by David Jay Brown
Jeff McBride is recognized as one of the most talented and respected stage magicians in the world, as well as a foremost innovator in contemporary magic. He was awarded the title “Magician of the Year” by Hollywood’s famed Magic Castle for his remarkable sleight-of-hand abilities, and he was voted critics’ choice as “Best Magician in Las Vegas” in the Review-Journal annual poll at Caesars Magical Empire in Las Vegas. McBride performs regularly to standing ovations at some of the world’s most spectacular theaters–including Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, Radio City Music Hall in New York, and Her Majesty’s Theater in London.
Before starting his solo career, McBride was the opening act of choice for Tina Turner, Diana Ross, and other top stars. His show “McBride-Magic!” was the featured attraction at the Monte Carlo Festival of Magic, and his show “Mask, Myth & Magic” won acclaim Off-Broadway and on national tour, as well as at arts festivals in Barcelona (for the 1992 Olympics), London, Hong Kong, China, and Bangkok.
McBride has appeared in numerous television specials. His spectacular “Burned Alive!” escape was highlighted the ABC TV special “Champions of Magic.” He was featured on NBC’s “World’s Greatest Magic”, the PBS documentary, “The Art of Magic,” The Learning Channel’s “The Mysteries of Magic”, and the PAX series, “Masters of Illusion.” McBride also worked on the Discovery Channel’s “Mysteries of Magic”, where he served as a consultant on shamanism and ritual magic. The Fox television network even devoted a Star Trek Deep Space 9 episode to McBride’s mind-bending illusions, by having him guest star on the show as “Joran”, a role created especially for him.
McBride draws upon many traditions in his magic shows. He has traveled the world extensively, studying different magical traditions, which he incorporates into his performances. He is well-known for his use of masks, and he weaves myth, mime and dance together with comedy and theater, blending a myriad of cultural influences into his performance. His background in psychology, hermetic philosophy and alchemy, are also integrated into his acts. McBride has created a wizardly blend of multicultural entertainment spectacles that echo down the corridors of time to the shamanic origins of performance magic. New York Times columnist Glenn Collins writes, “What Mr. McBride gives his audiences is a mesmerizing performance…a magic show that is at once a celebration of mystery and a struggle to understand powerful forces.”
In addition to his conventional magic shows, McBride also regularly leads ceremonial rituals at large outdoor gatherings, where he blends performance magic with alchemical “magick” and traditional shamanic rituals, sometimes for several consecutive days and nights. Each year, amongst the ancient redwood trees in the Santa Cruz mountains of California, he leads a five day ritual theater festival called Fire Dance, which combines magic with midnight fires, nonstop drumming, chanting, prayers and performances from many different traditions. The Fire circle festivals are now being done all over world–across the U.S., Hawaii, Amsterdam and Bali.
In addition to his work as a performer, McBride also lectures and runs workshops for such diverse groups as The Smithsonian, The Disney Institute, the International Brotherhood of Magicians, and the Center for Symbolic Studies. McBride also founded The Mystery School, an organization of magicians who are interested in exploring “the deeper sides of the art of magic”. This unique experiential retreat for magicians was the subject of an acclaimed 1994 CBC-TV documentary hosted by Arthur Kent. McBride is also the cofounder of the WorldMagicsTM Festivals–multi-cultural celebrations of the environment, or “enviro-magic”–and with Eugene Burger he teaches regular sessions of “McBride’s Master Class” at his home studio in Las Vegas, as well as semiannual retreats for the further exploration of the magical arts.
McBride coauthored the book Mystery School: An Adventure into the Deeper Meaning of Magic. Although the book is written primarily for practicing magicians, I think that it would be of interest to anyone intrigued by alchemy, mysticism, and the transformation of consciousness. His videotaped series teaching “The Art of Card Manipulation” is among the best selling magic teaching videos of all time. To find out more about McBride’s work his web site is: www.mcbridemagic.com
I met Jeff at a large pagan gathering in upstate New York called the Starwood Festival, where he was performing and I was lecturing. Before returning to California, I had lunch at he airport with him, writer R.U. Sirius and his fiancé graphic artist Eve Berni. When the checks arrived at the end of our meal, I quickly snatched up the four leather pouches that hid our checks, and without looking inside them, held them out like I was fanning a deck of cards. I asked everyone to pick a pouch, any pouch. Everyone took a pouch, and when each was opened–miraculously–we all had our own bill. “How did you do that?” Jeff asked. I just smiled.
Jeff currently lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, where he performs regularly with his wife Abbi Spinner. Earlier this year, McBride previewed his new theatrical show “The Forbidden Secret of Magic” with Abbi and Eugene Burger at Magicopolis magic theatre in Los Angeles, and presented his new grand illusion spectacular “Jeff McBride-Abracadazzle!” to standing ovations at the Claridge in Atlantic City. I interviewed Jeff on September 15, 2002, and again on February 18, 2004. Jeff speaks slowly and precisely. He puts a lot of thought into his words. Jeff has a strong sense of intuition, and a strange synchronicity seemed to guide our conversations. It was as each of his answers seemed to anticipate my next question. Among the many subjects touched upon in this interview, we discussed his background as a magician, the relationship between shamanism and stage magic, and how the placebo effect influences healing.
David: What were you like as a child?
Jeff: I was very hyperactive, always looking for a place to store my energy. I was into masks, horror movies, and drumming. I had a lot of energy that I needed to find a creative outlet for. I initially found it through drumming and martial arts. Then I eventually discovered dance and performance magic. These became ways for me to channel all of this energy. I’m still very blessed with this energy, and I found a way to channel the energy at a very early age.
David: How did you become interested in stage magic?
Jeff: I grew up in upstate New York, and I was very isolated from other kids. There were no magicians in the area. I found a magic book next to the music book that I was studying in school, and that opened up a whole new world for me. I was taking books out from the library on music, and there was a book on magic next to them. I had never really seen magic performed anywhere, but I started reading about it.
David: How old were you at the time?
Jeff: Eight years old. I think every kid, when they’re about seven, eight years old is looking for sense of personal power, something to make them different or stand out. And I was the only magician, and that felt really good to me. There was nobody they could compare me to, as bad as I was.
David: How have your travels influenced your stage performance?
Jeff: My performance is drawn from the roots of many different world theater disciplines. When I was in Japan I studied Kabuki theater. When I was in Europe I studied classical mime at Comedia delle Arte. Wherever I go, I try to pick up some of the influence of the culture–especially by meeting magicians in the many different places that I travel, finding out the way people experience magic differently in the world, and by the way the performers create their magic and rituals.
David: Are there other people who have been integrating mime, dance, comedy, and theater into their magic performance, or is this combination pretty unique to you?
Jeff: I think the blend that I have is quite unique. However, comedy and magic–that’s been done since the very