The Chicago Roundtable of Magicians

Discuss the historical aspects of magic, including memories, or favorite stories.

Postby George Olson » 05/08/07 03:04 PM

Checking things out I found this artical from "Newcity - Chicago" from 2005:

The Magical City
A new generation of magicians mesmerize Chicago
Jamie Murnane

Fifty years ago, Chicago was a magical city. Literally. It was the bustling center of magic in the United States and the unlikely birthplace of what would become known as close-up magic, in which magicians would mesmerize and mystify viewers in lounges and restaurants, stepping off the stage and right up next to their captivated spectators.

Home to many magic bars and numerous restaurants that featured magical performances nightly, not to mention a plethora of downtown magic shops that were located within blocks of one another, there was definitely magic in the Windy City air.

Today, magic is often seen as a dying art form; a form of trickery using simple sleight-of-hand tricks that often incorporate playing cards, rubber balls and paper cups, linking rings or--most notably--rabbits being heaved out of hats much too small to hold them and the shouting of nonsensical words like "Abracadabra!" For many, magic is a simple, quirky form of entertainment that's best left to kids' birthday parties.

But a small group of serious magicians is trying to revitalize the Chicago magic scene, turning the city back into the enchanting environment it once was. They view magic as an art form that you're never too old for. These magicians want to remind magic buffs that they're still out there and they don't plan on going anywhere anytime soon--except maybe the suburbs.

Eugene Burger is perhaps the most eminent Chicago magician. The bald, bearded 64-year-old teaches and performs magic all over the world, but has always called the city home. He's been around long enough to remember when you could see a magic show downtown any night of the week. A magician collective, the Chicago Magic Roundtable, acted as a sort of secret society for magicians to gather and share actual tricks of the trade.

"In those days there were nightclubs and the hotels like the Hilton and Palmer House that had shows all the time," says Burger. "There were many magicians in town who would come to perform at these shows. Then, people started moving to the suburbs and things all changed."

But all the magicians did not head for the 'burbs. David Parr, magician and co-host of the recently reinvented Chicago Magic Roundtable (held on the last Thursday of every month at the Green Door Tavern on Orleans Street) says while it may not seem like it, there are still quite a few talented magicians living in the city.

"The trouble is they find their work mostly outside the city," Parr says. "It would be nice to have people like Eugene Burger and some of my other friends and magicians in the city actually perform here more to represent Chicago."

Parr, who coincidentally lives a block from the one-stop magic shop Magic Inc. on Lincoln Avenue, feels that it's entirely possible for Chicago to become a major magical player again. He says just because the venues that once featured magic are no longer around, it does not mean interest in the art form has waned. He says magic gives people something they're not able to get anywhere else.

"Movies and television are passive forms of entertainment," Parr says. "We sit there and we are spectators. Magic is a participatory form of entertainment. It's happening to you personally, not to somebody else on a television screen. I think people have always been hungry for that experience, it's just that now they don't know where to get it."

While Parr says he's been looking for a venue in the city to perform for the three years that he's lived here, two other locals are performing pretty much wherever people will let them.

Arthur Trace specializes in the Chicago-born close-up magic. He performs tableside magic for diners at Schaumburg's Chicago Prime Restaurant every Tuesday night. And in the city, the mid-thirties magician puts on more performance-art magic shows at galleries. Trace, the first magician featured on Fox's "30 Seconds to Fame," is gearing up for a two-week stint at Hollywood's prestigious Magic Castle.

If all the magicians in Chicago felt the way Trace does about the craft, perhaps magic would still be as popular today as it was in the forties and fifties.

"To me, it's very important that magic be an art," he says. "If a magician doesn't have some kind of context behind what he's doing, he's just doing myth. That's magic without substance. I mean, it's entertainment, but magic can be so much more. It's my passion and I try to make it what it can, and what I think it should be, which is an art form."

And if magic has something to say and is done well, Trace thinks people--not just in Chicago, but worldwide--would again become more interested. At the same time, they'll be entertained and mesmerized.

"Too many times, you see magic being on a very low side of the entertainment scale," Trace says. This is probably where the images of a white-faced performer "magically" creating balloon animals at childrens' parties comes to mind.

"A lot of times, people describe us as just entertainment for kids," he says. "Many adults don't think magic can be entertaining for them because many magicians in the past haven't realized the full potential of what magic can be."

And what magic can be, other than whatever the creator wants it to be, is an intelligent art form and an unusually productive mode of expression. "If you have something to say and you're a magician, I think you can say it through magic," Trace says.

In fact, many magicians' routines have underlying messages.

"Not that we're trying to sell an audience on politics or anything," Trace says. However, it's common for magic performances to convey emotional, metaphorical messages. And sometimes, it can simply be an abstract expression, allowing spectators to interpret it as they wish.

Trace's signature performance outside the realm of tableside magic, for example, usually takes place in a bare gallery. Nothing on the walls and only one abstract painting in his hand, Trace amazes the viewers by manipulating the shapes and colors of the painting--right before their eyes.

Twirling the painting around while roaming the gallery, Trace pulls shapes out of the painting, changes their hues and thrusts them back into the canvas. But that's just the beginning. Trace then takes off his signature black, thick-framed glasses and turns them into yet another aspect of the painting, which, in turn, has become an abstract self-portrait. But Trace isn't the only young Chicago magician focusing on the artistic side of the mtier.

David London is a filmmaker/magician and self-proclaimed "tour guide for the unknown." And, he's just 22 years old. The magician side of London focuses even more on magic as art than Trace. Of course, all magicians and artists must have their own panache to stand out among the rest. Most recently, London has awed art and magic lovers with his magic-art performance piece "Dream Garden," which was part of "Magic Show: Returning to the Organic" held at the Polvo Gallery in Pilsen this month.

"Dream Garden" started with London constructing paper roses and planting them in dirt boxes as the crowd filed into the South Side gallery. Suddenly, the room went dark, except for two flames in London's hands. He then lit a paper rose on fire that burned in an instantaneous flash. There were no ashes in his hand, but one real, radiantly red rose. To finish the piece, the actual rose was planted in the dirt in the middle of the 150 paper roses.

According to Trace, who met London at the Phoenix Gathering, a magician convention in Baltimore, London is a name that's going to be big for Chicago magic. The fact that he's so young helps.

"I think he's doing some of the most interesting and the most relevant stuff that's really out there right now," Trace says of London.

London, who caught the magic bug around 9 or 10, said he began focusing on magic as an art form when he was around 15.

"I was just disappointed with it and knew there could be something more," he says. "So I started searching for those answers and read everything there was on magic theory until I ran out of things to read." Then London decided to collect things to publish and started a magic magazine, Behind the Smoke and Mirrors, which discusses the theory of magic and magic as art--a long way away from the stereotypical Hocus Pocus we imagine magic to be.

It seems that London takes after his idol, Burger, who says, "Magicians are the only people in the world who can lie to you and get applauded for it."

"Magic is the perception of the unperceivable," London says. "You're perceiving what I'm allowing you to perceive, but there's also this knowledge of this whole other world going on that you're not perceiving."

London applies this theory to his one-man traveling magic show "Art of Dreams," in which he also uses magic as a way to understand dreams. London says dreams are similar to magic in the way that we're experiencing oddities and illogicalness while we sleep and the irrationality surrounding them is accepted as normal until we wake up. With magic, spectators accept what they see as truth until they're reminded otherwise. But that's a whole other concept best left to Behind the Smoke and Mirrors.

As far as trying to be a serious magician, London says it's often hard for people to take it seriously. In all honesty, many just think it's strange.

"I had one adult tell me she was too old for magic," London says. "I didn't comment, because I didn't think it was appropriate, but what I wanted to say is that if you think you're too old for it, it's probably perfect for you. The belief that you're too old for things that are imaginative is a scary thought to me. Imagination never dies. We may sort of cover over it, but it's always there. So, to believe that you're too old is to further dig yourself in the hole of excluding yourself from that ability that we all have."

Getting audiences to appreciate magic again is the challenge facing local magicians now. As Trace says, one of the many hurdles for magicians to overcome is really winning people over. As he says, only so many magicians really stand out. And, those who do, really do. Prime examples are Penn & Teller, whose contextual magic has launched them into international stardom, and David Copperfield, whose romanticized illusions are unparalleled.

"You don't see 200 magicians who are world famous or anything," Trace says. "Not that fame is the ultimate goal."

The goal for Trace, as well as his local counterparts, is not world fame. They'd even settle for citywide fame.

Unfortunately, the magic mecca that was once Chicago is now Las Vegas, where everything's a show. But, Parr says that since there's so much magical history in Chicago, it's possible for it to be revitalized. And that's what he hopes to help do.

"I think it could really work," Parr says. "This could become a center for magic again. It's going to take a real effort to move it in that direction. I'm hoping that myself and several friends and colleagues can help move it in that direction. We'd like to see magic back downtown again."

A key element in bringing back the magic to Chicago would first be establishing a place where people know they can find it. Parr thinks that if it's there, people will go to it because he feels all human beings need mystery in their lives.

"We could easily evoke magic's past in the city," Parr says. It'll just take the help of the likes of Burger, London and Trace. And, of course, a little magic.


Also by Jamie Murnane
George Olson
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Joined: 01/17/08 01:00 PM
Location: Tigard, OR

Postby Guest » 05/26/07 07:32 AM

All of the people interviewed and cited in the article are unquestionably deserving (and Arthur Trace looked great on the cover of the newspaper). But there are two issues about the article that smarted a bit.

First, the writer seems to characterize the reinvented Magic Rountable as the sole bomb shelter harboring Chicago's magic community. Of course, this isn't the case. The city is home to many magic clubs -- there's a SAM assembly in Chicago (whose past presidents include Allerton, Dorny, and Tarbell), another in Elmhurst, and a third in Joliet; as well as IBM rings, KIDabra, independent clubs such as the Knights of Sleights, the Mazda Mystic Ring, and Conjurers Corner; plus, loose affiliations around magical hubs like Magic Inc. and Midwest Magic.

Second, contrary to the closing four paragraphs, the city in fact had an ongoing and critically acclaimed magic performance for the public. While others were talking about the need to bring theatrical and artistic magic back to the general public, I had already done something about it: my show, Supernatural Chicago, is currently in its fourth year of performances at the landmark Excalibur nightclub in the heart of the downtown. It is listed in the theatre sections of the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, and Chicago Reader every week, and has been the subject of articles in these and other publications (including Genii, authored by one of my greatest inspirations in magic, Eugene Burger). It is also in the Top 10 Chicago Attractions at, and has been named a "Best Bet" by

To see an article from the Chicago Tribune, feel free to visit: ... 3547.story

Neil Tobin

Postby Guest » 05/26/07 02:08 PM

Neil is correct. The rejuvenation of the magic scene in Chicago has been on the rise for a few years now. In addition to Supernatural Chicago, there have been several magical productions running at various times throughout the city. They include but are not limited too Magic Chicago, The Magic Cabaret, Magic Matinee, Nothing Up My Sleeve, etc... Also there are many shows on the horizon from various Chicagoland artists.

It is an exciting time indeed to be a magician in Chicago.

That said I noticed a few errors in both post that I will briefly rectify. 1. David London was on the cover model for the New City piece and 2. Mr. Trace is not in his thirties (he's 27).

B. Barnes

Postby Guest » 05/26/07 07:39 PM

And as long as we are pimping our shows please visit

David and I are both in our 40's and we know and love Ben and Neil, and David London and Arthur Trace.

And if you are going to be in town on May 31, you can stop by the Round Table and see David London give a talk.

Postby Guest » 06/04/07 10:43 PM

And David London's talk at the Chicago Magic Roundtable was well received. Personally, I was impressed with the degree of creativity and unique ideas that David includes, it's a lot of material to cover, and he does it well.

Now Neil, I'm not trying to pick an argument, but isn't it true that none of those clubs/orgs you mentioned meet in the city? Despite all the growing magic activity here, I find that a darn shame.

Postby Guest » 07/04/07 08:49 PM

A magician collective, the Chicago Magic Roundtable, acted as a sort of secret society for magicians to gather and share actual tricks of the trade.
That is actually not true...The Roundtable was for anyone who enjoyed magic in general. Performers, collectors, and hobbyist from all over the country.

It was really a place for magicians to meet at Mayor's Row to socialize.

Not a secret society at all.

Also, every year during the 2nd weekend of September, they would meet up at the Mineola Hotel on Mineola Bay in Fox Lake. Also known as the summer Gangster hotel.

Anyway, thought I make mention on the little error.

Postby Guest » 07/05/07 02:34 PM

Right you are Mai Ling. I first met your esteemed father at the Roundtable. (Please give him my regards) The first time I attended I was a wide eyed 17 yr old. I was early of course as was a very kind older gentleman. I later learned the old gentleman was Bert Allerton. Dorny was a regular and he would contribute vast stores of wisdom and cigar smoke. Wonderful memories! Thanks all for stirring them up.
Bob Brown

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