Interview with magician Jamy Ian Swiss

Jamy Ian Swiss during a lecture

Michael Guerra: After two amazingly successful Card Clinics, I see you’re preparing for your very first Close-up Clinic. Can you tell us how the whole idea for these clinics came about and what the focus and goal is for each?

Jamy Ian Swiss performing at Card Clinic
Performing at the Friday night public show. Card Clinic—2002

Jamy Ian Swiss: I am deeply interested in teaching magic. I gave my first magic lecture in February of 1987, and since then I’ve lectured in more than a dozen countries and probably 30 States or more. I’ve given many workshops of various sorts. I’ve had private students for about 15 years. So I’ve been thinking about how to teach magic for a long time, and I’ve also enjoyed teaching magic. When I work as a consultant with other magicians, sometimes I’m a writer, sometimes I’m a director, but also at times I’m a teacher, too. And as a private teacher, I’m doing all of those things. And I find that, with sufficient thought and effort, teaching is, of course, also a learning experience. You have to come to understand your work differently in order to teach it than you do if you’re only performing it.

So, a few years ago I was invited to teach at the Silvan Magic Academy in Italy. This was a terrific experience. Four days of magic, Italian food, magic, wine, magic, more food, and much more magic. Fabulous! It was about 15 registrants from all over Italy, for three-and-a-half days of intensive magic training, just non-stop. And I loved it! The students were of many different levels, and that was fine and made it all that much more interesting. And I began to think about the idea of developing something like that here in the U.S. Because the average magic lecture today is no longer about learning. Convention lectures are even less so. Ditto most magic videos. Far too often such allegedly educational pursuits amount to little more than performers trying to make money selling “product,” or simply showing off—but what does anybody learn? Much more of it seems to me to be exposure—not to the public, but gratuitous exposure to so-called magicians, who think that because now they “know” the secret, that makes them a magician. But nothing could be further from the truth: knowing is not doing! It’s voyeurism, frankly. And it cheapens every secret. But in the end, nobody learns anything. And how much can you learn in two hours, anyway? My students often attend lessons for several years.

And then I should mention that Jeff McBride and Eugene Burger created Master Class, which is focused specifically on refining a performer’s “act,” but is also an intensive kind of small-group seminar lasting several days. So I kept thinking I wanted to do something along the lines of my own tastes, but I still wasn’t certain how. Now, Eugene Burger is not only a cherished and longtime friend and influence, but he’s also the one magician I know who has been teaching a long time and thinking hard about how to do it. In fact, the two of us published a dialogue about the subject in my second “Genii” cover issue in 1994. So I sought out Eugene’s advice, and he gave me some encouragement along with a couple of very good ideas, and that somehow put me over the threshold. I conceived Card Clinic—I think in that conversation with Eugene—in December of 2000, and the first Clinic took place in New York City in September of 2002.

I decided that Card Clinic would be a three-day event devoted entirely to card magic, and I invited Roberto Giobbi, author of the marvelous “Card College” series, to be my collaborator. I was thrilled that he agreed, and he has been a wonderful colleague to work with. In the course of the Clinics we teach effects, techniques, performance, history, and theory—all the elements of Roberto’s “Magic Pyramid” as outlined in “Card College.” It’s total immersion, day and night, with time out for some terrific dinners and conversation. The Clinics are held in small, carefully chosen hotels, in interesting locations, and organized on a very professional level. The feedback has been terrific, and I’ve had a great time doing them. They are a lot of work—much more than it looks, and it probably looks like a lot already—but it’s been genuinely rewarding. Our motto is, “Three days that will change your magic—forever!”, and you’d be surprised how many attendees echo that in their feelings about the experience.

The second Card Clinic went to Santa Barbara, California, in April of 2003. The Clinics are limited to 20 registrants and the second one was sold out. I’m trying to do two Clinics a year, one each in spring and fall. This fall I’m expanding the concept to present the first Close-up Clinic. This Clinic will focus on general close-up sleight-of-hand magic, with coins, cups and balls, impromptu materials, and other specialty routines. For Close-up Clinic I invited David Ben as my colleague. David is a true “general practitioner,” performing all sorts of wonderful sleight-of-hand magic, both close-up and on stage. He was also the protégé of Ross Bertram—”Genii” readers were recently treated to a wonderful issue of Bertram magic that David assembled and wrote for the magazine, in fact the biggest feature section in “Genii’s” history. So he is the perfect choice as collaborator. Also, many more magicians have heard of David than have actually seen his work, so as with Roberto Giobbi, this is a chance to see and learn from him up close. He’s a marvelous communicator and a truly passionate lover of magic.

So I’m looking forward to this next Clinic, October 4th, 5th, and 6th, in Philadelphia. I think it’s frankly easier to progress further, faster, in card magic, so while it seems there may be a continuing demand for future Card Clinics, I can’t yet promise future Close-up Clinics. As far as Card Clinic goes, I hope to do one or two next year, depending of course on schedules—getting Roberto and I together at the same time for four days is challenging for us both, so I don’t know that I can keep up the schedule, although I intend to try. As to the Close-up Clinic, I’m thrilled by the idea and certain that I, for one, as well as our attendees, will have a great time. But whether or not I’ll get to do it again, I can’t yet say. Meanwhile, there are still spaces available! And all the information can be found at closeupclinic.com or card-clinic.com. There are loads of interesting material there, including photos, testimonials, a video, and a downloadable prospectus.

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