Michigan magician wins 5 awards at national convention
Adrian — Magician Stuart MacDonald is about to hit the big time.
Or maybe he already has. The Adrian native last month dominated the International Brotherhood of Magicians/Society of American Musicians Combined Convention, winning five of its biggest awards. In May he was inducted into the Michigan Magic Hall of Fame at the American Museum of Magic. Next month, he’ll appear on an episode of the TV show “Penn & Teller: Fool Us.” And at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 7, he’ll take to the Croswell Opera House stage to perform his award-winning act as part of a larger show and talk about the Penn & Teller experience. Then next July he’ll perform in the magic world championships.
It’s a long way from the shows he used to perform for colleges and business gatherings in the 1990s.
“I’ve never been more excited to be a magician than right now,” he told The Daily Telegram.
It took him four years to reach this goal, but the success took him by surprise.
“I put a lot of time into it, and finally it paid off,” he said.
Up until now, MacDonald said, he’s always been the one watching the big names of magic.
“I’ve become the superstar of magic, and I’ve never had this kind of notoriety in my own field,” he said. “Now I’m the guy everybody is watching.”
MacDonald splits his time between Adrian, his hometown, and Benton Harbor, where he works for the Whirlpool Corp. producing videos, both self-help videos for customers and training videos for field service technicians.
He said he came into the IBM/SAM convention in Louisville, Kentucky, as an unknown. After winning all of those awards, he couldn’t go anywhere without people wanting to meet him.
He’s not sure what will happen next.
“The publicity machine hasn’t even caught up yet,” he said.
At the convention, MacDonald took first place in the stage categories from both the IBM and SAM, tied for the Originality Award from the IBM, and received the People’s Choice Award and the rarely presented Silver Medal of Merit from the SAM.
“It’s like I got five standing ovations,” he said. “Each award kept coming. It was pretty cool.”
MacDonald said everyone there knew he would win the People’s Choice Award. The judges told him they counted the votes, but it quickly became clear he would win.
The Silver Medal only is presented under certain circumstances, he said, such as an act being of extraordinary quality. There is a Gold Award that is even rarer.
MacDonald’s competition act is part of the larger show he’ll perform at the Croswell.
“It’s about this guy who happens to explore an area in a house that’s kind of haunted,” he said.
Being in a haunted house is fitting, considering MacDonald and his wife, Lori, ran The Haunting, a popular haunted attraction at the Lenawee County Fair & Event Grounds, for several years.
The man comes across a large, table-top mirror and finds he is able to duplicate objects using the mirror.
The difference between MacDonald’s act and those of other magicians is he’s not playing himself.
“That’s the twist, that he’s not a magician,” he said. “It’s 100 percent acting. I have to hide the skill. I raise the height of the magic experience.”
He said magicians who have seen the act are “baffled” by how he does it.
It’s a silent act with the exception of an orchestral music soundtrack. He said his character — who’s dressed in a plaid suit, pork pie hat and glasses with thick, round frames, like the silent film star Harold Lloyd — is “kind of stuck in the 1930s.” He said the character is a mix of Lloyd, Lou Costello, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.
MacDonald has been working on the act since 2013. He said it has gone through “several hundred” revisions. He would record each version to video and share those with colleagues who would give him feedback.
“It’s probably in the last six months that it’s gone through its heaviest conversions,” he said.
The idea for the act came to him while he was working on some manipulations with a ball in his bedroom. There was a mirror on a closet wall, and when he went to grab something behind the mirror, the way his other hand was positioned made it look like that hand was on the other side of the wall.
“It messes with the mind, and that’s how it got started,” he said.
The awards won at the convention in Louisville qualified him for the Fédération Internationale des Sociétés Magiques (FISM, or International Federation of Magic Societies in English) world championships of magic next July in Busan, South Korea.
His appearance on the Sept. 28 episode of “Penn & Teller: Fool Us” came after he performed at The Magic Castle in Los Angeles, which is perhaps the most prestigious magic venue. He was invited to do his act there after word of his show started to spread through the magic community. He then sent video of that performance to a “Fool Us” producer.
“Within a couple of weeks I got booked,” he said.
“Fool Us” is a reality-based TV show on the CW network where magicians try to stump the famous magic-comedy duo on how they do their tricks. Those few who do get to perform as the opening act in Penn & Teller’s show at the Rio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
“Every magician watches (“Fool Us”),” MacDonald said.
He said it’s a positive show with no controversy.
“They want the magic to look good,” he said. “The only drama is, ‘Will you fool them?’”
That question, for MacDonald, will have been answered by the time of his Croswell show and is a likely topic of discussion with his hometown fans.