“I’m all about the word ‘astonishment,’” he says. “So often people say, ‘You made me feel like a child again!’ But what I revealed was an emotion they already had inside them, you know, when you clear away all the boxes of judgment and opinions and experiences, that clear primal state of astonishment—like a baby has all the time—before they start theorizing and saying to themselves, ‘Oh, he must have had that up his sleeve…’
“I feel like I’m an astonishment guide.”
Just like a lot of kids in Southern California, seven-year-old Brenton Keith was first introduced to magic when a friend showed him a trick. But when he ran home to show his mom and saw the expression on her face, he was hooked.
“And I just stuck with it,” he says. “I learned more and I started doing parties. I was always doing parties.”
With his income from those parties, Keith put himself through college and acquired more materials to develop his act, which he performed tableside, strolling through various restaurants in L.A. He eventually ended up at Wizardz, a magic theater in Hollywood’s Universal Studios.
There, he was able to rub elbows with all the rotating magicians who passed through. But he really admired the work of Jack Goldfinger, a charismatic performer whose magic was not that strong but who captured the attention of the audience with his charm, energetic style and use of music.
“I learned that it’s not what you do but how you do it,” Keith says. “[Goldfinger] really made it an art. It’s not the magic—it’s performance art and comedy and music and interaction. It’s turning the most simple things of everyday life into magic.”
Keith also met a magician who planned to open a magic theater on Maui, and followed him 10 years ago. Warren & Annabelle’s in Lahaina was the pivotal point, Keith says, for his evolution into a professional showman; he had his own hour and a half show every night for over five years.
Although he’s since left Warren & Annabelle’s, Keith is still just one of six professional magicians on the island. He says he’s grateful for a more flexible schedule now, which is full of first birthdays, private parties, special events and corporate hotel gigs. He says he’s learned to integrate local humor into his act and is trying to make a niche for himself as a magician from Hawai‘i.
To develop his act, Keith reads a lot of books on magic, subscribes to a magazine for the “magic” community, and watches instructional DVD’s, sifting through effects to see what tricks would be practical for a cocktail party on the Wailea shoreline, where the wind is apt to blow away cards and such.
“It’s very challenging to be a magician on Maui,” he says. “You have the elements to contend with—the sun, wind, sand. And then, what is a magician here supposed to wear?”
Eschewing the traditional tux for casual aloha attire and a funky hat, Keith is probably best identified by his big, worn, leather bag of tricks and ubiquitous smile.
“I have a passion for what I’m doing,” he says. “I’m very fortunate to be doing what I love—I think everyone sees that I’m doing what I love and they feed off that energy.”
Keith admits he sometimes gets tired of hecklers—although he has a mental file of “stock lines” to deal with most of them. And he’s gotten past the “doctor syndrome” of refusing to do tricks when requested to on his downtime—he now keeps a deck of cards in his pocket whenever he’s out, as a way to “immerse myself into my art.”
But he says his biggest challenge is helping people get over their preconceived notions of what a magic show is supposed to be like.
“They think it’s us against them—magician versus spectator,” Keith says. “Magicians are thought of as these serious, egotistical shamans who can unlock the mysteries of the universe, like David Blaine… I’m more about comedy, high energy, fun—really, I’m just doing card tricks. But if I can get people to sustain the feeling of disbelief, and create all this wonder, then I really am a magician.”
For more info on Brenton Keith and His Bag O’ Tricks, call 870-2102 or visit online at www.magicbrent.com. MTW