On the job: The art of illusion
Gwyn Auger’s interest in magic first emerged from her love of live theatre and street performance. The SAIT Professional Cooking and Digital Media Certificate grad has many friends in Calgary’s arts community, including fellow SAIT graduate Brent Smith (TSR '92), owner of Calgary magic shop The Vanishing Rabbit.
During a visit to Smith's shop, he suggested Auger try her hand at being a magician’s assistant. He invited her to a meeting of local magicians and even lent her a costume. Auger says the next thing she knew, magicians were showing her illusions and inviting her to become part of their act. As a freelance magician’s assistant, Auger has worked with the best in the business, even appearing at the Mecca of magic — The Magic Castle® in Los Angeles, a members-and-guests-only private club and home to the Academy of Magical Arts.
Auger sat down with LINK writer Eric Rosenbaum to talk about the myths and mystique of her charming side gig.
What attracts you to being part of a magic act?
GA: I love the element of surprise in magic. Typically, the first time I see an illusion, I don't want to know how it's done. I want to see it the way the audience sees it, even during a rehearsal. I like to watch the magician carry out the trick without me so I can work it through in my head and try to figure it out. Then we’ll work together on putting it together as a team. I’ve gained a lot of experience and sometimes I’m the one showing the magician a new illusion.
What’s the secret to being a great magician’s assistant?
GA: The biggest misconception about the role of a magician’s assistant is that we just stand there — some kind of sexy prop. Maybe it’s because we make it all look so easy. I’m an integral part of many magic illusions on stage. My role is to help the magician’s show run smoothly and to make the tricks look flawless. If something goes wrong, I deflect the audience’s attention.
Have you considered being a magician instead of an assistant?
GA: I perform some illusions myself, and I’m always learning more. And, yes, I’m working on an act and I plan to perform solo. However, I’m kind of a late bloomer when it comes to magic. A lot of magicians start learning the craft when they’re children. I didn’t get into it until I was in my 20s. Frankly, I like being an assistant because I feel stronger as a team — and I love getting cut in half or levitated.
How does your SAIT education come into play?
GA: My assisting doesn’t just happen on stage. I'm happy to help magicians with marketing and social media because that's my background. I have also helped the International Brotherhood of Magicians with their online marketing. I’ve written articles and have had articles written about me. I also apply my skills to networking and marketing myself as The Magic Assistant.
Would you like to be a full-time magician’s assistant?
GA: I would love to find a gig that would allow me to make a living at this. It would be easier in Las Vegas or L.A., where there are many magic venues. If I got a touring show or if Calgary got a magic venue, then it might be possible here — but it’s not likely.
What’s your dream gig?
GA: I got to do it earlier this year. Lance Burton is a famous magician who performed more than 15,000 shows in Las Vegas and appeared many times on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Lance retired in 2010. Luckily, I became friends with him. We were talking a while ago and he told me he was going to come out of retirement to be the first act at a new magic venue, the Magic Castle Cabaret in Santa Barbara, California which was opened by Milt Larsen, the founder of the original Magic Castle®. He shared the stage with Steve Valentine. Lance invited me to be his assistant. That made me the first assistant to perform there as well. It was absolutely magical.
This interview has been edited for length.