This is an article that appeared in the May 9, 2003 Metropolis magazine, Tokyo JapanSay the magic word
Popular magician Dave Letendre has a trick for every occasion,
Chris Betros observes.
There's nothing like a bit of magic to bring out the child in everyone.
When American magician Dave Letendre performs at corporateparties, even CEOs come up to him as if they were eight years old again. Get too near to him and he'll start pulling coins and cards from behind your ears or your pockets. A popular fixture on the Tokyo entertainment circuit for more than 30 years, Letendre is frequently in demand at corporate parties, embassy functions and charity events. He's currently at the Yokohama Tiki Tiki Polynesian Bar & Restaurant most Tuesday and Thursday evenings.
I've been performing since I was 8," says Letendre, who was born in Rochester,New Hampshire, and grew up in Connecticut. "I used to send away for magic trick catalogues on the back of comics. I would practice tricks and put together little shows for my family. At school, we had show-and-tell. The other kids would get up with their frogs and stamp collections; me, I'd get up with my magic tricks. On my report card, the teacher wrote how the children loved my tricks, and that was my first review."
Although Letendre's parents hardly thought magic would be the best career pathfor him, he went for his dream. "I wanted to be a magician and a teacher and I did both. I taught at a business college here in Japan for 25 years and did magic shows on weekends," he says. "About three years ago, I stopped teaching and became a full-time magician. Now I am like a businessman. I don't sell books, I don't sell shoes; I sell my magic shows."
Well-known within the foreign community, Letendre has an impressive client list that includes JP Morgan, Intel, Warner Bros, Nina Ricci, Dunn & Bradstreet, Cove Ito Advertising Ltd, Hilton Tokyo Bay Hotel, the American Chamber of Commerce and many more. He is registered with over a dozen Japanese talent agencies and has performed at theme parks and shopping centers from Hokkaido to Okinawa. He once even performed for the Rolling Stones' Keith Richards in his hotel suite while the band was in Japan.
"It's a lot of work but I love it," he says. "Weekends are mainly birthday parties; weekday nights are for corporate parties and the restaurant." That leaves the day for working on promotions and practicing, which he does at home in front of a mirror or with a video camera. His act, always performed with a humorous touch, invariably involves coins, cards and lengths of rope. Describing his tricks as mini-illusions, Letendre says he prefers restaurant performing. "I don't see myself as a stage illusionist. I prefer sleight of hand, which is more amazing. People love seeing it up close. My purpose is not to fool people. It's to entertain, and a trick is a tool to do that."
A life member of the Society of American Magicians, Letendre likes to develop his own tricks. "The same way an artist thinks of a painting before he paints it, so I develop tricks. I might see something in a restaurant or [while] walking down a street and wonder how I can do it in a magical way." Although magic crosses all borders, Letendre, who is fluent in Japanese, had to make some cultural adjustments-often in the humor of the story accompanying the trick. "Doing a magic routine is just like telling a joke because you lead the audience to think in one direction and then surprise them with a different conclusion. I have to use references Japanese are familiar with. Also, at first, Japanese in the audience were very shy about coming forward as volunteers. I don't have any problems with that anymore because I am fairly easygoing," he says with a mischievous twinkle in his eye.
It's always amusing for Letendre when he meets someone for the first time and they see the title on his business card as magician. "A lot of people immediately think of what they see on TV, like David Copperfield or David Blaine, and they think I must be like that," he says, adding that he sometimes finds it difficult to watch other magicians perform. "When you watch another magician do something really good, you subconsciously think you would like to try that and you don't want copy. Most of what I perform is pretty standard, but I've been able to make the tricks my own."
One thing that does peeve him is that shops in Japan sell magic tricks and some TV shows expose or teach tricks. And as we all know, magicians never tell, right? "Absolutely," he says. "I have never told anyone how a trick is done. That's like going to a child holding a balloon and bursting it. It upsets me when those tricks in the shop tell you how to do it. It's more fun to see what the trick looks like and its effect rather than to know how it's done, don't you think?"
Contact Dave at email@example.com or visit his homepage at http://www2.gol.com/users/davidlet
Photo credit: Dave Letendre