From performing in restaurants while juggling a day job in IT to initiating a continent-wide production company, Marcel Oudejans has created a life in magic – for himself as well as others.
Founder of Cape Town Magic Club and producer of Monday Night Magic – which has run for six seasons in two years and preparing for its seventh in Spring 2018 – Oudejans established Magic Africa Productions earlier this year with the aim of using his knowledge and experience to promote the art of magic as widely as possible.“It’s been a learning curve,” says Oudejans. “First it was learning the magic; then how to sell the magic. Learning how to make my own show came next, and then how to produce a show with a bunch of magicians. Now it’s learning how to take that show and travel with it.”
With 15 full-time years in magic, Oudejans says it’s now less about the magic tricks and more “how to create these shows and sell them and spread out with them” as he creates a community of performers who collaborate under the Magic Africa Productions umbrella rather than compete.
“That’s the transition I’m going through. I still love the show … don’t get me wrong, I love performing!” he laughs. “But it’s not the full-time job right now. Instead of looking at myself as an independent performer trying to make only my own productions, it’s more about ‘How do I take all of these guys and create a production?’.”
Unlike the age-old question of the chicken and the egg, when it comes to Magic Africa Productions and Monday Night Magic, we know which one came first.
When American illusionist and entertainer John Lenahan was in Cape Town in 2010 for the Funny Festival, it was over drinks with him that Oudejans happened to mention theatres wouldn’t let magicians play in their spaces. Lenahan’s solution was simple: “book your own theatre!”. Speaking from his personal experience, Lenahan – who has been living in the UK since the mid-1980s – has produced and Monday Night Magic in London for more than two decades. The concept is also found in New York City ( http://www.mondaynightmagic.com/ )
“We take a place that’s dark, put people inside it and create a variety show revolving around magic. Why don’t you do it?” said Lenahan. And Oudejans replied: “That’s a frikking good idea.”
This happened before knowing where it was going to be set up, and it took another five years before the right venue was found – Cape Town Club in Queen Victoria Street. Presented by Cape Town Magic Club, the mission was to always do shows on Mondays because it is consistent in that brand and it’s much easier to book performers because they’re not usually otherwise occupied, explains Oudejans.
By building a community of performers with a common goal, Monday Night Magic, with its variety of acts from carnival stunts to mentalism, has reached a wide audience of magic enthusiasts. A major factor in the success of Monday Night Magic is its fully immersive experience, something which Oudejans learned while performing with Madame Zingara, at the original restaurant as well as the Theatre Of Dreams.
“I was performing for the right people in the right places. Zingara was where most of the people I’ve done business with now met me for the first time,” he says.
“It’s something I was – am – very proud of. It was a great gig to do, and it was a huge influence on what I wanted for Monday Night Magic.”Having creative control over all the elements such as décor, lighting and music, contributes to the excitement and expectations of the spectators that they are about to witness something quite remarkable when the curtain goes up. “You don’t really get to play with that when you do corporate events; you don’t get to influence that,” says Oudejans, referring to yet another hat he wears.
“Even when I was doing my one-man theatre shows for festivals, you are limited as to how much stuff you can put into your theatre. It’s got to be quick. Even now when I do corporate events and gala dinners, everything must fit into one suitcase. If it’s only hand luggage, even better.”
All of this filters through to Magic Africa Productions: “What happens now is, whether I’m booking performers for a production, at a festival, a theatre, or whether a company is calling me for a magician to entertain at their event, I am an executive producer. I get to understand how to present to the client, captivate their audience, and how to get the best out of the entertainer they’re booking,” he explains.Thus it becomes much more fulfilling for Oudejans to be able to grow magic than it is it to grow his own personal brand. “Let’s face it – if I was going to be famous, it would have happened by now,” he says. “Which is also cool because I’ve always been extremely aware of the career of magic rather than the ‘flash in the pan’ celeb status. I had to make it a long-term business decision.”
“By the time I’m 50 there are going to be guys who are 21 – my age when I got into it – who are going to be the flavour of the month then. It’s far better for me to help them grow into the industry and create a platform for them, and ultimately create a business from it, than to resent the fact these young guys are getting the gigs.”
By laying the foundation for the future of magic in Africa, Oudejans is building a foundation for his own evolving career. Everybody wins.