Toledo Society of Magicians hosts annual ‘close-up’ eventWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Watch closely. Whatever you do, don’t look away. Try not to blink or you’ll miss it. Then again, you might miss it even if you were carefully examining the performer the whole time. That’s the wonder — the art — of close-up magic.
Unlike its stage-bound brethren, close-up magic is intimate, personal, involved. The magician is often within arm’s length, which lessens the chance that they can get away with something. Which, of course, means it’s even more amazing when they do.
“Close-up magic, as the word suggests, is close-up. And people can be hands-on, can actually experience the magic very close-up — inches away, as opposed to just viewing the magic. I think that’s the main difference,” said Toledo-area magician Martin Jarret.
“It’s right there. They’re touching the objects, they’re seeing it just inches away. It makes it more of an experience. It’s more intimate,” he added. “Close-up magic is a wonderful experience to truly engage with the audience and allow them the opportunity to really experience the magic.”
The allure of sitting right there next to a performer as he astounds you with illusions is one of the main things that makes the event An Afternoon of Close-Up Magic such a remarkably popular event. Celebrating its 11th year, the annual show featuring local magicians performing small-scale effects will take place at 3 p.m. April 1 at the Holiday Inn French Quarter in Perrysburg.
Jarret, who is the event chairperson for the Toledo Society of Magicians (TSM), said the event was the brainchild of a specific member of their ranks.
“We had a young magician in our club whose name was Mike Duseberg just finishing college and going off to be a full-time magician in Florida. And he had this idea of doing an afternoon of close-up magic. His goal was to get this going before he left town, and he succeeded.
“We had such a great reaction to this that the show has expanded to what it is now. This is our 11th consecutive year, and every year we sell out. It’s become a very popular event,” Jarret said.
For Jarret, performing at the event is one of the highlights of a passion for illusion that has consumed most of his life — he’s performed magic for the past 35 years.
“I was first inspired by reading some books about Harry Houdini. Then, [I] came across a magic shop — I was living in upstate New York — tried out a couple tricks, and then it became almost addictive.”
Houdini, who practically no one alive today could have ever seen perform, continues to define magic for people around the world. “He’s one of the best-known persons in the world,” Jarret said. “You want people to name someone famous, Harry Houdini is often on the top five or the top 10. It’s a legend, and it’s a phenomenal story, life story.”
Jarret’s passion for magic continues as a member of the TSM, a chapter (or “ring”) of the International Brotherhood of Magicians. The Toledo organization has existed for more than 50 years, Jarret said, and the Afternoon of Close-Up Magic has become one of their signature events.
“We keep it small. We have about a 275-seat capacity, to really enhance the experience of the audience members. What we do is, our show at the French Quarter, we have five separate rooms and we have seven performers. And the seven performers rotate from room to room in a staggered rotation system.
“So the audience sits, enjoys the show, and the magicians perform their show five times — once in each of the performing venues. I think this is a unique way of staging a magic show,” Jarret said.
Every magician’s act runs about 15 minutes, giving attendees a full afternoon of entertainment — and watching very, very closely.
“You watch magic on TV, on videos — you never know what’s really going on. Is it camera work? Is it some visual effect? But you see magic in person, and you’re that close, you know it’s real,” Jarret said.
Tickets are $15. Visit toledomagic.com/show.htm for more information.
Houdini — The magician in the Glass City
By Jim Beard
Walking in the footsteps of Harry Houdini, arguably one of the most popular entertainers of all time, can lead to some fascinating places — such as Toledo. The Hungarian-born magician performed in the Glass City on at least four separate occasions, adding immensely to its rich history and legacy of legerdemain.
On Aug. 19, 1893, the Houdini Brothers — Harry and his younger brother Theo — were on the bill at the Wonderland Theater at 238 Summit St. The venue was a “dime museum,” a combination science center and vaudeville hall that avoided the Sunday blue laws by registering as a “museum.” Such a place was considered the lowest of the low for a performer in those days, but Houdini, just 19, knew he needed to work his way up from the bottom. By 1896, Theo was no longer part of the act and had been replaced by Harry’s wife; on Nov. 9 of that year, they were billed as “Harry and Bessie Houdini” at the second Wonderland, at 407 Summit St.
The theater’s promoters must have liked what they saw in the duo, for the very next year they brought them back to perform at the New Wonderland at 518-520 Summit St. On Dec. 4, 1897, Harry and Bessie appeared simply as “The Houdinis,” touting an act they called the “Handcuff Mysteries.” Soon, Harry, the consummate self-promoter, would be the only Houdini on the bill and would dub himself the “Handcuff King.”
When Houdini next returned to the Glass City, he was a star. In 1907, returning to the United States after a successful European tour, he headlined at the Valentine Theatre, then called Keith’s Valentine Theatre. Little is known today about that performance, but the famous illusionist’s visit is forever enshrined in the theater’s onsite mural of famous acts. In addition, the March 15 edition of The Blade that year contained a mention of the Houdinis being in town for two weeks with their dog, a gift of Czar Nicholas of Russia.
Sadly, Harry Houdini never again returned to the city. After collapsing on stage at the Garrick Theatre in Detroit in 1926, he was rushed to Grace Hospital with a ruptured, gangrenous appendix. His hope was to make the trip down to Toledo where, as authors William Kalush and Larry Sloman tell us in “The Secret Life of Houdini,” the magician would “have a séance with the medium Ada Besinnet.” But it just wasn’t in the cards; on Oct. 31, Halloween, he died, barely an hour’s drive from Toledo’s northern border.
In his time, Houdini was ascribed supernatural powers, including the ability to dematerialize at will and speak with the dead, but in reality he was a man who loved a good show and never missed an opportunity for promotion. Houdini was also a movie star with his own film studio, a fan of new technologies and the holder of a world record: the first man to fly an airplane on the Australian continent.
Today, his legacy continues unabated. His surviving silent films can be enjoyed in a deluxe boxed set from Kino International — including an audio snippet of his actual voice — a new Houdini online game is available for play and a Houdini musical is reported to be making its way to Broadway.
The magician’s grand “superhero” persona will even make its return in a pulp-flavored fiction anthology, out later this year from Airship 27 Productions and featuring a story from a Toledo author. Houdini lives on to entertain a whole new generation of 21st century fans.