although it went on a bit too long (an inherent problem in any blindfold routine is that, once the spectators realize that you can see, the basic effect is over), it fooled me and played strong. He followed this with a very strong volley of readings. While some of the spectators must have been "clipboarded" for him to pull this off ("clipboarded," by the way, was the hot word this year), it played great and also fooled and surprised me.

Best emcee: Stephen Minch. I've known Stephen for years, but have never seen him on stage. He did a chilling recitation of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Conqueror Worm." Terrific voice modulation here. Also very wise and witty and charming introductions of all the acts. Steve had the excellent fortune of emceeing the best set of the convention -- all perfect acts.

Best impromptu stunts: (1) Earl Keyser would borrow your room key, one of those plastic plaques with coded holes in it, and then by reading the holes through a process he called "spotology" would tell you your room number. Most effective. (2) Lee Fried didn't realize that he was a scheduled performer. He went shopping at Water Tower Place for a deck of jumbo cards, and in a novelty shop stumbled upon a ball that was being sold, a red translucent rubberish ball that sort of goes splat instead of bouncing. He bought one and got several quite amusing minutes out of the thing on stage by introducing it as a dragon's eye. Very resourceful.

Best gore: Joe Givan, whose entire act was just fine this year, had a great bit wherein he drove a knife directly into his wrist (the knife is vertical and perpendicular to the wrist; this isn't the knife that Ed Alonzo has used on TV and is being sold for $97.50) and then slashed it all the way up to his elbow.

Comedy act awards: (1) Docc Hilford. First time I've heard of Docc, and I am completely sold. He did an absolutely manic rendition of a mad scientist who did mindreading by injecting a new enzyme, which happened to float in a jar of blood, directly into his brain. There would supposedly be no after effects, but, well, you've all seen all those old horror movies. (2) Lee Earle. Lee did a great takeoff on Ross Johnson's blindfold routine by trying to guess which of several glasses held apple juice and which contained a substance that "looks like apple juice." He obtained the latter by inviting Richard Webster on stage and then filling the first three glasses with the juice. He then handed Richard the empty glass and told him to fill the final glass with you know what. Looking sort of sheepish, Richard started to leave the stage to comply. "No, no," Lee stopped him. "If you leave the stage, they'll know you switched it." Etc., etc. Lots of great bits here. [I would later learn that this effect is called "Urine Luck."] (3) Madam LaZonka, an old gypsy woman from distressed Lithuania (who sounded suspiciously like Brian Flora). Two-person code act with Brian's wife: The wife holds up an object, LaZonka shouts out what it is in Lithuanian, and the wife interprets, correctly of course. Then, switching to English, LaZonka starts doing cold readings from the stage: "I see great pain . . . a baby . . . suffering . . . death in the family . . ." The older lady sitting next to me starts wailing inconsolably, tossing tissues into the air, etc. (4) Kardor [Robin DeWitt]. As great as last year. Following Ian and Hillary Flora, Kardor strode dramatically onto the stage, turned and glared menacingly at the audience, and said with disgust, "Kardor has to follow cute children." At one point, having tossed some object over his shoulder to get a random spectator on stage, he wound up getting Ian, which he also turned into great laughs. (5) Bruce Bernstein. A straight mentalist, Bruce opened with a great laugh by encouraging the entire audience to join him in an imitation of Eugene Burger. Very funny and it worked, but this took balls.

Kardor thinks Brian Flora should eat his young.

Best new face: Moondaka. "Great facial grooming," as Max Maven said of him as emcee. In its simplest form, Moondaka did a torn and restored bill effect to Joe Givan, but he got enormous mileage by combining a rather spiritual space cadet persona with some very down to earth humor. A lot of intelligence behind this act.

Most original act (which belongs somewhere in the comedy category): (1) Jon Brunelle, Friday evening. Pantomime to music, Jon is sitting at a table on which there is a bag from Wendy's. A large rubber fish rises from the bag. He stands to take it, only to find that his right wrist is chained to the table. He beats the fish to death, removes a key from its mouth, and unlocks himself. He then carries the fish to a second table, removes a mounting board from a box, and mounts the fish to the board and returns all to the box. Back to the first table now, and to his starting position. A second fish rises from the bag. He stands, and finds himself chained again. All of this keeps repeating itself -- very weird and funny routine. (2) Jon Brunelle, Saturday night. On stage left is an empty wooden rectangular frame that serves as Jon's bathroom mirror. On stage right is a table set for breakfast, with a cereal bowl and a box of Sugar Frosted Flakes. At the "mirror," Jon is primping for the day, only to notice that one of his fingers is missing. He reaches down and brings up a coat hanger, from which dangle several spare fingers. He takes one, puts it on his hand, and all is fine. To breakfast: as he is pouring out his cereal, he discovers a black rubber snake inside the box. Giving the snake a shake, it turns into a black necktie, which he returns to the mirror to put on. At breakfast again (and I'm condensing this), he takes a bite of cereal, stands, and a black snake starts oozing from his mouth. He returns to the mirror, takes a stapling gun, and staples his mouth shut. You can see all the staples through his lips, gleaming. A very STRANGE act, and hilarious.

Why the ride home was the best part of the trip: I live four hours from Chicago, and the ride home is normally a boring affair. But not this time! I bought Docc Hilford's new two-tape set called Weerd, which contains over 24 of the strangest and most workable stuff I've ever seen packaged for bizarre magic types (nearly four hours' worth). I really wish that Brian Flora would burn all remaining copies and stop selling these tapes. Some really scary stuff.

Note: The Eddie Fields photo at the top of the magazine was shot at this convention.

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The Little Egypt Gazette Copyright© 1997 by Steve Bryant