When he was about seven years old, Mark DeVerges had a magical experience, in the most literal sense.
He was part of a children’s program organized by UNC/Asheville, among whose offerings was a magic class. “I immediately was hooked on the entertainment and how one could amaze your peers and create that wonder that tends to be lost today,” Mark remembers. Equally memorable was the man teaching the class, Ricky Boone, a practicing magician who showed Mark his very first magic trick — how to snatch an invisible coin from thin air. “I still perform that trick publicly,” Mark says, nearly 20 years later.
Mark is one of 26 members of the WNC Magic Club, founded in 1992 by Ricky Boone, owner of Asheville’s magic shop Magic Central, and three other magicians, with Ricky as the founding president. “It started in people’s homes,” remembers the club’s current president, Sean Merrick. “The founders were a group of magicians who wanted to take magic to a higher level, and they began to have secret meetings where they could grow and share the art.”
But it didn’t take long before the group decided the real task was to share with a wider public “these pieces of true mystery,” as Sean describes the performing of magic. Soon the club added a regular schedule of magic and variety shows open to the public. “Club members are very involved with the public,” Mark notes. “You can find members performing at just about every event or festival in western North Carolina.” At the club’s regular monthly meetings, members can try out new routines, learn new ones, and get feedback not only on their magical technique but on their patter and interactions with the audience.
“For me, it’s a way to connect with people,” says Chad Sanborn, a longtime club member. “I was shy as a kid and still am, but I can use magic to break the ice and get a conversation going.” Chad, who now lives in Atlanta and has an active performance schedule at theaters around the country, shares with his fellow members an early and abiding passion for magic. “Some of my first magic memories are of my mom driving me to the public library, where I would check out two books on magic each time I went. When I got home, I would copy down all the instructions, because I knew I could never learn all that stuff by the time the books had to be returned.” His first successful trick was the venerable “coins across” routine. “You take a coin in each hand and one magically jumps across to the other hand,” explains Chad, for whom magic has proven a doorway to other kinds of performing. Energized by a bit part in a film last year, Chad is appearing this summer on the Lifetime Network’s Drop Dead Divas in a variety of small roles, from a background extra to a courtroom bailiff.
For DeVerges, magic has a redemptive quality. “I’m attracted to performing as a means to help people escape the dreary tedium that exists from time to time in life,” he says. “To hear someone exclaim ‘How did you do that!’ is truly magical.”
To that end, the club’s public shows tend to concentrate on close-up magic rather than the more elaborate routines requiring complicated props and assistants. And there’s an element of suspense thrown in, too, as when Chad Sanborn came up with a twist on a mind-reading routine for one of the club’s public Magic Nights, involving the prediction of future news headlines. “I wrote down my predictions on a small piece of paper and stuffed it inside a red balloon,” Chad remembers. For two weeks, the balloon bobbled around the ceiling of Ricky Boone’s shop. “It was high enough up that nobody could touch it, but they could see the paper inside,” Chad says. “The day of the show, the balloon was taken down and held by an audience member as it was popped.” Chad’s psychic powers emerged unscathed when the headline was read out. “Thankfully, it matched what the day’s newspaper said,” Chad says, with a hint of relief still in his voice.
If there’s one thing magicians love more than doing magic, it’s talking about magic’s rich and ancient history and its colorful personalities. Mark and Chad recall clearly the appearance at a club meeting of John Calvert, a 97-year-old magician who still tours and performs and who is a legend in magic circles. “He told us tales of his time performing in Hollywood to the likes of John Wayne,” Mark recalls fondly, “as well as showing us amazing magic.”
Along with Calvert’s appearance, Chad’s most memorable brush with fame was a visit to David Copperfield’s private collection of magic memorabilia, stored in a warehouse in Las Vegas. “There was Houdini’s original Metamorphosis Trunk,” Chad remembers, “complete with instructions. And there was a buzz saw illusion that Orson Welles performed with Rita Hayworth. What makes it unique is that it was made to her exact measurements and will only work if someone of her exact size uses it.”
The true magic, though, is the transformative nature of the art, not only for the audience, but for the magician as well, with effects that reach far beyond the nuts and bolts of performance. “I think a true magician is someone who finds his niche in life, no matter what that might be, and excels at it to a level that no one thought they could,” Chad says. “The only basic skill you need is to have magic alive inside you.”