Can't make a living as a magician in Tucson?

2013-03-28T00:00:00Z 2014-06-19T11:56:17Z Can't make a living as a magician in Tucson?Cathalena E. Burch Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 28, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Longtime Tucson magician/ hypnotist Michael DeSchalit is seriously considering leaving town.

He can't make a living here as a magician, he says.

"Tucson just does not support it. Most of my shows are out of state. I'm up to 19 states now," said Tucson native DeSchalit, 47, who is waiting for his youngest daughter to graduate from high school before he moves. She is a sophomore; he has an older daughter who already is in college.

"I will travel still, but if I'm going to have a home base ... I want it to be a place where I can do shows when I don't travel during the off months," he said.

The problem as DeSchalit sees it is that Tucson as a whole doesn't seem to support magic as strongly as it had even a couple years ago.

In its heyday in the early 2000s, the old Hidden Valley Inn hosted twice-monthly shows and Gaslight Theatre opened its doors to a bimonthly magic series on Monday nights.

Hidden Valley Inn closed in 2006 and the Gaslight series is now held two or three times a year.

Even the crown jewel of Tucson's magic community, the annual Society of American Magicians Assembly 136's "Stars of Magic" show, has seen a decline in interest. Once a guaranteed sellout, the "Stars" shows last year had plenty of empty seats.

The economy is partly to blame, DeSchalit said. Folks are more selective in how they spend their entertainment dollars. But he said the lack of suitable venues is a bigger problem. There are not many places in Tucson opening their doors to magic shows, which tend not to bring in as much revenue as a rock band, say, or a comedy show.

"You go to San Diego and there are so many theaters, I have to wait a month just to book a show," DeSchalit said. "Here, I can book a show, but they charge so much it's too much of a risk."

But don't write Tucson off as a magic town just yet, says native son Norm Marini, a comic, magician and producer of the "It's Magic" series at Gaslight Theatre.

"Will magic survive? Absolutely. Has it gotten hurt here? Yeah, but I think it's the economy," said Marini, who has largely put his magic career on hold to focus on his family's La Baguette Parisienne bakery on East Broadway and North Pantano Road.

Marini said the Gaslight shows are still big draws, and the theater brings in nationally renowned magician and TV personality Justin Willman, aka Justin Kredible, who sells out every time.

But the magic fervor that was burning in Tucson for years until recently has started to cool, he admitted. Aside from private shows, the only people doing magic on any kind of a regular basis is the husband-wife team of Roland Sarlot and Susan Eyed, whose Carnival of Illusion show plays twice a month at the DoubleTree hotel near Reid Park.

"The only reason that show exists is because they make it exist," Marini said. "They're awesome. They are doing a great job."

Marini also worries that Tucson's magic tradition is getting lost because there aren't enough younger magicians taking up performing. Many people still want to learn magic, but only as a way to entertain their friends.

"Twenty years ago there was a bunch of us learning, building acts and aspiring to perform," he said. "Today there are not a lot of magicians who want to perform. There's nobody. There's no new, young blood that's pushing to do shows."

Nationwide, attendance at magic shows is down, a victim of the continued dragging economy, said National Society of American Magicians President Christopher Bontjes. But "I think we have as many, if not more performing magicians as we've had in a long time," he said.

"I have no doubt there's been a downturn in performances because of the economy, ... but I don't think that has anything to do with the number of people willing and able to perform," he said.

Coming soon

Two upcoming magic shows in Tucson

• It's Magic! with John Shryock & Mari Lynn, 7 p.m. April 22, Gaslight Theatre, 7010 E. Broadway. Tickets: $17; $12 for kids by calling 886-9428.

• Stars of Magic 2013 showcase, Aug. 24 at the Temple of Music & Art, 330 S. Scott Ave. Details pending. The website - starsofmagic2013.com - should be active by early summer.

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