Article 7: Expert at the Lounge Table

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Expert at the Lounge Table

Jan Rose - Round Table Member Since 2018

Periodically, Jan Rose will be sitting “close-up and personal” with one of the table-side magicians from the Chicago Magic Lounge. You’ll learn their strategies for success doing table-side magic and maybe some performance surprises as well. This month, she interviews Ryan Plunkett, Resident Magician, Founding Ensemble Member, and Production Associate at The Chicago Magic Lounge.

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Interview with Ryan Plunkett

Jan: Today, our Expert at the Lounge Table is Ryan Plunkett. Ryan and I are seated here at the Chicago Magic Lounge. Thank you, Ryan, for taking time for this interview! Tell us a little about where you’re from and how you got started in magic. 

Ryan: Thanks for interviewing me, Jan. I grew up in Dallas, Texas, and I’ve done magic since I was about five years old. I remember getting a magic kit at a very young age and, like most of us, I played around with the plastic tricks as toys. There was one day I remember distinctly, being home sick from school, and my dad was home sick too. We spent that day trying to figure out the Cups & Ball, and by the end of the day I was doing it. We spent the whole day vomiting, too, but at least I could finally do the Cups & Balls. It’s been a slippery slope since then.

Jan: Sounds like a great father-son moment — except for the vomiting! Can you tell us about your education?

Ryan: It’s something I’ll never forget. I went to Oklahoma City University, where I received my Bachelor of Fine Arts in Lighting & Sound Design. Those four years were wildly influential on how I approached art, not just in the world of magic but in the other creative arts as well. It gave me a discipline and laser focus on my approach. When designing lighting or sound for a show, you’re forced to look at it as an artistic whole as well piece by piece. In magic, this has allowed me to comb through an act with a fine-tooth comb, focusing on structure and method. Every single detail is worth obsessing over. 

Jan: You’re obviously a theatrical, creative person. Tell us about your involvement with magic while you were in high school and college. Were you messing around with card tricks then? 

Ryan: In high school, I worked at a magic shop in Fort Worth, Texas called Magic, Etc. I was also doing magic at a baseball stadium at that time. It was an independent league stadium and I did magic in their bar and in their VIP suites. I was just a punk 16-year-old doing card tricks, and now I’m a punk 26-year-old doing card tricks. When I went off to college, magic took a back seat as I allowed my brain to focus on other things. Studying theater design let me sit back from afar and put on my design hat. I learned how plays are structured and how lighting impacts moods and scenes. During this time in my life, studying magic was my escape. I treated it as a reward for getting all of my other work done, and it made me love it even more. It was much later that I realized how similar the two arts could be. 

Jan: It sounds like your background in theater combined with your magic skills has really benefited you. And it’s also benefited the Chicago Magic Lounge, because all of these skills have now found themselves in you. You’re using all of them.

Ryan: Everything! I’ve never had a job where everything has fallen into place so perfectly. When we were contemplating the new venue, we were looking for clearly defined roles for the core team. Joey knew us well. He knew our strengths and how he could best utilize them. He knew I had this theatrical background and that my strengths included lighting and sound as well as magic. Lucky for me, these are all key aspects to what we do on a daily basis. 

Jan: Let’s focus on the high level of your skills — your sleight of hand. I’ve seen your work in the 654 Club. Your skills are so strong. Can you talk about your technique and how you developed such strong skills? Who are your mentors? Did you study with anyone in particular? 

Ryan: Growing up, my dad realized that the way that somebody gets good, is to learn from people who are better. So it’s just about finding opportunities to surround yourself with experts. From a very early age — I think I was thirteen at the time — my Dad started taking me to magic conventions. It would be our father-son weekend. For example, we would go to the TAOM (Texas Association of Magicians) convention in Texas. I would immerse myself among all of these talented people. I didn’t necessarily learn from just one or two magicians. I feel like I was blessed to learn from the magic community as a whole. Even to this day, if I’m trying to learn a specific technique or routine, I know the perfect people to go to and seek their advice. My deep love for books also helps and adds to my knowledge bank. From a very early age, I was always going out and meeting people and surrounding myself with their input. Then when I got back home, I would do the more introspective reading of the books, figuring out how their routines, sleights, and moves fit into the bigger picture and how I could put it all to work. 

Jan: Can you remember any moments or magicians that you saw that inspired, motivated, or moved you? 

Ryan: I have too many influences to name. Even early on in my studies, I was lucky enough to be in the same room with people I consider best — Daniel Garcia, Ben Jackson, Mark Toland, David Williamson, Ricky Smith, etc. I can distinctly remember the first time I saw Eugene Burger work and how impactful that was. Life is funny sometimes. When Arthur Trace was here on opening weekend in February, I told him how I remembered seeing him at TAOM. I was just a fourteen-year-old kid and his work was so influential, and now we are working in the same environments. So it’s very cool to feel like I’ve achieved my childhood dream of becoming a professional magician, of emulating my mentors and magic idols. I feel my life has come very full circle right now.

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Jan: And now you’re even sharing the bill with those folks when they come to perform here! It’s very exciting. You’ve wowed audiences here. I’ve had a chance to see you do that all the time on the floor. Can you tell me how you handle an audience member who might become frustrated with the fact that you have fooled them so badly? Have you ever had that happen?

Ryan: I’ve never been in a situation where I feel like it’s become hostile. But if it did, I think the best thing you can do is just put on a smile and make them feel like you’re their friend. I think if tension comes from someone because they’re not understanding something, you can defuse that with the feeling of friendship and camaraderie and the sense of “we’re all in this together.” Ninety percent of our job is putting on a smile and making people feel welcome.

Jan: Wow, so true! What is your favorite piece of magic that you perform when you’re at the tables?

Ryan: That’s a tough one. I feel like I always have a favorite, but my favorites are always changing. I work on so much new magic all the time. The tables provide a real opportunity to rotate new pieces in and see how they play at certain moments. Of course, I love card tricks. But currently I’m exploring a heavy dose of coin magic that I’m doing at the tables. I’m just switching it up, seeing what plays.

Jan: How do you break in something new? Can you talk a little bit about that, and then how do you know that it’s ready for performance?

Ryan: I’m in a unique situation. As you know, I work the tables. I also do the mezzanine show for our VIP customers. I also do the 654 Club. There are low-risk slots and then there are higher risk slots, right? 

Jan: Gotcha!

Ryan: Performing table-side is a lower risk situation. My audience is smaller — just a few spectators — and my interaction time is short. So if the new trick doesn’t play well, or even if it fails — well, it happens in front of just a few people. The “risk” increases as the number of spectators increases. 

Jan: Yes, I see.

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Ryan: Say I have a new idea. I will marinate on it for a couple of weeks, maybe a month. I have a long list of people I can call and annoy on the phone for hours at a time. They’ll help me really nail down timing, specifics, and methods. Once I feel that I’m about eighty percent there, when I’ve got all the sequences figured out, that’s when I’ll start slipping it into a tableside set. Then, if I’m doing a show up in the mezzanine, maybe I’ll slip it into that set. So I work the new material into my act by beginning with those low-impact slots. Once I feel like I’ve polished it there, and I’ve found my timing, then I can transition it into maybe a more high-impact slot like in the 654 Club.

Jan: When some of us perform, we have an “out” — we have something we can go to in case something doesn’t quite go the way we planned. Your sleights, your ability to know where all those cards are all the time and handle them with such sophistication, do you find that you sometimes use “outs” when working on something new?

Ryan: All the time. We all have a toolbox, right? The more utilities that you can put in that toolbox, the more prepared for any situation you’ll be. Say I’m in a situation where I’m having somebody think of a card. I narrow it down to one. 

Jan: For our readers, Ryan is showing me a Queen of Spades.

Ryan: We’ll use the Queen as an example. “That’s your card!” But the look on their face tells me I’m wrong. Well, then it can be as simple as culling through the deck to find the correct card, cull it to the top of the deck, top-change the card, and reveal it in a new moment. I have any number of sleights in this circumstance that will work for that situation.

Jan: But not so easy to do!

Ryan: Right! The solution is simple, but that’s a very hard move to execute. However, I think that by having a deep understanding of the situation of the deck — by that I mean the order of the cards and what cards might lie where — and an understanding of the situation you’re in — your angles, the number of people involved, the type of effect you’re doing — I think all of these factors allow you to, on the fly, determine what move you need to do so you can get out of the situation the fastest. For me, what’s really important is to end the routine with a moment that is both magical and theatrically pleasing or surprising, whether or not it’s the one I originally planned on doing from the beginning. 


Jan: I have to let the readers know that card you were holding just changed from the Queen of Spades to the Ace of Hearts! And I didn’t see it happen! Would you like to do something for me? Since your cards are there Ryan. C’mon!

Ryan: I hope this will play in the written word. You’ll just have to describe it. All right. Please, shuffle the deck and think of a card. 

Jan: All right. I shuffled the cards and gave Ryan back the deck. I also have a card in mind. 

Ryan: All right, here’s the truth. I don’t deserve any of the credit for this because I’m not going to find your card. You’re going to find your card. The cards are shuffled. I’m going to start dealing down into a pile like this. Any time you want, I want you just to say the word stop.

Jan: Ryan is dealing cards from the top of the deck into a new pile. I’m waiting until he’s dealt a bunch of them. Stop! Ryan is holding a card in midair.

Ryan: Here? Do you want this one I’m holding to go down? 

Jan: No, I’ll take this one that’s on top of the pile.

Ryan: That’s the one you want? A moment ago you said stop at a card and now you’re thinking of it — the King of Diamonds.

Jan: No.

Ryan: That wasn’t it?

Jan: No.

Ryan: All right, what was it?

Jan: It was the Eight of Spades. 

Ryan: Isn’t that the one we stopped on, right here, that’s the Eight of Spades?

Jan: He’s turning over the card on top of the pile. Ah, there it is, the Eight of Spades! Ryan, I’m surprised, but somehow I’m not surprised! Thanks for sitting with me and allowing our readers to get to know you a little better, and for fooling me once again!


Who would you like to see Jan interview next?