Far from vanishing, local magicians comfy in herd
The three dozen suburban magicians milling about the backroom of Mr. Beef & Pizza in Mount Prospect look as if they could be here to draft their fantasy football teams or watch an NBA playoff game on TV. Any whiff of magic is overpowered by the scent of french fries.
No rabbits pop out of hats, but a few orders of "Cheesy Beef" disappear.
Then Mark Doetsch, president of the Conjurors Corner Magic Club, reaches into a black bin and pulls out the names of nine magicians in the order they'll perform in a few minutes during the club's annual magic competition.
For his act, Doetsch, 52, of Island Lake, correctly predicts the right cards in his comedic act, with the help of a ghostly recording featuring his son Josh as the voice of Christopher Walken.
"We're a mix of amateurs, professionals and people who have a love of magic," says Michael Hall, 49, a Palatine magician who serves as the evening's emcee and works about 400 shows a year. A mechanical monkey sits stage right, breaking into applause when merited.
One of the judges is Tim Adams, a 46-year-old Naperville magician who performs under the moniker "The Amazing Tim Adamz."
"I've been all over the country," says Adams, who has worked everything from preschools to "The Bozo Show" and boasts as many as 50 bookings a month. Relegating his magic to a hobby, Adams entered the corporate world immediately after graduating from college.
"I got out, got a job for six months, got laid off, started doing this and never stopped," says Adams.
Many of these club members have "real" jobs, but they work hard on their magic.
"People think magicians and they think of Lance Burton or Criss Angel, or they think of somebody's Uncle Bob pulling a coin out from behind a kid's ear," says magician Jimmy Santopadre, 38, of Hanover Park.
"You can change their mind by performing for them," says Tom Dobrowolski, a 52-year-old magician from Palatine who has spent 25 years at Harris Bank where he is a vice president. While he has contributed to books and DVDs about magic, Dobrowolski says many of his co-workers don't know about his magic career.
As owner of the Serenity Lounge in Wood Dale, Santopadre says he's scheduling a few magic nights at his nightclub.
"Chicago and the suburbs were for years the hub of magic bars," Dobrowolski says.
Tonight's performing magicians range from 16-year-old Stevenson High School junior Jeff Prace, of Buffalo Grove, to white-haired Tony "I'm as old as I'm cast" Noice, who teaches acting at Elmhurst College but might be best-known for his role as the dancing old gent in a Lottery holiday commercial.
"I did magic when I was a kid, but when you get to high school, magic's not cool," says Tim Thoelecke Jr., 47, of Glenview, who says he picked it up again because he needed a hobby at the time when his oldest child was a kindergartner and golf takes too much time.
"It's kind of a nerdy group," emcee Hall admits. "It's like the ham radio guys. In fact, one of our guys is in ham radio."
That stereotype doesn't faze Prace, who has been doing magic for half of his life.
"I think magic is for losers and that's why I do it," the fresh-faced Prace says with a straight face before smiling and admitting that he just enjoys having magic as part of his busy high school life. "I want to do something with magic, but I also love math."
He gets good grades, nice ACT scores and has college in his future, but Prace says he's made money selling his tricks in books and DVDs and hopes to get a summer job performing magic at a restaurant. Crediting his mentor Hall, Prace performs original tricks based on a story in which he "goes back in time" to change photographs.
"I pretty much am the solo female," says club member Lori Wheeles, 53, a Chicago entertainer who mixes stage magic into her shows for kids. After nearly every magician chooses her as the lovely assistant from the audience, Wheeles quips that she logs "more stage time" than the performers. She says her male counterparts are "all great people," even if a few can be a bit strange.
"The hardest thing to do is perform magic in front of other magicians," Wheeles says.
Each magician earns applause, but nobody is fooling this audience, which knows how every trick is done.
"We do, but we're all different characters and we all present differently," says Jaime Aponte, a veteran Chicago magician who makes live birds and a snake appear during his act. "We support each other."
Thoelecke starts his act by asking an audience member to select a card from a fresh deck of 52 and then boldly proclaims it to be the jack of clubs. When informed that he's wrong, Thoelecke shrugs and conjures up a laugh as he says optimistically, "One of these days, it's going to work."
While Prace and others in the group have won the top prize other years, card whiz David "Monte" Montoya, 25, of Orland Park walks away with this year's honor by performing sleight-of-hand card tricks that leave his brethren buzzing about his skill.
The Conjurer's Corner Magic Club meets on the fourth Monday of every month at Mr. Beef, 1796 S. Elmhurst Road in Mount Prospect. Dues are $75 a year and include lectures and instruction from top magicians. See www.conjurorsclub.com for details. The annual competition will appear soon on a show called "It's Magic" on Comcast.
The meetings are heavy on magic, but the magicians focus on fun and don't take themselves too seriously. When he hears a cackle of laughter from the female-dominated cosmetics show in another room, Santopadre says, "This is the only time there are this many magicians in the same place with this many women."
Sure enough, by the time the magicians filed out of their meeting, the cosmetics women mysteriously had disappeared.