By: Judy Shields
Photos from John Carney Website
Los Angeles, California (The Hollywood Times) 2/20/2019 – “I think the first few magicians I saw did not impress me enough to take up magic myself. Only after I had been in it for a while, and read some books, did I start to meet, and witness some of the best sleight of hand magicians in the world.” Magician John Carney told The Hollywood Times.
I was fortune enough to see John Carney live at the Sierra Madre Playhouse last year and he was amazing. Truly amazing. Do not miss this opportunity to see him perform live onstage in Burbank at the Colony Theatre, Saturday March 23 and Sunday March 24.
If you have never experienced magic live, this is your opportunity and John Carney will leave you wondering how he performed his magic. Those of you who love magic should not miss his live performance. It is truly amazing.
Get your ticket today before they sell out. See information below.
Colony Theatre, Burbank, CA
March 23 and 24
Sat at 8pm, and Sunday at 3pm
Interview with John Carney.
THT: John, you probably heard of historic stories of trying to turn straw into gold. I suspect you do not recall your age when you learned to tie your shoes, but at what age roughly were you first exposed to the wonders of Magic? Do you recall what was being done?
John Carney: “My uncle did a few simple tricks, nothing sophisticated at all, but he was a very fun guy, and it was always exciting when he came to visit. It wasn’t until years later, that I started to see magic on television. I absorbed widely different influences. I love when sleight of hand is done well, so when I saw the masterful Dai Vernon perform, I was hooked on this type of magic. He was a charming guy, but not a dynamic performer, and not well known to the public. On the other end of the spectrum, was Carl Ballantine, who was a hilarious comedy magician, who did an act where nothing worked. He played the part of a hack magician, but he was a terrific comedy actor. My whole career has been finding a way to combine sleight of hand and comedy, which typically requires two different mind sets. That’s the challenge, and the satisfaction I experience when I can make it work.”
THT: Do you remember the first person whom you saw perform?
John Carney: “I got to see these at magician’s conventions. These performers where not typically people you would see on television. They weren’t great showmen, or famous to the general public. They practiced a type of magic, specifically, sophisticated sleight of hand, which appealed to me more than the glitzy Vegas acts, with all the boxes and mechanical devices.”
THT: Tell our readers after you were exposed to magic, what did you do to find out more about the secret art form?
John Carney: “I started with just books from the library. You can get a good foundation just from very basic books. You learn basic principles, psychology, and the nuts and bolts. But the more advanced books were not available to the general public. Eventually, I discovered sources for these advanced books and mowed lawns, and shoveled snow to earn the money to purchase them. These books were much more technical, and would be over the head of a budding magician. But once I discovered these books existed, I sought them out, read them, and eventually spent time with the authors. Typically, in years past, magic secrets were passed down from person to person, a teacher and a student.”
THT: Who was your mentor and what steps did they take to assist in you development?
John Carney: “I met a wonderful man named Faucett Ross, who guided me, and introduced me to some of the best magicians in the world. Once you have shown you are earnest, respectful, and actually put in the work, these masters will open the door, and then you are then exchanging ideas, and learning the things you could never learn from books, the small subtle touches that transform “tricks” into a truly amazing display.”
“Isolated as I was in Iowa, I dreamed about visiting Hollywood, and The Magic Castle. Eventually I moved out to Los Angeles, so I could learn first-hand from Dai Vernon, Tony Slydini, and the many magicians from around the world that would come right to their doorstep. I would not only learn from these people, but I would get experience in performing, and critiques afterward. I made lots of adjustments, and developed my own style over many years of trial and error. Experience is the best teacher, but it also helps to have some experts to help you interpret that experience, and guide you.”
THT: Describe how you started to practice. Did you stand in front of a mirror for hours, slowly watching the movement of your hands?
John Carney: “As a young man, I was obsessed with practicing. I didn’t have much money for books, but when I managed to buy one, I absorbed every word, and worked through every page. I tried to incorporate my own ideas, and change things to suit my personality and style of working. For many years I stared into a mirror to watch my hands at practice. But this put too much of my focus on my hands, and it became an exhibition of skill. These days, I might spot check something, but otherwise, I try to imagine an audience in front of me, and try to make corrections when I feel I am moving or acting in an unnatural or suspicious manner. I also try to put less emphasis on “fooling them,” and more on the presentation. This alone is a great secret, as people think less critically when they are otherwise engaged, and lose themselves in the fun.”
THT: Most kids saw the greats, depending on the year you were born, from David Copperfield to Criss Angel. Though I assume there were many, who were some that drove you to this career?
John Carney: “Most people would assume that the most famous magicians would be my heroes. But the guys I admired, were not really famous. I admired their thinking, creativity, and psychology, as much as their skill and presentation. I’ve mentioned Dai Vernon and Carl Ballantine, but then there was Johnny Thompson, who perfectly combined comedy and good sleight of hand magic into his appearances at night clubs and Las Vegas. A Dutch magician by the name of Fred Kaps, was one of the greatest all around magicians ever, in my opinion. He had the chops, the presentation and charm. He was a great success in Europe, in Cabarets and on television. Doug Henning is probably the most famous influence. He wasn’t so much highly skilled at sleight of hand, but he brought magic out of the stale top hat and tails image of a magician, and made us realize we could be whoever we wanted to be. And Henning had charisma, charm, and a contagious enthusiasm.”
THT: Your craft has many aspects to draw the attention of the audience in. It is clear that communicating with the audience is a major factor. How did you develop that into your show?
John Carney: “Like most, I was obsessed with the technical details at first. But eventually, I learned that if you are not entertaining people, magic loses much of its value. I am working on, or developing new ideas all the time. But one of the most difficult things to figure out, is the presentation angle. Magic is essentially a theater form, so there needs to be an emotional component, or a hook that makes it more than a puzzle. Why should anyone care about this? Sometimes it just a matter of connecting it to a story that has meaning to me, that everyone can relate to. Or it could be changing it from a trick where you tear up a playing card and restore it (who cares?), to instead using a borrowed credit card, and destroying it. No one cares about a playing card, but they know that credit card has value, and means something to the spectator that loaned it to me.”
“I never used to write out my scripts, I would have a basic idea and improvise a presentation. But it would take dozens of shows before I had thought of enough lines, or elements to make the presentation interesting. These days, I write everything out, organize it, and memorize it. After every show, I go over the script, make note of what worked, and what didn’t, make cuts, changes, and move things around. After about 50 performance in front of an audience, it starts to solidify. But only after about 100 performances, with all the adjustments and variations, do I start to feel like it is a solid piece. Then I am looking to the next lesson.”
THT: Baseball players strike out. Football players fumble the ball. How do you motivate yourself ?
John Carney: “One of the strangest things about performing, is I can perform the exact same show, in the same room, with the same conditions, and one audience will be stone cold quiet, and the next will want to carry me out on their shoulders in triumph. Every audience seems like a single organism, that like me or don’t. But actually, one audience might just enjoy it more quietly, and afterwards, they may come up and tell me how much they enjoyed the show. It’s difficult to not take it personally when a show doesn’t go the way I like. Conditions change, audiences change, but I am finally starting to realize, all I can do, is try to work hard, prepare, write and rehearse to the best of my ability, and be as consistent as possible. I don’t shirk my responsibilities, and try to do the best job, even under the worst conditions.”
THT: I read somewhere that Spies are taught certain things. Have you ever taught someone like James Bond …the secret that may save their life? (Humor, right!)
John Carney: “Actually, I think spy stories may have played a part in stirring my interest in magic. When I was young, James Bond, The Man from Uncle, Get Smart, and many other spy shows were popular. They were full of secret radios, watches with lasers, shoes with telephones, and many other secret “gimmicks”. There are lots of little devices that I use that seem like something a spy would carry.”
“The CIA actually recruited a knowledgeable magician by the name of John Mulholland back in the 50’s, to help their agents in the cold war. Everything from techniques to avoid detection, to hiding cameras and other equipment, to secretly poisoning enemy agents. I think I would be pretty good at this sort of thing, and it sounds exciting, but I think I would rather use my powers for good, and not evil!”
“For now, I am satisfied with working out my little mysteries, and finding an audience who will enjoy them, and with any luck, they might buy a ticket, or write me a check to experience my strange skills.”
THT: Is there any words that you would like to share with our readers?
John Carney: “I don’t really think about “fooling” people, as much as trying to create a intriguing mystery, and an astonishing experience for people. I love a good illusion, and the feeling I get when I experience something wondrous and surprising, and I try to create that experience for my audiences. It’s not a battle of wits. It’s about having fun, and experiencing the beauty of a perfect illusion. When we stop wondering, we lose one of the most beautiful things in life. It’s about learning to see things with fresh eyes, and appreciate even the simple things. To snap us out of the commonplace, and open us up to a whole world of possibilities.”
About John Carney
John Carney is a unique hybrid of Comedian, Actor, and Sleight of Hand Virtuoso.
His approach is smart, engaging, and often … hilarious.
Carney is widely acknowledged by his peers as one of the finest sleight of hand performers in the world, with awards and accolades worldwide. Hollywood’s Magic Castle has awarded Carney more awards than anyone in their history, as well as the Academy of Magical Arts prestigious Performing Masters Fellowship.
Television appearances include Late Show with David Letterman and the Jerry Seinfeld HBO Special. He has performed in theaters throughout the world, as well as casinos in Atlantic City, Lake Tahoe and Las Vegas.
He is an accomplished actor, with featured appearances on such TV shows as Spin City and Two and a Half Men, as well as numerous sketch comedy shows, plays, and theatrical productions. He has done a number of television commercials, including a stint as Spokesman for MasterCard, designing and performing dazzling visual effects for their national commercials.
John often incorporates different characters, from silly to sentimental, into his performances, creating a complete theatrical experience.
He is a tireless creator of original material, and has shared many of his ideas, techniques and presentations in several books and instructional videos of advanced sleight of hand. He has lectured extensively throughout the world, and his books
Magic by Design, Carneycopia, and The Book of Secrets are considered modern classics in instruction of the art form.
About The Colony Theatre Company
The Colony Theatre Company began its distinguished history of continuous production in 1975, when it was incorporated as a non-profit organization by a group of young Los Angeles television actors eager to return to their theatre roots. It was to remain in residence at the 99-seat Studio Theatre Playhouse in the Silver Lake district of Los Angeles for the next 25 years.
During that time, through steadfast commitment to professional quality in its productions, as well as smart marketing, the company built the largest subscriber base of any small theatre in the area. By the early 90s, Colony shows were virtually sold out before they opened, and the company began an odyssey to find a larger home.
After several years of searching, they came upon a vacant building owned by the City of Burbank. Formerly a museum, the building contained a large lobby and an exhibit hall with high ceilings and — a miracle — no columns. It was a perfect space to be converted to a mid-size theatre.
In 1995, along with a number of other organizations vying for the building, The Colony submitted its proposal to the Burbank City Council. In January of 1996, the Council awarded the building to The Colony, and allocated city funds to convert it to a state-of-the-art performance space.
After four years devoted to design and construction, the company moved into its new Burbank home in 2000, becoming officially The Colony Theatre Company in Residence at Burbank Center Stage, a fully operating Equity theatre.
The spacious, yet intimate facility features stadium seating with a clear view of the thrust stage from every seat, an elegant but comfortable lobby, many restaurants within walking distance, and plenty of safe, free parking.
The Colony Theatre Company
555 North Third Street
Burbank, California 91502
(818) 558-7110 (fax)
Directions & Parking
We are located at the corner of 3rd Street and Cypress Avenue, and share a parking garage with the Burbank Town Center Mall, where there is plenty of free parking .