Magic is a quirky subculture where teens from all over the world, who would otherwise be considered outcasts by their peers, can meet with others that share their passion for the mysterious art form and bond in a way that closely resembles a family. Although they all compete against each other in the Teen Championship at the World Magic Seminar, they support each other for life and closely guard the secrets behind their tricks and illusions. This coming of age journey is documented in Make Believe, a new film from executive producers Ed Cunningham and Seth Gordon (the duo behind The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters), producer Steven Klein (who was a teen magician himself) and director J. Clay Tweel.
At the film’s press day, which was held at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, four of the film’s six subjects talked about their life as dedicated entertainers while also demonstrating some of the tricks that they have been developing. A couple of years older now and some of the best young magicians in the world , Teen Champion winner Hiroki Hara (from Japan), Krystyn Lambert (currently a student at UCLA), Bill Koch (a recent college graduate) and Derek McKee (the youngest of the group) talked about getting to be a part of this film, the family atmosphere among magicians, the dedication necessary for their practiced and much loved art, and how people are always asking them to perform magic. Check out what they had to say after the jump:
Question: What’s it been like to be a part of this film?
KRYSTYN LAMBERT: I grew up doing film, mostly television work, and some stage. It’s different, having it where I’m not playing a character, but this whole experience has been a lot of fun. It’s been very interesting.
Is it reassuring to be here now, after growing up with so many people who didn’t understand your love of magic?
LAMBERT: It’s definitely interesting. When you’re sitting there, spending so many hours making sure that no one sees the method behind your magic because the art is to hide your art. If someone goes to soccer practice and says, “I spent three hours at soccer practice yesterday,” I don’t play soccer, but I do have a concept of what that is. But, if I tell someone, “I spent three hours last night, working on this certain card move,” and no one has any relation to what that is, then I really shouldn’t even be sharing that. So, I feel like people lacked perspective, as to what I was doing. But now, with this film, it shows that I haven’t just been messing around. I’ve been working immensely hard, and people have gotten to understand what it is that I’ve been working on for so long. Also, in high school, the fact that I was so passionate and wasn’t afraid to speak out in class, I was given a hard time about. Now, being at UCLA, a lot of the stuff that I was ridiculed for back in high school has made me really well liked. It’s been an interesting transition to see how my confidence has changed and to see how I’ve grown. I’m in such a catalyst for growth, right now. It’s just been fascinating to observe, keep track of and use for improvement.
Hiroki, is it rewarding to know that you won the World Magic Championship, after working on your act for so long?
HIROKI HARA: For me, my act is still not perfect. Every day, I’m trying to best it. I want to try to best myself, every day.
Why does nature inspire your magic, and are you still able to find that inspiration in Los Angeles?
HARA: After I won at the Seminar, I’m touring all over the world, but I really like Hollywood. I always meditate in nature, in every city. I went to a park in New York to meditate and listen to music. Still now, I get a lot of inspiration from nature, in each city.
Do you guys all feel like you’re part of a family?
LAMBERT: Yeah, absolutely! I definitely feel that.
HARA: Yeah, Derek [McKee] is my Asian brother.
LAMBERT: Derek is my brother, too. In magic, we’re all just one big, happy, dysfunctional family. And, spending a lot of time with these guys, traveling and promoting Make Believe, we definitely have gotten really close. Derek has come and stayed with me at school, which was really fun, and I’ve known Bill [Koch] since I was 13 or 14. It’s just so much fun to grow up with these guys. In the film, they say, “If you stay in magic, these faces are going to be there with you, all the way up,” and that’s exactly what happens. It’s really cool, especially being part of the Junior Program at the Magic Castle, and seeing people cycle through. The World Magic Seminar is a great environment to promote that. Having that teen weekend, and fostering that family and unity, is really awesome. Even 15 or 20 years ago, they didn’t have all the teen events that they do now. We’re so lucky to be in magic now because we’re able to really perpetuate that community.
DEREK McKEE: With this film, we’ve been traveling for nearly a year. It’s so cool to have Bill [Koch] be like a big brother to me, Krystyn [Lambert] be like a big sister and Hiroki [Hara] be the Asian brother.
Hiroki, what’s it like for you to come from a small town in Japan and be at the Magic Castle now?
LAMBERT: I’ve been a part of the Junior Program since 2003, but every time I go to the Magic Castle, it always feels special to me. It’s a home away from home, but it’s still the Magic Castle. It’s amazing to be there.
Do you guys have a fan base when you perform?
LAMBERT: I definitely have a lot of friends who are a part of the Magic Castle, and it’s always a real treat to be able to go there and see them. When I perform there, I definitely have a lot of fans who come, but because the Castle is exclusive, it’s not that just anyone is able to attend. But, there’s that community and that family, and that’s partly why the Castle is so special. It’s a hub.
HARA: I’m traveling all over the world to perform, and I’m traveling by myself with no family. I live in Japan, but I can’t go back to my home except for just a few days. After the World Magic Seminar, I got a lot of offers in Japan, from TV shows and theater shows. I’m getting famous in Japan. We are also going to perform at the Magic Castle this summer.
LAMBERT: Yeah, we have a week, at the end of July.
How often do you still practice, on a daily basis?
HARA: Right now, I’m practicing on airplanes. And then, every night, I rehearse my show, by myself.
McKEE: I’m doing five hours a day. I also consider it practice to think about the act. I’m doing this big illusion show next summer and thinking it through is practice and preparation for it.
BILL KOCH: I read magic books when I’m on planes. I’m a big fan of magic books. I go through them with a pencil, and underline and highlight, and put Post-It notes on stuff. I’m always learning and always practicing. There’s a definite spiritual cleansing when it comes to practicing. When you get to your personal practice space, that’s all you think about, at that time. It’s not about what’s for dinner, or the argument that you got into with your significant other. You are there for one reason, and that’s to better yourself through your art and with your art. I’m there to better my art by doing well, and you can lose three or four hours really quickly.
When you’re on stage performing, does it feel like you’re playing a character?
LAMBERT: I think that it’s a developed version of my personality. Depending on the routine that I’m doing, different aspects are highlighted. Even within a routine, I want to highlight different things with different moves. And, I definitely have a warm-up routine to get into the zone. The important thing, when you’re performing, is really just staying in the moment, so that you don’t go into autopilot. That doesn’t make for a very good performance. It’s live and it needs to have that fresh and zestful feeling, so just being very in-the-moment and very aware of everything that you’re doing is your relationship with the audience. It depends on what you’re doing, but for me, it’s definitely important to have that relationship with the audience and to work to build a community within the audience.
Bill, do you consider yourself the funnyman?
KOCH: I like to laugh. I love the feeling of laughter, I love the sound of laughter, I love making people laugh and I love laughing myself. If I can joke with someone, I will. Sometimes, I push it a little too far. I’m not into practical jokes, but I am a self-admitted ham. This is me, with friends at home or on the stage.
McKEE: When the documentary was being filmed, my confidence was a little low. I was not the popular kid and I wasn’t as outgoing then. People understood me more after they saw the documentary. It’s hard for people to understand magicians because you can’t show them what you’ve been working on. They can’t relate to it. Most kids pick up magic for maybe two or three days and realize that it’s a lot of work, so they can’t really relate to working five hours a day on one trick. After they get to see what I went through to prepare, they really understand and love it now. Everybody wants to talk to me about it and my confidence is way up.
KOCH: Unless you’re into magic, you don’t understand it. The people that are into it for two weeks because they got a book from the library and bought a magic set, don’t realize that there’s theater involved, there’s scripting and there’s choreography. Standing on stage in front of people, if you pace or sway, you’ll make the audience dizzy. There is so much involved with just going out there and doing a stage illusion or a close-up trick. There’s choreography to walking around tables, so that the effect can manifest properly.
Are you guys always pressured to perform, when you’re in social settings?
HARA: Yeah. I’m very nervous before a show, especially now that everybody knows about me.
LAMBERT: If someone is a dancer or a singer, you don’t say, “Sing a song,” or “Do a dance.” But, if you tell them you’re a magician, people are like, “Do something!,” almost like we have to prove ourselves.
KOCH: When I was in school, I’d say to someone, “Hey, can I borrow your pen real quick?,” and they’d say, “Well, you’re a magician. Can you make one appear?” And I’d say, “If I could do that, I wouldn’t be asking for a pen. Can I borrow a pen?” At dinner, people would say, “Oh, he’s making the food disappear.” I’d go out shopping and people would say, “Oh, he’s making his money disappear.” As much as I enjoy being a magician, I get days off too. I love to just lounge in a baseball hat, t-shirt and shorts, out on my back deck, reading. I’m not always just making this appear and disappear. I wish!
McKEE: Everyone is always saying, “Show us a trick!,” and I’m like, “Pay me my fee. Do you have 1,600 bucks?” I love performing, don’t get me wrong, but it is our profession.
KOCH: That’s the best way to put it. Now, don’t get me wrong, after I give you a little bit of crap and a little bit of ribbing, I will gladly show you anything you want ‘cause I love doing it. But, initially, I would like to have someone say hello and ask how my day is going before they ask me to show them a magic trick.