Once again we return to our So You Want My Job series, in which we interview men who are employed in desirable jobs and ask them about the reality of their work and for advice on how men can live their dream.
I think many boys, perhaps most, go through a magic phase in their youth. I know for myself, visiting a magic shop and checking out all the tricks and props was a real thrill as a boy. The majority of us leave behind magic as another hobby we tried and discarded. But even then, we feel a magnetic pull to the idea of magic and magicians. Something about magic speaks to our manliness. “The Magician” is often cited as one of the male archetypes, for he represents the masculine desire for mystery, to know the secrets only revealed to initiates, secrets which allow him to control and manipulate the elements. Or to least give others the illusion that he has this power.
All of which is to say, being a professional magician has always been an intriguing job. And I’m happy to have Dennis Kyriakos with us today to talk about what being a magician is really like and to teach us how to saw a woman in half. Okay, just the first part.
1. Tell us a little about yourself (Where are you from? How old are you? Describe your job and how long you’ve been at it, etc).
My name is Dennis Kyriakos. I’m a professional magician based in New York City. For over 15 years I’ve been entertaining at corporate functions, country clubs, upscale charity fundraisers, and high-end private events.
2. Why did you want to become a magician? When did you know it was what you wanted to do?
Magic has been in my life for as long as I can remember. Got my first magic book in the fourth grade and I was hooked. So in many ways I feel like I’ve always been “a magician.”
3. If a man wants to become a magician, how should he best prepare? Are there schools for learning magic? Can you teach yourself? Do you apprentice to other magicians?
The second question people usually ask is “Did you go to school to learn this stuff?”
There are no schools of magic like let’s say for martial arts or dance. There are schools of thought, however. Certainly apprenticeship is a valid way to learn, but that can only take you so far and only after the student has attained a certain level of proficiency. There is a Buddhist saying: “When the student is ready, the master appears.”
At some point in a man’s development he is turned on to magic in some way. Maybe his grandfather did some magic, or a magician came and performed at his school, or he received a magic set as a gift. And when you’re young magic can fill a gap. I think it has something to do with being able to control your immediate surroundings. At least that’s the illusion.
If someone really wants to learn magic the place to begin is with a good book. Look through the biographies of well known and not so well known magicians, and more often then not you’ll see that they borrowed magic books from their local library. That’s where you have to begin.
So, essentially you’re teaching yourself. But you’re not just learning technique or a magic trick. You’re also learning to be a committed student, discipline, how to process information, and exercise good judgment, among other things, which are important and valuable traits for the mature man.
Peers are also an important step to your development. In almost every city in the world you’ll find at least one magic club you can join that will put you face-to-face with other magicians, the majority of whom will be amateurs, who share your interests. After you gain some knowledge from a few dozen books or so, joining a club might be a fine way to immerse yourself in the community and exchange knowledge and ideas.
One of the great things about the world of magic is the diversity of the practitioners. The guys who’ve made it to “the big time” are usually accessible if you go about it right. The majority of the professionals I admire have been more then willing to freely share their knowledge, offer honest critique, and to a certain degree take on the role of mentor if they sense you’re willing to do the work. All that and I’ve made some terrific friends along the way as well.
4. How do you go about moving from making magic your hobby, to a weekend gig, to a career?
In college I discovered theater and started acting. I finished my bachelor’s degree in business management and immediately enrolled in a two-year acting intensive class in NYC. I started auditioning for theater, film and TV around town, and worked quite a bit as an actor/director/writer. To make ends meet I signed up with some temp agencies and worked as an administrative assistant. I did that for about 10 years.
All the while I was keeping up with my magic by studying, learning, and performing mostly at small gigs here and there. Eventually I picked up higher paying jobs, started worked with some agents and met influential people in the event industry. At the time magic was still a hobby and I made a few extra bucks on the weekends and it was fun. Like anything else you enjoy doing you meet the right people and get involved in the community somehow. But I was getting more and more disenchanted with my situation. I felt more like a professional temp than a professional actor.
I remember the exact moment I decided to go full-time. I was working in a miserable job answering phones for someone I knew. We received news that a mutual friend had been murdered by an obsessive boyfriend. It was tragic. My boss and I went to her memorial and at one point someone speaking said that Beth had always lived her life doing exactly what she wanted to do. Now, you hear that a lot, but they were saying this about someone I knew who’s life suddenly ended. At the time I was at a crossroads, struggling with what I was doing as far as work was concerned. It struck a chord because I was in the right space to hear it. I gave notice the next day and haven’t looked back.
As far as the acting goes, magic is essentially theater and being a professional magician satisfies that need in me.
5. How difficult is it to make a living as a magician?
There is no shortage of events here in New York City going on year-round, and I’m fortunate enough to have tapped into the corporate and social event markets. I also do some corporate work out of town but like any other business it’s a matter of keeping on top of things.
6. What qualities are essential in a successful magician? What sets the man who can make a living at it apart from the thousands who try and don’t succeed?
Balls. Good technique. One needs to be able to do the work and do it well. Heart helps as well. Doing it full-time requires a good business head on your shoulders.
But a “successful” magician, well I think we need to dig a bit deeper. I think that’s up the individual. I know guys who are successful at doing kids shows and maybe they’re happy doing that. I have specific goals in mind, some of which I’ve achieved and others I’m still striving for.
7. How does a magician come up with his tricks? Do you take ones you’ve seen other magicians do and put your own twist on it? Do you think up your own tricks?
Magic has its classics just like any other art form. I’ll read something interesting and start to work on putting my own spin on it. Maybe I’ll see someone performing a trick that turns me on, and I’ll research to find out more about it. It’s a matter of filtering it through my experience and making it my own.
I have clients who hire me to build crowds and create a buzz around their tradeshow exhibits. In that case I’ll have to come up with a specific trick or presentation focusing on their product or service. It depends on the situation. I’ll want to do something unique and will have to come up with my own method or create my own trick.
If I’m on-stage at a corporate conference I have to listen to the room and respond accordingly. Maybe one of the other presenters said something during his speech that I can use as a call back. As much as I set the tone for my own act, I also have to be open enough to pick up “the vibe” in the room and use it to my advantage. And that only comes from experience.
8. What is the best part of your job?
I make magic for a living. What more could I ask for?
9. What is the worst part of your job?
Some times of the year are busier then others but my worst day as a magician was by far better then my best day as a temp.
10. What’s the work/family/life balance like?
For the most part I work from home. Gigs are usually on the weekends or weeknights so I’m able to take my son to school and pick him up in the afternoon, and we get to spend a lot of time together. It takes a bit of planning with the traveling and that can be stressful at times. But my wife and I are both doing work we love and she “gets it.”
And while my wife loves what I do, I certainly don’t overwhelm her by showing her magic all the time. If we’re out on a date I’ll leave my playing cards at home so I can give her my full attention.
11. What is the biggest misconception people have about your job?
I’m often asked if I have “a day job.” Ha!
Adults often consider magic to be relegated to the realm of children’s parties. What they (adults) fail to understand is that they are the ones who really need magic in their lives.
At cocktail receptions, mingling with small groups and entertaining up-close, I often bump into guys who give me a hard time by trying to steal the spotlight or trying to figure out how it works. They need to show off for their friends, co-workers, girlfriend, or wife. They try to make it clear that they are in control, and they can’t be fooled. Notice I said “guys.” There’s an immaturity there. Fooling you is a small part of my job. Performing for a “man” is quite a different experience. A mature man has a confidence that will allow him to take the journey, with me as his guide, and experience a mystery.
My son views the entire world with these great big eyes, soaking it all in. It’s amazing to behold. But as a child grows up they are taught to leave “childish things” behind.
I think “The Magician” is here to remind us that mystery and wonder are important elements in our lives as adults, especially today where we believe we’ve got it all figured out and that we’re in control. When in fact quite the opposite is true.
12. Any other advice, tips, or anecdotes you’d like to share?
Thanks for letting me share my thoughts. If you have questions or are seriously interested in studying sleight-of-hand magic drop me a note at [email protected] I’ll be happy to make some recommendations on where to begin.
Oh, and remember to wonder.
Listen to our interview with magician Nate Staniforth: