A night at the Magic Castle

Tuesday night, my colleagues and I spent the evening at the Magic Castle as a treat for hitting a recent milestone. It was a great night out.

I arrived at about 6.30 after braving the rush hour traffic (there’s really no good way to get there quickly from my workplace – the 405 and 101 are best avoided at that hour) and got in line for the first close-up show of the evening, scheduled to start at 7. Amazingly, the first person I bumped into was an ex-colleague, also there with his company. While in line for the show, I chatted to a man who was an associate member, and the spitting image of a doctor I’m acquainted with. He turned out to be a doctor too. I explained that it was so busy because of two videogame companies visiting that evening.

The Close-up Gallery opened, but I just missed getting in (it’s the smallest theatre there and seats only 22). Instead, a group of us headed downstairs for some alternative close-up entertainment from Wayne (“the intern”) and Rob, who showed us a card trick and some ventriloquism. I was marked as “the skeptic” in the audience!

After that, I headed over to the Parlor of Prestidigitation for a show from Chris Capehart. He had a very engaging patter and did stock tricks (cards and linking rings) but with incredible skill. Really a good show. Then it was time for dinner, which was decent, but not what we came for. I had prime rib and cheesecake for dessert. After dinner, one of our group gave us a tour (he is an amateur magician and member of the Academy of Magical Arts – whose clubhouse is the Magic Castle). He also did a couple of card tricks, one of which didn’t go too well because of the lack of attention of the mark (our EP).

As the tour was finishing, the main show was starting. This was the show in the big theatre at the Magic Castle, the only show that we had tickets for. The magician was John Calvert, a 96-year-old who has been doing professional magic for 8 decades. Unfortunately I must report that he should probably have stopped a while ago. While I can appreciate his experience, wisdom, and magical history, his skills have atrophied, and his tricks were not wonder-provoking in the least. Honestly, I felt embarrassed for the guy as I watched him completely fail to hide the watch in a variant of the “smashed and restored watch” trick. When he asked for a gentleman’s pocket handkerchief I knew his act must have barely changed in 50 years.

I got out quickly at the end and rushed back to the Close-up Gallery to just catch the 10.45 close-up show. In the Close-up Gallery and the Parlor of Prestidigitation, they feature two performers a night, one doing 3 or 4 early shows, and one doing the same number of late shows. This was the later show, with David Minkin – and it was brilliant. The audience was a rowdy bunch which made for extra comedy and a great rapport. He amazed us with coin and card tricks and some superb sleight of hand. It was the best show I saw that night, and I won’t soon forget it.

Next up was yet another show – this time once more in the Parlor of Prestidigitation, where Todd Robbins was performing. No tricks here – just amazing technique and years of practice. Todd is a sideshow performer – a dying breed – and he swallowed swords, ate a lightbulb, and drove a six-inch nail into his nose (“the human blockhead” act). Besides the act, he has an acerbic wit and thought-provoking insights.

The last show of the evening (12.15) saw me heading back to the Close-up Gallery for more David Minkin. Second time around, since I knew what was coming, I was able to appreciate his amazing dexterity and skill at misdirection. I figured out a few of the tricks, but that isn’t the point. The real magic to me is in the skill of the magician, the years of honing his craft. I found it interesting that the tricks which got a big reaction from the audience were not necessarily that difficult – taking nothing away from his skill, but some of the biggest gasps were achieved with a relatively simple piece of misdirection and a trick prop. Far more impressive, I thought, was the constant display of manual skill which was necessarily not what the audience was paying attention to, but which must have required years of practice.

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