Corrections or additions?
This was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on November 11, 1998.
All rights reserved.
An Evening of Abracadabra
On Thursday, November 12, at 7:45 p.m., the Society
of American Magicians, Assembly 181, will be called to order by
Rich Westcott. And like a guest at the best illusionist’s show, he
won’t know what to expect. "At a doctors’ meeting, all you meet
is doctors," says Westcott, a full-time magician and the force
behind Magic By Westcraft. "At our meetings you might meet anyone
from an undertaker to a stockbroker."
Whether most of us noticed it or not, October was National Magic Month
and Wescott is expecting a big turnout. Most S.A.M. meetings are open
to the public and draw a crowd of performers, hobbyists, collectors,
and magic historians. The chapter is part of an international
order with 7,000 members, and a vital part of a thriving New Jersey
magician network. "We collaborate because we can all grow and
nobody is the same," says Westcott. "You and I can do the
same trick, but we’ll do it differently, according to our own
Westcott’s Magic By Westcraft is itself a local source of largesse.
Although he does more than 700 performances a year, driving more than
1,000 miles a week, there are still many engagements he simply can’t
make. Those he refers to other S.A.M. members, like Helen Vetter,
a clown and magician whose company, Jest For Fun, is based in Red
Bank. Although Vetter works as a bookkeeper two days a week, "for
an illusion of normalcy" she claims, she has been honing her craft
as a clown, which she counts as her third career, for 10 years.
"Being born to very serious, Depression-era parents, becoming
a clown wasn’t something I felt I could do," she says. "So
I went to college and became a dental hygienist for 10 years, and
then managed a Waldenbooks store for another seven. The problem was,
I kept getting bored." Has magic held her interest? "The
I’m in it, the more I want to learn and that really sustains me,"
she says. According to Vetter, the variety the job offers, like
the opportunity to work at Bruce Springsteen’s home painting kids’
faces, is a real plus. "You just don’t know where you’ll be or
how people will react, so every day is a real adventure."
Calling himself a semi-professional magician, Kevin
Vinicombe is another S.A.M. member, one who claims two other
"alter egos." Vinicombe helps his wife Georgianne manage her
Monday Morning Flower and Balloon Company stores in Princeton and
Yardley, and he is also an executive recruiter with GSP International
in Woodbridge, pulling positions out of hats for accounting and
professionals. Like Westcott, Vinicombe has a particular affinity
for performing magic for children — whom, he says, "are
the most difficult people to perform for. Adults want to be tricked
and given something to analyze, but children need to be entertained.
You can’t just stand up there doing tricks for children — you
have to be a polished performer."
Another Assembly 181 regular, Michael Gutman, does only a few magic
shows a month. That’s because his day job — he’s a lawyer with
Riley & Gutman in Freehold, and holds an MBA as well as a JD —
takes up a good deal of time. Like the other S.A.M. members, his
with magic began when he was a child, and he first joined the
Brotherhood of Magicians’ youth division when he was 14. Magic was
how he worked his way through college, and he finds that 25 years
as a performer — Gutman is now 35 — bring real benefits.
"I’m primarily a real estate attorney, so I often do homebuyers’
and sellers’ seminars," he says. "My background has been a
real asset for public speaking. And I usually do a magic trick at
the end of every real estate closing. A law professor once told me
that the closing is the magic moment when a deed gets transferred
— so I knew that was my cue to work a trick into every
The combination of vocation and avocation keeps things fun, and even
among legal clients, Gutman always finds an appreciative audience.
"We all have something inside us that wants to do the
he says. "That’s what magic is: obtaining the unobtainable."
And Howard Markowitz, the owner of Moto Photo on Quakerbridge Road
in Mercerville, attends S.A.M. meetings — not as a performer,
but as a collector of unusual, often handmade pieces of magic
And by "paraphernalia," does he mean magic tricks? "Dogs
do tricks," he replies. "Magicians do illusions."
S.A.M. meetings might include demonstrations of magic equipment, while
other evenings are devoted to mini-workshops in rope, coin, and
magic, trouble-shooting sessions, and roundtable discussions on how
to cope with such occupational dilemmas as dealing with hecklers and
choosing a volunteer.
"Do you pick the child who is wildly waving his arms, saying,
`Me, me, me, me, me!’ or do you pick the child who’s sitting quietly,
raising his hand. Or do you pick the child who isn’t doing anything
at all, except looking hopeful?" asks one member. Westcott usually
picks volunteers from among the last two categories, finding
fertile performer ground in the undemonstratively hopeful. "People
are often amazed at how even shy children respond to being in a
he says. "I once had a two-year-old help me who, his mother said,
couldn’t be talked into going to his own father!"
Members of Assembly 181 share favorite techniques, critique each
work, and work together on improvisation. The international order
— like its counterpart, the International Brotherhood of Magicians
— can be counted upon for friendly support worldwide, as Westcott
and his wife found out during a trip to Holland. Having contacted
two retired Dutch magicians, they were delighted to find themselves
introduced to the world of Dutch magic, the elder pros showering
with 20 or 30 tricks, he now recalls. "I was just embarrassed
by how many tricks they gave me. When I got back, I sent off a package
of things they didn’t have. It’s that kind of an organization."
When it comes to illusions, Westcott has had plenty of practice. A
large man with a ready and frequent laugh, Westcott, who will turn
50 this fall, fell in love with magic the day he saw his minister
pulling rolls of lifesavers out of delighted children’s ears. He
his magic part-time until his wedding anniversary, 1990. That’s when
the biotech firm he worked for as an administrator ran through its
last bit of venture capital, and Westcott found himself out of a job.
As magic became a fulltime occupation, Westcott decided to concentrate
on the preschool market, despite warnings from other performers.
said little children couldn’t sit still for half an hour, let alone
the 45 minutes it takes to do my show," he recalls. "But I
found it easy to hold their attention, and I haven’t looked back
With a repertoire of six different children’s shows — including
Santa’s Gift of Giving, Captain Richard’s Pirate Magic Show, and the
Teddy Bear’s Picnic Magic Show — and one show specifically for
adults, Westcott now performs at more than 400 nursery schools —
a real switch from the restaurants he used to work on weekends as
a part-timer. "Now, I’m doing magic when everyone else is working
for Xerox," he says. "There are actually weekends when I have
He has performed at an ostrich farm, done parties to celebrate Ramadan
and Kahlil Gibran’s birthday, and entertained a Halloween gathering
where all the girls came dressed as the Little Mermaid, all unable
to walk because of their tails. He gave a memorable performance at
Johnson & Johnson, helping the company introduce its new online staff
newsletter. Claiming he was a paper reduction expert from Copperfield
Industries, Westcott stuffed a bag with different scarves, each one
representing a newsletter section, then gave the bag a shake —
and transformed it into a 36-inch silk scarf emblazoned with the
desktop screen. His summers are filled with performances at corporate
picnics and family reunions.
There are three major classifications of magic, Westcott explains:
close up, in which a magician sits at a table or approaches people
to entertain; platform, which entails performing for an audience of
up to 100 people in a living room or small club; and then stage magic
for larger crowds, which includes grand illusion. Magic goes through
cycles of popularity and is currently riding a wave, one Westcott
credits superstars like David Copperfield for creating. There are
now several magic specials on television in any given month, an
of how vast — and cross-generational — the audience for magic
And what makes magic so, well, magical? "It’s not just the
and it’s not necessarily the wonder," Westcott says. "It’s
touching people’s emotions. They usually feel laughter and sometimes
amazement, but they’re always responding to a story the magician has
— Phyllis B. Maguire
Condo Association Clubhouse, East Windsor, 609-860-2737 or
S.A.M. usually meets the first Thursday of every month through June
and new members are welcome. Next meeting is Thursday, November
12, 7:45 p.m. Guest speaker is Bob Little, Wild Man Wild.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.