Thursday, December 12

Champions of Magic

Academy for aspiring magicians treats magic as legitimate art form

Imagine if students could major in magic and enroll in courses
taught by magicians. Unbeknownst to the general public, magic is
similar to more recognizable forms of performance art such as
theater, music and dance in that aspiring magicians often attend
academies to learn from the masters and participate in

The Magic Castle in Hollywood is one such academy. In addition
to its reputation as an exclusive clubhouse where magicians dazzle
select audiences in a dark, ghoulish Victorian setting, it’s
also home of the Academy of Magical Arts, a training ground for
young magicians.

“There is much more to the whole world of magic as a
performance art that many people don’t understand,”
said Dale Hindman, president of the Academy. “A theater
department in any school should have a course in magic.”

Magic Castle member magicians will appear at the Alex Theatre in
Glendale this weekend for the Castle’s annual public
showcase, “It’s Magic!”

Two of the five acts will feature Magic Castle alumni Ed Alonzo
(Max from “Saved By the Bell”) and the current world
champion of magic, Jason Latimer.

“(The Magic Castle) is kind of like “˜Harry
Potter.’ The difference is that you actually have to know
magic before becoming a junior member. You have to audition to go
to school here, and there’s tuition. We have people fly in
from Missouri just for a class a month,” said Latimer.

Much like David Blaine, the New York street magician, Latimer
has a regular Joe image that seems to be replacing the traditional
“mystery man” persona, sporting handlebar mustache,
garish tuxedo, top hat and magic wand, often ascribed to magicians.
Latimer, who watched a magic show on a cruise ship and was inspired
even before hitting puberty, is currently just another college
student majoring in mathematics and economics at the University of
California, Santa Barbara.

The 22-year-old Latimer is the second youngest world champion of
the International Federation of Magic Societies, behind another
Magic Castle product, Las Vegas staple Lance Burton. The Agoura
Hills native is also only the third American to win this
European-dominated tournament, considered to be the Olympics of

Held once every three years, the event attracts roughly 150
competitors from 47 countries competing in six categories: stage,
parlor, grand illusion, close-up (micro and cards), mentalism and
manipulation. Winners of each category face off in a final round
for the title. Respected magicians judge the competitors on
technical ability, style, overall performance, appearance and
opening presence.

“Basically, a group of people seeing who can be the
sneakiest,” said Latimer.

The judging, however, is harsh enough that performers will get
the hook if their acts magically induce audience to sleep.

“(Judges) will actually gong you and take you off the
stage,” said Latimer. “If within the first three
minutes, you haven’t impressed enough judges, they will push
the button and the curtain will close on you.”

These highly organized academies and competitions seem to
suggest that magic is a more legitimate art form than most people

“There’s a dichotomy with The Magic Castle,”
said Hindman. “Magic has always been a secretive art, but we
also understand the importance of promoting it to the

The advent of film, television and the Internet has created
formidable competition, especially in today’s world
categorized by shorter attention spans. And though televised
specials did boost interest in magic during the ’80s and
early ’90s, it still carries a stigma as cheesy trickery or
what James Dimmare, commonly known as the Fred Astaire of magic,
considers “a birthday party connotation.”

“We used to be the movies. We’re doing special
effects live,” said Dimmare, another “It’s
Magic!” performer. “Now my competition is George Lucas
and Steven Spielberg. When people see me after they’ve seen
“˜The Matrix,’ I better be doing more than tying balloon

Tickets are $20 to $35. For more information, call (818)
243-2539 or visit

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