"Are You From The Magic Castle?"
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."