Velvet curtains part to reveal a small box and a short microphone center-stage. After a few moments of anticipatory silence, the box opens and a white rabbit hops confidently to the mic. Once the laughter dies down, he proceeds to say a few kind words about his owner in a transparent attempt to schmooze some extra carrots. Then, amid the stunned laughter, the rabbit introduces the first act of the night and dutifully hops back inside his box, bringing the audience to its feet -- all before the first magician hits the stage.
If you'd like to see a show like this, you're in luck. This weekend, many top magicians (and a few traveling animal companions) converge on St. Louis to perform during the Midwest Magic Jubilee International Magicians Conference, returning for its 49th annual encore. Firmly established as one of the nation's best magic conventions, the Jubilee offers an opportunity for professional illusionists to join together for three days of trade secrets, lectures, camaraderie and a spellbinding magic show each night.
Terry Richison, famed local magician and co-producer of the event, explains: "The Jubilee began in 1957 at the Broadview Hotel in East St. Louis. At that time only four rooms at the hotel were air-conditioned, but the evening shows were carried on live television in a broadcast called The Parade of Magic." Thanks to the national talent already residing in the city, the show was a huge success, and those involved decided to make the Jubilee an annual event. For several years the location alternated between St. Louis and Kansas City, but in 1970 St. Louis took sole possession. Richison says, "Every magic star of yesterday and today has graced the stage of the Jubilee at one time or another. Many of the big stars come, too. You never know who you might be seated next to at the shows. The most famous close-up magician, Dai Vernon, was at every Jubilee until his death. He dubbed it the 'Best Magic Convention in the United States.'"
But have there been any difficulties post-9/11 for magicians boarding planes with saws, swords and other ominous props in their luggage? Richison explains that most Jubilee attendees drive now because of the new security restrictions. And when the magic-makers arrive at the conference, Richison says, "We usually drive the hotel staff wild. There's not a time during the entire convention that a magician isn't cornered by one of the staff asking to see a trick. They go crazy when we won't tell them how it is done!"
The three evening shows are the heart of the Jubilee. The performances start at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday (August 11 through 13) and are held at the Hilton St. Louis Airport Hotel (10330 Natural Bridge Road). Thursday's night of magic is entitled "Magic, St. Louis-Style," and it showcases Thomas Burgoon, Chris Korn and others. Friday's show promises "A Night of Magic and Comedy" with magicians including Danny Archer and Tony Chapek; the latter's "interactive media magic" combines video technology with traditional sleight-of-hand. The Jubilee goes out with a bang at Saturday's "Stars of Magic" show, which features performances by masters like David Williamson and the Great Tomsoni.
These performers are just the tip of each night's magic mountain, so for a complete roster of magicians, visit www.mmjubilee.com/shows. Tickets cost $8 to $20; place your order by calling 636-947-1517.