Glen Ghirardi is in the business of illusions. As a professional, nationally known magician, the Morgan City native and resident said participants in his trade are more common in other parts of the country than Louisiana’s Tri-parish region. New Jersey and Nevada, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), have the highest concentrations of professional magicians because of Atlantic City and Las Vegas. “I’m not really sure why it is not more popular around here,” Ghirardi said.
Having worked as a painting contractor until he was in his 30s, Ghirardi, 79, was exposed to the colors of magic more than 46 years ago when his son brought home a library book on the subject. “I looked through it and did one little simple trick,” he said. “From there, the bug bit and I started learning everything I could.”
The self-taught magician was not satisfied with the simple stunts a favorite uncle might use to entertain young children and get a few laughs from adults. He started entertaining for pay at birthday parties and other celebrations.
Eventually, he was performing shows at banquets, corporate conferences and even before his professional peers with the International Brotherhood of Magicians.
At conventions for magicians, Ghirardi has won Best Stage Act four times during his career. He has also fulfilled IBM membership requirements by inventing original tricks of illusion. “You have to show the trick to your peers,” he said. “If they don’t consider it worthy, they don’t give the award. No one had won it for four years when I first won it. I was one of 11 magicians in the world that won the award at that particular time.”
Ghirardi is recognized globally for having invented 12 unique illusions. One trick he called a personal favorite is known as the cane to lit candle. In this act the magician begins by holding a cane. With the right move he suddenly is holding a candle in one hand and a handkerchief in the other hand.
“I have one trick where I go up to my assistant during the show and put a cane to her neck, and all of a sudden she is wearing a necklace,” he said.
Today, Ghirardi performs at business banquets, during public library programs and in schools to help instill meaningful messages to fight drug abuse and other unhealthy activities. He said it is common for illusionists to have themes incorporated in their acts to drive home an audience-appropriate message. He also does table hopping at area restaurants as entertainment for patrons.
“People like to laugh and have a good time,” this magician said regarding his visual form of magic. “If they can get [a message] from it that’s good as well. For example, kids love magic. So, I talk about the importance of reading. As I’m telling stories, I’m doing magic. In the school system talking about drugs, alcohol and being bullies, kids will listen because they can accept the idea of seeing magic and being told these things at the same time. At corporate events, messages can be more lasting because people associate them with the magic they have seen. They like to be entertained.”
Ghirardi offers stunts involving birds, fire and even makes his money multiply by turning $1 bills into $5 bills right before his audience’s eyes. “I don’t like to do simple tricks,” he said. “The stronger the trick, the more reaction you get from the audience.”
Calling himself a “laid back guy,” Ghirardi said he has performed to full houses in Lafayette’s Cajun Dome, presented his skills as a contracted act for players and owners during Super Bowl events in New Orleans, but never had a desire to enter the recognized list of big-name magicians.
This magician said he is always trying to be different in his performances, which number more than 200 a year.
Finding solid statistics regarding professional magicians can be as difficult as making the correct first-time selection from a regular deck of cards. The IBM claims to be represented in 88 countries, but does not reveal an exact membership number.
According to the BLS, the median wage for a professional magician is $18.60 an hour ($38,688 a year based on 40 hours). The low end of the wage scale in this career is $8.69 an hour and the BLS lists $33.27 as the upper end for these entertainers. Of course, the biggest stars in magic can make millions, but they are the few among this group of professionals.
“It is not how good a magician you are,” Ghirardi said regarding getting ahead in his trade. “It’s how good of a businessman you are. That’s what it’s all about. I’ve seen some lousy acts in the limelight making all kinds of money, but it is a good business person.”
Ghirardi admitted that most people, particularly most adults, realize magic is simply a sleight-of-hand or matter of distraction. Yet they enjoy knowing they are going to be fooled. “It is the element of surprise that audiences enjoy,” he said. “It is something they don’t think is possible.”
Magicians, Ghirardi revealed, often have tricks they perform for the public, but others they reserve for their fellow prestidigitators because those people appreciate the skill level involved. “It is like a violinist,” he said. “He can entertain the people that understand music differently than the general public because they know the intricate moves he has to do.”
Ghirardi said one of his reserved-for-professionals tricks involves hypnotizing a bird and placing it on the edge of a sword. He holds the sword in air and with a downward move the bird disappears while a silk cloth flutters to the floor. “That’s very, very hard to do,” he said.
“One thing I do want to say,” Ghirardi said, “is I’ve performed at churches and I don’t know any magician in league with the devil to do these mysterious things. Everything we do as professional magicians the average person can do if they try to learn.”
Audience reaction is the greatest reward for this entertainer. That way, whether it is the Halloween season or any other time of the year, Ghirardi knows his tricks have offered some treats.