Magicians take to the streets and step on to higher stages
A magician entertains children in Hanoi
The young man tears a card into four pieces and invites the spectators to place a finger on each of them. Low and behold! The pieces magically restore themselves back into a whole card.
He does this and several other tricks as the crowd of people surrounding him watch his every move with great attention. They gasp in amazement as he surprises them every single time. There is generous applause at the end of the show.
This is a street scene that has been gaining familiarity in major Vietnamese cities in the last few years, but one that has not lost its novelty.
The trend of street side magic shows was introduced mainly by students who studied abroad, but it has attracted many youngsters into trying their hand at magic.
The areas around King Ly Thai To's statue, West Lake and the Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi or the Le Thi Rieng and Le Van Tam parks in Ho Chi Minh City have become regular stages for this emerging breed of street artists.
Huy Tu, or Bathazer, who at 24 is one of the most famous magicians in Hanoi for his card and coin tricks, started practicing his trade in 2006.
"My cousin who studied in the United States introduced the art to me and I loved it immediately after watching his first performance," Tu said. "He taught me some tricks with the cards during his short summer holiday in Hanoi and then I taught myself with the help of the Internet and discs."
Tu said he faced lots of difficulties studying the art as there were not many people to share the hobby and exchange experiences with at that time in the capital.
"I lost my nails while I was trying out the card tricks," he said. "My parents tried to stop me from practicing, but I could not."
Things have gotten better since Tu met Le Viet Anh Adrian (called AD), a student of Hanoi University who was also looking for someone to share his passion for magic.
Born to a Vietnamese father and a Romanian mother, Viet Anh practiced magic for 7 years in Romania before coming to Hanoi in 2006 to do his university study.
AD had also faced tough opposition from his father at first, but turned things around with an impressive performance at a seminar held at his father's company.
Viet Anh and Huy Tu established a magic club called Society of Secret (SOS) in 2009 at Pho Phuong Café on Ngo Quyen Street, the first of its kind in Hanoi. After welcoming some other members to the club, they began their first shows on the streets.
"Like many other well-known magicians in the world, we chose pavements and other public places to introduce our first performances," Viet Anh said. "But things were more difficult here in Vietnam. We were among the first people to bring magic out to the streets in a place where most locals thought of it as a ruse. They didn't dare to watch, fearing we would charge them or do something to swindle them. It took us a long time to win their confidence."
Since Huy Tu had lived in Vietnam, he understood locals better than Viet Anh.
"I often told my friends to look carefully at people before inviting them to watch a performance," Tu said. "We must carefully choose a suitable trick to perform for each audience group. And we have to pay attention to our clothes and way of communication as well."
Tu said magic with cards and coins was the most popular item in Hanoi. With cards the street artists usually performed three items - tricks, flourish and XCM (extreme card manipulation).
"With cards, we can perform more than 100 acts," he said. "A card show can last for 10 to 15 minutes."
While Huy Tu and Viet Anh have been the pioneers of street magic in Hanoi, Duong Ngoc Minh Triet is known for popularizing the art in HCMC.
Born in 1980, Triet has been doing magic since he was eight and now considers it a second career besides teaching Labor Safety at a university.
Triet set up the ATG (abbreviation for Ao Thuat Gia, which means magicians) Club in 2006 to introduce and teach magic to more people in the city as well as other neighboring provinces. The club recently organized a national magic competition for both amateur and professional magicians aged between 12 and 70. A gala night was held in late April to honor the best magicians in the competition.
After Hanoi and HCMC, magic has gained popularity in many other cities across the country including Hai Phong, Dong Nai and Da Nang through clubs, training centers and toy stores. With the help of the Internet, magic lovers have set up many forums and websites to shares their experiences. One of them is vietmagician. Many members have learnt their first tricks from the site.
Viet Anh, Huy Tu and some other members of SOS like Tuan Anh and Kala Thong have, through their street performances, become well known in the city and surrounding areas. They are now regularly called to perform at hotels, bars, weddings, birthday parties or other events in Hanoi and some northern provinces.
Viet Anh has done particularly well for himself. He gets around VND4 million (US$200) for a 10-minute-performance. But that income is, as Anh says, not so generous because it sometimes takes him as many as several months to practice and perfect a trick.
Although magic is attracting an increasing number of young people, especially boys, Tu says only a few have the skills and patience to follow it as a career.
"Moreover, many people are only taking up magic as a hobby, because magic is still not so popular in the eyes of local show organizers compared to hip hop, singing or comedy," he said. "Those who can earn money from magic like me must have strong passion and good skills to follow it (as a profession)."
Tu mentioned Joker Boy, Soi lang thang and Trung Hieu, who are mostly in the twenties, as some of the people earning their living through magic shows. Some others, like Trinh Hai and Trinh Duy Anh, have contacted travel agencies to perform for tourists.
"To prepare for this, we had to go around Hoan Kiem Lake and some streets in the Old Quarter to invite foreign visitors to watch our performances," Hai says. "By doing this, we could practice our English and find out what they liked."
Their initiative has paid off, and many agencies have welcomed their shows, especially for family tours.
Meanwhile, Viet Anh and friends have even bigger plans. They have set up a company called The B Man Team, which gathers artists from different countries working in different fields including designing, dancing, magic or even film making, seeking for more opportunities to organize shows and events.
"2012 will be a busy year for us," Viet Anh said. "We are completing a TV series on street magic titled "˜AD the Magic Man'. We also plan to establish a magic school for children. Another plan is to organize a show with American rockers Linkin Park to perform in Vietnam."
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