Jeff McBride brings magic with an Asian flair to Seoul

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Jeff McBride brings magic with an Asian flair to Seoul

Jeff McBride’s first magic trick was an abysmal failure. Trying to make a pencil disappear, he took his father’s handkerchief and stabbed it. He created a hole, but no magic trick. So he stabbed the handkerchief again. Still no disappearing pencil.
He was only eight years old, but he learned two important lessons:
1. Read the instructions.
2. Be patient.
The year before that, at the age of seven, he was learning taekwondo. So it was that in his youth, he walked two paths that would become one: magic inspired by the Asian arts. That path has brought him to world success. Four years ago, he did a fire stunt in Monte Carlo that was broadcast on ABC television. He opened the only magic school in Las Vegas, and has created a number of educational DVDs. He’s become a magician’s magician.
Chris North, also a magician, counts McBride among his heroes. North writes that Mr. McBride’s “unique and spectacular style of presentation is second to none and his audience participation skills a joy to behold.”
“Magic to me is taking someone from the audience and transforming them into a magician,” Mr. McBride says, playing with a deck of cards during a break from preparations for “Meet McBride,” which launches his stint in Korea Wednesday. He’s here for five performances and to teach seminars. The timing is just right, as magic is on the rise in Korea, especially since the introduction of the Harry Potter series and the international success of Lee Eun-gyeol.
His show is marked with Asian influences ― masks and kabuki-style performances ― pantomine, dancing, drumming and, of course, magic.
Performing with him will be his wife, Abbi McBride, an escape artist in the style of Harry Houdini, and five drummers and magicians. On this day, both McBrides are dressed in black ― Jeff McBride with a kabuki-inspired outfit and a caduceus necklace, Abbi McBride with long beads draped around her neck.
When Ms. McBride considered becoming an escape artist, she liked both the dark and the bright aspects of it. “Tying a woman up is risque and taboo,” she says. At the same time, Mr. McBride adds, “artists like Harry Houdini captured the imagination of the world at a time of depression. He was a symbol of hope and freedom. He showed that anything is possible in life.”
Ms. McBride will be peforming a straitjacket stunt, one that almost went wrong some years ago. She got two men from the audience to buckle her up, and one knot around her neck was mistied. She was hanging in midair, and came close to suffocating before escaping. “People forget that behind the illusions, magic can be dangerous,” Mr. McBride says. “The floating lady can fall to the ground, and the tigers will bite.”
As for Mr. McBride, after mastering the disappearing-pencil trick, he pursued magic, cards in particular. He toured Japan as a teenager and, in the mid-1980s, learned kabuki.
The East Asian influence is what makes his shows different from others, and Diana Ross noticed. She saw him perform in Atlantic City, and invited him to be her opening act. His world debut was at none other than Radio City Music Hall. He has worked with other rock stars, like Santana, Alice Cooper, Tina Turner and Cheap Trick.
“It’s my job to remind [audiences] that everything we do in life is magic,” he says. Which is why wherever he travels, he teaches. At the end of the “Meet McBride” show, he had the entire audience holding up two fingers, gazing in the distance to see an optical illusion.
“The world is a magical, mysterious universe,” he says. “And wonders never cease.” But you have to practice, be patient, and, as Mr. McBride still does, read the instructions.

by Joe Yong-hee

McBride’s performances are from Nov. 19-23 at Seoul Kyoyuk Munhwa Hoekwan theater in Yangjae-dong, southern Seoul. Tickets range from 50,000 won ($43) to 70,000 won. For more information, call (02) 762-9190.
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