Creating a magic moment of awe

Ho performs a couple of his magic tricks.

WE are born to love magic. Try playing peekaboo with a baby and you make it chuckle with amusement.

It’s the “now you see it, now you don’t” phenomenon that’s the magical power which excites the young child, and that, so to speak, is the simplest form of ‘magic’.

As babies grow into bigger children, they require more sophisticated trickery to arouse amazement in them. It’s essentially the element of surprise that wows them.

Even into adulthood, people still feel entertained by magic shows — the more mind-blogging the performances, the more people would enjoy them.

Recognising that both adults and young children alike enjoy watching magic shows, two young men — Edward Lai, 25, and Kevin Ho, 24, decided to learn magic tricks both as a hobby and a way to earn some money.

They like to entertain people — cheering them up and putting a smile on their faces — and magic gives them the avenue to do that.

They have performed at birthday parties, corporate events and weddings in addition to a mix of stage shows, close-up magic (also known as micro magic) and impromptu street performances.

Both have spent years honing their skills and Lai has been a full-time comedy magician for seven years now while Ho has been doing it part-time for just as long.

Lai has been interested in magic since he was a child but it wasn’t until he saw his best friend in secondary school performing some amazing tricks that he decided be a professional magician.

“It was in Form 5 that my best friend Andy Lam showed me some magic tricks and their secrets. Knowing I was very interested, he was even willing to give me all his magic materials, and encouraged me to perform some tricks to people since I was involved in a drama club and I love to act,” Lai recalled.

One day, he took up the challenge and performed in front of his fellow club members at a gathering in a teacher’s house to celebrate their victory in a drama competition.

He performed some tricks, using number cards, and was floored by the response he got. The club members, amazed by his ability to ‘read’ their minds, gave him an emphatic thumbs-up.

With Lam’s help, Lai got into a magic club to increase his stock of skills.

He said learning to do magic requires self-discipline, an understanding of how people think and the ability to entertain.

He added that it also boosted his confidence and self-esteem, and improved his social skills, adding, “That’s the biggest benefit I have gained.”

He revealed that while in school, he faced serious depression due to low self-esteem caused by very bad acne.

“I was often shunned because of the way I looked. Friends thought I wasn’t fit to join drama competitions because they said only good lookers with good clear skin are more suited to appear on stage.

“I was once even told I looked really ugly and I should quit acting. That was the most hurtful thing I ever had said to me.”

But he did not let the barb snuff out his love for drama. He loves acting, especially comedy, saying fusing comedy and magic allows him to be funny while performing magic tricks.

Effortless

According to Ho, a magician must make a trick look effortless.

“Magic is choreographed but mustn’t look like it is,” he said, adding that magicians must be able to use “psychological techniques” to effectively misdirect the audience.

“The concept of misdirection is often misunderstood as audiences may believe the magician distracts their attention during a critical move or manipulation.

“But actually, misdirection is a form of deception in which the magician focuses the attention of an audience on one thing in order to distract them from another.

“In other words, magicians do not strive to turn the audience’s attention away from the ‘method’ — the secret behind the magic trick — but instead aim to direct their attention towards the magical effect.”

He said other techniques involved motor skills such as sleight of hand and ‘technical insights’ such as abstract knowledge of magic techniques.

Ho has loved doing magic since he was in primary school, performing simple tricks for his classmates.

“I remember doing my first trick (using a die) to a group of classmates in Primary 3 but it was so horrible that they were not in awe,” he chuckled.

Being a magician is probably one of the hardest professions in the world. A magician in one work day goes through more objections from people compared to other professions.

For Ho, magic is a hobby and profession. He loves entertaining people, making them laugh, seeing the audience’s reaction plus the freedom to work when he chooses.

He described magic as an art and dedication to magic could boost confidence and teach creativity

But like many professions, there are many challenges but he feels the toughest one is changing people’s perception about magic and magicians.

The public commonly perceive that magicians are mere tricksters with a deck of cards in hand, going around fooling people.

“That’s why some people hate magic,” Ho noted.

At this point, Lai chipped in, “Some people hate magic because they feel like being fooled and that magicians are trying to challenge their intelligence.

“They refuse to see it as entertainment. So my goal is to make sure when someone watches me perform, he or she will leave with a positive impression of both me and magic as a whole.

“The way we treat our audience will determine how they view our magic. If we treat them with sincerity and honesty, they will watch us perform.”

Lai (right) performs for some diners in a restaurant.

Misconceptions

He said there are common misconceptions about magic. Some say it’s only for children, some think it can lower intelligence while some believe to be a magician, you need fast hands.

“The fact is the eyes are actually faster than the hands, and not the other way round. That’s why there are some people who think magicians can help you win in a casino because they are able to do a lot of tricks and have fast hands.

“A lot of time when I performed, people would come up to me and say they wanted to bring me to a casino to help them win money.

“But mind you, the people working in casinos have learnt all the tricks, so they know how to spot cheats.”

Lai said some magicians are sweet talkers and could get all the girls they want.

“So if you think magic is a way to chase fame and hook up with girls, it will eventually lead to a wrong direction.”

Facing hecklers

Trolling doesn’t happen only on the Internet. When a magician performs a trick in public, sooner or later, he will come face to face with a magic troll.

Ho said he always reminded himself not to be carried away by emotions or ego when dealing with hecklers because he is not the only magician to have a negative experience nor will be the last.

Instead, he tries to learn from any heckling situations, saying at the end of the day, knowledge and experience will be his best friend.

“It will also help discourage hecklers big time if the audience can see I’m confident and that my magic is good and entertaining.”

Ho said should a heckler disrupt his performance, he would finish the routine and leave.

He pointed out that arguing back would give the heckler what he or she was looking for — attention.

“A magician’s job is to entertain people — not get into an argument which could sour the atmosphere and make the magician look unprofessional.

“Usually, when I perform in a restaurant, and if a group is clearly not interested, I will go to another group.

“Yes, it does hurt when I face rejection but I maintain my composure and move on. It’s quite rare to get a second rejection.”

According to Lai, not all hecklers will ruin the whole show because there is some “good heckling” as well.

Shouts like “Hey I love your hair”, “Wow! Look at this guy, he really knows magic”, or “Show us some more tricks”, can actually improve the mood.

Lai said his way of facing hecklers, if things went really bad, is to stop performing and move on to another group.

“However, if the hecklers want attention, I will give them attention. I will keep my stuff and talk with them. I can even drink with them, and you know what, we can actually become friends. How we treat hecklers will determine our personality.”

Right conditions

Both of them concurred there were some tricks that required the right conditions to be effective.

“For example, some tricks cannot be performed with people standing behind the performer. Others require a proper psychological setting to come off.

“Some tricks require the magician to be seated at a table with the audience on the other side while others require the magician to wear a jacket with pockets.

“Some tricks even require a stage with a curtain that can be drawn so that everything can be set up in private,” said Ho.

According to them, it’s important to understand the different types of magic — stage, platform, impromptu, close-up and street magic — and only perform tricks that are right for the circumstances.

Another very important point to note is never repeat a trick for the same audience.

Ho entertains a young audience.

Unforgettable experience

Ho said he had his fill of downsides while trying to be a magician. And there was one performance that left him flushed and flustered.

Not long after finishing Form 5, he was invited to perform at a Teachers’ Day function. When the show ended, he went down the stage and walked past a group of teachers. One of them got up, approached him and asked to have a look at his card.

As soon Ho had handed over the card, the teacher performed the same magic method, using Ho’s card, to the other teachers with the intention of exposing Ho’s trick.

“It was the biggest blow to my passion to become a magician — something I cannot forget even today. I really felt hurt and embarrassed. I just took my card back politely and walked away without saying a word,” Ho recalled.

As for Lai, he got the biggest rejection in his second year performing in a restaurant.

He was doing a card trick at one table for a father with his young daughter. He asked the father to guess where his (Lai’s) chosen card was and if he got it wrong, he would have to ‘pay’ Lai 10 sen.

The father was okay with it … at first. He made two guesses, got both wrong and handed two 10 sen coins to Lai.

As Lai was about to ask the man to make a third guess, he stopped Lai, telling him to keep all his stuff and accusing him of trying to cheat his money.

“It was meant to be a magic performance. Of course, I would return him the coins afterwards,” Lai said.

Momentarily stunned by the man’s reaction, Lai tried to explain it was just entertainment and offered to perform another trick to which the man shouted, “No! Stop it. Keep all your stuff and don’t take my money. You are ruining my dinner. Now go.”

The outburst left Lai disheartened and embarrassed. During a short break, he rang up his mentor and after receiving words of encouragement, regained his confidence and moved on to the next table where he got a better response.

Tricks revealed

Asked about TV specials showing masked magicians revealing the secrets of the art and how this would affect the magic fraternity, Lai said the shows could possibly be the biggest expose ever, causing magicians a lot of concern.

No doubt, it’s interesting to know how the tricks are performed but according to Lai, the saving grace is that in magic, there are unlimited tricks, so these TV specials will not bring a total loss to magicians as only a part of the big bag of tricks is revealed.

To build up their reputation, magicians must be able to conjure up something original and unique.

“Magicians should have spent time improving on the tricks they have been performing. They must continue to be innovative and creative because there are no such things as fixed tricks,” he explained.

Fewer female magicians

Lai believes women had historically been excluded from the male-dominated magic establishment.

“This has to go back to history. In ancient Egypt, for instance, only males were allowed to perform for the Pharaoh. In fact, not just in Egypt but also in Greece, India and so many other parts of the world where the notion that magic is not for females but for males has been passed down the generations.”

He pointed out though that statistics showed there are now more female magicians in the world.

According to Ho, it’s also likely girls tend to be less interested in magic, which is a “secretive” art, involving a lot of self-study.

“I think it’s partly because women generally have not seen themselves as magicians nor encouraged to become magicians. Also, many people think magic is for men. Of course, some women are different — they enjoy the study and the secrets,” he said.

On learning magic and making it a career, both of them cautioned magic materials were very expensive and if you went the wrong way, you would be wasting a lot of time, effort and money.

To get started, they stressed it is important to get in touch with other magicians for guidance through a magic club.

“If you’re serious about learning magic, you will want to develop your basic techniques, especially for sleight of hand. It takes a lot of patience and practice to master a trick. There are no shortcuts.

“As a beginner, you would want to master basic tricks, using everyday items which are cheaper and easy to get such as coins, cards, rubber bands, pencils and matches.

“The entertainment industry seems to rise and fall in waves — and presently, magic seems to be on a bit of an upswing. In fact, demand has grown,” Lai noted.

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