A small woman—who had been laughing riotously throughout the show—shuffled to the front of the small theater and stood next to magician Bryan Lambe. Lambe, one of two magicians who perform regularly at Max's Magic Theatre (3205 Central NE), basks in many of the cartoonish stereotypes that people associate with magicians. There's no rabbits pulled from hats, but there was a lot of good-natured banter as Lambe twisted and tied a balloon into a dog, which the woman decided to call “Doggy.” Doggy, eventually—
It's this kind of suspense and resolution that makes magic such an enduring art form, and one that physically pulls audience members onto the stage, yes, but engrosses those of us who remain seated, too. And the professional magicians at Max's Magic Theatre are worth their aces when it comes to pulling off acts that give spectators pause, rescuing us from reality if only for an hour at a time. “For me, what is really important is to see that spark in someone's eyes when they see something that makes them say, 'Wait! You can't do that!'” said Chris Zaccara, magician and manager of Max's Magic Shop and Theatre. “To share that moment of impossible.”
Max's Magic Shop has—under several different names and under multiple owners—delivered those moments of the impossible to Albuquerque for 40 years. That's a tremendous track record that testifies to something powerful—that there is an enduring audience for this performance art, and that their will always be people—maybe only a few, but always at least that many—who love the craft enough to make sure that it survives here. Zaccara, Lambe, and the third member of the team, Shark Wayne, are those people. “This is the only magic shop in the state,” Zaccara said as we sat in the cozy Nob Hill shop on a quiet Tuesday afternoon, surrounded by decks of cards, special coins, wares for jugglers and an endless library of books and DVDs. “We're here because we love what we do. There's a history here that is important to me,” Zaccara continued.
Zaccara's personal relationship with magic began as a kid in rural Louisiana—his hometown outlying cities like New Orleans that seem to be imbued with the stuff. He recalled his dad showing him a classic disappearing coin trick, and at that moment “everything I knew about reality just shifted,” Zaccara explained. He continued studying and growing his skill all the way into adulthood at which point he moved to Albuquerque where he described, “I did all the things I was supposed to do. I got a real job, I got married, had kids, got a house, got a dog, but I just wasn't happy.” One day, four years ago, the magic shop was broken into. Zaccara, then just a patron of the store, showed up that Monday morning to help clean up and has been there ever sense. “I accidentally sort of wound up the manager,” he said. While he has verifiably been a lifelong student of the craft, he went professional with his magic just several years ago. “The shop became a safe space … to express myself and gave me a chance to perform. It became a magic-positive environment for me, if you will,” he explained.
Zaccara's trajectory illumines something striking about the practice of magic. Performers spend decades, whole lifetimes, even, slavishly learning and practicing skills that will never be seen. An arsenal of invisible techniques run throughout every show that remain obscured, though to perceptible effect. By themselves, these sleights-of-hand would be amazing, but they are invisible. That's the trick. That's the magic. During Lambe's show, my eyes remained sharp as I counted 10 cards into his hand, then put them—all of them—into my pocket. How then, did three of those cards end up in the pocket of my friend across the room? The illusion dogged me, but there's a wonderful challenge in trying to figure out the trick, an unexpected joy in just reveling in its—there's no other word to use here—magic. “It's really not about fooling,” Zaccara said emphatically, “it's about seeing that spontaneous wonder that we've lost so much of in this hyper-information age.”
Sharing that wonder is at the forefront of the team's efforts lately. “We are trying to bring back that sense of community here. I want people to come down here and talk to us and ask us questions … We're here. We live here. We care about magic in the community. Come hangout. Come learn to juggle. We're passionate about what we do and we want people to be excited about it,” Zaccara said. To that end—the offerings of Max's Magic Shop are surprisingly extensive for such a snug spot—the theater hosts shows five nights a week, the shop sponsors a Young Magicians Club, the masters give lessons, and on the shelves of the store is every kind of curiosity that money can buy. Zaccara, Lambe and Wayne's efforts at bringing the community closer to magic seem to be working. When I came to the store for Zaccara and I's interview, a regular milled about, amicably talking shop.
Zaccara revels in those moments of sharing—saying that, as in any artistic pursuit, “you never stop growing or learning.” These long-studied skills are never more impressive than on show nights. Zaccara explained that, “magic takes place in the mind of the participant. Your perspective creates your reality. I want someone to have an experience here that they can look back on. Those are the moments I am searching for in my life, and the moments that I want to create.” The curious can endeavor to find these moments of magic—too often few and far between—by visiting the shop or sitting in on a show—full details of which can be found on the shop's websites, maxsmagictheatre.com and maxsmagicshop.com.