Tricks of the trade

A&E investigates the magic behind the Twin Cities’ chapter of the International Brotherhood of Magicians in light of the big-budget “Masters of Illusion” show coming to town.

Working magician Tyler Erickson, a magic teacher and member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, poses in the theater at Twin Cities Magic and Costume Co. When the company moves, the theater won

Image by Blake Leigh

Working magician Tyler Erickson, a magic teacher and member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, poses in the theater at Twin Cities Magic and Costume Co. When the company moves, the theater won

by Joseph Kleinschmidt



What: Masters of Illusion Live!

When: 7:30 p.m., Sept. 21

Where: State Theatre, 805 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis

Cost: $43.50 to $79


Most people have polarized views of magic. Their image of the art occupies extremes, with either a David Blaine-type of illusionist on one end or with the cheesy efforts of a magician at some kid’s birthday party at the other.

With the State Theatre’s presentation of the “Masters of Illusion Live!” tour upon us, A&E investigated the true magic of the Twin Cities, the dedicated illusion enthusiasts who populate the local arts community.

The local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Magicians offers a bag of tricks and an ensemble dedicated to the art of magic without all the big-budget Vegas style of the “Masters of Illusion.”

Founded in 1922, the international organization dedicated to serving magicians now boasts 88 countries up its sleeve. During every meeting of the Twin Cities’ chapter of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, each member must perform at least one trick for the group or contribute to the discussion of magic through recommending a book, DVD or technique.

One evening of the monthly gathering, located in the Jewel Theater above the Twin Cities Magic & Costume Co., brought discussions ranging from magic historian Jim Steinmeyer’s book “Hiding the Elephant” to a debate whether Brotherhood member Mike Steele should tailor his routine to a group of farmers.

“When you go to the club, you get active feedback from people who are really working in the real world,” Brotherhood member Star Newman said. “You don’t realize [the group’s importance] because you haven’t had an education in magic yet.”

Newman, a full-time performer in the magic business, credits the group’s president for the local Brotherhood’s support. Newman’s ties to the Brotherhood began at age 14, requiring a parent’s ride to each gathering.

“Ours is an incredibly active group, it really helps to be productive in magic,” Newman said. “Tyler [Erickson] is a huge part of that.”

Tyler Erickson, the president of the local Brotherhood, also teaches a class at the Jewel Theater. After working in magic stores including the Twin Cities Magic & Costume Co. in St. Paul, he became a full-time teacher of magic in 1999.

The Brotherhood’s meetings and Erickson’s class provide a space for performers to practice their tricks for a knowledgeable audience. Much of the members’ interests lie in “close-up” magic, a difficult form of the art that requires an understanding of technique, not just showmanship.

“I like people to be able to examine the things that I use,” Brotherhood member William Earley said.

Earley focuses on accessibility for audiences in his magic, without wands or fancy handcuffs. Using everyday objects as tools for his tricks, he effectively bridges familiarity needed in his misdirection.

“Performing surrounded, you have to watch out for people behind you and around you, what they’re looking at,” Earley said.

Behind every great illusion reveals a secret to its deception. Misdirection, the art of fooling one’s perception of reality, remains the key to magic tricks. But this actually relies on the brain’s familiarity with everyday objects.

“As the brain creates associations, it also then creates logic gaps, and magicians exploit those,” the local Brotherhood’s President Tyler Erickson said. “[Magicians] exploit assumption on every level.”

But the Brotherhood’s meetings still need a younger and more varied membership. Newman points out that a longstanding disproportion in the magic community is also true of the Twin Cities’ local scene.

“In the Twin Cities, I know three of us that are full time,” Newman said.

The Twin Cities magic scene illustrates one of the oldest perceptions in the book, with males dominating the pack of performers. But Newman never plays the assistant, and the Brotherhood encourages newcomers to join. Hopefully the hocus pocus assembly will continue to increase its magic beyond the homogeneity of other groups.

The local magic community represents a secret that most “laypeople” are just unwilling to see, that magicians like Newman, Earley and Erickson exist in the middle of a magic spectrum also occupied by stereotypes ranging from Arrested Development’s Gob Bluth to Christian Bale’s Alfred Borden in “The Prestige.”

Simply put, the Twin Cities chapter of the largest magic organization in the world is a passionate collection of magic aficionados. The local Brotherhood is not satisfied with just the rabbit and the hat.