Pick a card, any card.” That’s what Jose “Al” Leonidas, 62, says these days to break the ice with any new acquaintance. Not surprising, because the Miriam College sociology professor has learned a unique craft and is making a business out of it—magic.
“Professor magicAL,” as Leonidas has dubbed himself, will in fact be doing more than just card tricks to earn extra income. He is among the few magicians who have decided to teach their art to beginners and to people who want to learn sleight of hand and illusionism, simply as a hobby or vocation or, as the professor says, as a means to “add value” to themselves.
His idea to teach magic took root in 2003 when Leonidas and a friend, Atty. Ed Tagle, began exchanging magic tricks. Before that, in 1997, the professor had worked part-time as a clown, performing mostly at children’s parties. To add value to his comedic acts, he taught himself magic tricks from books and learned how to use magicians’ props—but not once getting in touch with a professional magician, he says.
“I was just amazed by magic,” says Leonidas. “Pero hindi na ako nakapagpatuloy na pag-aralan ito [But I was unable to continue studying it] while I worked as a clown. The high point of my ‘clowning’ career was being able to perform for my mother on her birthday, because as a child, she had not been able to enjoy birthday parties. After that, my interest in magic kind of died down.”
Connection with other magicians
But in the summer of 2003, his interest was revived when a friend of his and Tagle’s invited them to attend a meeting of the Inner Magic Club, a group of elite Filipino magicians that also counts among its members noted singer Rannie Raymundo. This was at Pepeton’s Grill in Quezon City. There, Leonidas met professional magicians for the first time, and within a year he became a member of the club, learning more tricks from his new mentors
“I started out as an amateur, a hobbyist if you will,” says Leonidas, who had worked in several jobs before landing his teaching stint at Miriam in 1991. “But one time, while watching a magic show, I thought, ‘Why not perform for my community [at Miriam] and make it my training ground?’”
By 2005, Leonidas says he had gained enough confidence to perform his magic at his school and in front of large groups; by then he had also started charging fees for his shows. He has since staged shows both here and abroad, particularly in the United States, and not just for Filipino-American crowds. His latest show was for 350 people in Calauag, Quezon last November, during the birthday of a friend’s mother.
The professor continued to expand his knowledge of magic by sharing tricks from his mentors and friends, by reading books, and by watching video tutorials and YouTube shows of popular illusionists like David Blaine and David Copperfield. But after hitting age 50, Leonidas says he felt a sense of adventure and asked himself, “Ano pa ba ang pwede kong magawa? [What else can I do?]”
Magic for beginners
That was when he decided to open his “magic for beginners” classes, which he started at his neighborhood in Cubao, Quezon City. He recalls: “Sa umpisa, mahirap [At the start, it was hard]. I still didn’t know the contours of the land. I even went to my local church to put up posters there.”
Last September, he began teaching magic informally to his neighbors and acquaintances. Then, in late November, he opened his first formal magic class. He charges P700 per enrollee for a whole-day weekend session on either Saturday or Sunday. To encourage young people to attend, he charges students just P600, and also gives an “early-bird discount” of P200. Enlisting the assistance of his wife and daughter, he also holds classes inside the Ateneo de Manila University campus in Quezon City, near the Leonidases’ home.
To boost class attendance, Leonidas makes advertising placement in the local dailies. This, along with his other expenses for promoting his seminar on magic, has added up to about P10,000, which he considers his starting capital in the magic business. The funds came from his salary as a teacher and from his personal savings.
As to the potential of this venture, Leonidas explains: “In Metro Manila, there are 15 million people; and throughout the Philippines, over 90 million. I think a small fraction of these figures is the market na gustong matuto ng magic [that want to learn magic], people who want to pursue this as a hobby to entertain people or help break the ice with strangers.” But Leonidas admits that it’s too early to tell whether teaching magic would be more lucrative than performing it in parties or to crowds. Because the tricks in performance magic are closely guarded secrets, none among the local magic community has offered training in magic to laypersons. A magician typically earns P3,000 to P5,000 for each performance, according to Leonidas.
Even so, he already has an idea how his “magic for beginners” would look like in the long term: “The school would be in virtual reality; it would be Internet-based, and someone is already telling me to upload my instructional videos on the Web, much like hundreds of magicians who have targeted YouTube to promote themselves. Also, there would be no need to put up a building for the school, as I intend to just rent space for one-day classes, just like now.”
Others would be averse to displaying their skills in a public forum such as the Web without getting compensated for it, but not Leonidas. “Kumukuha din naman ako sa kanila [I also draw knowledge from others after all], so it’s not exactly my idea that I’m giving away,” he says. “The point is that magic is interactive; it infects people with joy while it boosts your self-esteem and gives you a better insight about yourself. It’s really one of the more meaningful courses you can pursue in life.”
Main photo from Flickr (Magical-bond)