Magic had been a particular obsession for Kerry Pollock growing up, but, like most kid magicians, he got away from it as he aged. He became an engineer by trade, but still held on to his old hobby. One day, he was at a bar in his native Cleveland when he started doing magic tricks and making jokes to pass the time. A crowd gathered and the owner came over. Pollock started apologizing for the noise. But the owner was impressed, not perturbed. He wanted to hire him to do shows.
He performed for seven years at the bar, picking up other gigs along the way. His magic career eventually got big enough that he let go of his engineering job. But he incorporated his engineering skills into the show, creating elaborate tricks or technical mechanisms like an ankle-controlled sound system. Soon, other magicians got word and asked if he could build for them. That led to a business on its own and jobs helping design and run magic rooms across the country.
His latest room is The Hilton Head Comedy & Magic Club on the top floor of the Kingfisher restaurant.
Pollock moved South with his wife, Kelly, earlier this year to open the club. It is showcasing magic in a way never before seen in the Lowcountry. Magicians have always been around on Hilton Head, but only a scarce few make a full-time living of it. Those who do have managed to find a niche, playing birthday parties, corporate gigs and family-friendly shows at places like Harbour Town or Coligny Plaza. Being a tourist spot, there are plenty of visitors looking for a way to be entertained. Now, it appears, magic is starting to take a bigger stage. All it needs is an audience to come along.
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WORKING THE ROOM
The Hilton Head Comedy & Magic Club is up a stairwell and down a darkened hallway on the second floor of the seafood restaurant. The stage is dressed in a mauve curtain; the lighting system is rigged by Pollock himself. The house is full an a June evening, meaning a waitress has to shimmy past tables to take drink orders and deliver appetizers. After an opening act, Pollock takes the stage in a dressed down bowling shirt. Self-deprecating, he'll rib himself and the guests. An overly energetic dad is known as Griswold, a reference to the National Lampoon series. A text-happy college student gets called out for staring at his phone.
Pollock eventually calls the student on stage to participate in a trick. The student throws darts at a map of the United States, where each state is assigned a number. Beforehand, Pollock had put his pocket change in a locked chest. The premise -- the numbers the darts hit will add up to the amount of change in the chest. The student is initially skeptical, but, in the end, is wowed.
Pollock involves a lot of audience participation, in part because it's just him leading the show. He does plan on bringing in guest artists once a month, but he said he's comfortable being a one-man act most of the time. He figures he's got four hours of material coming from his 30 years in the business.
Pollock knew the club would work because he had seen it work in other tourist draws, like in the Waikiki area of Honolulu where he helped design a room. He's taking over the space from the Hilton Head Comedy Club, which had a five-year run in two different locations on the island. Pollock thinks his club has a better chance to last because, unlike the comedy club, it won't face the costs of bringing in guests every week.
SOCIETY OF LOWCOUNTRY MAGICIANS
Longtime local magician Gary Maurer has also started playing the club for matinees Wednesdays. He's one of the few full-time magicians locally, performing most days during the summer at Coligny Plaza, Harbour Town, South Beach Marina and elsewhere.
He's also president of the local chapter, or "ring," of the International Brotherhood of Magicians called the Society of Lowcountry Magicians and named after longtime Hilton Head magician Dr. Keith Bogart. Every first Monday of the month, they gather in the Sea Pines Community Center to share secrets and trade tricks. The society is an affable group of about two dozen members, open to visitors interested in learning about magic.
Although the number of professional magicians locally may be limited, interest in magic from crowds has remained fairly consistent throughout the years, Maurer said. The same can be said nationally, the magicians say. As Pollock has seen, interest has ebbed and flowed. When interest in magic seems to have died down, someone like the Criss Angel or David Blaine will hit it big on TV. Traditionalists may grumble about style over substance, but kids across the country will find a deck of cards and start working on their slight of hand.
Maurer frequently performs what's called close-up magic, where he's doing something like a card trick right in front of the audience. He finds that for many of the kids, it's the first time they've seen magic in person.
"I can say, 'That happened in your hand, not television,'" he said. "It can be a way to personalize an experience for people."
It's the equivalent of a band calling a fan on stage and handing them an instrument. For Pollock, audience participation isn't merely a way to eat up time. It's what makes the show a special experience, one they tell their friends about, one they come back for.
His favorite moment in the process of a trick is the letdown. It's when he makes the audience believe a trick has failed, that the magician has no magic. He employs it a couple times during his shows, like in the dart trick. The student throws the darts, adds the numbers and, oh no, it turns out the change doesn't add up. Pollock pauses, acts confused. That's not the way it's supposed to happen. But wait, he says, pick up the quarters and look on the back. Turns out they're state quarters. And each state corresponds to the state hit on the dartboard.
"I love that moment," he said. "That's when you have them."