By: Megan Pasche
Photos by: Mike Farkas of G3 Designs

“A little magic can take you a long way.”
Ronald Dahl

Greg Frewin is one of Canada’s most mind-bending magicians. He has won every major award in the world of magic including the Magician of the Year in the World Magic Awards in 2009 and first place at the International Brotherhood of Magicians competition. He has performed on stages that span the globe and currently performs at the Greg Frewin Theatre in Niagara Falls. We recently caught up with Greg to chat all about the magic behind the man.

Q&A

Marriott Magazine:“Can you talk a bit about how you got started in magic? Did you perform magic as a child?”
Greg Frewin: “Well, that’s a very interesting question. When I was 8, my grandfather used to do a bunch of little magic tricks, he was always that “class magician”, doing little coin tricks. When I was 8, they bought me a magic kit for Christmas, because I had shown a little interest. So I thought it was really cool, and I played and learned all the different tricks. And when I was 12, he took me to see Doug Henning, and when I saw a live magic show for the first time, that’s the day I went, ok, this is cool, this is what I want to do. From there when I was about 14 or 15 years old, I met a gentleman at a magic club, who then took me under his wing and started teaching me and showing me the ropes of the real true, slight of hand and all that kind of cool stuff. So that’s kind of how it all started.”

MM:“How do magicians learn all their tricks if magicians never reveal their magic?”
GF: “I think it’s a little different now then when I was growing up, because with the Internet, you can learn magic tricks so easily. One or two mouse clicks and you’ve got a magic trick. When I was young, not only did you have to know somebody or read a book, but it also took a lot of effort. And it was such a tight knit sort of secret kind of world, that when you did finally get to that level where you were learning magic, you appreciated it. You had to really want to do it to be able to get that far. Nowadays, kids click, they learn a trick, and they move on to something else. So we are seeing a decline in new magicians. It’s not as popular as it once was.”

MM:“What is your most complicated trick and how long did it take you to master?”
GF: “Well, one of them is 12 years old, the other is 16, both my kids, pretty much the most complicated trick. That’s a bad joke.” [Laughs] “You know, the routines in the show, they all vary, so it’s really hard to pinpoint specifically one trick, but I have one routine which I competed in the world championship almost 20 years ago now, which involves doves, and I won the world championships and a bunch of other major competitions with this act, because it was all original. In five minutes there was more magic in that act than in about a half hour of my normal show. It was just boom, boom, boom, one trick after another, very fast paced, and choreographed to music, the timing was really important. Also, anytime you put an animal into a routine, they could decide one day not to fly the way they are supposed to, so it makes it a little more complicated. But that’s probably my most complicated and most difficult routine. Once I got that routine to where it was, you can tell the audience really appreciated it. The audience understands the difference.”

MM:“How do you come up with your illusions?”
GF: “For the most part, I create most of my magic. In the magic community, there’s a very good brotherhood of friendship. I think it’s because we have to keep things somewhat secret, so we are all on the same side. So, we do work with each other a lot, for example, I have a car routine in the show that’s a brilliant piece of magic, that was created by a friend of mine, Matthew Beech. I called him up, asked permission, and he granted me the permission to do it. So we do that sometimes, but when you are creating something of your own, that can happen in different ways. Sometimes, and I don’t want to sound like I dream it all the time, but I’ve had nights where I’ve been sleeping and I’ve dreamt something. It doesn’t happen all the time, but if you get one of those ideas, you need to write it down, because you’ll never remember it the next day. But then the other times, I’ll just see something in life, I’ll be out somewhere and I’ll see something that is not even related to magic, and it might spark something. And I’ll go, ‘oh, that’s really cool”, that’d be cool if I could…’ and I come up with an idea.”

MM:“And how long does that process take?”
GF: “It can vary, but for the most part, you’re looking at two or three months of research and development at that point. I like to draw things out and play around with them. Years ago I learned 3D studio max, which is an editing program for 3D visual cartoons. I’ll put in an illusion and design it to look like it would on stage, to get an idea of what it is going to be like. Then the process of building it and creating it comes next, and that can take up to six months, because now you’ve thought of something, but how do you make that work, and work well? Sometimes it goes faster, and sometimes it doesn’t even get out of the garage.”

MM:“How do you factor in things like sightlines?”
GF: “None of that matters, I’m a true magician.” [Laughs]. “I never really consider that in the first stages of the thought process, in other words, the idea has to come without any limitations. You need to get the idea in your head to where you go, wow, this is awesome, I want to do this. Then, as you start designing, the limitations come at you. Maybe it’s an angle thing, maybe it’s a distance thing, or maybe it’s a height thing. Who knows? Once they come at you, you then have to solve those problems. Just like an inventor would with a product. It’s our job now to create it, and limit those challenges to almost none.”

MM: “Is there a magician or magicians that you look up to?”
GF: “Sure, and once again, magic is a very tight community. We have conventions, and each night of the convention there will be big shows, and there will be close up shows during the day, so I love taking in that. I loved watching Doug Henning when I was really young, and then Doug retired by the time I was really seriously into magic, and then it was Lance Burton and Siegfried and Roy. They were really the two acts that I watched everything I could about. You know, watched their routines over and over again. I have VCR tapes that have wear out spots in them.”

MM:“What is the first thing people say to you when they find out what you do professionally?”
GF: “Well usually if you say to them, well, I’m a magician, they say, ok, but what do you do for a living? That’s the first thing I always get. Or, what’s your real job? It’s sort of worded that way. Years ago, I used to work on cruise ships and people would say, “oh, this is nice, do they give you a free cruise?” And I’m like, well, they give me the free cruise and they pay me. So I think a lot of people don’t really understand is that you can make a living, and a good living, if you put the energy and time, so I think that is probably the thing I get most. When I was 14 years old, my dad told me, you’ll never make it as a magician for a living, go to school and do something else, but you know, that’s not what I wanted to do. It wasn’t about money, it was about the passion of magic.”

MM: “What happens at the World Championship of Magic?”
GF: “A lot! Well, basically, it happens every three years, different country every year. 3000+ magicians show up, and there will usually be up to 800 entrants into the competition, but in all different categories. There is close up magic, mentalism magic, comedy, but the biggest one is the stage category that I competed in. There were about 450 magicians in the year I competed. And literally, it just goes on for a week. Every day, all day, just different acts. You get marked on different things like originality, execution, etc. A judging panel gets to sit there for four or five days straight watching magic act after magic act, until they award the top.”

MM:“Do you have a favourite trick to perform?”
GF: In an overall blanket, I really love working with the animals. When I was a kid, I always thought it would be cool to be a veterinarian, but the sight of blood and all that stuff just doesn’t work for me. I’m a wimp.”

MM: “Why did you choose tigers as the major animal in your act?”
GF: “I got an opportunity about 18 years ago to meet a gentleman who works in the movie industry and I was going into Malaysia in a show and I pitched it to them and he came there and spent a year with me, and we worked hand on hand every day. He taught me throughout the whole year, how to work, train and take care of the animals, not only how to use them on stage, but also how to have them in your life. Because it’s not just about the show, I mean, it’s a 100%, every day job. If they don’t love you and there is not that bond, they are not going to do anything. You have to understand them. You really have to have that connection and it’s built up with time, effort put in and just that trust, that bond”

MM: “How much training is involved to get the tigers ready to perform?”
GF: “Well, we do it in stages. We always start training when young, because we have to know everything about them, and they have to know everything about us. We can’t just get a cat when they are three, four, five years old and start training them, because we just don’t know what has happened in their past life. But we usually start young and bring them into the theatre and getting them used to the stage, and the smells and the different environment, and things that they have to feel comfortable with. And then, usually around 4 or 5 months old, we’ll start introducing them by walking them out on stage and getting used to the crowd. And from there, we have an illusion that’s designed for a one year old cat, so when they are about a year, we introduce them into the show and train the routine, and by the time they are about two to three years old, they’re fully fledged, ready to run and do whatever.”

MM: “Who does all the training?”
GF: “A gentleman named John and I work together. One of the things with these animals is that you can’t work on your own for safety reasons. If they ever get spooked or something happens, you need to have someone there who knows what they are doing. So we work together, and we train together. They have to know who he is, they have to know who I am, and they have to trust both of us. They have to know his position in what they do, and they have to know my position in what they do.”

MM: “Are their personalities much like housecats?”
GF: “Yeah, there are a lot of similarities. I always tell people they are 10 times everything, 10 times as big, 10 times as loving, they eat 10 times as much, they poop ten times as much. But very similar in all ways in the sense of how they play, how they hunt, etc.”

MM: “Are your children into magic at all?”
GF: “I would never force my kids to be magicians. My son goes to magic camp every year, it’s very cool, I think he enjoys it, but I don’t think he has a passion yet. Whether or not he gets that magic bug, we call it the magic bug, because once it gets you, it’s like a disease, you can’t get rid of it. He hasn’t got that magic bug yet, but he enjoys it, and I think that’s ok. If that’s where it goes with him, that’s fine. My daughter on the other hand, she’s an artist. She draws at least six or seven hours a day. She’s only 12, and if I showed you pictures that she drew, you wouldn’t believe that she was 12. And that’s great, and I’m glad that they both have their passions that they enjoy, so whether or not they get into magic, I’m not sure. But I’m not forcing them. I don’t think it’s important for them to do what I like, it’s important for them to do what they like.”

MM: “What would you say is the most rewarding aspect of performing here?”
GF: “Umm sleeping in.” [Laughs] “Having your own business, even when I was on the road, means that you are kind of your own boss. You are only as good as you make yourself become. So if I get lazy and slack off, the show gets lazy and slacks off, but then maybe I don’t work. There is really no one telling me to do this, or how hard to do it. So there is no one really to answer to, but there is also no one pushing me. And I think that’s probably one of the best parts about what I do.”

More information on purchasing tickets to see Greg Frewin live can be found by visiting http://www.gregfrewintheatre.com