Naathan Phan is a comedy magician, part of the Masters of Illusion live tour. Phan discussed the television series Masters of Illusion which is going on its fifth season on The CW. This Masters tour also features Michael Turco, Jarrett and Raja, and Chipper Lowell. Phan discussed the steps he took to become the magician he is today. He thoroughly explained how acting and comedy have improved his performance style, what it’s like being a member of the Academy of Magical Arts, and how he firmly believes that everyone should learn at least one magic trick.
Can you please give me a description of the different magicians on this current tour?
We have Michael Turco who has worked for Six Flags and had his own show in Vegas. There is Jarrett and Raja; Raja is a classically trained pianist from Juilliard who is from Las Vegas, and Jarrett is a magician from New York. They have a very amazing dual act. Then we have Chipper Lowell who is a fantastic comedy magician who has headlined in nearly every comedy club throughout the country. Then there is myself, Naathan Phan, who will be performing a mix of everything. I usually update the classics, which I interpret through my unique skill set being that I am an actor who does musical theater, I do impressions, and things of that nature.
Tell me what The CW show Masters of Illusion is like and about your appearances on it?
As soon as we get back, we will fly right out to LA to record those segments. It’s is about 30 or so of the world’s greatest magicians. We fly them in from all over the world to perform in front of a live studio audience, and put all the clips together. It is kind of like a highlight reel of all the greatest magicians in the world. Every year we are trying to discover new or underground talent and bring some of your old favorites back as well. It is one of the highest rated shows on The CW especially since it is completely family friendly. We have magicians who do grand illusions like sawing a woman in half with a buzzsaw, levitation, things where we borrow people out of the audience, mind reading. It runs the whole gambit on any type of magic trick you can imagine.
Can you tell me the steps you took to become the magician you are today?
As I mentioned before, I have a background in musical theater. When I was in high school I started doing musicals, which taught me a lot about stage presence, and how to stand there with people staring at you. I used to do standup comedy, which really teaches you how to handle crowds in a different light than hide behind props, and how to find your voice on stage and use it. I also trained as a writer for several years. I went to the Orange County School of the Arts in Santa Ana. It was a fantastic place and I had brilliant teachers, many of whom are New York Times bestselling authors. That is where I learned to find my voice — and my writing, how to create a story. I also had a bit of improv. training so when things go crazy on stage or someone from the audience wants to say something to me on stage or off it, I know how to react.
What are some of the valuable lessons about magic that were passed down to you from your family?
The only person in my family who does any magic is my grandfather. He happens to know one or two magic tricks. He is the one who introduced me to the art. He encouraged that passion. I learned a lot from my family. I learned about love, patience, empathy, and understanding, and being upbeat about looking towards the future. That’s the wonderful thing about magic, you get to throw the fact that they don’t understand everything about the world in their face, most of the time it makes people furious. But if you have the right magicians under the right situation it opens their eyes.
What is it like seeing your routine on this tour?
On YouTube I have some clips that are over a million hits of me doing impressions. I would do a routine with a stack of cards and each card had a headshot of a different character or celebrity or singer that I can do an impression of, and an audience member gets to pick one. Instead of pick a card, find a card trick, I try to deduce which one it is by reading their body language as they react to me doing different impressions. I will start doing impressions and based on how they react I figure out who they are thinking of.
What are some of your favorite card tricks to perform?
One on my favorites is a sequence that I came up with years ago, and it is usually the first thing I do when I pull out a deck of cards. I spread out the cards and a spectator looks at any playing card and I am able to figure out which one it is and put it in my pocket. I really enjoy card tricks that focus on the audience’s entertainment value. There may be great technical skill involved, but I do not want them to know that there is great technical skill involved. I want them to look at it and laugh the entire time, or maybe they come back to me months later and say, “I still got that card in my wallet, I keep it with me everywhere I go,” or they may go, “Show my friends the thing with the card.”
What does it mean to be a member of the Academy of Magical Arts aka the Magic Castle in Hollywood?
Many people are familiar with the Magic Castle. It was opened in 1963 in the old Rollin B Lane mansion up in the hills of Hollywood. The physical building itself is the Magic Castle. The organization that inhabits it is known as the Academy of Magical Arts. It is a tremendous honor. It is a landmark. It is a truly unique clubhouse. There is nothing like it in the entire world. I think the only thing that comes close to it is the Magic Circle out in the UK. Their premises are not quite as epic in scope or amazing and decked out as ours is though. Pretty much every great magician you could think of who has been alive since the Sixties or some point during the Sixties has been a member with us. Members include people such as David Copperfield, Penn and Teller, Lance Burton.
Every time I walk in through the door I can have a nice quiet drink, at a great location in LA. There is wonderful piano music in the background and you can see live magic of different types. We have several different shows. I can sit there and watch magic happen inches in front of my face. It is truly an experience unlike any other. I am deeply humbled every time I walk in through those doors and hang out with my brothers and sisters as well as hone my craft and show things to other people. If you have never heard of the magic castle, please look it up. It is a private clubhouse which means you need to be invited by a member or be a member to even go in. It is amazing to be connected to such rich history.
There is a library downstairs with nearly every single magic book ever written. There are books in there that we can’t even touch. We have a few that are very precious texts. The majority of ones that have been around that long are reprints. The earliest modern magic book and I mean magic without the k (magick), magic that is trickery and things like that is a book called “The Discoverie of Witchcraft.” That came out in 1584, and I don’t think we have a copy of that. We pretty much have everything else we can get our hands on and whatever members are willing to donate to our library.
When it has come to the different magic tricks you showcase how has acting and comedy improved your performance style?
Acting and comedy improves everyone’s performance style. Anyone who is in magic or has had any lessons in acting or any practicing comedy should immediately go out and do so. Comedy and magic go hand in hand. Even the darkest drama you can think of, like movie or play-wise, has moments of levity or it would be monotonous and boring.
Acting will help lead the audience into the world that you are creating. You want the audience to believe the objects are floating through the air. They can’t buy into that. A woman is floating through the air, they can’t buy into that. They can’t suspend their disbelief unless you truly believe that as well. It’s like if you were watching a movie where an actor walks by and they are like, “Ow! I stubbed my toe, man that really hurt. Oh, I think I am bleeding, shoot where are my band aids.” You are not going to buy that for a single second. If a magician up on stage goes, “Oh look, I found your card on the top of the deck, that is your card with your signature,” you don’t buy that. “This woman is floating through the air, oh wow this is amazing.”
It is the difference between being able to enunciate and to hold yourself with your head up high, and a proper manner on stage while being able to get the audience to believe what they are seeing. Everyone who does performance art, should have a modicum of acting training. It teaches you certain things like cheeking towards the audience, which applies to two actors on the stage talking to one another, they are not completely profiled talking to one another. They are angled slightly at 45 degrees, so they are still looking at each other, but the audience can still see them, and the expressions on their face. You need to carry your voice for situations where you don’t have amplification and be used to people looking at you. Memorizing lines is a very important thing, if you have things you need to say to establish what is going to happen with the trick, to set them up, or to tell a story. If you don’t know how to memorize lines or say them with confidence in front of an audience, then you are pretty well bothered.
Do you contribute any time towards charities?
There is a nonprofit organization in Santa Ana called Broadway on Tour; they produce community theater for youth. It is in a rougher area of Santa Ana, so it brings the opportunity in these low income areas to perform musical theater in a relatively professional setting. I love being able to donate to them when I can. There is another organization called Padre (Pediatric Adolescent Diabetes Research and Education Foundation) which is a pre-epileptic diabetes research foundation, as well as the JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation). I spend a lot of time gigging so it can be very difficult to set aside a lot of time. With these things they contact me at the last minute and I come out and perform for them when I can. There is the Western Workers Foundation. They provide lots of services for families that are not able to afford medical or service based coverage and things of that nature.
I saw in an interview you said you think everyone should learn one magic trick, for people with no background in magic what are a couple of magic tricks you would recommend and could you explain their complexity?
I think everyone should learn one magic trick because it is not just about having a nice icebreaker in your pocket, which is really cool, it is about an alternate way of thinking. Having that in your back pocket leaves a certain amount of confidence…There is a tremendous book that is called Magic for Dummies, it has things like card tricks, coin tricks, a lot of things are just objects you will find all over the place. There are things you will find in restaurants, like utensils, sugar packets, that sort of thing. It is very easy to learn something like, “Oh there is a coin I can do this, oh I am at a restaurant I can do this.” As far as complexity goes you don’t have to dive into as if it is your life devotion. It can just be a fun parlor trick…Magic can be art. It can be self expression. It can be entertainment. It can be a hobby or just a fun thing that you dabble in on the side. You don’t have to learn all the intricacies of the human mind and psychology if you are going to learn a simple party trick. I am all for things that open people’s minds and get them to approach the world in different ways.
Masters of Illusion Live is unlike any other show you have ever seen before. It is not just about the magic. It is about the type of magic and the connection we are able to create with the audience. You should do yourself a favor and buy tickets for this show. You will create memories. The real magic are the memories you create.
For more information and upcoming tour dates, visit mastersofillusionlive.com.