Embracing The Illusion: How I Auditioned For The Magic Castle

Ever since I was a little kid, I was fascinated by magic and dreamed of visiting The Magic Castle. But I would never imagine as a kid that I'd have the opportunity to become a member or perform magic inside the prestigious palace of wizardry.

Here's the story of what happened when I did a little more than imagine.

peter sciretta and dad dominic sciretta

As Far Back As I Can Remember, I Always Wanted To Be A Gangster Magician

I first saw the Magic Castle in an old television special that I watched with my father. As a child, I became fascinated with magic and quickly became interested in performing some magic myself. My father (pictured above) would bring me to Hank Lee's Magic Shop in downtown Boston and I'd buy a new trick from the allowance money I had saved up. I never really wanted to become a professional magician, but magic is something that has followed me throughout my life. If you're one of my close friends, then you've probably seen a bunch of my card tricks over the years. I've even written about my passion for magic and its relation to movies on /Film in the past, and even about amazingly artful magic shows and visiting David Copperfield's secret magic museum.

When I moved to Los Angeles in 2010, I finally got my chance to visit The Magic Castle. For those of you who don't know, The Magic Castle is a private club in Hollywood for Magicians and their invited guests, filled with magic shows, roaming magicians, enchanted areas and a nice restaurant. After first visiting the Castle, I vowed to find a way to become a member of this prestigious place. If you are a member, you can come anytime you want – no cover charges or expensive dinners. You get to invite people to experience the Castle. And you get access to the magician library, private lectures from touring magicians, the ability to perform magic in the common performance areas of the castle, and much more.

My internet searches about the audition process led me to forum posts which frightened me and kept me from trying. I'm not a professional magician, merely a hobbyist, and was afraid I might not have what it takes to make it pass the audition.

So for the last seven years, I visited the Castle. I was even able to bring my father to the castle a couple years back. Over the years I have become friends with Magician members, who would encourage me to join. I would swat it off as something I might do sometime in the future, putting it off at a safe distance. Because if it was at that safe distance, I didn't need to worry about it.

But then I decided to go for it.

the magic castle

A photo from Peter's girlfriend Kitra right before the audition.

My Magic Castle Audition

On Monday night, I finally had my audition to become a Magician Member of the Academy of Magical Arts at The Magic Castle, and it was just as nerve-wracking as I had expected. Even after practicing for weeks, I was nervous that I might mess something up. In the waiting room, I met up with the other five applicants for this month's session, most of whom were just as nervous as I was. They were practicing their card flourishes and I was getting even more nervous because I was convinced they were all better than me and that I didn't stand a chance.

After about a half hour, they began calling down the applying members one-by-one to be interviewed and perform for a committee of master magicians. The room is dark, the spotlights are bright, and you can cut the tension in the air with a knife. For my interview, they didn't even ask me any questions. The silence was deafening so I just began talking. Telling them about how I discovered magic as a kid with my father. How he used to bring me to Hank Lee's Magic shop in Boston. How I'd read Tarbell's course in magic and watch Michael Ammar's VHS tapes, trying to learn the classic tricks.

I was honest about my fears: I'm not a professional magician, I told them. I'm not used to performing for anyone I don't know and am comfortable with. I rambled on and on. I'm sure two things were clear: I had a love of magic and had invested a lot of time into it over the decades and that I was being as honest as possible. When I stopped, no one said anything. I asked "Any questions?" And the answer was "No."

That was my cue to begin my performance.

As part of the audition, Magician members are asked to prepare 10 minutes of magic. For someone who was used to doing tricks for friends and not performing an entire act, this was a challenge. Preparing patter for an audience you don't know is a lot more complicated than simply showing someone you know a magic trick.

I decided to frame my act around the idea of me wanting to be a magician as a little kid, and my father not having the money to buy me magic props. It's not true (my dad would've bought me magic props if I asked him), but the premise was based in a reality of me as a kid trying to make magic from everyday things.

I explained that I asked my father to buy me a set of big metal rings for a linking rings routine and that he instead brought me home a bag of rubber bands from his work. That he told me that I don't need the most expensive props in the world to impress people, that the magic will create wonder in the most ordinary objects. While my Dad never said this to me, there is an underlying truth: this is something that I definitely believe and reflects my philosophy as a magician.

I took two rubber bands out of the bag and magically linked and unlinked them. I explained that as a kid I wanted to be a master escape artist like Harry Houdini. That when I asked my father to buy me handcuffs, he instead went to the desk drawer and delivered me the same bag of rubber bands. I demonstrated a famous trick called Crazy Man's Handcuffs, which has been performed by every magician from Daryl to David Copperfield.

You take a rubber band between your thumb and pointer finger and trap another rubber band behind it with your other thumb and pointer finger. The bands magically melt through each other, allowing you to escape. I did it again in slow motion, and then a third time up close with one of the committee members holding one of the rubber bands. I then moved on to some card tricks, with the story following me through my magical journey through the years.

Five minutes into my routine, one of the members of the committee said: "I think we've seen enough." He looked around to get approval from the rest of the group. But one guy seemed unsure, one lone holdout. "I have one that I think you'll really like," I told them. I performed one last card trick that I was sure would impress. I wouldn't know if it did as there was no reaction, not to this, not to anything. But I was told that was enough and took that as a good sign.

I returned to the room upstairs with the other magicians to wait. I felt relieved. It was nerve-wracking, but I had done it. Even if I had not passed the audition, I already felt more confident in myself as a magician. The others told stories of their auditions, of the reactions they got from some of the members. I didn't get a reaction at all. Oh, here comes the self-doubt again!

Abracadabra, I Did It

Two of the others applicants were taken aside privately and presumably told why they were not chosen and possibly what they could do to improve if they wanted to try again in the future. And then I joined the other three who had passed the audition for a brief orientation. I made it! I had passed the audition! I had conquered the thing I had feared for so many years!

Don't get me wrong, I didn't climb a mountain or save a person's life – but for me it was a real achievement. I was proud of myself and while I'm not yet officially a member of the Academy of Magical Arts, I'm one step away. The board has to approve my name at the end of the month, which seems to be just a formality. I am so excited to be able to visit the Magic Castle anytime I want. I can't wait to bring friends and show them the wonders of this historic venue. I'm also excited to check out the Magician-only magic library and lectures and be part of a community of magicians, as nerdy as that sounds.

After the orientation, I went upstairs to catch a performance from Michael Ammar, the same magician who I learned from as a kid on VHS tapes. I had never seen him perform live, and this was his first time back at the Castle in 6 years. I waited in line with one of the guys who didn't pass his audition, and we chatted and shared interesting little tricks we could do with cards or coins. Next to me in line was Mac King, a Vegas comedy magician who I had seen three or four times at this point. I somehow remember him being on that Magic Castle TV special that I watched as a kid, although the YouTube video of that airing seems to prove my memory incorrect.

Finally seeing Ammar perform live was amazing. And to put the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae, one of the last tricks he did was Crazy Man's Handcuffs – the same trick that I had performed in my audition, which I learned as a kid from Ammar's photocopied booklet that I purchased at a magic shop. The night had come full circle.

Peter Sciretta after his magic castle audition

A photo of Peter after the audition.

The Failure In Not Trying

As happy as this experience has made me, I'm very regretful of not trying out for the Magic Castle earlier. I feel embarrassed and dumb. It really sucks that I let fear own my decisions. If I hadn't, who knows? I may have had seven years of fun in the Castle as a member at this point. Who knows what I missed in that time.

I'm not a motivational speech kinda guy, but I hope anyone reading this takes something away from this experience. Sure, you might not be into magic or have interest in joining The Magic Castle. But I'm sure you have things in your life that you have pushed off or away because of your fears and anxieties. Maybe there is a woman (or man) you want to ask out, but are afraid to make a move. Maybe you have always wanted to try taking an improv comedy class, but didn't want to deal with the possible failure in front of a crowd. Maybe it's something much simpler. Whatever the case, don't let your fears get the best of your possible happiness. Don't be in regret years later. Go, do it.

And that's not to say you should be impulsive and irresponsible. You should put in the time and effort. I practiced for weeks for this audition and in the end, I feel I earned my place. Put in your best attempt. Even if you don't succeed, you'll be happier for having attempted it than not. Believe me.

I want to thank David Kwong for sponsoring me and writing me a letter of recommendation, Andrew Mayne for making me a little less nervous, and Jon Armstrong for inviting me to the castle and giving advice on how to make my magic better for the audition (which helped considerably). I'm lucky to have the assistance and support of these great guys.