Published On: Wed, Mar 6th, 2013

The Prestige (Glasgow edition): Michael Neto

Michael Neto is a Glasgow-based magician. He has won the title of Scottish Close-Up Magic Champion four times in a row – the first magician ever to do so. He has show at this year’s Glasgow Comedy festival  (The Space, March 22 & 30, 8pm). I caught up with him to see if I couldn’t pin down the secret to his uncanny powers…

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“Before we start the interview, I’d like you to examine this pack of cards.” Michael Neto, a fast-talking magician with nimble hands and animated features, has just sat down opposite me. He presents me with a deck of playing cards, which I dutifully take and examine. It’s a perfectly normal, unmarked deck of 52. “Give them a shuffle,” he says, “However you like, as long as you like. Shuffle them until you’re satisfied.” I begin to shuffle; evidently, I am getting more than I bargained for.

“Now then,” he says, after I’ve given the deck an extensive and thorough shuffling, “I’m going to try and pull out all four aces. I’m going to do this completely at random, while shuffling. Let’s see how this goes, ok?” I’m studying his hands and face closely as he does this – his eyes are dancing around but he’s not wearing long sleeves, and his hands are quite visible at all times. Suddenly, he flicks a card out of the deck – it’s the nine of clubs.

“Oh dear,” he says sheepishly, laying the card on the table, “Let’s try that again, shall we?” He continues to shuffle, before producing another card – the eight of hearts. “Hmm, this doesn’t usually happen,” he murmurs, half for my benefit and half to himself. “Well, I’m not that well prepared here – it’ll work, let’s just keep going.” Again he shuffles, and again he flips out a card – the nine of diamonds.

“Well, the board is paired now,” I joke. I’m throwing in an awkward poker reference to lighten the mood, because I honestly can’t tell if this is part of the trick, or an embarrassing screw-up. He laughs, and continues to shuffle. “Hang on, I think I’m doing this wrong,” he says, “Let me try something else.” With a slightly different flick of the wrist, another card comes flying out onto the table – this time, it’s an ace.

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“There we are!” He exclaims, delighted. “That’s what we’re after!” He does it again, and another ace comes out. “Fantastic! I’ve got it now,” he assures me, before producing one more card. This one, however, is the ten of clubs. “Oh dear,” he says, “Well, two aces isn’t bad, I suppose…”

“Still,” he continues, “There’s something familiar about this, isn’t there?” I look at the table, confused. “What am I looking at?” I ask him. “Well,” he tells me, “Think of the aces as ones, and read it back. Ten..one…one, nine, eight, nine. Is that number familiar to you?”

10/01/1989 – my birthday. I laugh out loud in the coffeeshop. The setup and payoff of the trick are just brilliant; I’m genuinely amazed. This is a textbook example of Michael’s ‘close-up’ magic, a school which involves a lot of personal, face-to-face interaction with audience members.

“Close-up magic is all about asking people to pick a card and so forth, as opposed to illusion magic, which is more of your Copperfield or Blaine style stage show – making things disappear, levitation, and so forth,” he explains, “I decided to focus on close-up magic because I like interacting with people. You’re so close (and I usually say this in my show) that you can examine the props, or if you want to touch the magician you can, or if you want to kiss the magician you can. That’s the beauty of close-up – there’s you, and the magician, and the audience. It flows really nicely, you get a great atmosphere from it, especially in the more intimate venues. Big stages can sometimes be a bit cold – the performer is there, the audience is here. Smaller, close-up stuff allows you to strike up much more of a ‘conversation’ with your audience.”

But what makes someone get into magic in the first place? It’s not many kids’ childhood dream to become a magician – when I was growing up, I wanted to be 0n astronaut, then a footballer, then a rockstar. Those, I feel, are pretty conventional youthful ambitions. So what made Michael turn to magic?

“It’s true that not many kids grow up wanting to be magicians,” he laughs, “But I think at some point in our lives, we’re interested in magic. Maybe you’re four or five and you’re amazed by a magician, or maybe you daydream about having superpowers – there is something about magic that appeals to everyone. I think it’s a lot like Santa – you grow up amazed by it, but then as you grow older and real life sets in, it stops being real and the appeal wears off for a lot of people. A few people – myself included – manage to keep hold of that enthusiasm and decide to take it further, but at some point in their lives, I believe that everyone has that sense of wonder in them.”

So how is it working out – and what would young Michael think of current Michael’s professional standing?

He pauses to think about this one. “I suppose I went through a phase of wanting to do the Vegas, televised, Penn and Teller thing” he begins, “But that was a long time ago, and it’s been tempered down somewhat as I’ve matured. Right now, I’m doing magic semi-professionally, and I’m very happy with that. I work as a pharmacist, but I’m now doing that part-time, and devoting the rest of my time to magic. I don’t really have any ambitions beyond that – if you make something your job, it becomes less fun. It turns into a chore that you have to do to pay the bills, and it also stifles your creativty – you end up having to do stuff that you know will sell, as opposed to stuff that you want to do. I have a good balance where I’m at right now – I get to devote a lot of time to magic, which I love, without relying on it.”

Michael will performing his one-man show Michael Neto: Up Close on Friday 22 and Saturday 31 March, 8pm, at The Space. Tickets cost £10 and can be booked online here.

 

By John Sheppard


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