For decades, David Seebach has been a magician and entertainer in Milwaukee.
Seebach reflects on his career and looks ahead to the future of magic with WTMJ’s Libby Collins on this week’s episode of WTMJ Conversations.
He also talks about how important it is for magicians to keep their secrets.
A portion of the conversation was transcribed below, courtesy of eCourt Reporters, Inc.
LIBBY COLLINS: You must get asked many, many times: How did you do this? How did you do that? How’d you saw a woman in half? How did you levitate that person? How important is the magician code?
DAVID SEEBACH: Oh, I think it’s very important, because whereas describing the special effects used in a movie, for instance, can be very technical and can also be impressive when you see what they were able to do and how creatively they did it. The explanation to many magic acts is very crude. And I have watched as some people when finding out how something is done, perhaps somebody who’s going to work with me, so they have to be let in on it. So, we first show them the magical effect, and then we say, okay, now here’s how we did that and here’s what you’re going to have to do when we incorporate you in it. And then the person says, “That’s how it was done? How stupid can I be that I didn’t see that?” See, it’s disappointing.
LIBBY COLLINS: Can things go wrong on stage? Even if you’re practiced, even if you’ve done it hundreds of times, can some things go wrong, and if they do, how do you cover them up so the audience doesn’t know it?
DAVID SEEBACH: Okay. Well, a couple of answers here. First of all, the more you perform, we hope the better you get. And so the incidents of things going wrong should decrease, because you’re more proficient, you’re more skilled, and you’re more experienced.
However, the more you perform, the more that you’re opening yourself to chances that something will go wrong. The numbers game will get you. And virtually every magic act I’ve ever done in my career at one point in time has not been executed perfectly.
So, what do we do? Well, if I was a singer and I forgot the lyrics to a song or I was off key or out of sync with the band or orchestra, everyone would notice it at the same time. And there it would be. Very often with magic, I can see, uh, oh, this isn’t going to work, this hasn’t been set up right, I’m forgetting something. But that’s way before the audience knows anything went wrong. They’re not aware of it. So, now I have a window of opportunity if I can fix it, and I’m a good fixer on stage. I never — I never give away with my face or my actions that something’s not right, I plow ahead.
Of course, there have been times where something has gone so fundamentally wrong that the audience and I find out about it at the same time. And I guess all you could hope for is that it is neither the very first thing you do because that’s going to start off without making a good impression, or the very last thing you do, because that’s usually the thing the audience takes home with them, remembers that big finale. So, you really want to hope those two go correctly.
LIBBY COLLINS: Is there any particular story you can share?
DAVID SEEBACH: Back at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee when I staged an annual show there in the ’70s called The Great International Magic Show, a few of the years there we used a prop where we saw the lady in half, but she wasn’t in a box, she was in full view. And she was sawed in half by it a big lumber saw, 28 inches in diameter, spinning at, I think, 1,700 RPM with a two-by-four underneath her and the saw ripped through the two-by-four, and through the woman and through her dress. And it’s a sensational illusion, and that one will not bore any audience. We also had a rabbit in the show, a live rabbit. And the — one of the professors of the university had a young son, a little toddler named Timmy. And Timmy, during this run of the magic show, would want to come backstage and always wanted to see or pet the rabbit.
And Timmy wasn’t misbehaving, he was acting his age, which was probably about 4 or 5.
So, I saw Timmy coming one day, and I said, “Take the rabbit and hide it somewhere, just — we’re going to tell him the rabbit isn’t here.” So, one of my assistants quickly took the rabbit and shoved it into a part of the sawing apparatus that the audience was not aware of. So, we’ll just say a hiding place where everybody promptly forgot that the rabbit had been placed there.
So, we come to this point in the show, and the very first thing we do is we demonstrate the veracity of the saw, and I saw a two-by-four in two pieces and everything works fine.
Now, we introduce a new two-by-four, and the lovely young woman comes out on stage. And so she has to be positioned properly to do this, and as she’s trying to get into this proper orientation, she whispers to the male assistant, she said, “I can’t do this. There’s something in there and it’s moving.” It was the rabbit.
So, we had the extricate the rabbit so that the audience wouldn’t really see it because they’d go what the heck is a rabbit doing there — you know. And so, we had to scoot the rabbit through the curtains backstage. Nobody was hurt, the rabbit wasn’t hurt, the girl was fine, everything worked okay. But there is an example of something not going exactly how you want it to go.