Like fine wine, he has only got better with time. After nearly 25 years in magic, Marcel Oudejans still has a few tricks up his sleeve. The South African illusionist talks about what is in his bag of tricks.
How did you learn magic?
I actually learnt it from a book. I would read up on a trick, practise it until I mastered it, then I would go out and perform it. The reaction on people’s faces as I performed a trick would give me the motivation to go back and learn more tricks. Magic is not something that you learn overnight. What you see me do now is from 25 years of experience, trial and error. The difference between an amateur and a professional is what you do when things go wrong; the more experienced you are, the less people realise when things go wrong. Even in my pocket and in my shows, I always have a backup for my backup, when things go wrong.
How would you describe your act?
Most magicians focus a little too much on card tricks but I try to diversify my performance. My act is very interactive, I like to do magic that you can see and touch with your hands. Magic is actually just like a movie, we just use different tools to tell a story. They use special effects and actors to create a story and make an alternative reality, but we use illusions and a sleight of hands. I always have at least 10 kilos of equipment on me so that everything I perform looks unprepared.
How have you made your art a career?
For many years I was doing children events like birthdays, restaurants and small events, but I realised there was a big gap in the corporate events space. Most company events book the same old entertainment of a deejay, a dancer or a music group, but it’s not interactive. My show is very engaging because I will call up a person to participate in the trick, and it will draw in the whole audience so they feel like they are up there with me. Today, I focus purely on corporate events: from gala dinners, product launches, end-year parties, to special anniversaries for CEOs and board members.
I can’t really teach someone from scratch simply because I don’t have the patience for it. However, I am mentoring already established illusionist and giving them master classes.
What are some of the most weird reactions you have received?
Some people think that what I do is voodoo. People have actually come up to me with weird requests. That is why I avoid the mainstream space, because there is a big risk of being misunderstood. These are just tricks and illusions that anyone can do if they took time to learn. It’s an art form like music, poetry or theatre.
With social media you can show people the process of building your art so that they appreciate it more. My aim is unveil as many magicians as I can.
Is magic big in Africa?
There is a lot of potential in magic entertainment because there are very few performing illusionists in Africa especially. However, the magic space in Africa is still growing; In South Africa, magicians get a lot of corporate bookings but here it’s still picking up. There are a few of us who are doing full scale shows but, for the better part, most of us are still doing one man shows. For this reason I have designed my entire show to fit in a single suitcase. I travel with it everywhere I go. It does have many weird things so I often have to do a lot of explaining when I pass through customs. Mostly I use very easily available materials for my magic show so I can access it everywhere I go.
What initiatives have you began to foster the growth of magic in Africa?
Back in 2016 I realized there were no platforms for magicians to really perform so I started the Cape Town Magic Club. It was the first theatre of its kind that purely does magic. We began with just 40 seats, but within six months we had to move from that venue. The initiative grew really fast but as we were promoting the theatre we realised there was no central place where lovers of magic could access information. That led us start our online platform Magic Africa, where we publish magic-related stories, market upcoming magic events and also secure bookings for illusionists. For me, magic is not about me, it’s about seeing the gaps in the industry and filling them, I am about 36 years old now and I have done really well for myself, raising the next generation of magicians is currently my goal.
What are your plans for Kenya?
The Kenyan audience is so receptive to magic, and I look forward to making this my second home. Mike Strano of Phat is my producing partner so we are working on expanding my local client base even as we work on growing local talents.
What’s your word of advice to up-and-coming magicians?
Although people pay for your stage performance, the real work happens offstage. Great performances are created in the shadows where you practice and perfect you craft. Hard work will always beat talent, unless talent works hard. It is also true that the more you charge, the more respect you get but never charge beyond your ability to perform. However, don’t charge for what you do, charge for the outcome of your performance; the better the experience the more you should charge.