Behind the magic

Magicians sit down to discuss the trade of tricks

Magicians sit down to discuss the trade of tricks

November 09, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

Never pull a rabbit out of a hat by its ears.

That's just one tip that local magicians offer to amateurs who want to master the art of illusion.

"Magic is just creating the illusion that something wonderful is happening," says magician Michael T. Myers of Martinsburg, W.Va.

An ordained minister, Myers founded "The Magic of Michael T" ( after a fellow pastor and amateur magician shared the secrets of three tricks 27 years ago. Myers now practices magic full time, entertaining audiences with thousands of props and his trained animal assistants - doves Shadrack, Ralph, Meshach and Abednego and rabbits Hairdini Jr., Hopperfield and Cadbury.

Myers says magic involving animals - such as the act in which Hairdini Jr. appears from a fiery pan - is the most difficult type of magic to practice because the animals must be trained to perform specific skills through repetition.


"It's just like becoming better with your craft," he says. "It takes practice, practice, practice."

Myers and fellow magicians Dean Burkett and Hugh McVeagh say practice is the secret behind making magic tricks seem truly magical.

"Many magic tricks are simple, but it takes tons of practice to make them look incredible," says Myers, a member of the Society of American Magicians, Bill Kibler Assembly No. 224. "Many times it's the simplest trick that brings on the 'wow' factor the fastest."

At heart, most magic tricks are boring. It's the entertaining routine in which the magic's cloaked that makes the trick intriguing, say McVeagh and Burkett, members of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, Ring 94.

"Entertaining, that's the real trick," says McVeagh, a close-up magic/sleight-of-hand specialist who's been entertaining audiences for more than 50 years. A retired federal government employee, he caught the magic bug on a train home at the end of his military service in World War II. That's where a Chinese magician showed McVeagh and his GI buddies the card tricks that bilked them out of hundreds of dollars during some not-so-friendly club car poker games.

"I was intrigued," says McVeagh, of Halfway.

He's since learned that just about every magic-act card trick boils down to guessing which card a volunteer has pulled from a deck. The magic props McVeagh keeps in his close-up kit - decks of cards, rubber balls, a velvet bag filled with golden shells and tiny peas - are simply props without the interactive act he creates to make his magic magical.

"The presentation makes it interesting," adds "The Dean of Magic" Burkett, who got hooked on magic in 1987 after attending one of McVeagh's workshops. "People like to laugh, and that's what you've got to get them to do - have fun."

Burkett, of Williamsport, sometimes spends years practicing and perfecting a routine before taking it public. He and McVeagh say its crucial to tailor routines to different audiences. A dialogue that's appropriate for adults in a nightclub, for example, probably won't work for children at a school, they say.

The professional magicians also suggest that beginners:

n Read books about magic.

n Start doing tricks that use everyday items.

n Master one trick at a time, Burkett says: "It's not the number of tricks you know that's important. It's how you perform the ones you know."

n Practice in front of a mirror.

n Watch magicians you admire.

n Find a magic mentor - someone you like and trust.

n Join a club such as the Society of Young Magicians in Martinsburg, W.Va.

n Build a routine around your tricks.

n Don't try to perform in front of an audience before you're ready.

n Know which type of person you need to make a magic trick work well, and scout out prospective magic assistants in the audience before your show begins. Look for people who are laughing and having fun.

n Never try to make volunteers look dumb.

"You're not going to get booked very often if you do anything to embarrass your audience," Burkett says.

n Never attempt a trick that could put you in danger.

n Don't share the secrets to your magic with everyone you meet, Myers says: "It takes the mystery away. People love that 'wow' factor. They can leave their problems behind and just enjoy the illusion."

n And never, under any circumstances, pull a rabbit out of a hat by its ears.

"That's just crazy," Myers says. "A lot of the old magic pictures show magicians doing that, but you can't. You would ruin the rabbit's brain."

Instead, grab the bunny by the fur on the nape of it's neck.

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