For four years, Adam Trent performed magic tricks on the Santa Monica Pier. Hoping to hold the tourists’ attention, he “yelled for eight hours a day,” he says. The competition was stiff: the relentless sun, the breakdancers blaring music, the homeless guy who once stole his briefcase.
Trent worked nursing homes, birthday parties, college cafeterias. It was all part of the master plan. At age 12, already determined to be a professional magician, he had asked the Las Vegas veteran Mac King for advice.
“If you want to be a success,” King said, “put yourself in as many terrible situations as possible.”
Twenty years later, that advice has paid off in spades. After debuting on Broadway in 2015 with the Illusionists, Trent is now headlining theaters on his own. He brings his deck of cards, as well as the holograms and robots and other high-tech props that have earned him the magic-world nickname “the Futurist,” to the Shubert Theatre for five shows, beginning March 9.
At 12, when his parents brought him from his home in Boulder, Colo., to Vegas, he’d hoped that King might help him get his big break. Maybe he’d offer to introduce the boy to an agent, or ask him to appear onstage with him.
“Pay your dues” wasn’t exactly what the kid wanted to hear. “But in hindsight,” Trent says, “it was the best advice I ever got.”
Now he can handle almost anything that comes his way during a show — the mishaps, the skeptics, the ones who think they know the secret to every trick. While performing recently for a small group of patients, family, and staff at the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center, Trent turned a dollar bill into a twenty.
“It’s fake,” said a young girl named Irene, folding her arms.
Trent laughed. “Oh, it’s very spendable,” he said, not missing a beat. “It cost $21, actually.”
For the hospital visit, he brought along an aluminum briefcase stuffed with playing cards, balloons, a small table that levitated, and a hand-lettered sign that read “Hug.” When he borrowed a young woman’s eyeglasses and made them somersault across the floor without touching them, an amazed mother exclaimed, “Do you have an extra sense?”
Again, the lanky young man didn’t miss a beat.
“A misspent youth is what I have,” he said.
At 8 years old, Trent went with his father to see the legendary David Copperfield. Though he’d never seen anyone do magic until then, he knew instantly what he wanted to do with his life. His family, including his mother and two sisters, returned to the show together a week later.
“I don’t remember the magic, I just remember the whole family laughing and having fun,” Trent said.
‘[He said] if you want to be a success, put yourself in as many terrible situations as possible. . . . But in hindsight, it was the best advice I ever got.’
That’s how he paces his own act. He’s borrowed cues not just from fellow magicians, but from stand-up comedians and improv comedy troupes, arena-level pop stars, and any other form of showmanship that can amuse or dazzle an audience.
“I saw ’N Sync 15 years ago, and they had these giant LED walls,” he said. Similar walls are now part of his show, which requires a 64-foot tractor-trailer to transport his mechanical equipment and lighting rig from city to city. The show includes an interaction with an automotive robot, an extended segment using hologram technology, a levered table that appears to pry Trent’s torso from his legs, and other elaborate contrivances.
Though the show is all but unrecognizable from the sleight-of-hand street performance he did on the Santa Monica Pier, Trent does intimate hospital visits whenever he can. It’s a personal commitment that stems from his high school years, when he donated proceeds from his gigs to the Susan G. Komen foundation in memory of an aunt who died from breast cancer. She’d given her nephew his first book of magic tricks.
“These kids can’t come to the show, even though we’re just across the street,” he explained.
Sitting at a small table covered with a green Lego mat, Trent looked right at home. Wearing a skinny tie and a maroon dinner jacket, he makes an entrance into a room that promises entertainment. Even his eyebrows are playful: From right to left, they form a perfect downward slope, as if waiting for a marble to drop in.
While performing for a few children in hospital gowns, he asked one parent to shuffle an invisible deck of cards.
“Now pick one,” he said.
The ace of hearts, she replied. Producing an actual deck, he showed her the one card that was face down — the ace of hearts.
“And the crowd goes wild,” he said, more to himself than his audience.
The Magic of Adam Trent
At the Shubert Theatre, March 9-11. Tickets from $35, www.bochcenter.orgJames Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.