When you think of magic, two things usually come to mind: a birthday party where someone taps a plastic wand against a black hat, says the magic words and (gasp!) out comes a bunny, or David Blaine doing some kind of indescribable act that you’re not sure really happened.
Or maybe you think of the wholly different magic of Harry Potter.
Either way, the options are a bit limiting.
Two Jewish guys, Marty Martin and Danny Archer, want to change that.
The two — both experienced magicians themselves — are opening the Magical Arts Center on Aug. 18 at 2840 Pine Road in Huntingdon Valley. The space will include a magic shop, a seance room, a school and camp for magic lessons, a space for corporate events and parties, and the European-style Smoke and Mirrors Magic Theater.
Martin and Archer met in 1980 when Archer moved back to his hometown of Philadelphia from Florida and set out to find the local magic shop — the now-closed Philadelphia Magic Company — which Martin happened to own.
Martin got his interest in the art of magic at about 10 or 11 years old when a magician came to perform at his school. He read books on the subject and found a magic shop in Pennsauken, N.J., that he worked for on the weekends. When that shop opened in King of Prussia Plaza later on, Martin was employed as the manager. After serving in Vietnam, he returned and opened his own shop.
Archer got a later start.
Living in Florida, he worked at a tuxedo store when a man came in looking for a few suits and said he was a magician. Archer asked him to do a coin trick, which he did, and then asked how to do it. And “now here I am,” he recalled.
They have both performed all over the world. Martin performed at Caesars Atlantic City Hotel and Casino as well as other venues, including the defunct Latin Casino.
“For me, magic is the only one of the performing arts that really gives the viewer that feeling of ‘What the heck?’” Archer said, explaining that sensation where you see a trick and think it’s impossible but you know it’s true because you saw it with your own eyes.
“You can appreciate the beauty of other performing arts,” he added, “but only magic can get inside your head and make you doubt your grip on reality. … No other performing art does that. To me, when someone is watching me perform and their mouth drops open, that’s a standing ovation for a magician.”
Martin noted it’s the “wow factor” that he finds enjoyable.
“If you listen to a singer sing, you enjoy the song but you may forget about it a moment later,” he said, but seeing a magician perform is different.
He did point out, however, that there are several types of magicians. There’s the — “No offense to this,” he emphasized — “clown kind of guy” who shows up at kids’ birthday parties, and then the David Copperfield or David Blaine types in Las Vegas who move big boxes or cut girls in half.
But, Martin said, there’s an incredible variation of talent that lies in between, like sleight-of-hand magicians who are up close and personal so you can see the cards or coins they manipulate.
“This group of magicians that are in the art of magic are the best of the best,” Martin said, “and when they perform, they create total amazement, and that’s the whole thing.”
“Many people have one or maybe two encounters with a professional sleight-of-hand performer in their entire life,” Archer added, “and most people never do.”
With the new theater, audiences will have a chance to be able to be close to the magic, including mind reading, which Martin said is an audience favorite.
The 60-seat theater is styled like a European theater, which Archer noticed was different from American theaters when he performed in Germany.
It’s styled as an amphitheater, where the seats curve around and each level is a little higher. The intimacy the space creates is key to the performance.
“We will attract people from all over once everyone knows about us,” Martin said, “and the thing that’s most intriguing about it is when you watch a guy on TV, you might think they edited something. There’s no editing here, it’s all live and you’re inches [away]. … So intimacy plays a big part in the sensation and amazement you’ll experience.”
“Every seat you can see the top of the table,” Archer added. “With close-up magic, things happen on the table. If you can’t see the top of the table, you’re limited in your ability to see the show.”
They already have a lineup scheduled to perform, including Will Fern and Doc Swan, who will work the opening weekend. Magicians who have appeared on programs like America’s Got Talent and Penn & Teller: Fool Us will make appearances throughout the year.
“There are magicians around the world that devote their life to this art form. They are incredibly talented. What they don’t have is places to perform,” Archer said.
The audiences will “have an experience they’ve never had before, and they will be amazed,” Martin promised.
“That’s our slogan: Be amazed,” Archer said. “Everything we’re trying to do is summed up in those two words.”
Performing magic may go against their Jewish values of honesty and not cheating, but they promise they leave that behind once they’re out of the theater.
And there are some Jewish elements to be found in magic.
“Moses did part the sea,” Martin noted with a laugh. Magic fans may want to check the Torah to see if he said “abracadabra” first.
Contact: [email protected]; 215-832-0740