On a recent Monday night, in the choir room of a Sandy Springs church, a ring of magicians gathered.
About 30 of them sat amid drums and pianos, watching West Evans, a slim man whose jacket and shoes sported matching leopard-print trim, as he encouraged audience members to toss invisible coins into a metal bucket he had convinced a visitor to hold over his head. The imaginary coins made very real clinks and suddenly appeared within the bucket.
The spectacle was both business and pleasure for Ring 9 of the International Brotherhood of Magicians. Also known as the Georgia Magic Club, the 85-year-old IBM chapter has met for several years at Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church to socialize and to share professional tips in metro Atlanta’s booming business of magic.
“In our world, you never stop learning. You never stop practicing,” said Evans, a 34-year-old Decatur resident who has been a professional magician for four years. At that Jan. 16 meeting, he took over as Ring 9’s president and also won its Magician of the Year trophy, which is topped with a golden rabbit coming out of a hat.
The club counts many full-time professional magicians among its 91 members, and chose to meet at the church because so many of them live in the Buckhead, Brookhaven and Sandy Springs area. The other major magical organization, the American Society of Magicians, also has an Atlanta chapter with much overlapping membership; it typically meets in DeKalb County.
Sandy Springs resident Howie Marmer — better known as Howie the Great — is among Ring 9’s local members. He’s well-known for his regular performances in such Buckhead spots as Bistro Niko and the Painted Pin.
Marmer said metro Atlanta is a great place for pro magicians, with its booming entertainment industry, and plenty of conventions, trade shows and corporate gigs. However, he also says he personally prefers kids’ parties to corporate events, even though they pay far less. Like many magicians, he says he’s in it for more than money.
“I think there is no such thing as competition in my field,” he said. “Competition is a poor performer” who turns people off from hiring magicians.
Types of magical arts
Magicians have a variety of types of shows to choose from. There’s party magic for kids and adults. There’s “walk-around” magic, in which a magician does “close-up” tricks for people gathered at an event in order to be, as Evans says, the “life of the party.”
There’s full-blown stage magic, such as the classic trick of sawing a person in half, usually performed only at big and pricey events. There’s restaurant or bar magic, done at tables or in areas where customers wait to be seated.
Restaurant magic is highly improvisational, often using objects from the tabletop or the guests. Howie the Great said that’s what he loves about it.
“When I’m performing at a restaurant, I don’t know what’s going to happen next,” he said. “That’s where the fun begins. It’s jazz.”
Marmer got some of his gigs, including as house magician at the original Dave & Buster’s, by performing an impromptu show.
“I got fire coming out of my wallet. I got a bird in my pocket,” he said, recalling a bar-side show that once got him a gig at the Downwind restaurant at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport. “I’m eating fire with a jumbo lighter … I’m producing a dove.”
Rates and skills
Getting paid a proper rate might be tougher for a skilled magician than pulling off effects and tricks. Evans said that some customers undervalue a magic show and some performers go along.
“You can always find a guy out there who will come do magic for you for $50. And we don’t like those guys,” Evans said. “It means they haven’t put in the work it takes to be a great magician.”
While rates vary, customers should expect to pay a magician at least $200 for a kids’ party and a few hundred for an adult party, Evans said, with experienced performers charging much more. An event with walk-around magic may cost around $800 to $1,000.
While magicians often learn new tricks, the effects are always based on some fundamentals of illusion, such as misdirection — “making them look at what you want them to look at,” as Evans puts it.
Pro magicians need to master not only those basics, but other skills as well. Acting and personality are important; Marmer said he studied at the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute in New York. They also need skills in flexible planning to tailor a show to an audience or event.
Debbie Leifer, a Cobb County-based magician, former club president and one of the few women in the professional illusion business, said she has developed a split magical personality. When performing for corporate and motivational speaking events, she uses her real name. But for family and kids’ shows, she becomes Magic Debbie.
“I customize every performance for the specific attendees and theme of each event,” Leifer said in an email. “Whether I’m in someone’s living room entertaining children during a birthday party, at an elementary school encouraging students to read or stop bullying or make healthy snack choices, or if I’m in Las Vegas energizing a company’s sales team, what I love is the way magic allows me to dazzle people and improve their lives by adding humor, empowering messages, positive thoughts, a sense of wonder and ‘wow!’ moments.”
Magic therapy and others ways to give back
Like many people in other lines of work, magicians often look for ways to give back to the community. At the club meeting, members discussed reviving a tradition of staging a public banquet with a magic show as a charity fundraiser.
And the members-only lecture before the meeting featured Sandy Springs magician Rick Darby talking about his volunteer work performing “magic therapy” — tricks done to help people get through emotional or physical issues.
Darby began volunteering at Halcyon Hospice in Sandy Springs after losing several family members and having a counselor tell him that “a lot of people resolve their grief by giving back.” Today, he visits patients and families with trick ropes and pieces of silk. “I tell tall tales. Then I end up weaving some magic effects into the stories,” he said.
The club meetings always feature several members performing tricks — some based on a monthly theme, some “general magic.” At the January meeting, performers ranged from old pros to teenagers. One was Joe Turner, a high-profile pro who is past president of the main IBM organization and once ran a one-man show in Buckhead. Another was Ari Isenberg, a Galloway School freshman who recently won first place at a camp run by the legendary New York City magic shop Tannen’s; he blew the minds of old pros with an internet-generation mind-reading trick based on choosing a random word from Wikipedia.
Anyone with a genuine interest in magic is welcome to attend up to three Ring 9 meetings. To continue coming after that, they have to join the group. Membership requirements include performing a trick for the group. The pre-meeting lectures on specialty topics are members-only because they often reveal how tricks are done. More than most other businesses, magic has its trade secrets.
“We take an oath as magicians to not knowingly reveal secrets to a non-magician,” said Evans.
For more information about the club, see gamagicclub.com.