How to Be an Illusionist on Broadway

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Photo Source: “The Illusionists”

Charlie Frye comes from a clowning family. His father and grandfather were clowns, and so was he, until he switched gears and started working as an illusionist. Frye can now be seen on Broadway in “The Illusionists: Turn of the Century” through Jan. 1 at the Palace Theatre.

Tell us about your act.
It’s a juggling act and a manipulation piece. My act is really difficult technically. My brother-in-law is a world-class oboe player and we read the same books on sports psychology because we have to be so focused. It’s technicality and physical comedy. I don’t wish this balance on anybody. Next lifetime, I’ll be a mentalist. It’s a lot of sleepless nights. We don’t say a word in our shows. Physical comedy and magic is part of the living arts. Hopefully we inspire the next generation. It has to be learned from a past master, and we’re just trying to hold a candle to the greats of the past.

How did you find a mentor?
So much has to be self-taught. There’s an old Chinese expression: When the student is ready, the master will appear. There’s no shortage of inspiration; I learned from some of the great clowns and they had old films. Later it was videotapes, and it was very special rare footage, but practically everything is a clip away on YouTube. Still, I want people to be original. Once you’re in the game, you’ll meet people. The planets line up. It’ll happen naturally if you’re on the right track.

READ: “How to Find a Mentor”

Everyone has a different persona in “The Illusionists.” You’re “The Eccentric”?
This [show] is special in that everyone complements each other. We’ve known many of the acts for a long time and worked different venues with each other. “The Immortal” encapsulates the many magicians of the past; [Rick Thomas] has the persona, this commanding stage presence. Rick and [Jinger Leigh] are real historians. There’s so much originality in this show that hasn’t been seen before. They show these clever new ways that will fool and entertain today’s audience. It’s really about entertaining—it’s less “I know something you don’t know,” it’s more about amazement.

Do you have any advice for aspiring illusionists?
If you’re in a big city like New York, there are circus classes and clown classes and magic conventions anyone can go to. Then there are juggling conventions. I tell everyone to be part of an art. I don’t suggest people make their living out of it; I know the sacrifices of show business. I know how demoralizing it can be; you get the bends going up and down in our careers. We never wanted to be big stars, and so far that’s worked out. But it so enriches your life to be part of an art. Go online, join a group. Our suitcases are never empty. We’re always ready to go.

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