Sundays at Noon, Gary Dreifus presents his long-running family-oriented magic show at Coney Island USA, featuring a different line-up of expert illusionists every week. Today, Gary gives us the low-down on this popular show:
When/ how/ why did you start performing magic?
My interest in magic began in the fourth grade. I was assigned a “How To” book report and wound up at the 793.8 section of the library. I took our Dunninger’s Encyclopedia of Magic and performed three effects from the book. I sucked, but it peaked my interest in magic. Later that year, I witnessed my first live magic performance. I helped the magician take his livestock to the car and he showed me how to do a simple magic trick. I was hooked! His name was Maurice Keshinova (sp?) and performed as Maurice the Great. He had been a vaudevillian magician and taught me several tricks.
During adolescence, I was a klutz. My father suggested I renew my interest in magic to gain some dexterity and hand/eye coordination. He owned a popular bakery in Midwood and a magic shop opened a block away. I had a few hours to kill between sweeping up and closing time at the bakery, so I would go and hang out at the magic store. We were all young… the manager was Larry Scott (Youngstein), who now owns Havin’ a Party in Canarsie and is the local balloon distributor. Other kids who hung out there were Eric DeCamps, Levent (Cimkentli), Robert Baxt, Brian McGovern.
I graduated Brooklyn College with a degree in Education of the Speech and Hearing Handicapped. My first job was as a Teacher of the Deaf in JHS 47; the city’s school for the deaf. Since I was new teacher, they gave me the worst class in the school. I made a deal with the students. Every day they behaved, I performed a magic trick. The class became the best in the school and I was running out of material so I started teaching them magic. The “worst” class scored higher in math and reading scores than any other group in the school!
Throughout my professional career, I used magic to motivate, educate and entertain. I was also asked to teach a beginners (and subsequently an intermediate and advanced) magic class at Kingsborough Community College. It was in the late 1990’s that I came across a magic shop on Queens’s Boulevard in Elmhurst. The proprietor was Roger “Rogue” Quan, who asked if I could perform at one of his weekly magic shows. I agreed, and was then asked if I could host the shows. Thus began my career as magical host. Met all the local performers and became friends with many of them.
In 2008, my program was eliminated by the city and I was laid-off. A friend had a great idea to perform for restaurants and bars. We had contracts on Long Island and the Jersey shore. Unfortunately, we weren’t getting paid and had to run after EVERY penny! I parted ways with my partner and started teaching magic in local community centers.
How/ when did you come to be doing your regular Sunday shows at Coney Island USA?
In the summer of 2010 I was meeting with another magician at the Freak Bar in Coney Island. He introduced me to Patrick Wall, then the stage manager at Coney Island USA. I asked why there weren’t any regular magic shows at Sideshows by the Seashore. I was told they had tried, but they never took off. I did some research and found that magic and magicians were an integral part of Coney Island. Coney Island was a beacon for magicians throughout the world. The local sideshows at Dreamland, Luna Park and Steeplechase Park, as well as the local dance halls and theaters were a proving ground for those performing artists looking to hone their skills. Luminaries such as Houdini, his brother Hardeen, Cary Grant, William “Bud” Abbott, Dai Vernon, Jean Hugard and Al Flosso were featured artists who went on to stardom around the world.
I drew up a proposal for a magic variety show and pitched it to Dick Zigun, the artistic director of CIUSA. I began on a Wednesday in September. We had eight acts for that first show… It was some time after midnight that we finished! The important lesson I learned was that performing artists have NO concept of time! Fifteen minutes maximum turned into a 40 minute set! The show was a HUGE success. Audience response was fantastic. Magic at Coney!!! continued as a monthly show, then twice per month the following season.
During the 2013 season, I was asked if we could perform during the off-season. Thus began the Sunday matinees.
What do you like about performing there?
Magic at Coney!!! belongs at the same venue where the last of the sideshows is performed. The Coney Island Museum makes a perfect backdrop, allowing for a mix of both old and new Coney Island.
Who are your heroes, mentors, models in the magic world?
I love watching Marc Salem perform. I think he’s the top working mentalist today. I love watching Rocco perform. He brings magic to a whole new level. Bobby Torkova is fantastic as is Thomas Solomon. I enjoy working with ALL of the artists involved with Magic at Coney!!! Each brings his or her own take to the art.
My biggest influences were probably the late Bob Cassidy, Kenton Knepper and Eugene Berger. Ken Weber gave me specific suggestions that changed and improved certain specific effects. Simon Lovell was an incredible performer who also helped me improve.
The entire Magic at Coney!!! project could not have succeeded without the support and dedication of a group of talented magicians. The friendships I’ve made have been tight and everlasting, and I cannot thank them all enough.