Masters of illusion

Legendary magicians like Mark Wilson, David Copperfield and escapologist, Harry Houdini not only made magic an amazing performing art, but also left a lasting impression for future generations.

Although the history of magic dates as far back to ancient civilisation, you can’t deny that the art of magic and illusion has evolved a lot since then.

It is not surprising to see young talents and professional performers displaying their magical skills in front of a contemporary crowd — and still receiving the applause from such age-old tricks.

Currently, these long existing artistic performances are further categorised into different genres such as stage magic, escapology, television magic, close up magic and more.

Two Malaysian magicians share their passion and let few rabbits of of the hat — so to speak — without compromising their profession.

A place for tricks

Master illusionist Anslem Roy ventured into the magic industry 34 years ago.

It was at the tender age of 19 that he performed his first show with Warner Brothers in Kuala Lumpur in 1977.

From then, there was no stopping him as he went on to develop his skills and expand his repertoire, securing shows and corporate events.

Once he had built his career as a professional magician, he started a magic club called Magic Annexe under Events-FX Sdn Bhd catering to young magic enthusiasts, a place to hone their skills and practise magic.

“At that time, street magician David Blaine was the craze, hence the timing was perfect as many people wanted to learn magic,” he said.

“Some wanted to do it for fun, while others were really into the performing art itself,” he said.

In 2007, Roy opened his own magic item and equipment shop called The Magic Shoppe in Petaling Jaya, Selangor.

It was started under the Magic Annexe, primarily for fellow magicians and the public looking for magic paraphernalia.

According to Roy, the products were imported from the US and were of good quality and durable.

“There are a lot of magic shops around Kuala Lumpur but some products are expensive. Some shops resort to selling pirated magic items and mark down the prices.

“Being a magician myself, I offer a personalised service at my shop. Sometimes I go the extra mile to get some popular tricks, equipment and orders from customers,” he said, adding that the current inventory of magic items at his shop amounted to RM50,000.

Roy stressed that starting up and maintaining a magic shop was no easy task as the average profit margin for the products were only between 5% and 10%.

Since most equipment were imported from the US, he came up with a pricing policy where each product would be charged 3.3 times more before it’s converted to Malaysian Ringgit.

Local enthusiasts could expect to find a wide range of items at the shop such as, sponge balls, decks of cards, mirror box, magic igniters, wands, specially-modified ropes and others, all manufactured in various countries.

“The concept of an illusion is fairly easy to understand but the act of presenting it in an exciting and entertaining manner is a tough one to master,” he said.

“I always tell my club members to inject their own flavour and personality into a magic act, to make it a unique experience for the audience,” he said.

Magic on stage

Putting up a good show takes months of practice and effort, but for Roy, his audience motivates him to crank it up a notch.

“Magicians have a big responsibility on stage to ensure the audience have a good time. For me, a rousing applause is an indication that I have managed to present a good show,” he said.

Roy added that the business of magic shows requires high investment.

“When I walk out to the stage, my costume itself costs RM6,000. You have to invest on an image and don’t shy away from spending money on costumes to maintain that image. This contributes to a quality show,” he said.

“The equipment box, that contains all the tools I need for my tricks, costs RM35,000. For a three illusion show, I need to invest between RM80,000 and RM100,000 for my own technicians, dancers, costumes, equipment, transports, music royalties and other necessities required for a show,” he said.

Currently, Roy performs at the Petaling Jaya Live Arts centre every month and believes it is a way of introducing the performing art of magic to the audience.

“The industry attracts plenty of young talents but the market has not caught up yet,” he said.

Nevertheless, Roy is optimistic that it would pick up in another two to five years time.

Self-development angle

Most magicians might not concede with the television show Breaking The Magician’s Code: Magic’s Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed, but for magician and mentalist Chris Cheong, it was a sign for fellow magicians to bring magic to a higher level.

“The show revealed the secrets behind age-old magic tricks and illusions and these forced many magicians to alter their tricks and think outside the box to come up with something different,” said the 23 year-old Penangite, who started learning magic at a young age.

Cheong came to Kuala Lumpur when he was 12 years old and did his first magic show two years later at a wedding ceremony.

He is represented by Retro Events, a company that secures magic performances for events and corporate functions and also specialises in magic equipment distribution.

“I do close-up and stage performances and for each show I charge between RM2,000 and RM3,500,” he said.

“Nowadays, I perform only around five shows per month as I am working on a personal improvement programme through magic,” he said.

In an effort to mix magic with education, Cheong established Magic-A-Learning Sdn Bhd in 2008 and rebranded it as Magic-A-Learning Asia Pacific this year.

He plans to use magic as a tool to help students develop self-improvement skills like self confidence, communication, knowledge, creativity and innovation.

Cheong has approached tuition centres and schools in the Klang Valley to market the programme as a complimentary package for students.

“Currently, around 27 tuition centres and schools follow our programme. In the future we target around 5,000 to 10,000 students to benefit from the programme. We have a team of 10 experienced magicians conducting the workshop, with each centre making an average of RM1,000 to RM2,000 per month,” he said.

According to Cheong, students who complete their programmes would be assessed by the Trinity College in London to obtain an international certification.

Moving forward, Cheong plans to bring the concept of Magic-A-Learning to different parts of the world.

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