The business of magic

Successful illusionists are able to pull more than just a rabbit out of a hat.

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By Larissa Ham

Being a magician ain’t always easy. There are the bad jokes for a start (“Can you make my husband disappear?”), the misconception it’s all about rabbits and top-hats, and unflattering comparisons.

“If you’re a magician there are a lot of different images people get from that word,” says full-time performer Simon Coronel, who prefers the title “illusionist”.

I don’t tell people that I’m a magician – not in Sydney.

He says people often think he’s a “wacky kid’s clown magician”, assume he falls into the same line of theatrics as a David Copperfield or a Cosentino, or that he uses sleight-of-hand and other tricks to impress the ladies. Not so, says Coronel, who says pulling out the magic too early is hardly a sure-fire way to a woman’s heart.

Simon Coronel has made a career from magic.

Sydney magician and ‘infotainer’ David Welzman also finds that Australians can be a tough crowd when it comes to appreciating the particular tricks of his trade.

“I don’t tell people that I’m a magician – not in Sydney,” he says. “People don’t understand it, they think ‘ooh you’re a magician’.”

Welzman, who says he didn’t do particularly well at school, started learning magic at 21, while working as a barman.

David WelzmanDavid Welzman: Aussies can be a tough crowd.

Impressed drinkers began asking for his business card, and eventually he was headhunted by Club Med resorts to take his magic and bartending skills to Queensland’s Lindeman Island.

With the days of pouring drinks long behind him, the 36-year-old last year won one of the magic world’s biggest accolades when he was named a Merlin Award winner in the category of “best trade show magician”. But he found there was little interest in the achievement here.

While Welzman’s bread and butter comes partly from performing at conferences, dinner and children’s parties, he has carved out a real niche at trade shows, where he performs numerous short shows a day – “magic with a sales message” – at a company’s stand to help them draw a crowd and promote their brand.

It began when an Indian company was flying to Sydney to exhibit at an IT show in Sydney, and called on Welzman’s services. Impressed with the number of leads he was able to generate, the company flew Welzman to Dubai.

“When I first went to Dubai, they loved it over there,” he says.

At such an event, he might perform 80 shows in five days, of up to 20 minutes each. A few years ago, an agent lobbied him to move permanently to the United Arab Emirates, but Welzman says he would prefer to try to break into the US trade show market.

There, the market is more lucrative, with some companies exhibiting at up to 25 trade shows a year.

Welzman says it’s also easier to market his services than here in Australia, where trade show organisers keep their list of exhibitors a closely-guarded secret.