From performing at office parties and weddings to selling out shows on the West End, this city’s magicians bring joy and blow minds across the UK and beyond - no small part thanks to the guidance and support of The Nottingham Guild of Magicians, our answer to the Magic Circle. We take a look back at its decades-spanning history, and dive into its future plans with President Andrew Morrison…
Regardless of what the Nottingham Guild of Magicians has achieved in the eighty-plus years since it was founded back in 1939, nothing will have been more marvellous than the names of its founders - a group of aspiring and established illusionists and performers ranging from Captain Val Jackson to Bertram Millidge, Stonewall Jackson to Rev R. W. Lax West. No, we’re not making this up.
Millidge, the Guild’s first Secretary and its eventual President, was a magic enthusiast whose passion took him across the country and earned him a place in the prestigious Magic Circle. Rev. West found time outside of performing religious ceremonies to perform tricks and illusions, joining his other founding members at the Sign of Four Theatre Shop to entertain visiting members of the armed forces during the war. From its very inception, the Guild has been built on a devotion to the magical craft and its ability to bring joy to both performers and audiences alike - and this has stayed true ever since.
“We are a place for people of all skill levels, from professionals to novelists, to come and learn and improve,” explains Andrew Morrison, current President of the Guild of Magicians. “We help people to realise that they can achieve anything if they put their mind to it, and we use our network of experts and enthusiasts to make sure they do that to the best of their ability. This is a skill that can spark happiness for both the people doing the tricks and those experiencing them, so we try to make sure as many people who want to get into it can do so.”
We help people to realise that they can achieve anything if they put their mind to it, and we use our network of experts and enthusiasts to make sure they do that to the best of their ability
Throughout their illustrious history, the Guild has welcomed an impressive mix of the country’s most established magicians to our great city. This includes Lewis Ganson, one of the most prolific and well-known magic writers of all time, and Ken De Courcy, a man known for writing in almost every magic-focused magazine in existence until his death in 2008. Not bad for a group set up for a hobby.
Now based in Arnold’s Art Centre, the organisation dedicates most of its time to helping aspiring magicians of all ages to perfect their craft, through bi-monthly guest lectures, workshops and events. Current members range from early teens to ninety-year-olds, plumbers and taxi drivers to doctors and solicitors. Asked why magic attracts such a wide variety of people, Andrew says simply, “A lot of people gain an interest from childhood. They enjoy watching people perform tricks at a young age and want to learn for themselves.” As these people get older and earn more money (at least in theory - thanks ‘cost of living crisis’), they are able to dedicate funds to trying things for themselves, and quickly become hooked on the thrill of it all. “It is a hobby that can take over your life,” Andrew laughs. “Some come into it for a bit of fun and go on to become lecturers and proper performers themselves. Once it has a grip on you, you can’t let it go.”
Yet, while the Guild has consistently been a source of inspiration for aspiring sorcerers across eight decades, the nature of magic itself has undoubtedly changed in that time. Andrew explains that the discipline is no longer as focused on large stage shows and stunning spectacles, but rather on the more intimate side of the art. Card tricks have become the most popular aspect of the craft, he explains, with more and more magicians performing at weddings and parties than on the West End. Considering why that is, Andrew pauses, before explaining that “there just isn’t the interest” in flashier productions any more. Most of the prop stores he relied on during his days of performing at the Playhouse and Bonington Theatre are no longer available, with many going out of business as the demand for them began to fall. “It’s a definite shame,” the Guild’s President admits.
You watch modern magic compared to what my granddad was teaching me when I was a child, and it’s amazing to see how far it’s come
Despite the loss of the more bombastic elements of magic, though, this is still an exciting and innovative field, with modern technology helping performers to both attract new fans and try new things. Through platforms such as TikTok and YouTube, the likes of Julius Dein and Nicolas Suriano bring in hundreds of thousands of viewers every week, showcasing their talent to a wider - and broader - audience. And with access to a global network of contacts and information, fresh ideas are much easier to discover. As a result, the field is consistently expanding and changing, which Andrew believes is no bad thing.
“When I go to conventions, I look at some of the tricks that are brought up now and it's incredible,” he says. “You watch modern magic compared to what my granddad was teaching me when I was a child, and it’s amazing to see how far it’s come. There’s such a focus on close-up magic, where audiences can really analyse what you’re doing, and how they pull it off is quite remarkable.”
For all the benefits of a changing landscape, though, Andrew admits he would like the Guild to bring back some of the more old-school, spectacular shows that attracted himself and many others to the field in the first place - hoping magic fans will return to larger venues once more. The committee are currently on the hunt for a new home, after initial plans were put on hold due to COVID, in the hopes that they will soon be able to put together bigger-scale productions - providing a greater platform for the countless up-and-coming magicians in the county to showcase their talents. It’s proving a difficult challenge, Andrew says, but one he’s determined to overcome. It might require a miracle but, hey, that’s what the Nottingham Guild of Magicians does best…
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