Where the magic happens
Annual gathering makes hundreds of illusionists appear in North York
In a dimly lit but jam-packed conference centre in North York, I had a conversation that veered into the potentially awkward legal repercussions of appearing to have astute mind-reading capabilities.
Meanwhile, across the room, prospective buyers were perusing thumb cuffs. Within almost every cluster in the hall, someone had whipped out a deck of cards (and would subsequently manage to somehow slip one out from under a sleeve or make it appear someplace surprising).
Browser’s Magic Bash is an massive meetup for 400 mostly local and a few international magicians. Here, amateur and professional escape artists, mentalists, comedians and prestidigitators convene for a quasinetworking, quasi-educational get-together that is really more like a massive family reunion than anything else.
With niche magic shops petering out, and web tutorials readily available, chances for modern-day magicians to hang out with tons of their peers don’t arise often. So when an opportunity presents itself, up-and-coming magical entrepreneurs jump on their chance to poke around for tips from the pros, while hobbyists come out to hang with part-timers and everyone gets to gawk at the impressive tricks done by masters of the craft.
Jeff Pinsky is the guy who makes it all happen. For the third year in a row, he has rounded up the sprawling community that’s grown around his four-decade-old specialty store, Browser’s Den of Magic, on Dufferin St. north of Lawrence Ave. W.
“The magic shop, and in extension the bash itself, is a separate little world,” he said. “It’s a wonderful escape for some people.”
Guests at his bash said that Pinsky’s event is really the only one out there of its kind and scale. Some flew in from across the country, or even as far as Japan, to be there for the 12hour “full day of magical fun!”
Lots showed up alone, some came with spouses, and others reconnected with old friends from magic camp. Really, the only icebreaker anyone needed to approach anyone else was, “Wanna see a trick?”
Pinsky considers his customers more like extended family than clients. “We use the backdrop of magic as a reason for all of us to get together once a year.”
With everyone in the same place, sharing tips of the trade in an industry built on big secrets can be, well, tricky. Still, friendly cliques and clusters emerged between magicians with different focuses, skill levels and specialties. Ideas, business tips and feedback flowed through the space. Like, actually, what do you do if someone takes you to court over your mind-reading claim, which is key to paying your rent?
“Magic has never been more accessible,” Ari Soroka, a psychic entertainer at the April Fools’ Day event, said of the impact of technology and the Internet. “Is it easier to become a magician? Yes. Is it easier to become a good magician? No . . . It’s not the tricks. It’s the presentation. It’s the talent, it’s the entertainment — that’s the art.”
Early in the day, American magician Eugene Burger — a name known to many in the room — appeared to have mastered all that, fascinating a huddle of fans with his close-up card tricks around a table. Elsewhere, Toronto-based magician Rosemary Reid delivered a powerful 10-minute spoken-word piece to a mostly male audience about women in magic.
She said she doesn’t think the magic community is trying to actively exclude women, but believes that the current demographics are a product of culture and time: “It’s very clear why we are where we are, it’s not hard to understand,” she said afterward. Reid, who has been doing magic for almost two decades, added that even though there were still barely any women around, she saw a larger female presence at this year’s event than in previous years.
Between the onstage talks and lectures, bashers put their heads together on the floor, chatting about ways to move their careers and tricks ahead.
“(The bash) is pretty much about coming up with new magic and pushing it forward, you want to push it forward,” said Jordan Murciano, a 19-year-old magician who takes the stage as Mind Bender. He said he’s excited to see where some of the ideas discussed end up, once they appear in performances or online in videos.
“People will come up with the craziest trick ever, but I think it’s about the journey,” said the stage magician, who specializes in escape magic and dabbles in card tricks. “Some of the best guys can be crazy with skill, but they are much better (once) they know how to make a story.”
Admitting his tendency to hide from the media, Pinsky said he doesn’t publicly advertise the annual get-together that he spends months planning with a small group. He took over his store from its founders, Bernice Cooper and her late husband Len, more than two decades ago. As Bernice looked around the packed venue at Saturday’s event (still recognized by many in the crowd) she said that she never imagined the little shop would become such a massive magical hub.
But if she had to guess why it happened that way, she thinks that being kind had lots to do with it. “We were friendly with everyone and we liked people and people liked us.”
Since the bash, Pinsky said he has been flooded with kind emails from pleased people asking about next year.
Yes, he said, “there will be another bash.”