Bringing the magic to MSU: 2 student magicians share the art of the trick

Preston Lyford

Lyford placed a deck of cards in my hands and told me to hold them still.

He used my phone to take a picture of me and my handful of cards and returned the phone to me. When I held the cards, it seemed like half the deck was facing him and the other half was facing me. However, the picture on my phone showed only one card facing Lyford – the ten of hearts, the same card I had selected, with no influence from the deck moments before.

Lyford, of Kalamazoo, himself adapted the trick from a similar act. He appeared in “America’s Got Talent”, “West Michigan’s Got Talent” and is expected to appear in the next season of “Penn & Teller: Fool Us” – a TV show for budding magicians to try their best tricks in front of the famous comedy-magic duo.

But his beginnings as a magician were much more humble, he says. It all started at the age of 10 when he received a deck of cards as a gift during a family vacation to Lake Tahoe. Lyford thought it would be more interesting to learn a magic trick than a card game. He laughs recalling the memory.

“I went upstairs and showed it to my parents and my grandparents, and they said, ‘Wow, very cool,’ sarcastically,” Lyford said.

But Lyford was undeterred. He loved the idea of ​​performing, of showing people something unexpected and about a year or two later he got a call for his first performance: a six-hour outdoor act at a festival. for primary school children.

“It made me know that yes, I can do it, professionally, and get paid,” Lyford said.

Having hosted birthday parties, corporate events, fundraisers and festivals in Kalamazoo, Lyford considers himself a professional. He said that after eight years of work, he feels he can call himself a magician rather than someone who does magic.

“A painter needs that experience to earn the title of painter,” Lyford said. “These few years he’s just been painting…running around in these experiences, the ruckus, the mess.”

Lyford described one such difficulty: when he competed on “West Michigan’s Got Talent,” he overheard an adult contestant tampering with some of his preset materials backstage.

Despite some setbacks, his dedication led him to season 16 of “America’s Got Talent” where he was able to move on to a second performance. He was cut after that, but still managed to improve his act and receive high praise in the process.

“They spend a lot of time with you beforehand and they really help you with your act and what you’re going to say when you come out,” Lyford said. “It was really, really nice to hear Simon say I shouldn’t even go to college, I should go straight to Vegas.”

But Lyford isn’t drawn to magic for the money. He does this to bring joy to others and for his love of putting on a scripted and engaging show as a self-proclaimed introvert.

A part of him comes alive when he plays. It’s like putting on a mask and becoming a different person, like watching a different version of yourself on stage.

His stage persona is charismatic, funny and engaging. His performance of the trick involving my phone and the deck of cards was smooth and well rehearsed and he misdirected us with jokes before finally revealing the end result.

Lyford said friends and family noted the transformation. This led him to study acting, a vocation he might choose to pursue as a career one day.

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Besides how the performance makes him feel, one of Lyford’s greatest draws to the world of magic comes from something he experienced years ago when he first performed: a festival for primary school students.

Lyford gave a deck of cards to a young student who was “blown away” by its tricks.

At the end of the festival, a teacher approached him in tears.

“She said the kid I gave the game to was having a really hard time at home and he’s not super social at school,” Lyford said. “But he ran into that classroom…and said, ‘That’s how magicians do it. That’s how I’m gonna do it. And it was lit… I guess you could say that was the magic that I created.

When he appears on “Penn & Teller,” Lyford will debut an original number he’s been experimenting with for four years called “Insomnia.” The act involves a series of increasingly complicated shapes displayed in the shade of bright light, using a sleight of hand. He got the idea while doing his homework late one night. True to the name of the act, he only works there between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. Early versions of the deed can be found at Lyford’s Instagram.

Now, ahead of his next TV appearance, Lyford will focus on bringing his magic to East Lansing – he’s already starting to book gigs.

Connor Croft

Croft showed me a deck of cards in front of me, spread out and shuffled – but there were none. The table was empty.

Then he asked us to choose a card. Our photographer pretended to select a card from the invisible deck, “showed” it to me, and put it back on the table.

Croft asked which card she picked from the pile. She told him it was a seven of spades, and he reached into his pocket, pulled out a real deck of cards, and spread them out on the table. Only one of the 54 cards was face down.

Croft returned it. It was the seven of spades.

Croft doesn’t see himself pursuing a career in magic, although he said he probably could if he wanted to, but his pursuit of perfection is the mark of a true professional.

When Croft was 10, he attended Sandy Hill summer camp in Maryland, where he took a magic class.

“I loved it so much, every year I went back and did some magic there,” Croft said.

Camp started him, but his desire to improve and perform in front of others kept him going. Croft said he’s not a great director — he likes intimate, up-close stuff for small audiences.

“I went on a trip to Europe and I was going around the cities saying, ‘Hey, do you want to see something? “, Croft said. “If they said yes, I would try to do it for them and I would try to bring joy into their lives.

He has performed at some birthday parties, but prefers not to be paid; the fun and the impact on children is enough, he said.

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While some might wonder why a student of statistics and political theory would find so much joy in the art of magic, Croft sees his analytical mind as an advantage.

“If you take the word magic trick, you break it down, you have magic, and you have a trick,” Croft said. “The thing is what I do to trick you… The magic is the storytelling, that’s what I call the sizzle… That magic part is really where the creativity comes in, but the analytical part is perfect for the thing.”

Croft generally doesn’t employ much fantasy. He likes to talk to his audience about what he does in a logical way without revealing too much. But he excels in the trick, the part of his act that requires working towards a desired effect, the analysis that leads him to observe the faces of his audience each time he performs, trying to discern what works and which doesn’t work.

He’s performed some of his tricks thousands of times, watching, observing, or trying to objectively figure out which jokes land and which tricks work best. He spoke quickly and passionately when discussing this relentless approach to improving his act.

“Shouout to my parents on that one because they saw the mess of a ride,” Croft said. “As I try to refine it, they saw the same trick dozens of times before I showed it to one person.” And even then, he watches the reaction of every person he plays it for.

This dedication to refinement is in pursuit of a single objective: to please its audience.

“I want to improve, but I want to improve for people,” Croft said. “I want to improve myself so that others have a better tip to see and have a better impact on their lives.”

When creating a trick, Croft said he works backwards, starting with the end effect of the trick and working back to a logical starting point.

He wants to find a career in statistical analysis, so it turns out that one of the tricks he performed after his interview was to correctly select a series of numbered cards corresponding to the answer to a mathematical problem for which we provided numbers.

For the past two years, Croft has worked as a counselor and head magician at Sandy Hill, the place that got him started. One of the highlights of his experience as a magician came last summer, when a returning camper told Croft that he had been involved in magic since the previous summer and had recently organized his first show.

“It was so crazy that my teaching had an impact on this kid, that he went to do his first show,” Croft said.

Now, the young magicians Croft teaches give him another reason for his endless pursuit of betterment. He wants to keep working to have better stuff for kids and have a bigger impact on them.

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Brian L. Hartfield