Studying the Magician in The Magician’s Study

Travel Features Las Vegas
Studying the Magician in The Magician’s Study

We never learned his name. The magician who stars in Vegas’s most clandestine magic show knows the power of mystery. Everything about The Magician’s Study is a secret, from the magician’s identity, to where exactly in Vegas the shows are held, to how to buy tickets. It is a business, of course, so there’s an official web site with a show calendar and ticket prices, but you can’t actually buy those tickets until you enter a code word. At that point you’re told where to go (all we’ll say is it’s on the Strip), given a password to enter the small venue, and sworn to secrecy. 

The show is held in what looks like a real study hidden away in a quiet corner of one of the Strip’s best-known casinos. Shelves adorned with old books and miniature busts line the walls, with three rows of chairs arranged in a semi-circle for the small audience. It’s entirely possible you’ve been in that room in the daytime, never knowing it houses the most secretive and popular magic show in Vegas at night. When the magician’s at play, though, it feels like an entirely different room, with atmospheric lighting and music casting its classical appointments into a hip lounge that resembles a quiet annex of a nightclub. 

The magician—Australian, probably in his 30s, anonymously handsome but with quick wit and entertaining patter—enters in a gaudy sportcoat and a polygonal rabbit mask that makes him look like a character from a late ‘90s videogame. After quickly ditching the mask he proceeds to run through a 90 minute show heavy on card tricks, with a beguiling centerpiece featuring the Wakeling variation on the century-old of sawing a woman in half trick. The guests in the front row (the VIP seats) are his often unwilling partners, with every one of them eventually being involved in a trick in one way or another. If you’re a wallflower who just wants to watch the show, don’t pay extra for those VIP tickets; if you absolutely want to be a magician’s assistant for a night, though, you’ll need to spring for one of those pricier seats. 

For a show like this to work, a performer needs a particular skill set. They need to have perfected their close-up magic game, while also having the crowd control skills of an accomplished stand-up comic. This isn’t like David Copperfield doing large-scale but impersonal illusions in a theater with thousands of seats; this is like seeing a band at a local bar, or a comic at the Comedy Cellar. The magician is just a few feet away from you; he can hear almost anything you say, and can look into your eyes as he directly addresses you. The only barrier between performer and audience is invisible, and although that makes it a far more immediate show, it also leaves the magician exposed in a way you rarely see at a Vegas show. To succeed at this kind of performance a magician needs to be a master of cards, deception and distraction, as well as a likable but commanding presence. 

This magician handles it all adeptly. His non-stop chatter, charming demeanor, and self-effacing comedy ingratiates himself to the crowd so deeply that he can pull off all manner of close-up illusions, and with his sure-handed administrations of playing cards he whips through tricks without bungling any of them. He also peppers his act with callbacks to earlier jokes and conversations, a common stand-up trick that underscores the mental acuity needed for this kind of show. 

The magician of The Magician’s Study approaches magic in the way you probably need to if you want a 21st century audience to enjoy and appreciate your show. He doen’t disparage or mock magic, or reveal how the tricks are done the way Penn & Teller do, but he also eschews the faux mysticism of stage magic’s past and the pomposity of David Copperfield and his ilk. The tricks are in no way incidental to the show—they’re still the bulk of the program, and the main reason to attend—but he’s talented enough at basic crowd work that he could probably make it as a comedian even without flipping through a deck of cards. And the scale of the show—a small crowd in a small room engaging intimately with the magician—not only distinguishes it from other Vegas magic shows, but is custom-tailored to the magician’s ability to win the audience over on a personal level. Even if you’re not a magic fan, the mystery of The Magician’s Study is one worth exploring.

Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.

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