Olympia-based magician earns an honorable living, with trickery

At a recent South Sound bar mitzvah, befuddled children giggled. Adults traded bewildered stares.

“Do it again,” someone said.

But Olympia magician Cary Durgin was on to his next trick.

Cards appeared where they had no logical reason to be. Rubber bands defied the immutable laws of physics. Little red balls moved as if driven by the hocus-pocus forces of sorcery and voodoo.

The real magic, however, may be that Durgin, 29, makes a living doing what he loves to do.

When he was 16, he accompanied his brother to a performance by the magical duo Penn & Teller.

“It influenced me,” Durgin said earlier this week at a Lacey restaurant. “It looked like a challenge. I wasn’t challenged by sports.”

And at the beginning of his career, magic was a challenge.

Durgin made mistakes and he learned a lesson, so that now, he said, “I have 20 ways of making it look like I didn’t make a mistake.”

At 16, he read “Mark Wilson’s Complete Course in Magic.”

At 17, he decided that he had found a career.

He gave his first performance at a street fair in Mount Vernon.

At the fair, he met “an old guy, in his 70s, he was a magician. He was a hobbyist. He didn’t perform. He said, ‘You’re pretty good.’”

Durgin visited the magician’s home, read from his library, heard stories about magic and learned about gatherings of magicians. And he continued performing.

He perfected his craft by performing at restaurants, going from table to table, working for tips – maybe $100 per night.

At 17, he attended his first convention, the Northwest Magic Jamboree in Oregon.

He performed before 1,000 people in the “Best of the Northwest Close-Up Magic” competition.

“I was pretty freaked out,” he said.

He won.

He later moved to Thurston County to work with another magician, and the partnership lasted several years.

Durgin has since become a solo act, performing at restaurants, casinos, corporate events and private parties throughout the state.

He’s a one-man show and he runs a one-man operation. He spends his mornings in his office managing bookings and perfecting tricks, and in the evening he performs.

“It’s a full-time job,” he said.

When he’s not traveling the casino circuit, he typically performs at a regular list of restaurants: Hannah’s Bar & Grill in Olympia on Tuesday evenings, Johnny’s Dock in Tacoma on Wednesday, Tugboat Annies in Olympia on Thursday and Stonegate Pizza & Rum Bar in Tacoma on Fridays.

“He’s a great magician, a great personality. The people who come in really enjoy his shows,” said Chris Rutledge, an employee at Tugboat Annies.

“He’s one of the best close-up magicians in the area,” said Jeff Evans, a magician and partner at Amazement Productions. “His technical skills are superb, and he has a fun, casual way of working with audiences.”

Sarah Gelman, the mother who organized the recent bar mitzvah in Tacoma, said she’d hire Durgin again.

“Everyone loved him,” she said. “The kids just really enjoyed the show. Adults, the same thing. I saw people ask him for his card.”

“Presentation is 90 percent of it, and technique is 10 percent,” Durgin said. “I don’t think of myself as a magician. I think of myself as an entertainer first. I like to make people smile. I just like to make them happy, and I get them out of their everyday funk.”

He performs up to 30 hours a week. He said he doesn’t mind hecklers: “I have tricks that are designed to identify hecklers and get them out of the way.”

He has a reply for those people who say, “I know how that’s done.”

“So do I,” he answers.

When someone asks, “How do you do that?” he answers, “Very well.”

“I get a lot of silent reactions – people just don’t know how to react,” he said. “I’ve had people just run out of restaurants because they were so freaked out.”

December is the best month for business, he said. It’s all the corporate holiday parties. July is good also, for company picnics.

He doesn’t plan to go to Las Vegas, the magician’s paradise, if only because he wants to stay close to his three-year-old son.

He can make as much as $3,000 weekly while working at casinos.

Durgin once sold furniture. He sold cars and he worked as a personal trainer.

He also said he once tried becoming a stand-up comedian.

“But people just laughed.”

C.R. Roberts: 253-597-8535