This episode Jonah sits down with Julie Eng to discuss Magicana, the community within magic, and elevating the perception of magic. Julie is an award-winning performer and the executive director of Magicana.
Growing up with a magician as a father meant that magic was always a part of her life. She, alongside her sister, would perform in and help with the behind the scenes of her father’s shows. Eventually, Julie began to perform her own shows for children’s birthdays and started to work restaurants.
Having grown up with a non-conventional life, Julie wanted to rebel against her unusual upbringing by choosing a more normal career path, leading her to take business in university. As she pursued her degree, she began to see the overlap in the skills she has developed thanks to magic and the demands of the business field. Magic became fun again for her. Instead of being something she was doing, it assisted the things she wanted to do.
For those unfamiliar with the organization, Magicana is an “arts organization dedicated to the exploration and advancement of magic as a performing art.” For the last eighteen years, Magicana has produced shows, archived footage, and recognized the innovators of magic all in the pursuit of showing the public why magic is so fantastic. Recently, they were awarded by the Academy of Magical Arts with the Literary and Media Fellowship Award.
The Screening Room is one of Magicana’s ongoing projects with the goal of curating and capturing fantastic acts at the height of their careers. The project started with Gary Slaight and David Ben deciding they wanted to make a magic archive that was available to the public, but the question became “How?” It was through people’s magic collections that Magicana was able to find VHS tapes, 8mm film, and other archaic forms of media for shows like the Magic Palace and Luna De Verano. With the help of James Allan, Magicana has digitized, tagged and cross referenced these recordings for your viewing pleasure.
The Allan Slaight Award is an annual award that recognizes individuals who are championing magic as an art form. Thanks to the generosity of the Allan Slaight family, the award carries a real weight behind it by rewarding the recipients with a cash prize. Individuals can be recognized in fuve categories:
My Magic Hands is Magicana’s learning program which seeks to help children build self-confidence, learn communication skills, and develop their critical thinking abilities. For 6-8 weeks, students work with a magic coach to learn a trick they must present at the end of the course. For Julie, she enjoys watching the journey the kids take, describing it almost as a recreational therapy.
Perception of Magic
Julie often floats back and forth on whether or not we can classify magic as an art form. There’s a massive range to what the subsets in magic are with each having its own way to define magic. For her, it comes down to how we participate in it and what we want to see in magic. Magic to Julie should move her and make her feel something.
As for the public’s perception, that’s where Magicana steps in to show that magic is more than a clown performing at a kid’s birthday. Magicana shows that there is a wide range of what magic can accomplish. Additionally, between Fool Us and America’s Got Talent, we are beginning to see a shift in how the public consumes magic.
Community in Magic
The community in magic is one of the things Julie loves about the art. The community around her helped her flourish and has supported her throughout various moments in her life. A majority of the people who attend the 31 Faces North Conference with her are people she sees as her brothers.
One of the best times in her life was creating The Magic of Johnny Thompson. After being approached by him at 31 Faces, Julie helped Johnny layout the book and take photos. She would fly down to Vegas to spend their short time together taking hundreds of photos. While it was hard work, it was always a good time with him; Johnny always lived in the moment and never complained about the work.
Growing Up Strong
Julie’s father always instilled her with the idea that she is the magician. When she walked into a gig she was performing at with her father, he would always state that she would be the performer, not him. Now, it’s not so novel to be a female magician to lay people, and Julie loves that.
Growing up surrounded by magicians, Julie had men who she saw as uncles at the magic club and men who she sees as her brothers now. They all actively supported her presence in magic and this helped her flourish.
However, Julie recognizes that there is still a glass ceiling even after people like Celeste Evans championing the way for female performers. But, thankfully, Julie reminds that audience that there are a number of strong voices in the community who champion for a better balance in general.
What do you like about 2019 magic? What don’t you like?
Julie doesn’t like the density of sound bite magic. She is not blaming social media, but magic has become too fast paced for her liking.
Julie likes seeing new people come into the field and challenging what magic is and how it interacts with other art forms.
Take Home Point
Julie wants people to remember that magic has endured because it has a way of enchanting people in real life. It’s not on a screen, it’s with you.