The Business and Art of Magic

I do a lot of public shows and reporter Rosemary Ponnekanti recently wrote an article about a few upcoming programs and a bit about my career in magic for the Tacoma News Tribune.  Read it all at http://www.thenewstribune.com/2013/06/21/2647337/foolin-around.html.

For illusionist Jeff Evans, it’s all about tricking people while still making them laugh

Ask Jeff Evans what the hardest thing is about his magic show, and he won’t tell you that it’s making a diamond ring appear inside a walnut. Nor will he mention reassembling a cut-up napkin, or making a coin fly upward — although that one did take a month of practice. He won’t even talk about when audience members do unexpected things on stage.

No, for the award-winning Lacey magician who’s performing at Tacoma libraries this weekend and Taste of Tacoma the next, the hardest thing is giving people a good time while fooling the heck out of them.

“Learning tricks is easy,” said Evans, who’s just beginning a summer full of library shows and festivals. “You can learn a trick in 10 minutes, although some might take weeks or months to perfect. But figuring out how to present it so it’s entertaining — that’s the challenge. You’re fooling someone while making it fun and pleasant for them to be fooled. That’s the hard part.”

Evans would know. The 38-year-old has been working full time as a professional magician for 15 years now, clocking more than 250 shows a year at schools, libraries, festivals, and corporate and private events. But he’s been working magic since he was 12, when he discovered a treasure trove in his grandparents’ house in Spokane — a vintage book of sleight-of-hand coin tricks. He returned home to Lacey and immediately checked out some magic books from the library — “It’s the 793.8 section; I really recommend it to kids as a great place to find magic books for free,” he said — and worked with mentor magician Rick Anderson, with whom Evans now owns his company, Amazement Productions.

He also learned a lot (and still does) from fellow performers at the Tacoma Magic Club. At 16, Evans was doing his first public shows — at the library, naturally. Evans went on to get a college degree in electronics, but stuck with magic as a career.

But in case your kid sees one of Evans’ Tacoma library shows and immediately heads over to section 793.8, make sure they know professional magic-making isn’t all card-flipping and coin-vanishing.

“The performing part is the funnest part, but it’s really just the tip of the iceberg,” Evans explained. “To make it a career is mostly about marketing: networking, emails, proposals.”

And it helps if you can adapt your show. While Evans’ December is chock full of company holiday parties, his summer is often spent inside libraries. This weekend he’s tailoring his show to Tacoma Public Library’s summer reading program, called “Dig Into Reading.” Wearing a caving outfit and head lamp, Evans will get into the theme, complete with a new video element filmed at Washington’s Ape Cave lava tubes, where the live Evans will seem to interact and do magic with folks in the caves.

And like all of his shows, this one will be interactive with the audience, with volunteers helping him find his hidden cards and appear to do their own magic. Combined with Evans’ quick, off-the-cuff humor, it’s a popular schtick, one that recently won him the accolade of “America’s Funniest Magician” — although he’s quick to point out that that audience-voted award really only involved eight Northwest magicians at a Seattle conference.

But that interactive style comes with some risks. Audience members — especially kids — can be unpredictable. Has anything ever gone wrong?

“Absolutely,” Evans said. “The trick is to go with the flow and make it look like it was part of the act. You never know what’s going to happen; you need to be good at improv, to roll with events.”

While the tricks themselves might not be the hardest elements in the show, don’t think that being a professional magician doesn’t take practice. Evans’ hardest trick is one where a coin appears to fly upwards against gravity out of his hand.

“That took a month of practicing hours every day to make it work,” he said.

And while the audience is mostly fun rather than challenging, Evans clearly recalls his early days performing at middle schools — his hardest crowd.

“Middle schools can be awful,” he said. “But now I know that it isn’t me.”

The trickiest part, though, is actually the venue.

“If I’m at a county fair and it’s windy and noisy, with a derby going on next door, that’s hard,” he explained. “Or if I’m at a dinner party and people are facing away from me and eating — they can’t clap, they can’t laugh.”

Luckily for Evans, this weekend’s Tacoma visit is a dream gig: a quiet library room with a captive audience of appreciative parents and goggle-eyed kids quite willing to be fooled and enjoy the process.

And it’s the kids who are the best part, said Evans.

“Sometimes the things kids say really make the show,” he said. “They’re so spot-on and funny.”

Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568 rosemary.ponnekanti@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/arts

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