David Kaye sounds distracted, maybe even a little tired, when he picks up the phone.
That’s not surprising; Kaye is first vice president of the Parent Assembly of the Society of American Magicians. Not only that, he’s been tapped to produce the assembly’s 109th annual Salute to Magic Show, and with just two weeks till the curtain rises, he’s working frantically to bring the production together.
Kaye is a working magician, refreshingly bereft of practiced PR patter and empty platitudes. Instead, he talks candidly about the challenges of producing a magic show, the growing generation gap between magicians, and his own background in magic. The interview was fascinating but a bit long, so we’ve split it into two parts, the first of which you can read right here. Check back tomorrow for the second half of our interview, with details about David’s career, his thoughts on the growing generational gap between magicians and why he doesn’t “get” deck collectors.
GeniiOnline: So this show (Salute to Magic) has been running for 109 years, through two world wars, the Cuban missile crisis, and so on. Are you feeling the pressure?
David Kaye: Oh yeah. The truth is there is pressure. I’m producing this show. Say – I mean it’s not going to happen – but say I got into a car accident and the show just didn’t happen, it would be a huge gap in this continuing history.
GO: That’s a lot of responsibility.
DK: Yeah, there’s a lot of responsibility. Not just to the members of the club, and not just to the members of the public who are going to see the show. There’s this long history, and I do feel responsible to put on a really good show. You know, you look back at the names of the performers who’ve performed in this show over the years, they’re all the most famous famous people. The people in my show; well they’re very famous because they’re good enough to be in the show, but in ten year or twenty years, maybe history will record them of being some of the most important magicians of our time.
GO: So you feel you’re trying to pick out future stars as well as current stars?
DK: That’s a very good question. I will tell you that the people in this show, well not everybody, but most of the people in this show are going to be very, very famous. They’re all really good guys.
GO: They’re all hand-picked by you?
DK: Yes. They are mostly friends, but that doesn’t mean I’m picking them because we’re friends, I’m picking them because I’m friends with good magicians. I respect them a lot.
GO: How did you end up picking your lineup?
DK: I go to a lot of magic conventions and I see a lot of magic, that’s one of my favorite things to do, watch magic. I’ve always had, in the back of my mind, a little list of people I would hire if I were to put on a magic show. I have some of my favorite acts in the world. For this show, because of the relatively limited budget, I’ve chosen people who live in the East Coast to save money on hotels and plane tickets. If I had a bigger budget, I’d maybe bring in some people from overseas, but these are definitely my favorite acts from the East Coast.
GO: Is that a limited budget in comparison to previous Salute shows, or shows in general?
DK: Let’s say this: I just came back from the largest convention in the world in Blackpool, England. There’s 3,400 attendees, I think it cost them, let’s say $100 a ticket. That’s a budget of $340,000. That’s a budget. When you have $340,000, then you have a bigger budget, you get more expensive acts. I worked that convention. They flew me in, because they have the budget for that. So we have a more limited budget, and I’m working with what I’m given. But one thing that happens in a situation like this is you call in favors, and you ask your friends, and your friends will work for you for less than their regular fee, because they’re your friends. Every single act on the bill is doing the show for far less than they’d normally get for a private performance, and that’s because they’re my friends. And that’s how those things usually work.
GO: Would you make any changes if you had a bigger budget?
DK: The show would be very similar even if I had a much bigger budget, because these people are great performers I really do respect and I know they’re going to do a good job. I don’t want to make it sound like I’ve picked second-tier people because I got stuck on a budget. These are really great performers, they’re just working for lower than their regular fee for me.
GO: So who have you got?
DK: Well, me. I’m emceeing, because I love emceeing. And because I work for free. I’m co-emceeing with Krystyn Lambert. I’m thrilled that she’s gonna’ be part of the show. She was a late addition. I think it’ll be a lot of fun. My friendship with her will be evident on stage. She and I are going to have a good time, and the audience will have a good time. She’ll be performing as well.
We also have Elliot Zimet. Elliot is a brilliant young magician who’s gonna’ do his bird act. He doesn’t wear a tuxedo and top hat, he wears a leather jacket and torn jeans. He’s a very contemporary guy. I’ve known him since he was sixteen. He’s a New York guy and he’s amazing. He’s starting off.
Then we have Mike Bent, who is a comedy magician from Boston. He’s hilarious and he has a very dry wit. He’s very hip. The New York audience is gonna love him. He might not play in Kansas City, but he’s really, really funny.
After that we have a guy called Keith Nelson. Keith runs a circus. He has his own circus called the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus. He’s going to do an act where he’s going to spin eight bowls on long-skinny sticks. No one’s done this since The Ed Sullivan Show days. You know it’s the funniest thing to see live, because he’s running around trying to keep these bowls spinning. And it’s hard to do. It’s just hilarious.
In the second half we have some guy who is gonna be really famous, Harrison Greenbaum. I’ve known him for years. He’s a comedy magician. And you know most comedy magicians are either not funny or not very magical, but both Mike and Harrison are both stand-up comedians. They can do comedy without the magic props, plus they’re excellent magicians. Harrison’s gonna do a very long set in the second half, he’s so funny, so talented, and he’s gonna’ be huge.
And we’re closing the second half with John Bundy. Now, John Bundy does illusions. Most magic shows end with an illusionist. Now, an illusionist is the guy with the big boxes. He saws women in half and stuff like that. Now personally I don’t think all magic shows need to end with an illusionist, especially shows at magic conventions. Magic conventions are full of magicians, and we’ve all seen these tricks before, there’s very little original stuff going on in the world of illusions, so I don’t need to see these things again. However, this is a show for the public and for families, so a lot of members of the club came up to me and told me that when someone from the public brings their family to see a magic show, they want to see a girl sawed in half, and a girl float in the air, and things along those lines. I’ve been convinced of that.
GO: It is the quintessential stage magic trick isn’t it?
Da: Yeah, but i’m trying to move the image of magic forward, that’s why I’ve got all these contemporary acts in the show. But anyway, I’ve got John Bundy. He’s an amazing illusionist. He lives in New Jersey so he can get all these big, big illusions into Manhattan easily. And I told him I want him to do new illusions rarely seen by magicians, because there’s a hundred ways to cut someone in half, but I told him I want him to do something that’s going to be new for the magicians in the audience as well. And he will. He said he’s got something new that he’s been working on. And I think that’s the best way to have illusions in my show.
Tickets for the 109th Salute to Magic are available now. The show starts at 7:30pm on Saturday, April 14th at The Haft Theater at FIT., Seventh Avenue at 28th Street, New York City. I’m told it’s right next to Penn Station. Tickets cost just $35 or $20 for children 12 and under.
Part two of our interview with David Kaye will run tomorrow.
Fun fact: did you know that Richard Bowman, the current president of the Society of American Magicians, was a student at Penn State? Understandably, the college seems pretty chuffed by the connection, and independent student newspaper the Daily Collegian ran a profile of the venerable magic leader this week.
Bowman shared plenty of anecdotes with the paper, including his first exposure to magic and his first formal show with a friend he made while in the U.S. Air Force. One of the most fascinating parts of Bowman’s history is how he thinks about the role of a stage persona.
“Many do the same tricks — developed and refined over the years, but those who can adapt the tricks and infuse their personality to make it their own is what can make it special for their audiences,” said Bowman, who frequently uses the moniker Professor Higgins for his act.
He’s also a big believer in the use of comedy in magic, and not just because he likes to laugh. “I try to have fun with the audience, do and say some crazy stuff, while at the same time having them think, ‘How did he do that?’,” he said. “When they are laughing, they can’t concentrate on figuring out the method behind the trick.”
Bowman is also excited about the potential for magic to be a seriously studied and taught field.“I believe that we could have magic classes in colleges and universities, just as we have other performing arts classes like music and theater,” he said. Bowman is hoping to recruit other people from his alma mater to follow his path into performance magic.
Read the interview, with loads more great quotes and insights from the man himself, here on the Daily Collegian website. Magic has been a bit of a focus for the paper lately. The Daily Collegian also profiled Ben Salinas, a Penn State alumnus who formed a school club for magicians and now works in IT.