When we say magician, most Czechs know David Copperfield or at best our Pavel Kožíšek. At the same time, the Czech Republic offers much more in the field of tricks and magic. For example, Ondřej Pšenička, who has been doing magic since childhood and has not only once bested the famous magician, but he is also the only Czech who managed to outsmart the famous Penn and Teller duo a total of three times in their TV Show Fool Us. In his interview for LP-life.com, Ondřej opened up about how difficult it is to invent a trick or how much money magicians make.
When did you realize you wanted to do magic?
When I was nine or ten, but I really don't know why. I don't know what it was that I saw somewhere, but I tried something somewhere and I enjoyed it.
Did your parents buy you your first set of cards or a wand back then?
No, nothing like that. Suddenly I wondered if there might be a magician club somewhere. At that time, the Yellow Pages were still a thing, so my mother and I first looked up the term magic. In the end, my aunt from Železný Brod knew a magician who organized the junior championship there, and he gave us the contact information of the secretary of the Czech Magic Association, who then gave us the contact info of someone who headed a magic club in Prague. That's where I started doing magic.
Did you believe as a child that it was a real spell? These days we know that this is just a trick that needs to be mastered.
We already knew that then. (Laughs)
Seriously? At the age of nine, I might have believed that I can conjure a frog on top of someone's head.
I think maybe when you're three, you'll think you're conjuring a frog. But then you do what all the other kids do, say, "Mom, I'm going to disappear now, close your eyes," and run to hide behind a door, it's no miracle. While you still believe in Santa, there is probably a possibility.
When did it become clear to you that this would be your life's work and that you would make a living from it?
I know I started flirting with that idea at school when I started being successful in magic competitions. It was interesting when I started making money, which was from thirteen years old.
I remember my first magic show. It was at the Růžová Čajovna teahouse and at that time I won 700 CZK for it, I think it was on St. Nicolas Day. It was about a half-hour performance for children, I made animals from balloons and the like. The second performance earned me what for me was incredible money, it was at a Christmas party in Mánes for 1500 CZK. That was absolutely incredible for me as a little boy.
How much do you ask for to perform today?
When you call my manager saying you want me at your party, it's about 15,000 CZK an hour.
You've moved up a lot.
It's been a while, and I've improved a bit too. (laughs)
You went to study magic in America. I had no idea such schools existed. Who's in charge, Copperfield?
No, but there are top people there. The world of stage magic is really quite similar to the one from Harry Potter, for example. We have our own magic publishing house. There are magicians who only make money from other magicians in the magician community. But magicians are everywhere, same as politicians. Like Illuminati. In any scientific or social field.
So you're the Czech Harry Potter? Can I label you like that?
Since I already teach other magicians, I'd rather be someone behind the teacher's desk.
When and where did you study and what did you learn there?
The club was back in 1996, I went there for two years. Then I was taught by Alan Vejr, who called himself Eve´n Alan. He was a professional magician who lived here and then in Sweden for years. He taught me for four years, until I was sixteen. Then I studied with various magicians and went to world championships and magic congresses. After high school, where I was a member of the drama club, I started studying acting. I didn't get into DAMU, instead I went to economics, and I only stayed there for a month. The rest of the year I did magic professionally. Then I went to a higher vocational acting school for three years, after which I did theater and film for two years.
I then studied acting in America for two and a half years, meanwhile studying magic there at the Academy of Magical Arts at The Magic Castle. I was there until about 2014. A year later, I finally decided to do only purely professional magic from there on. Since then, my career has begun, that is, the 52 Lovers performance at the Kolowrat Theater, Fool Us and then the Butterfly Playing Cards. These are the three milestones that got me into the public consciousness at home and abroad.
So you were originally supposed to be an actor.
I was originally supposed to be a magician. I started doing acting to be a better magician. But the world of theater and film sucked me in so much that it looked like I was more of an actor. When I tried it and acted in some things, I found that there are many more people around me who are objectively much better than me. I felt I had much more potential in magic, and I struggled with that for eight years.
In the end, my ego decided that I probably wouldn't be an admired actor in Hollywood, but maybe it would be better if I was a world-admired magician. I tried it and it was the best decision I ever made.
Do you specialize only in card tricks?
During my life, I did all sorts of tricks.
Is there a difference between them?
Of course. There are illusions, bigger tricks that are done on stage, but usually it's really big. Someone gets into a box, where someone cuts them in half and so on. These are illusions, and I did those too. I also dabbled a little in comedy magic, the stuff that Richard Nedvěd is doing. We are friends and we have done one illusion together. We put together a group of five people, with whom we went to Sweden, Germany, Switzerland and back here. It existed for about three years, then we each went our separate ways.
At the Fool Us competition, you were the only Czech to deceive the judges three times. Are there magicians from all over the world? How many people did you beat?
They are American magicians, but they shot the first series in England. There are Penn and Teller, who have been together for about forty years, they are huge stars in Las Vegas, where they have had their show for 27 years, they are extremely popular. At one time they called themselves Bad Boys of Magic, revealing some magic to the public, but in a funny way.
They know a lot about magic and they act as judges in this competition. Various magicians come there and try to show them something that they can't figure out how it was done. Teller doesn't talk, but he's the biggest brain of the two, he's trying to figure it out. And then Penn shares his assumptions in some magic code so as not to reveal completely how it's done. If they don't figure it out, the magician will get a funny trophy and they will take them to perform at their show in Vegas once, with plane tickets and a hotel paid for.
Is that the main prize? Isn't it financial?
It can also be financial, you can choose. Either you fly to Vegas and at the end of the show you usually perform what you did in that competition, or you get a thousand dollars. So of course I chose Vegas.
How long have you spent coming up with the trick to fool them?
For the first time, it was a spell I had done before, but I had spent four years coming up with it. I have been practicing the second trick, or the principle on which it is based, since 2001, at that time it was seventeen years old. What I was preparing for my third performance took about half a year to come up with, during which I came up with a new and better method for them.
In that competition, it is ideal that it is something that is not known. I spent half a year developing the last one, I wanted everything to be completely new. I'd never done any of it before. I made up everything for the event. And I will never do it again, because it was crafted exactly for the competition and it followed on the stuff from the previous performances. It was tailor-made.
Did anyone else succeed?
I am the only Czech who has ever been there, so logically I am the only Czech who outsmarted them.
I wondered if anyone else had managed to outsmart them three times.
There is another Australian, Helen Coghlan, who has done it three times as well. Previously, I was the only European to outsmart them twice and one of only six worldwide. So now I'm the only magician in the world to outsmart them three times.
How many magicians are there in the Czech Republic who make a living from magic?
I don't know, I'd estimate it at thirty, maybe fifty. It can also be magicians who make a living from magic at children's parties. I think that the most money comes from performances for children, or rather it is the most common opportunity. The most money for one performance is in corporate magic, that is, magic for large companies, or a trade show, where the magician is at exhibitions at the company's stand and has the task of drawing in a crowd and showing people the stand.
Who do you perform for?
I perform for theater audiences. For me, my most favorite magic platform is a theatrical performance when the audience comes to see me.
In which theater do you perform?
At the Kolowrat Theater, the performance is called 52 Lovers. It's in Czech, once in a while I'll do it in English for tourists. Now I will have a performance in October and November. The show is only for fifty-two people.
What do you do in between? You have to make a living in some other way.
I sell magic cards.
Do you live primarily in the Czech Republic?
Under normal circumstances, in a year when there is no pandemic, I live in the Czech Republic for less than half a year and I spend most of the year away. Mostly it's performances for magicians.
So you teach?
Have you ever met Copperfield?
I met him. I have a lot of respect for him, so I've never talked to him much.
And what did you do?
I first met him at the age of fourteen.
In Prague, in the hotel where he stayed when he performed here. I was at the press conference, both performances and then at the afterparty. He called me over to him there and I showed him some magic. At that time, there was a small article about it that I showed him a trick he didn't know. It's actually true that I outwitted Copperfield when I was fourteen. (laughs)
How come he didn't know it? What was that trick?
It was a fairly advanced card trick.
What did he tell you?
I don't know if he asked me where it came from, but I told him it was from the magician Rich Bloch. Copperfield's producer, with whom I am now a friend, was also present. They looked at each other and laughed, obviously knowing some kind of funny story about him. I may have knocked it out that night because he picks out people from the audience for the last trick in the show, who catch a balloon and then he lets them disappear.
I was one of those randomly selected. I went on stage, where there is a man who sorts the people into those who are supposed to disappear and those who look from the side, ensuring that it is not a scam. Those who sort people have a good memory for faces, and one of them remembered me from that press release. She asked me if I was a journalist, I said no, that I was a magician. She set me up with someone from Copperfield's team and they put me on the side where I could watch. From there, Copperfield remembered me and called for me at the afterparty. I now know his producer.
I went to see Copperfield in Vegas two years ago, the producer saw me there and was really upset, saying that he won't let me pay for tickets, that I should always let him know. Of course, he doesn't remember our first meeting from a long time ago, I also looked completely different.
How did you get a press pass at fourteen?
I knew a reporter at Prima TV.
Did you learn any tricks from him?
Rather than a trick, I learned the design of magic. From him and his team. It's hard to say what Copperfield is and what his team is, because the thing he creates is the result of cooperation of several people. But he is the one who puts a lot of himself into it. I learned perfectionism from him.
What is your goal as a magician? What would you like to achieve?
I don't have a long-term goal. I want to be the best I can be at all times and choose the best path. Of course, you never know which one it is, but from our subjective point of view you can choose. But if you get stuck on a long-term goal, it is possible that you will miss something along the way that could potentially take you much further.
Thank you for the interview, Ondřej.
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