Photo by Megan Leigh Barnard

Magic: The Gathering

What if I told you that a group of magicians meet every week in an unassuming storefront to watch and listen as the masters of their trade reveal their hidden secrets?

What If I told you that this same store serves as a video broadcast studio where these lectures are streamed live around the world for thousands of other magicians to tune in and hone their skills?

What if I told you that this storefront is located on High Street in the North Campus area of Columbus?

You’d probably say, “That’s about the nerdiest thing I’ve ever heard of.”

Well, it is.

And it’s amazing.

p3meeting-3

Photo by Megan Leigh Barnard

For starters, this is no ordinary lecture. Just inside the door at P3 Magic, aspiring illusionists have been given a literal front row seat to train at the hands of some of the best in the field – from Mac King to Max Mavern to Harry Anderson, who you may remember from his Night Court days.

The only ordinary thing inside these doors is me, a writer/bartender interloping in a mysterious underground world where he doesn’t belong.

Seven minutes! Someone calls out, just as the chorus to “Spirit in the Sky” begins over the speakers. I walk through another doorway and find myself in a brick-walled room with about 15 other people. There are two rows of chairs facing a brick arch, and a reclaimed wood backdrop lit with blue lights from the floor, you know, in a super mysterious magic-y way. Five minutes! I find a seat in the back row, as others settle in around me. AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” plays next (there’s a clear theme to this playlist), and the man sitting next to me introduces himself, assuring me excitedly that I picked a good lecture to attend.

“This guy is great,” he says. “He’s good with characters and themes. Tricks are important, but sometimes it’s about developing a theme.” Of course, I think to myself, the only one in the room who can’t perform a simple card trick, they’re all magicians.

I settle into my chair, as host Dan Harlan straightens his tie in front of the camera. “10…9…8…7…”

Photo by Megan Leigh Barnard

Photo by Megan Leigh Barnard

Behind the camera, standing at the back of the room, is Nick Locapo, theatre director for P3, which opened as Papercrane Magic in 2007 when Columbus residents Mandy Hartley and Shaun Dunn started the company to produce instructional magic DVDs. Later, Papercrane merged with Penguin Magic, the world’s largest magic retailer, to become P3, which now serves as the video production studio for Penguin Magic. The online lecture series, known as Penguin Live, premiered in January 2012.

Locapo, who has been performing for 15 years, said it can be tough to overcome the stigma associated with magicians.

“Unfortunately, when people think about magic, they still think about a performer from 100 years ago: a man on stage with a cape and top hat, pulling a rabbit from a hat. Or they assume it’s just for kids’ birthday parties,” he said. “The truth is, magic is filled with some of the world’s most creative people, who are doing brilliant things.”

Tonight the brilliance comes from guest John Lovick, a famous magician from Los Angeles, who offers tricks, tips, and insight into the world of magic. For his opening trick, he conjures a bottle of Miller Lite from beneath a handkerchief (something the bartender and nerd in me appreciates), and over the next five hours (yes, five) I sit through the most elaborate and incredibly thorough magic lecture of all time. Those around me are on the edge of their seats, completely rapt by the magician’s meticulous recounting of the trick’s evolution over the years – which he tells us had much to do with the finer points of a standard suit versus a three-piece suit and how well each could conceal a beer bottle.

Lovick performs and explains a wide range of styles, including card tricks, mentalism, and the art of the force; terms like “confabulation” (a prediction of three or more events) get frequent mentions. For those in the room, this is a chance to watch a master at work. Later, as he sat with the host fielding questions sent in from viewers on the subject of scripting performances, I was reminded that there were a lot more people paying attention than the 15 locals surrounding me.

Photo by Megan Leigh Barnard

Photo by Megan Leigh Barnard

“In America, you could argue that magic is the most popular it’s been in 100 years,” Locapo said, referencing the thousands who tune in online each week for the lectures. “We just had a magician win America’s Got Talent. There are new TV shows and movies popping up constantly. Wizard Wars, Penn and Teller, Now You See Me, Now You Don’t, Houdini specials on the History Channel, Criss Angel, David Blaine, Neil Patrick Harris…it’s everywhere.”

P3 Magic Theater (2575 N High St.) holds free lectures every Sunday at 7 p.m., as well as a one-hour magic show for the public every Tuesday. For more, visit www.penguinmagic.com.

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