Meet the Magicians Who Make Washington, DC America’s Magical Capital
As the Washington DC area continues to develop as a cultural hub for the performing arts, a mysterious industry has begun to spring up in the district. Seemingly out of nowhere, but in reality, with calculated and careful practice, a group of magicians and mentalists have settled in the city and made the magical arts an avenue of entertainment, education and wonder.
Brian Curry wears an easy smile every time he talks to you. There is a natural charm and friendliness, as if he were welcoming you into his home. This feeling seeps over the phone as we chat, and even through our email communications.
In person, this charm is even more important. As Curry performs a trick where he takes an audience member’s driver’s license, the audience member smiles even before the reveal. The appearance of Curry’s license, in place of his own (thought to be held securely under the palm of his hand) is greeted with a peal of incredulous laughter.
While Vegas may have flashy productions and big-name acts like Penn and Teller, Criss Angel and David Copperfield, Washington, DC has seen a growing number of magicians find a home and a growing audience over the past five years.
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“We’ve had magic shows after magic shows come and go, which is really rare,” Curry says. “DC has more resident shows than most other cities in the country, and they’re coming in really fast.”
On Yelp, the number of magicians listed in DC is in the 30s. These include performers who have a theatrical location to perform, as well as people performing for events or parties. For New York City, that number is only slightly higher. Based on these numbers, Curry and others began referring to Washington, D.C. as the “Magic Capital of the United States”.
There is currently [at least] 6 full-length shows,” Curry shares. His current show, The Good Liar, airs every Saturday at the Capital Hilton.
“In [The Good Liar], I explore how we lie and how we are lied to, while performing mind-blowing magic and mind reading.
Unlike the often temporary format of theatrical productions, DC’s magical performers find ways to establish a permanent residence in a DC location or institution. Rich Bloch, a magician who has performed all over the world from Vegas to cruise ships to Broadway, is the resident magician at O Street Mansion near Dupont Circle. Her monthly show is presented in front of a backdrop of unique collectibles and memorabilia.
“The place is a living memorial to the imagination. The place is absolutely magical,” Bloch says, describing the 112-room mansion. Bloch performs 3 shows a month at this venue, while maintaining his Delaware-based show at Dickens Parlor Theater and a special effects company.
Bloch mentions how DC, as a center of business and political tourism, provided a new alternative to DC’s entertainment options. “New York is buzzing at all hours, with food, entertainment, all that… [In DC], you can’t cross 300 streets of bars etc. The ability to have performers in various hotels and venues opens up an avenue that had not been fully realized. This type of entertainment gives people sitting in a hotel an important option.
An interesting feature of Bloch’s career on the local scene is his dual career as a lawyer arbitrator, a story that was covered by the Washington Post. He manages to balance his dual career by recognizing how both fuel a curiosity for discovery and possibility.
“Magic is about passion and getting the juices flowing. The law tempers the passions and magic should be something that inspires them. Bloch describes this feeling in terms of the “what if” factor. “Those two words at the heart of everything that sets humans apart: the ability to make art, architecture, music and imagination: people who sit down to say, ‘What if I did that?”
The variety of types of performances offered by these magicians is one of the reasons the city’s nickname as the “Magic Capital” works. While DC audiences may be mesmerized by the illusions and performances, it can’t be ignored that the city has other reputations, namely that of a foodie town. Savino Recine, the former chef-owner of Primi Piatti and other restaurants, used his talents in the restaurant industry and his love of magic to help deliver a unique dinner and show production.
Dinner at $75 per person at Washington Arts Club, played with Savino’s business partner and magician David Morey, is a venue that appeals to adult audiences looking for a magical dining experience. The two-hour dinner is enhanced by live entertainment, but you can expect tableside talent from the performing magicians.
Recine describes this mix of business acumen as one of the many talents magicians develop as they hone their skills. “When you start performing regularly and become a good performer, magic becomes part of your life.”
Recine exudes the spirit of a confident and welcoming man in his performance space, charming his guests while predicting the hopes and dreams of an audience. He describes himself as a mentalist, someone who can read people’s minds, “It gives you incredible confidence that you can achieve goals in your life that you never thought possible.”
Do you have a budding magician on your gift list? Brian Curry suggests The magic warehouse
While each performer presents a unique set of talents and type of show, the collaboration between this group of magicians is impossible to miss. Mark Phillips and Brian Curry played for the first time The magic duel in 2015.
Today, Phillips performs the duel with Ryan Phillips, in a production where the two outdo each other in front of a voting audience.
As for Phillips, his love of magic comes from his interaction with the audience: “A friend once remarked that there are two types of magic tricks: dares, where you tell the audience that you are going to do something impossible in advance, and surprises, where the magic ending is a complete shock,” Phillips says, “Surprises are more fun for me. When an audience suddenly realizes that the impossible has already happened and they are about to see it; it’s a really happy time.
These artists, choosing DC as their home, perform in front of a very specific audience. “Our show is designed for mature audiences for a fun and thought-provoking evening of entertainment. We’ve put a lot of effort into keeping the show’s humor topical, which means it’s also political,” says Phillips: “There are a number of family magic shows in DC, we’re not one of them.”
One thing you’ll notice about Peter Wood, if he interprets his collector of the impossible show or in residence at International Spy Museum, is that you can’t stop staring at his hands. This is, of course, where He wants you to look. His hands are in constant motion and always held above the waist. It’s a familiar position for city politicians and professional speakers.
His production for the Spy Museum focuses on the art of deception, misdirection, illusion and sleight of hand used by spies in the field. It’s no wonder magicians feel at home in a city where citizens can’t even trust the hands in front of them, even though Wood doesn’t promote the use of magic for nefarious purposes.
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“The more magick you do, the more you learn about human behavior,” Wood says. “It’s my job to manipulate minds for entertainment. Credible lies, directing attention, the illusion of choice, exploiting assumptions; these are all in my toolbox, but are not exclusive to magicians. It’s frustrating to see people using these techniques to get what they want in business, politics or social situations.
The Collector of the Impossible production, since 1994, allows Wood to share objects, skills and stories that seem to defy explanation. This performance, which he organizes for private or public events. focuses less on magical abilities and more on inviting the audience to interact with these objects.
While so many of these DC magicians perform deft misdirection and artful displays of physical impossibilities, one of the curious talents these individuals share is their ability to “read minds.” Michael Jons, a classically trained thought reader, describes his work in the next naughty thoughts as a study of how our personal and group minds are manipulated, whether by politicians, social media and propaganda.
“Wicked Thoughts” is my attempt to tell a story that explores the current state of our culture through interactive theater and stage mentalism,” says Jons. “The audience is the main character of the show, and who better than ‘a behavioral and persuasive expert to help make sense of the current state of our minds?’
In the end, the work of each of these artists delivers a production that is as theatrical as it is cerebral, in what is a booming genre for DC.
“Our main goal is always to entertain people,” says Jons. “It’s about sharing a fun and unique experience. If you go to a comedy club, you expect to laugh. Likewise, if you attend one of these magic shows, expect to be amazed.