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The reason: Gigs are hard to come by. The last magic club in South Florida, Bill Malone's Magic Bar in Boca Raton, folded more than two years ago. Nowadays performers are forced to be creative working libraries, condo association meetings, weddings, bar mitzvahs.
Even the elites aren't raking it in. Golden, who has performed on Showtime and has won scads of magic competitions, says, "I never could survive by performing alone." His income is augmented by building illusions and inventing tricks for other magicians. His copyrighted match trick, "Perfect Strike," for instance, is sold online and at magic stores.
Superstar magician Jeff McBride, who struggled for years, puts it bluntly: "If you're a full-time magician in the United States, you are extremely lucky."
Prospects are gloomiest for newcomers; most need to spend years before they get a paying gig.
But in 1996, Trixx caught a break that most magicians never get.
Riley's Comedy Club in Sandwich the place where he seemingly flopped gave him a steady gig. Most club owners and goers couldn't tell the difference between good and bad magic. But they liked rock 'n' magic. Trixx would lay down a track of Aerosmith or Mötley Crüe and then do every trick he knew. "I'd make $125 a night. I just started ... and I got paid to practice," says Trixx, snickering at his good luck.
Another incredible break: A truck driver for Budweiser saw Trixx's show. He told his boss, who told a marketing person. Less than a year after performing his first sleight of hand, Trixx had a sponsor. He added a few beer-oriented bottle tricks, traveled New England, and earned even more money from magic.
Meanwhile, Perry says, there was another side effect to Trixx's magic. "It was getting a little irritating. He loved the attention; he always wanted to be the center of attention, and he found the way. Anywhere he'd go, it was the Mike show. I'd say, come on, let's just hang out. He couldn't resist. He always wanted to sneak in a trick."
Trixx was always in character always on and that's what earned him his unusual job: the only full-time magician in the Middle Keys.
In the winter of 1998, while visiting a buddy in Islamorada, Trixx busted out a few of his tricks. As usual, people began watching including the manager of The Lorelei, a restaurant. Later that night, John Maloughney, amazed by the vanishing-cigarette trick, offered Trixx a gig: He could hop from table to table for tips. "Everyone seemed to love it. Families, old people," says Maloughney. "No one else around here had a magician."
Trixx's real break, though, came the following year. Back in the Keys, for a short stint at the Lorelei, he found a nearly uninhabitable trailer that was vacant. The walls were caving in. "But this lady said if I fixed it up, I could I live there for $295 a month," Trixx recalls.
With a permanent place in the Keys, Trixx began adding more gigs. He worked the Island Grille in Islamorada, and Snook's Bayside in Key Largo. On a good night, Trixx says, he could pull in $400. On a disastrous night, "I'd still get $150 or $200."
Trixx had seemingly found nirvana: a cheap place to live in tourist land. "There are new people coming down all the time. I didn't have to change my tricks that much." In fact, aside from an annual migration up north, he rarely even strayed beyond the Middle Keys. He didn't even play Marathon that much. "I didn't have to," Trixx says.
But the sweet life got a jolt last year. Neighbors at the Sea Breeze began whispering that developers were planning to buy the trailer park.
This was a wake-up call. "I always knew I had to take my career to the next level," Trixx says.
It was time to go to Vegas.
The magician's world has its holy spots. There is the Magic Circle, the storied and secretive London club where magicians have gathered since 1905; and the Magic Castle, a legendary private club nestled in the Hollywood Hills. Then there's the Houdini gravesite in Queens.
But the undisputed capital of the magic world is Las Vegas. "Vegas is to magicians what Hollywood is to actors," Golden says. The desert mecca has the most and best magicians, and the biggest shows. Unsurprisingly it's the hardest place to crack. In September of last year, Trixx took his first trip to the hub. He wasn't there for sightseeing or gambling.
He had performed for close to ten years in virtual isolation. "I'm all self-taught," Trixx says with a rock and roller's pride. He bought his tricks on the Internet; he'd throw away the instructions and try to figure them out himself. He thought he was fast. Maybe he had a gift. But Trixx knew that all great magicians from Houdini to Burton to Copperfield have mentors.
So he signed up for a week-long class hosted by Jeff McBride and Eugene Burger. The students spent four hours each day studying different genres of magic and analyzing magicians' presentational skills. The week culminated with a critical evaluation.