I’ve chosen Illusionist Nick Ivory for today’s interview for “Case of the Fridays“. Nick delivers performances at venues or private events during which he will showcase a variety of illusions or “magic tricks” to a crowd of entertained guests. I’ve personally seen him in action and he’s never failed to bewilder me with what he does. His career is fascinating to me in the way that it delivers such entertainment and curiousity – and frankly, I thought it would be really interesting to hear more about his perspective about what he does!
Nick travels the country for events including Las Vegas and New York, but resides in America’s finest city. If you’d like to meet him in person or catch a live demonstration of his work, you can see him at Syrah each Saturday night 7-9 PM.
I met him for our interview at his home here in San Diego. I particularly like this “visual” photo of us because of the shadow cast upon him. There’s an element of mystery to his personality, and I feel like this photo brings a bit of symbolism that represents that certain quality about him.
What is your name/age?
Nick Ivory is my business name (piano longer than magic, hence the “Ivory”), my real name is Serbian…”Nenad Plavsic” and I’m 33
What is your occupation?
Illusionist – I feel conveys more of a sense of mystery than the term “magician.” People think of a guy taking a rabbit out of a hat when they hear that.
Where did you grow up?
What level of schooling have you completed?
I got an associates degree in the business program in web development, and I studied piano at Sherwood conservatory.
How long have you been doing what you currently do?
About 20 years – right around junior high age I started doing it for my friends.
I started making money when I was 16 – cruising around restaurants/bars – my parents were against it and told me to “get a real job.”
I moved out to Vegas when I was 21 – I thought that’s where magicians were supposed to go. When I got there, I was like “Holy Shit there’s a lot of magicians here.” And there’s a lot of competition – and mediocre competition at that.
Did you have a 9-5 job before that?
I’ve had a few – I worked at a gym, a furniture store, all sorts of odd-end jobs. Not your typical office cubical 9-5 – I’ve never done that, and I don’t think I ever will.
How did you become involved in the work that you currently do?
In Elmhurst – there was a magic shop. I would always ride my bike up there and buy a trick or two. The shopkeep eventually hired me to work there and it felt like Harry Potter. A lot of pro’s would come in and I’d absorb as much as I could, learn as much as I could. I felt like a human sponge.
In vegas I apprenticed for some big pro’s – menteed with some big names in the magic industry (not ones most people would know…a lot of underground guys) but big in the magic community. If you absorb from the best of the best, it can truly help.
What is it like working with other magicians? In my industry, photographers refer work out when they’re already booked for a certain date – is it like that in your line of business?
Magicians are very competitive and very secretive. They come up with a trick and want it to be theirs so they can be as original as possible. We do share and refer out, but for the most part, magicians don’t really like each other and they compete.
I heard there are magician conferences…is that true?
Yeah, totally. International Brotherhood of Magicians, Society of American Magicians, the Academy of the Magic Arts in LA which is the Magic Castle (Neil Patrick Harris is actually the new president of Magic Castle – he was a magician before he was an actor). And then there’s FISM – a magic competition in Europe. That’s always a lot of fun.
A lot of magicians, a lot of dealers, a lot of people selling their tricks, selling DVDs. People want to be known in the community – so that’s a quick way to get known. We have scientists and psychologists that come in and talk about how the brain works.
I was at Magic con last year here in San Diego, met the author of this book “Sleights of Mind – What Neuroscience Reveals about Deception” and heard them talk about how the mind perceives things – and how we can affect someone’s reality. Perception is reality, and we can bend that significantly.
“Perception is Reality” has a great deal to do with marketing and how the public perceives you…where do you draw the line?
I never claim to have a paranormal ability, etc. I don’t want to mislead the audience too much.
How much longer do you envision yourself working in the field that you’re in?
Forever. I’m never going to retire. There are magicians in their 80’s that still perform. And it goes back to “if you love what you do…you don’t work a day in your life”
What is it that you love about your work?
Everything. I love the creation, the performing, the social interaction of it all. I meet thousands of people per week.
Now that I get to mix my piano with magic, it makes it even better. I can take my 2 passions and make them into one.
You mentioned you meet thousands of people each week – do you ever have trouble remembering people’s names?
Totally. Haha. But sometimes I’ll actually incorporate that into my work and ask someone that looks familiar to write their name on a card, and I’ll start a trick – so that way I know their name again, haha! It works pretty well, and avoids any embarrassment.
Have you ever had someone react in a strange way to one of your tricks?
Well, there’s that really analytical type of person – engineers especially…they get so frustrated because they figure EVERYTHING out. And of course they get pissed off because I wont tell them how I do it. Some people actually call me the devil, or religious people that have taken it very seriously. One guy got set on fire in the Dominican republic by religious fanatics because they thought he sold his soul to Satan.
What is your least favorite thing about your work?
I think my least favorite thing is when a client contacts me and is all excited, and then they just DON’T contact you back. They don’t respond…or don’t follow-up. It can be frustrating.
I suppose that’s the only thing though, so that’s not too bad!
What are some of the advantages of your job compared with the regular corporate career?
Flexibility for sure. It’s not 9-5, I don’t have to be at work right now – I make my own hours…my gigs are a couple hours, and I make sure to set some time aside to focus directly on piano or magic – I really work well with schedules. Everything has to be penciled in at a certain time frame. I like to be very organized.
What are some of the disadvantages compared with the regular corporate career?
Benefits – insurance. I have to pay for all that on my own. I guess that would pretty much be it.
How different is the dating scene for you? Is it easier/harder to make time to be with your significant other?
Well I’m single so it’s fantastic. It’s easy for me to make time. If I want to take a day off and go do an adventure – I can do it. Right now I do 8 venues 6 nights a week, so I’m pretty busy.
Do you tend to prefer to live paycheck to paycheck or with a savings plan accounted for? Is your income predictable and regular, or entirely dependent on what you produce?
Savings, budget, bills paid one month ahead – you CAN’T live paycheck to paycheck. It’s very uncomfortable, very stressful.
How do you imagine your retirement, or lifestyle past 60?
Still performing. Still playing piano in some of the biggest venues in the world. Copperfield’s still goin’…Magicians, or musicians never retire.
Do you see your career facilitating a lifestyle suitable for a family, or do you have the desire to have a family?
Eventually down the road, yeah. Right now I really don’t have time for a family. It might sound selfish, but “you gotta do what you gotta do” to provide for a good future. If I had kids and a family, I wouldn’t be able to work the way I do right now.
What are your top priorities in the ‘big picture’?
Helping people – I love to see that what I do put smiles on peoples faces. I get a lot of people getting in touch wanting to know how to get started because they love seeing me do what I do.
There’s a group of kids that comes in to see me at one of my venues each week – and their mom tells them that “only if they’re good in school, can they come in and see me perform” - and that’s awesome. That really feels awesome to bring that kind of highlight to these kids’ week.
If you had any advice to someone just graduating college or thinking about switching careers, what would it be?
Everyone has a passion and a dream – and it might sound cliché, but you should go after a life of your dreams. Shoot for your passion in any way possible.
If someone wanted to do your job, what is important to maintain a position?
You have to be very social. There are a ton of magicians that are fantastic, but you put them in front of a crowd and they just can’t entertain. The psychology of how to figure out how to control where people look and what they think. You build a personality out of that.
Who inspires you?
Lang Lang – a classical pianist. A couple underground musicians inspire me. Musicians. I get inspired by everything.
The bujikan martial arts. I go once a week. I wish I could go more. I try to be as disciplined as I can. I focus on learning about self defense, protection, maintaining health, eating healthy. I’m now 100% vegan. Got rid of meats (that was tough). Now I can notice the difference in terms of clarity, quickness.
What do you think of authority?
What did you want to be when you want to be when you grew up?
What are some of your favorite sounds?
The sound of a piano, violin. White noise. Music, sound, classical music. Anything with orchestra. My favorite classical piece is “Franz Lizts – Liebestraum (dreams of love).”
What’s your favorite curse word?
It’s in Serbian – my brother and I speak fluent Serbian – what it would translate to in English would be “what the fuck?”
What’s your favorite memory from your past?
Fishing with my dad, and camping with my parents. I love outdoorsy stuff. Now that they’re getting old, and life is getting old – I miss that more.
If you were an animal, what kind of animal would you be, and why?
I would be a cat – nimble, quick, sly. I got a Persian here, and a little dog Ralphy.
What are some of your favorite smells?
Cleanliness. Clean. Fragrance. A woman’s smell.
What did you get into the most trouble for when you were young?
Being a smart ass and having a temper. Now that I’m older, I’m still a smart ass but it works to my advantage.
If you were a character in a famous movie, who’s role would you play?
Merlin from the TV show “Merlin.” It had cheesy special effects, but it was about Merlin which is cool.
If you could go back to any point in history for a month, what time period would you visit?
Absolutely classical era…the romantic era – when Chopin was around. ”The harpischords with the big dresses and suits.”
If there was one celebrity you’d like to punch in the face, who would it be?
Criss Angel. I’ve had a lot of friends work for him, and I’ve just heard a ton of stories of how he’s a dick. All his stuff he does on TV is all stooges stuff.
If you had to obtain $1m illegally, how would you do it?
I’d turn 1’s into 100’s until I had a million.
Which long lost childhood object would you most like to find?
The first piano I played on – it was a blue Casio…didn’t have any feel to it, every key made the same sound…but that’s where I started.
What age do people become “old”, what’s the secret to staying young?
I always think you’re young at heart – my grandfather was 87 years old and he was like a kid – he was always young at heart.
With people working later and living longer – I’d say 80’s or 90’s. Be happy, be social. You gotta socialize with people…
What’s your favorite quotation?
“The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.” – Albert Einstein
If someone wanted to get in touch with you and ask you more about what it takes to get involved in your career, what would be the best way?
Absolutely. I don’t teach, but I’m always willing to point people in the right direction.
NickIvory.com is the best way to find out more info on how to get in touch – I’m also at Vin de Sarah downtown every Saturday at 7 PM if anyone reading this wants to come by in person.
On a scale of 1-10, how likely are you to get back to them?
10. Usually within 24 hours.
Here’s a video of Nick demonstrating some of his work on live TV. Hope you enjoyed the interview, and have a great Friday!