Fellow Wands: Auckland Brotherhood of Magicians turns 75

This year, Aotearoa’s only organization for professional magicians celebrated a milestone anniversary. Sam Brooks spoke to a few of the magicians from the Auckland Brotherhood of Magicians to get an idea of ​​what it’s like in the Inner Sanctuary.

If you find yourself at the Surrey Hotel in Gray Lynn on the second Tuesday of the month around 7.30pm, you will find two of the restaurant doors securely closed. Behind these doors, a motley group of people gather to discuss craftsmanship, art and the passion that has driven them for many years: magic.

This group is actually an organization called The Brotherhood of Auckland Magicians (abbreviated “BAM”). BAM traces its beginnings to 1946, when Peter Fraser was Prime Minister and Rita Hayworth pinned on walls around the world; he turns 75 this year. BAM’s objective: “To promote goodwill, mutual respect and cooperation among active magicians”. It is one of the many clubs for professional magicians that exist around the world, but it is the only club of this nature in Aotearoa.

Just before Auckland went into lockdown, I spoke to then-Chairman Alan Watson QSM and his successor Mick Peck behind those closed doors, to get an idea of ​​what it’s like to be a member of this exclusive organization.

The magician Mick Peck, current president of BAM, delights a pair of children. (Photo: provided)

“Here, we only focus on professionals. They’re the best magicians, and as such, we’re all friends here,” says Peck. “If you’re an amateur or just learning to do magic, you can join these other clubs.”

The interview takes place under the watchful eye of David Hartnell MNZM (always MNZM), the New Zealand gossip oligarch, lifelong magic enthusiast and patron of BAM. He is also the organization’s most prominent advocate and arranged for me to have access to this inner sanctum after I profiled him earlier this year.

What strikes me first is how naturally Watson and Peck go into performance mode; they are people who know how to charm an audience and conquer it, willingly or by force. In this case, I am the public, and I am immediately conquered. (The hook? Peck tells me, with a genial smile, that my shoes are made for performance. I could be a star in shoes like these.)

This seamless shift to the stage-style model speaks to what separates BAM from other similar organizations – it is the only club specifically for professional magicians. It has an Outer Circle, made up of magicians of “good character 18 years of age or older with a demonstrated interest in the practice of magic” who must be recommended by an existing member. Then there is the sacred Inner Circle, which only includes magicians who have proven to be “of a high standard of performance; demonstrable by such things as individual style, specialty acts, originality, and showmanship,” according to their website.

Beyond that is the Grand Master of Magic, which has only been awarded 19 times (including Watson) since its introduction in 1969. Recipients must be performers of a “high standard” but other contributions to the field, such as donating time and expertise to magical organizations or the creation of magical effects, are also considered. The main requirement, however, is that “above all, they are people who have served magic well, honored our art, and made a special contribution for many years.”

This rigidity is not just for purity. There’s a practicality to this: if your act can’t impress the magicians, how is it going to impress the audience? “We want to see an act that you would be in public for, paid for and making people happy. So it has to be a professional act,” says Peck. “If you have a script, you obviously have to know your script. The tricks must be perfectly executed. You can’t flash something and it doesn’t go well.

Admission rules seem surprisingly strict – you can only enter the Inner Circle, for example, if your nomination receives “no more than two objections” – especially given the warm nature of the magicians I spoke to. and the comfort of their chosen meeting space, the rustic Surrey Hotel. If you set aside those rules and requirements, however, you see the heart of the Brotherhood: it’s a place where people who love magic enough to make a living from it can be with each other.

Mick Peck, Alan Watson QSM and David Hartnell MNZM. (Photo: An Auckland Magician’s Blog)

While the Brotherhood may have been the destination, the paths to it and the magic are varied. Peck’s story is pretty classic: he started doing magic as a child, after watching superstar magicians like Paul Daniels and David Copperfield on TV, and eventually his interest led him to be identified among his friends as “the guy who does magic”. ”.

Watson comes from a family of magicians. His great-great-uncle was performing in World War I, and he metaphorically passed the baton to Watson when he was seven years old. Watson says he is now passing that love of magic on to his own daughters.

The origin stories of two other Brotherhood members I spoke to fall somewhere in between. Brent McLeod had a budding interest in magic as a teenager, which led him to order effects – never call them “tricks” – from From Larno, the magical mecca of Christchurch which closed in the mid-1990s. Paula Wray, currently the Brotherhood’s only female member, moved to Auckland to become an actress, ended up learning magic from a classmate theater and caught the magic bug.

The word that constantly comes up when talking about the Brotherhood is “collegial”. It’s an old-fashioned term, but it fits the organization well: this cozy room in the Surrey Hotel is a place where these magicians can gather, not just to socialize, but to, metaphorically linked arms, elevate the art form of magic. This is especially important given that magicians are rarely seen performing as they often do their own gigs.

McLeod believes this aspect of the organization is crucial. “It’s nice to have people, if you think you’re doing something really good, to give you the basic truth of your act – to tell you if something is a little long, not quite right, or if you’re a little flashed something.”

“We were always striving to do something new, which was great,” says Wray, who has since moved to Hawke’s Bay. The monthly meetings also gave it meaning. “It gave us material that we could put on our shows. It’s the worst thing for other magicians to do, but I got over it because we just wanted each other to do really well.

Beyond the opportunity to hone their skills, for BAM members, dating is about the simple need to connect, to be among people who look like you and to go in the same direction as you. “It can be a bit of a lonely existence being a magician,” says Peck. “Just being in show business, you go out, you do your show, you’re the big hit. Everyone loves you, and then that’s it.

“What we can do here is go do our shows, and then one night a month we come here and we’re all friends. We can talk about good shows, bad shows, and places where things went wrong. We all leave our ego at the door.

At the end of our conversation, Watson asks me if he can look at my phone. I hand it to him and he inspects it. He immediately begins to smoke and I panic a little, despite having been in the presence of two magicians (and their boss) for almost an hour. Watson winks at me and returns my phone, unharmed. I watch Peck and Hartnell, who are surely as thrilled with this effect upon seeing it for the hundredth time as they were the first time.

When the doors of the Surrey Hotel close behind me, they don’t close on some secret, exclusive, sleazy organization. They bond with friends and comrades whose passion has brought them together not only in service of an art form they love, but an audience they live to entertain.

At that time, Watson showed me what the Auckland Brotherhood of Magicians is, and magic: the irreplaceable warmth of believing something that can’t be real, is real.

Brian L. Hartfield