Posted by: Melany | October 23, 2009

Oh! What a night!

Last night I went to Hey Presto! Magic store and then went out afterwards for a magic social club. I did not know what to expect, and I’m still not quite sure what happened, but it was an amazing, eye-opening experience.

Outside of Hey Presto! Magic Studio

Outside of Hey Presto! Magic Studio


Actually talking to amateur magicians and finding out what it’s like behind the scenes has been an invaluable experience. It made me realise that there is actually good reason for journalists to immerse themselves in the sub-cultures they are writing about. Although I was only there for one night, I know a billion times what I could have learnt simply by doing some Google searches.

I went to the shop first and had a bit of a chat with one of the managers, Terence. He stood out instantly because he was wearing (what I later found out was his signature item of clothing) a red fedora. He also turned out to be an encyclopaedia of knowledge about magic (among other things). I’ll talk about him for most of the rest of my blog.

In the shop was a magic fan named Damian, he was 20 studying Engineering and Commerce at UNSW. To me, that’s about as straight as you can get so I found it really interesting that he practises magic as a hobby on the side. As he was also a big of a nerd, we got along right away and he showed me a trick. He showed me the different styles of card shuffling (Hindu, Triumph, Anti-triumph etc) and followed this with a mentalism-style card trick.

This is an example of a trick that uses Anti-Triumph Shuffling. This was just found on YouTube.

Damian asked me to pick a card from the pile that represented my personality, so I picked the Ace of Spades (I’m not entirely sure why). I then placed that card down on a table and he then started working out which card I selected. He said things like “You wouldn’t pick a heart or diamond, they’re too common. You’re quite a strong person, you like to be in charge so you’d go with something high-up, like an Ace. So it’s down to clubs or spades, clubs are too girly, you’re too strong for that. So you picked the Ace of Spades.” Needless to say I was pretty impressed. He had me picked. Although I knew he was going to trick me, and I expected to try and work it out, I struggled. He put on such a show, he spoke really fast, didn’t drop his gaze and kept going with the act. I was very amused and puzzled so I kept trying to work out how he did it. Obviously he didn’t say, but it stayed on my mind. I came up with some silly theories and ultimately decided that the cards must have been marked. He most likely knew straight away what card I had picked and made up a little story to match it. But, even though I suspected that, it didn’t take away from my wonder and my excitement at being entertained. He had succeeded. Anyway, sometimes it’s more fun not to know how they did it.

The inside of Hey Presto!

The inside of Hey Presto!

Mounted Houdini Picture

Mounted Houdini Picture

As I looked around the shop there were hundreds of interesting little gadgets and decorations everywhere. There were posters of famous magicians, including a screen-printed poster of Houdini inside of a large golden frame. This really helped to set the tone of the shop. There were funny little things like ‘Fart Lollies’, ‘Invisible Ink’, ‘Worms in a Can’ etc. Gadgets like this were stacked up on shelves and against one wall was a novelty unit of shelves that continuously rotated on the spot. The front wall had a row of novelty hats and the back corner was lined with rows and rows of novelty masks. My favourite mask was a goofy, rubber mask of Mr. Bean.
Inside Hey presto!

Inside Hey presto!

Close to the door was a small table of odds and ends. Like a kid in a magic store, I started pressing buttons and playing with things. I started up a plush hamster that started singing ‘Kung-Fu Fighting’ and swinging a nun-chuck. Terence looked at me while I was playing and told me an interesting story. Next to the Kung-Fu Hamster was a hamster that sings ‘I love Rock n’ Roll’ and beside that was another, slightly fatter hamster that was supposed to look like Kelly Clarkson. Interestingly, on Kelly Clarkson’s last tour around Australia she popped into Hey Presto! and bought $2000 worth of tricks and gadgets, including six of the Kelly Clarkson singing-hamsters. This was a highly amusing story and reminded me that so many people are interested in magic, often without making it obvious. On a pillar in the shop there was a wall of photographs of famous people who have visited the shop, including Richard Branson, Liz Hurley and Olivia Newton-John.

Novelty Table

Novelty Table

Liz Hurley Signed Picture

Liz Hurley Signed Picture

Furthermore, Terence told me that some quite famous actors are actually involved in performing magic professionally. For example, Jason Alexander of Seinfeld fame, has had a love of magic since he was a child and occasionally performs in front of large audiences, such as at Magic Castle.

“Jason Alexander, a major star in the world, is doing this because he loves magic and he loves the fun of performing,” said Milt Larson. “Obviously, we can’t go out and hire a Jason Alexander, a superstar…he loves the Magic Castle, this crazy place, and we’re thrilled he can be here.”

For more info, click here.

Jason Alexander Performing Photo: google images

Jason Alexander Performing Photo: google images


Jason Alexander and Criss Angel Photo: google images

Jason Alexander and Criss Angel Photo: google images

Another well-known actor, Neil Patrick Harris is very much involved with magic. His relationship was described in an article from NY Mag written by Emily Nussbaum entitled High-Wire Act.

Neil Patrick Harris is a magician. I mean this literally: Harris is on the board of directors of the Magic Castle, that dorky-fabulous private club in Los Angeles, where the world’s magicians gather to carouse in black tie and exchange intra-magical secrets—an institution memorably parodied on Arrested Development as the Gothic Castle. He attends meetings to set club policy. Last October, he hosted the Magic Awards ceremony in Las Vegas, and recently directed another member’s one-man show. Years before he was launched into teen stardom on Doogie Howser, M.D., Steven Bochco’s late-eighties drama about a teenage surgeon, Harris was a dedicated magic geek, saving his allowance for visits to see his grandparents in Albuquerque—buying sponge balls, thumb tips, hot rods, then practicing obsessively during the three-hour drive back to the small town of Ruidoso, New Mexico.
An obsession with magic requires a particular personality type: the nerd extrovert. “When you go to a magic conference, and you spend time with 500 magician people, you start to realize … trends,” he says with an arched eyebrow. “It’s the coolest hobby in the world, but people tend to get into magic because no one would talk to them.”

Here are two clips of Harris performing little bits of magic on Ellen.

This is the one where he decapitates himself.

Very impressive.

While we were in the shop Terence showed some of the customers a cool coin trick. He asked us me to see if I could work the trick out… I couldn’t. Interestingly, my first reaction was to get slightly frustrated and say that I could not work it out and that I felt dumb. This is interesting because not long after I asked Terence why magic is so much of a ‘boy’s club’ and he said that it is because women generally don’t perform magic and they are often the worst audiences. Women (generally speaking) take magic as a challenge and feel that the magician is trying to get one up over them and prove that they are superior. This is something that I proved just moments before when I whinged about not understanding. This is what makes magic so much of a boy’s sub-culture.

By this time a few extra people had come into the store and started talking about their social club. It’s called The Cult as a play on the fact that magic is such a sub-culture. One of the amateur magicians was interested in learning the block-head routine where you hammer a nail in through your nose (ouch!) and Terence was teaching him to do it. It was amazing to watch and I completely freaked out and cringed the entire time. He said that afterwards you can smell metal for about two or three days.

Terence said that he has widened his nasal passage enough to use an ice-pick for the trick. Ew. This is not an illusion; he was seriously placing a nail through his nose. There is a certain passage that allows this to happen without killing the person. However, he did say that if you start feeling like you’re going to sneeze you should pull the nail out immediately because after you sneeze your body will then naturally suck the nail up into your head. It was fascinating to watch.

Human Blockhead Diagram

Human Blockhead Diagram

At this stage Terence started closing the shop and then we all headed down to the Paragon Pub. Curiously, I had parked my car at Wolli Creek and caught the train into the city. On my way home just as I was hopping into my car I noticed that the building that I parked in front of was called Paragon Cosmetics. This completely surprised me because it is a word that I am not familiar with. I looked it up and apparently it means “Paragon- an ideal instance; a perfect embodiment of a concept.” Is it clutching at straws to say that attending this social club is a “perfect embodiment” of the concept of this sub-culture of magicians?

When we got to the pub the theme was Teach an old dog new tricks. Each member had to perform a trick they had never performed in front of the group before. It was very interesting. They seemed to drink a lot and smoke a lot. Definitely a lot more than I expected for a bunch of self proclaimed ‘nerds’.

Terence and I

Terence and I

There are so many things that happened at the pub. I was part of some of the most interesting conversations I had ever encountered before. I will explain further in my article so you’ll have to read it to find out more!

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