Entertainment Local

Harrison's magic hands on full display Saturday in Barrie

By Susan Doolan, Special to Postmedia Network

Magic is in the air and the fingers of James Harrison.

The Barrie magician has taken pick-pocketing to new heights over the past several years and he will be performing at two shows this weekend at the Mady Centre for the Performing Arts, including one the family and especially for kids.

"The family show will still be entertaining for grown-ups. but the themes will be more generic. It will be my fun and light-hearted, entertaining kind of show," said Harrison, who will be doing some pick-pocketing at both shows, but the family show will be more like an Oliver Twist version.

"I don't ever make fun of the kids, but parents are fair game," he said. "And the kids love that."

He is a parent and his six-year-old daughter, Summer, is a fan. In fact, she loves showing him off to other people. Even though she has no interest in learning magic, she gravitates towards to the arts and enjoys singing and drawing.

It was Harrison's wife who encouraged him to pursue magic as a career. He started doing magic shortly after he met her. She was living in Barrie at the time and the couple moved here 15 years ago.

"I can't believe I've been doing this now 17 years," said Harrison, who has been performing full-time for the past three years. "My stuff is parlour-based, not illusion. No large props. I've never been a fan of that stuff. I prefer to rely on my own (expertise). If something messes up, I have no one to blame but myself."

While he has performed in theatres before, with other magicians, this will be his first solo show.

Some may remember him from a couple of sold-out shows he and another magician did at Violet's Venue before it closed last November. Others may have caught his TV show, Beyond the Magic, or performing at various events such as the Barrie Art Awards, for which he was also nominated twice.

Harrison was one of the city's original street performers and he stayed with the program until two years ago when summertime shows in Toronto picked up. He does a lot of work at the Harbourfront, such as a brunch cruise as well as private gigs, restaurant and corporate events.

Harrison was born in Terra Cotta, Ont., the only one of two brothers to go into performing arts. As a child he wasn't particularly interested in magic, even though he enjoyed watching it on television.

He was into martial arts and when a severe knee injury left him bed-ridden for more than six months, he started doing magic, sleight-of-hand, as a hobby. He learned initially from books. When he started performing, he wasn't even comfortable talking to people in public.

"Before I got into magic, I hated talking to groups of 15 to 20. I didn't like being the centre of attention," he said. "I remember my first performance. (I) took two Post-It notes and wrote down every trick I knew and put in my pocket so I wouldn't blank out.

"I never wrote it down after that. I got more comfortable talking to people, started out doing strolling magic at restaurants and busking to get good practice performing with a larger group.

"I find with magic I don't like being too comfortable (because there is) the potential to make mistakes," he added. "When you're nervous, you check everything."

Last year, Harrison won the Best Magician Contest, hosted by A1 Chinese radio, in Toronto.

Today, he still enjoys martial arts and magic, especially fooling his friends. He also loves it when they fool him.

He also likes horror fiction, books and movies and is working up a magic show with some horror elements for a convention in Rhode Island in August.

As for his pick-pocket magic, whatever he manages to remove - watch, tie, pen - he will return it to the rightful owner and every once in a while, it will reappear in an unexpected place.

The family show takes place at 2 p.m. and the adult version is at 7:30 p.m., both on Saturday at the Mady Centre for the Performing Arts in downtown Barrie.

Reserved seating for the family show is $10. Tickets for the evening show are $20 each, $15 for high-school students with identification, available at the box office, 705-739-4228. 

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