We continue our series of interviews with another Academy of Magical Arts award winner. Helder Guimarães took home the Parlour Magician of the Year award, and judging from his reaction, he was more surprised as anyone. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, the Portugal native took first place at FISM a few years back, and he has wowed magicians around the world with his convention appearances, lectures, and DVD releases. He had a very successful career as a magician in his native land, but he recently made the bold leap to move to Los Angels, to try to “make it” in America. John Lovick sat with Helder in an apartment building in Hollywood for this conversation.
JL: Helder. You are the Parlour Magician of the Year.
HG: Yes I am. (laughing) And I would like to thank Derek DelGaudio, because I didn’t get a chance to thank him in my speech.
JL: Did you not thank Derek in your speech?
(From the next room, DelGaudio shouts, “No, he didn’t!”)
HG: You remember my speech. I had no speech. I was so.… But now, I would like to…
JL: (shouting) Derek, Helder says Thank you!
DD: Leave me out of this.
HG: I was so unprepared that I forgot not only him, but a lot of people.
JL: So, is it accurate to say you were surprised?
HG: Are you kidding? Of course I was surprised.
JL: What was it like being nominated, and then winning?
HG: Being nominated was actually cool. I moved here on the last day of last year. I arrived on New Years Eve. And within a few weeks I was nominated. It was a pleasant surprise. And when I won, my brain shut down.
JL: In the photos backstage, which were several minutes later, you still look stunned.
HG: I am, because it’s not logical that I would win this year.
JL: Why do you say that?
HG: The awards are often for people who work here a lot, and I only work one time a year for the last few years. But you don’t always win for just the act. There are other factors. The Peller show I did with Derek helped, because it threw my name out there time-wise. And because I published my book. Not only because of the act.
JL: This is not your only award. You also won for cards at FISM, and you won the Ascanio award in Spain, which is a prestigious competition. What purpose have contests served for you?
HG: All the times I’ve competed, it’s to put a day in the calendar where I work toward it. I will focus all my energy, creating an act for this moment. And this is going to be my best work up to that day. I’ve won, and I’ve lost. But I learned. I always felt that I was competing against myself, and not against others. Even FISM, the goal was to showcase my best work, and if I win, I win, and if I don’t place, I don’t place. And because I went with very low expectations of the outcome, I was very comfortable. I was so calm.
JL: What advice do you have for anyone entering a competition?
HG: I don’t think you should do them to win. If you think, “I’m gonna win. I’m gonna go for this,” normally, you are not learning from the experience. So, my advice is, yeah, do it, but for the right reasons. Put a day on the calendar. Work toward that day, and put your best work that you can do, and compete against yourself. And whatever comes, comes. Keep doing it, and keep learning.
JL: So, for you, is it more about creating something that you might not have otherwise created if you didn’t have this goal?
HG: I’ve created things that I think are more interesting than my competition acts. I don’t think it’s a creativity tool, but I think having a date when you have to show something is a good way of focusing energy. But at the end of the day, you have to understand that it’s seven judges, who have specific tastes, and they love what they love. And on a different day, your act would be different, or you could get a different judge. It’s all so random.
JL: What made you decide to move to Los Angeles?
HG: There are two questions. Why did I move? And why LA? I moved because right now Portugal is not the best country to be in if you want to do something in the performing arts. Because of the economic crisis, and the support of the government toward performing arts. Even if people want to go to see plays, they have to count the amount of money that they have. It’s a tough time for people who want to do live shows. It was a professional decision. If I stay in Portugal for the next four or five years, my life is not going to change that much. Probably I’m going to get either the same amount of work I’m getting now, or less.
And I have always wanted to try living in a different country and experience that thing. I thought, I’m under thirty, I have no attachments, I can try to do this, and grow. I considered Spain, but Spain is also in Europe, and it is also in crisis. And the reason I wanted to live in another country was because of the difference of culture, and Spain is not that different. So I
thought what are the other places where I want to be, and I have friends, and LA was my first decision. And I had friends who told me I have to come here. Shoot Ogawa was one. And Derek. I felt in a certain sense that I belong here.
And the Magic Castle, even with all its issues, is a great place to live nearby. How many good magicians are in LA? Also, I felt like the kind of work I do, is not something you find here easily. It’s not a quality issue, it’s the kinds of things I do are not as common here.
JL: Is your approach more common in Spain?
HG: Yes. The things I’m interested in, and they way I think about magic. And so, I felt I have a place here. I wouldn’t say I’m the same as a Spanish magician, but I’m pretty much closer. But I think this is a good place where people value ideas, and that doesn’t happen in everywhere.
JL: How long will you be here?
HG: I have a three-year contract, so I have a visa until the end of 2014.
JL: Do you have specific goals about what you want to do here?
HG: I want to grow. Everything I can do that I think is an interesting project to learn. I want to do that. And professionally, I want more work, and I want gigs, etc. But I don’t have a specific goal. My goal is to grow up and be a better magician.
JL: In your book, Reflections, you write about how you created the card magic in there. It’s a very analytic approach, almost scientific. Is that an system that you think others can learn?
HG: When I published the book, I didn’t want people to think that’s my only approach magic. That’s one of the ways I think about magic, and I see magic. I think actually the starting point for everything that I care about is the first time that I saw “Travelers”, my favorite effect. The reason it’s my favorite effect is because the first time I saw it done, it was so well done. I felt it was an amazing feat of cards vanishing from the deck and appearing in the pockets. I was stunned. And that feeling is what drives my creative process. How can I, with my own tools, and my skills convey that feeling to an audience?
JL: How many versions of Travelers have you come up with?
HG: More than twenty versions. Not completely different versions. I have five or six completely different approaches, and variations of each one. Some are not that good. They’re like a test, you try different things.
JL: Where do you see magic heading?
HG: I don’t know if I’m oblivious, but I see in this moment that young magicians are not interested in live performing. They are interested in technique, they are interested in sharing to the world via YouTube. But I don’t think they are very interested in “Hey, let’s go in front of a crowd and do a show.” That’s kind of strange to me. That’s exactly the opposite of what turned my head to magic completely, why I wanted to be a magician. I think people today have another point of view. If this is the way it’s going, then I think there is something missing in the future of magic. The goal should be always to be in front of an audience, sharing something with them. If that’s not the goal, or the way people are thinking now, I don’t think the future is going to be that interesting. I think magic will always be a live art form of entertainment. And all the people that are doing magic on TV and the Internet, very few of them do a good live show.
The other side is, because I know a lot of interesting magicians, I also see a lot of interesting people going in front of crowds and performing something new and exciting. People like you, Rob Zabrecky, Derek, Derek Hughes, Michael Carbonaro. All people interested in performing live, and doing a good job.
Photography by Brad Fulton