It is rare for a week to go by without someone asking if I'm "from The Magic Castle", and I sometimes respond by telling them, "I'm from Cleveland", which usually gets a laugh. I say it for a laugh but I also say it because I'm afraid that if I simply say "yes", it might give the impression that The Magic Castle deserves credit for my ability as a magician. It is a distinction that is important to me because I was making my living as a professional magician long before I ever walked into The Magic Castle for the first time in 2012. I didn't become a member of The Magic Castle until 2014, and you can read about my audition to become a member, here.
As a magician, some people need to know that you are "from The Magic Castle" before you are considered "valid" in their minds. I have at times said to people when they ask if I'm from The Magic Castle, "I am going to answer your question, but first I want you to watch this". Then I do my performance so their assessment isn't clouded by some meaningless connection to a venue. When it is over with, I will answer their question, but I first want to be judged on my merits, not an association to a piece of real estate. That kind of thing is prevalent in the world, and once in a while, as seemingly pointless as it may be, I correct for a moment that which is, for the most part, uncorrectable in the human condition.
If I have the time I will give them some of my background. I'll explain to them how I left my hometown in Ohio and came to California to continue my career as a magician and how I became one of the most booked magicians in all of the United States. I'll tell them about my time spent performing at Guarino's Italian restaurant in Little Italy in Cleveland, and some of the other venues where I started out. Sometimes they'll ask if I had any work lined up in California before I arrived and I'll let them know that I had none, but that I knew that once people saw me perform I would be booked up in no time.
While The Magic Castle is world famous and it is an exciting place to be invited, I have mixed feelings about it. Over the years, The Magic Castle is referred to more and more as The Academy of Magical Arts. What used to be a focus on mystery and enchantment has become a focus on education and learning magic. I call it the "How-To Movement". I have since nicknamed The Magic Castle, "The House of How-To". This is not only because of the "Academy"/learning element they have increasingly focused on in recent years, it is also because I rarely send a guest to The Magic Castle without them leaving having learned how to do a magic trick; overheard from a member how some magic is done; or my guest has learned from watching a magician who shouldn't have been performing, perform poorly. If I want to send an invitation to The Magic Castle to someone, the email they receive will be from The Academy of Magical Arts. An academy is a place for learning and training. The magician's job is not to show the audience what is behind the velour curtain, it is to make them wonder what is behind the curtain.
The education business is thriving there and the more people they can get interested in becoming a magician, the more their bottom line increases. The club makes money from magic classes and many of the magicians have How-To DVD's to sell, so the motivation for exposure is strong and the restraint to keep a secret has become lax. Is this hurting magic? Yes. Is this hurting my business? I doubt it. Does it hurt me to see it? Yes. Do I believe it is in poor taste? Yes. Do I believe The Magic Castle and most magicians are sacrificing principle for profit? Yes. Marketplace mentality and commerciality have replaced artistic standards.
The honorable way to make money in the magic business is by getting people to pay to see you perform magic. When magicians are washed up and don't get booked anymore, they release DVD's in the name of "leaving a record" for what they have done, when in reality, they just need the money. It is alright to release a book or a DVD to magicians, but now these guys are going on facebook and marketing to the public. Even magicians that are performing have abandoned the first rule of a magic (never reveal the secret), when they promote their "How-To" DVD after each show. When I see a magician who is an excellent performer and he does this, I always wonder why he doesn't put the effort into becoming an even better magician instead of spilling the mystery he just created for $19.99. Talk about working against oneself. There's more than one way to eat a Reese's and there's more than one way to be a common whore. It has become a case of "everybody's doing it" so it must be okay, but as Tolstoy wrote, "Wrong does not cease to be wrong because the majority share in it."
The biggest perpetrators are Penn & Teller for their show "Fool Us". A great show with the exception that Penn admits that he's giving away keywords so people can go and learn the tricks online. They now use that show to market their "masterclass", again... marketplace mentality and commerciality have replaced artistic standards. What's the next step, flyers under windshield wipers? And so, exposure of magic is condoned by the top magicians in the field, which further gives the green light to any magician looking to market to the public. Hey, Penn doesn't care, so it must be ok. I could make a lot more money if I had a $25 dollar "How-To" DVD to sell but, but I'm not in the education business. I'm in the entertainment business. If your primary goal is to make money, go into real estate.
David Copperfield doesn't sell magic kits or participate in the "How-To Movement". He's a real magician. When a magician tells or sells a secret, it is done from a position of weakness, of need, not strength. A need for money (They aren't that entertaining so no one is booking them, so they release a DVD to the public). In many cases, they are great magicians but they release a DVD to make even more money. You can tell that they don't feel great about it when you hear their justification for betraying the art of magic when they say, "I've got bills to pay". It's an easy thing to say, and a widely accepted thing to say.
They need content/material (they ran out of material and an audience is still there so they will turn to "How-To" to provide more content).
They need content for their social media, so they have "Teach a Trick Tuesday" or "Magic Monday" on their feed. LAME.
They need to sound smart around other people so they start revealing how another magician does his magic. Rather than enchant their audience with another mystery, they disenchant them because of their own need to sound intelligent and "in the know" and their own inability to perform. The need is there and it comes from weakness. The Magic Castle is, sadly, ripe with these guys. They all justify it in some way, such as the old, "it forces magicians to come up with new magic," or "I'm educating the public so they don't get deceived by people who use magicians secrets for evil," or "magic is not all about the secret." Magic is not all about the secret but it is an essential ingredient. Imagine 🍷wine without the alcohol. Sugar free 🍦ice cream. Sugar free anything. Decaffeinated ☕️coffee.
One of the more respected magicians at The Magic Castle was there two nights ago when I walked in with my date. He was talking to an attractive blonde about half his age and I overheard him revealing one of the methods magicians use. Rather than intrigue her with an entertaining performance of magic, it was obvious he was making an effort to ingratiate himself to her by "revealing the tricks of the trade." If I told you his name, and you googled it, you would first see all of his "How-To" before you would see anything about his magic performances. In other words, to use the names of my peers is in and of itself an exposure of magic, which I will not do. My greatest influence in magic, who I used to talk about openly, let me down in a big way by joining the "How-To Movement". I'll never forget the sight of him doing an impression of a dog salivating and drooling over a dollar when he was mocking people and magicians who will do anything for money.
Magicians say that I take this "never reveal the secret" thing too seriously. Of course they do. My attitude about magic, as old fashioned as it may be, is right. It is right thinking. It just isn't right for their bottom line.
Thank you for reading...
Jack (From Cleveland)