Mention magic to a typical college student and they are bound to think of one of two things: David Blaine or the more recent magician who has been making headlines, Criss Angel. If their knowledge of magic is tied to the glitz and glamour of Vegas life, they might even mention Siegfried and Roy or Lance Burton, stage magician of the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino. The world of magic, however, goes much deeper than that. In the middle of it all exists international organizations, oaths of secrecy, intriguing methodology and even a real Magic Castle.
While we are all familiar with the mentioned masters of magic, Richard Serrano, or “Magic Rich” as he likes to be called, a theater major at CSUN, is part of the new generation of magicians who have taken it upon themselves to continue the traditions of magic that have been passed down to them by the tool of the trade, the magic wand.
Always having had an interest in the magical arts, Serrano’s love for magic flourished beyond plain admiration when he was 16. Three weeks after his brother went to the Navy, Serrano, during a bout of insomnia, saw a commercial on late night TV about Larry Anderson, a professional magician who was advertising a DVD set to learn magic. Serrano bought the DVDs soon after and his interest began to grow.
“Magic is like a virus, once you learn one trick, you want to know another,” Serrano said.
At 19, Serrano met professional magician and now CSUN alumnus Joseph Tran, who Serrano said “opened his eyes to magic.” Tran told Serrano about The Magic Castle, a meeting place that beckons magicians from all over the world and is nestled in the Hollywood Hills. It is the ultimate playground for magicians and admirers of the art of illusion alike. On any given night at the castle, you will find world-renowned magicians, members of the castle and their guests.
But don’t think of visiting the castle just yet. Since it is a private club for the Academy of the Magical Arts, you must be invited there by a member to gain access to magic shows, meet and have informal conversations with magicians, explore the various rooms and meet Irma, the piano-playing ghost who will play any song for you when requested. The building is an authentic Victorian mansion that was built in 1908 and was converted to the Magic Castle in 1963 by Milt Larsen.
Fans of the show “Flavor of Love” might have caught an insider’s glimpse into the castle when rap artist turned reality star Flavor Flav took one of the three remaining contestants vying for his love to the castle and even performed a couple of magic tricks himself.
For Serrano, who became a member of the Magic Castle on his 21st birthday, magic is more than just tricks. It’s the art of entertaining, performance and mystery.
“Magicians are great story tellers,” he said.
He used this same philosophy while he was auditioning to become a Magician Member of the Magic Castle for a membership committee. He was interviewed and asked to demonstrate his magic skills.
“I thought, forget about the actual trick and let me make them enjoy it,” he said.
Though you would not know it, Serrano said he is quite shy, though he credits magic and his training in theater for helping him overcome this.
“It helped me break out of my shell, since my natural personality is quite shy,” said Serrano, who added that magic is a great icebreaker.
One of Serrano’s apprentices in magic, who goes by the name Velocity Vin, wants to use magic as a tool to teach inner-city school kids and steer them away from a life of violence and crime.
“There is a lot of violence in communities and kids don’t put their energy into positive things,” he said. “But there are a lot of things other than violence to put your energy towards.”
Vin, who is busy with school as biology major and considers himself a hobbyist in magic, plans to perform within the next year.
He usually stops random people on campus to perform card tricks for them. The response to his proposal varies, he said. Some like the tricks, but others tell him to get a life.
“But I already have a life,” said Vin, who is involved in various clubs and organizations on campus.
Vin discovered magic on a plane ride to New York when he was nine years old. A magician had taken up a seat next to the young Vin and started to show him tricks and eventually told him about his life. Though he never saw this man again, he had left a lasting magical impression on a young boy
Vin’s style is threefold, dealing with speed, sleight of hand, and a set of techniques used to manipulate cards, coins or other props and street magic. He’s been playing poker for years, he said, and knows his strength and style in magic.
Vin is also involved in martial arts and compares the rigorous task it takes to master this ancient form of combat to the magic he performs.
“Magic is like martial arts. You’re not going to get it right away, but if you keep on practicing, your hands get used to it and you gain muscle memory,” said Vin
Vin, whose expertise shows in his speed, hence the name Velocity, emphasizes the fact that to be a good magician, you need charisma and showmanship.
Tran, who Serrano refers to as “the head magician” and credits with introducing him more or less to the world of magic, graduated from CSUN in 2004 and performs both close up and stage magic.
Tran, whose parents emigrated from Vietnam and became ballroom dancers in the U.S, was introduced to magic when he got a free magic book from the library and an old deck of cards.
“It wasn’t much, but I was enchanted by the art of magic and that was the spark that carried me to my professional career today,” he said.
He attributes a lot of his success in magic and theater to the guidance he received from the theater department and, more particularly, Lillian Lehman, an assistant professor in the theater department whose expertise is in acting.
“She taught me, like many other students, that if I had the sincere drive and passion for the art of theater and acting, then I should pursue it with full force. She also got me out of my shell, ironically enough, like the illusion of magic perhaps. I am quite a shy person deep inside,” said Tran, who just finished a week headlining a show at the Magic Castle.
Tran’s goal is to take his production crew and travel the world so that he can share his special craft with different people while learning about their communities and crafts, he said.
Interest in the world of magic, it seems, comes in cycles. Blaine and Angel are probably responsible for the resurgence of it in popular culture. The Academy of Magical Arts named Angel Magician of the Year for 2005. Films such as “The Prestige” and “The Illusionist” have brought magic back into the mainstream like never before. Magic, however, in one form or another has been part of history and has existed in possibly every culture’s backbone, from ancient Egypt to Rome, through the Middle Ages leading up to the time of Jean Eugene Robert-Houdini, the father of modern magic, who Harry Houdini derived his name from.
“Another thing that inspires me about magic is the clubs I go to because these people are all elderly men, most of them are retired and I am the youngest guy there. I am the next generation and they inspire me to keep going,” Serrano said.
Magic is an art form where the craft is passed on from one magician to another, much like a wizard to his apprentice, said Tran, who also looks forward to spreading his knowledge of magic to others.