Cutlery clatters against plates as waiters race between tables, scooping up the first of a five course meal at Ben and Jerry’s Steakhouse in downtown New York. Then Eli Bosnick steps into the room, ringing a bell.
“Ladies and gentleman,” he begins as the patrons of the upscale restaurant turn their attention to him. “We’ve got a good show for you tonight…”
Bosnick is both MC and producer of Taste of Magic, an intimate night of table side sleight of hand. But this is more than just an unusual chance for audiences to experience magic up-close-and-personal. It’s an exceptional opportunity for established performers in the New York magic scene to pass along the legacy of performance to emerging magical talent looking to try their hand, deck of cards or rubber bands at this art.
“It’s helped my growth exponentially, having so many opportunities to perform,” says Matt Cooke. The 22-year old has been appearing alongside Bosnick and the Taste of Magic crew for just over a year. “I had no experience with performing at all, and I was just shaking,” Cooke recalls about his first night performing at the weekly magic event. “But then about 45 seconds into my first trick I was relieved, more than anything else, because I was realized oh, I do want to do this, and I can do this.”
The look on Cooke’s face says it all. “There’s just this feeling when you just do the impossible for people. It’s just great, it’s all just people laughing and smiling. It was fantastic.”
Kent Axell, 29, is an established magician and the artistic director of Taste of Magic. “I like the intimacy of performing for smaller groups,” he explains. “Large groups tend to be easier to misdirect. Part of that is the applause. It’s easier to get a large group to clap for magic- it’s a bit like comedy in that way. But [in a smaller group], making two people laugh is harder than making 200 people laugh.”
“Whenever you watch magic on T.V. or on a stage, the further you are away from it, the more people think it’s technology, or a camera trick,” Matt adds. “But when you’re sitting with people, and there’s something in your hands and then it’s not, you can’t deny it or pass it off as special effects. It’s a shame more people don’t get to experience magic like this.”
After Bosnick’s introduction, a team of eight magicians floods the second floor of Ben and Jack’s Steakhouse. They each make their way to a round table, where they perform a variety of tricks with simple props. Some stand, while others sit down and make themselves a guest at the table. And all these young dudes are dressed to the nines, in fine suits and fully coifed hair dos.
They’re charming and soon laughter erupts from elegant tables around the room. These magicians are in their element, and they make these complicated sequences of movements and performance look easy but the truth is that these quick feats of deception are the result of untold hours and years of practice.
If Ben and Jack’s Steakhouse acts as a stage for these magicians, Magnets magic club is their back stage, their school and their social group all rolled into one.
“Magicians are famously closed and magic is a business of secrets,” says Bosnick. “And so a lot of the time, if you don’t already have jobs, if you’re not already performing, people don’t want to talk to you. We’re not like that, we’re one of the only groups in the city that’s open to ‘all-comers’, that is people at any level of expertise. We have about 50 members.”
Magnets meets every Monday evening in an underground food court in midtown. This club takes over several tables and includes women and men, business people, students and even a few teenagers in its ranks. The open vibe of Magnets is apparent as soon as I sit down, as they casually welcome me and my tape recorder while one of their group continues to demonstrate a particularly quick trick.
“I started magic when I was 10, and I’m 18 now,” Kevin Kapinos tells me by way of introduction. He is a student at NYU, double majoring in Computer Science and Jazz Studies. “He has an amazing brain,” one of his club mate’s chimes in, as Kapinos shrugs modestly.
“I’ve been in New York for a year, and I preform with Taste of Magic,” he says with the same nonchalant attitude. “My goal with magic is same as everything I study- to get as good as I can while I’m … in the city.”
Cooke speaks about Magnets with love. “They showed me what tricks to learn, told me oh that is no good or try it like this,” he says. “They’re such a good community, they helped me out so much and I’m very grateful for them.”
The Only Person Holding You Back is You
“I wanted to be an actor since I was 2 years old, and I just realized that magic was having a play in my pocket. If I have a deck of cards in my pocket, I can do an hour and a half in front of an audience.” Bosnick explains, and tells me that he poured through the only two books in NYU’s library on magic until he got a firm grasp on his first tricks.
“The fantastic thing about magic is that unlike acting, or stock brokering or a million other jobs, the only person holding you back from doing it is you,” Bosnick adds, as we watch the Magnets club in action. “The likelihood, if you put in all the work you need to, of being a successful magician, in my opinion is 100%.”
But like any art form, turning pro as a magicians requires some business savvy. “There are many, many ways, some more and some less effective, of making your way as a performance artist,” Axell says. “One of the challenges that I’ve had to cope with over the years is the fact that you spend most of your time promoting yourself and advertising… rather than working on your art. The advice I always give to anyone who wants to ‘gig’ for a living is to take a business class.”
A Taste of Magic ends with a room full of applause, and the cast of magicians bow out to the side room, where they loosen their ties and finally sit down. It’s been a long night of entertaining, and they’re hungry and tired. But as they prepare to leave and make plans to get food, they’re joking and smiling with each other.
“If you’re going to do the thing you love, you’ve got to work for it,” Cooke tells me on the way out of the door. “But all that sweat and sacrifice is definitely, definitely worth it.”
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