As the Washington DC area continues to grow as a cultural center for performing arts, one mysterious industry has begun to appear within the District. Seemingly out of nowhere, but really, with a calculated and careful practice, a group of magicians and mentalists have settled into the city and made the magical arts an avenue for entertainment, education and wonder.
Brian Curry wears an easy smile every time he’s talking to you. There’s a natural charm and friendliness, as if he’s welcoming you into his home. That feeling seeps through over the phone as we chat, and even through our email communications.
In person, that charm is even more prominent. As Curry performs a trick where he takes an audience member’s driver’s license, the audience member is smiling even before the reveal. The appearance of Curry’s license, in place of her own, (thought to be held safely under the palm of her hand) is met with an incredulous burst of laughter.
While Vegas may have flashy productions and big-name performers like Penn and Teller, Criss Angel and David Copperfield, Washington, D.C. has seen a growing number in of magicians find a home and a growing audience over the last five years.
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“We’ve had magic show after magic show appear and stick around, which is really rare,” Curry says. “DC has more resident shows than most other cities in the whole country and they’ve been coming really hard and fast.”
On Yelp, the number of listed magicians in DC is in the high 30s. These include performers that have a theatrical location to perform in, as well as individuals who perform for events or parties. For New York City, that number is only slightly higher. Based on these numbers, Curry and others have begun to refer to Washington, D.C. as the “Magic Capital of the U.S.”
There are currently [at least] 6 long running shows,” Curry shares. His current show, The Good Liar, runs every Saturday at the Capital Hilton.
“In [The Good Liar], I explore how we lie, and how we get lied to, all while performing mind-blowing magic and mind reading.”
Unlike the often temporary format of theatrical productions, magic performers in DC are finding ways to establish a permanent home residency in a DC venue or institution. Rich Bloch, a magician who has performed worldwide, from Vegas to cruise ships to Broadway, is the resident magician at the O Street Mansion near Dupont Circle. His monthly show is performed before a backdrop of one-of-a-kind collectibles and memorabilia.
“The place is a living memorial to imagination. The place is absolutely magic,” Bloch says, as he describes the 112-room mansion. Bloch performs 3 shows a month in this venue, while retaining his Delaware-based show at Dickens Parlour Theatre and a specials effect company.
Bloch mentions how DC, as a center for business and political tourism, has provided a fresh alternative to the DC entertainment options. “New York is bubbling at all times, with food, entertainment, all that… [In DC], you can’t go through 300 streets of bars, etc. The opportunity to have performers at various hotels and venues opens up an avenue that had not been fully realized. This type of entertaining gives folks sitting in a hotel an important option.”
An interesting feature of Bloch’s career in the local scene is his dual career as an arbitration lawyer, a story which has been covered by the Washington Post. He successfully balances his dual careers by recognizing how both feed a curiosity for discovery and possibility.
“The magic is all about passion and getting the juices flowing. The law tempers passions and magic should be something that inspires them.” Bloch describes this feeling in terms of the “What if” factor. “Those two words as the heart of everything that sets humans apart: the ability to make art and architecture and music and imagination: people who sit down to say ‘What if I did this?’”
The variety of the type of performance these magicians offer is one of the reasons that the city’s moniker as a ‘Magic Capital’ works. While DC audiences may be fascinated by the illusions and the performances, it cannot be ignored that the city has other reputations, namely that as a foodie city. Savino Recine, the former chef-owner of Primi Piatti and other restaurants, has taken his talents in the restaurant industry and his love of magic to help deliver a unique dinner-and-a-show production.
The $75 per person dinner at the Arts Club of Washington, performed with Savino’s business partner and magician David Morey, is a venue that attracts adult audiences looking for a magical dining experience. The two-hour dinner is highlighted by the show, but you can expect table-side talents presented by the magicians in performance.
Recine describes this blend of business acumen as one of the many talents magicians develops while they’re building their skills. “When you start to perform regularly and you become a good performer, magic becomes part of your life.”
Recine gives off the spirit of a man confident and welcoming in his performance space, charming his guests while engaged in predicting an audience members’ hope and dreams. He describes himself as a mentalist, a person with the ability to read people’s minds, “It gives you an incredible confidence that you can achieve goals in your life that you never thought could be possible.”
Have an aspiring magician on your gift list? Brian Curry suggests The Magic Warehouse
While each performer showcases a unique set of talents and type of show, the collaboration between this group of magicians is impossible to miss. Mark Phillips and Brian Curry first performed The Magic Duel in 2015.
Today, Phillips performs the duel with Ryan Phillips, in a production that has the two out-magic each other in front of a voting audience.
As for Phillips, the love of magic comes from his interaction with audiences, “A friend once remarked that there are two kinds of magic tricks: Challenges, where you tell the audience you are going to do something impossible in advance, and surprises, where the magical ending is a complete shock,” Phillips says, “The surprises are more fun for me. When an audience suddenly realizes that the impossible has already happened and they are about to see it; that is a really happy moment.”
These artists, in choosing DC as home, perform for a very specific crowd. “Our show is designed for an adult audience out for an evening of fun and thought-provoking entertainment. We put a lot of work into keeping the show’s humor topical, which means it is also political,” Phillips says. “There are a number of family friendly magic shows in DC, we are not one of them.”
One thing you will notice about Peter Wood, whether he’s performing his Collector of the Impossible show or in residence at the International Spy Museum, is you can’t stop looking at his hands. That is, of course, where he wants you looking. His hands are in constant motion, and always held above the waist. It’s a familiar stance for the city of politicos and professional public speakers.
His production for the Spy Museum focuses on the art of deceit, misdirection, illusion, and sleight of hand used by spies in the field. It’s no wonder why magicians may feel at home in a city where citizens can’t even trust the hands in front of them, even if Wood doesn’t promote the use of magic for nefarious purposes.
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“The more you perform magic, the more you learn about human behavior,” Wood says. “It’s my job to manipulate minds for entertainment purposes. Believable lies, directing attention, the illusion of choice, exploiting assumptions; these are all in my toolbox, but aren’t exclusive to magicians. It’s frustrating when I see people using these techniques to get what they want in business, politics, or social situations.”
The Collector of the Impossible production, since 1994, allows Wood to share objects, skills, and stories that seem to defy explanation. This performance, which he holds for private or public events. focuses less on magical abilities, and more about inviting the audience to interact with these objects.
While so many of these in-DC magicians perform skilled misdirections and artful displays of physical impossibilities, one of the curious talents these individuals share is their ability to ‘read minds.’ Michael Jons, a classically trained mind-reader, describes his work in the upcoming Wicked Thoughts as a study into how our personal and group minds are being manipulated, whether it be by politicians, social-media, and propaganda.
“Wicked Thoughts” is my attempt to tell a story which explores the current state of our culture through interactive theater and stage mentalism,” Jons explains. “The audience is the main character of the show, and who better than an expert in behavior and persuasion to help make sense of the current state of our mind?”
In the end, the work each one of these artists deliver a production that is as much theatrical as it is cerebral, in what is a growing genre for DC.
“Our primary goal is always to entertain people,” Jons says. “It’s all about sharing a fun, unique experience. If you go to a comedy club, you expect to laugh. Similarly, if you attend any one of these magic shows, you should expect to experience amazement.”
Rob R says
S – who else do you think should be listed? Others may want to know. Thanks!
S Madatan says
Thanks for showing your bias and therefore only the pale DC magicians.