Father, son use magic on local talent showWritten by Amy Biolchini | | ABiolchini@toledofreepress.com
Magician Andrew Martin started teaching his son, Eli Portala, magic tricks at the age of 2. Now 14, Eli is competing against Martin in the “Toledo’s Got Talent” contest. Both have made it to the top eight, prior to the Oct. 16 show where two more contestants will be eliminated.
Eli chose to compete with his newly developed knife juggling act instead of his traditional magic show.
“Three years and no social life — you can do things like that,” Eli said in his audition tape, where he deftly handled three large knives the size of his arm.
“Toledo’s Got Talent” airs on WNWO at 7:30 p.m. Saturdays. The winner will be announced on the Nov. 13 show.
No stranger to the spotlight, Eli began performing as soon as he started learning tricks.
“My father sat me in front of the TV and played magic videos and that got me started,” Eli said. “And then after that, when I was 3, I did a magic trick onstage and everybody loved it … and now I’m here.”
Eli performed his first magic shows on his front porch at the age of 4. Mom Melissa Portala recalled how her son would wave to cars driving by so he could show off his tricks.
“One day I looked out and there were these teenagers in the yard, a car stopped and they got out. They were probably college students and I just freaked,” Portala said. “My neighbor wanted him to come over and do a show for her friends, and I was like, ‘He’s 4!’ Eli said he’d charge $2.02 for the show. And that was really his first paid show.”
“I learned from video tapes, and then my dad helped me, told me if I was doing it right or not,” Eli said. “Sometimes if I want to learn a trick I’ll go downstairs and he’ll direct me to the right book, because we have a massive bookshelf with tons of magic books. He’s helped me a lot.”
Locally, Eli performs magic tricks at restaurants with his dad and does birthday parties. Eli explained the different levels of magic tricks that he’s progressed through, from doing rope and card tricks to making a box of doves disappear.
“My first trick was making a cane disappear,” Eli said. “I came home one day from preschool and it was my birthday and they got me [the cane]. I was excited, because I saw it on TV.”
His first big show was in August 2002 at the age of 6, when he won first place at the world famous Abbott’s Magic Get-Together in Colon, Mich.
“We put together all the tricks that he was good at, one of which was the disappearing canes, which is a very difficult trick because it requires a lot of manual dexterity and he could do it two-handed, with two,” Portala said. “We were so shocked. They called his name, and we just went crazy.”
Eli has transformed his six-minute act into a 30-minute show, both of which have received national awards. Because of his age, Eli has a hard time remembering some of his earliest and biggest performances.
“I remember them announcing my name at Abbott’s when I was sitting in the back,” Eli said. “I was 7! All I remember is big rooms with lots of people.”
“It’s been kind of sad, because a few years ago he still remembered his first huge wins and Vegas show,” Portala said. “He got a standing ovation.”
The International Brotherhood of Magicians lowered its age limit from 12 to 10 so that Eli could compete among adults, which he also went on to win.