Erik Tait ready to represent North America at ‘the Olympics of magic’
The Columbus magician qualified to be part of the contingent repping the continent at the Fédération Internationale des Sociétés Magiques in Quebec City in 2022
Erik Tait felt understandably anxious going into the early October trials to rep the North American team at the Fédération Internationale des Sociétés Magiques (FISM), which the Columbus magician described as “the Olympics of magic.”
Not only did Tait have to contend with the strict competition rules (performers were given a precise time frame in which to set up, complete a trick and then completely empty the stage), but he was also working with a less familiar brand of cards, which added a degree of difficulty to a trick that had long ago started to feel like second nature.
“I elected to use a different brand of cards than my normal deck for reasons specifically related to the competition, and the deck felt a little alien in my hand,” said Tait by phone the day after he returned from the competition in Quebec City. “The brand of card I’ve used for five years, the weight of the deck, the thickness of the paper, the finish, the flexibility and the rigidness of the card stock, it’s something my hand is very used to.”
On top of that, Tait said he has long harbored feelings of discomfort while performing in front of magicians, who made up a majority of the audience during the competition in Quebec City, an unease he traced both to a long-held “imposter syndrome” — Tait’s belief that he didn’t belong on the same stage with the true wizards of the craft — as well as the difference in the responses between a lay audience and one filled with performers, where the silences and cheers fall at divergent moments.
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“In competition, everyone is watching you more critically rather than for entertainment value,” said Tait, who has worked with a therapist for much of the past year, the last half centered more intensely on this aspect of performance. “I’ve spent the last six months working [with my therapist] on my nerves in front of magicians. I get extremely nervous in competition and shake a lot, and then my hands don’t quite operate right, and we very specifically worked on that.”
As a result of these sessions, Tait was able to better control his nerves in Quebec City, where he performed what he described as an extended version of the invisible three-card Monte trick that he previously did on-air in an episode of “Penn & Teller: Fool Us.” (Tait also won the International Brotherhood of Magicians’ Gold Cups International Award of Excellence in Close-Up Performance for the trick in 2018.)
Still, following Tait’s delivery of the trick, which unfolded precisely as he hoped it would, he wasn’t exactly brimming with confidence, believing he might have scored just high enough to scrape by in the qualifying. Instead, when results were announced, Tait learned that he had placed in the top three for close-up magic, securing a spot on the North American team, which will take on global challengers at FISM 2022, also in Quebec City.
“FISM was always kind of an unattainable goal, something for the giants of the industry and the real wizards who live among us, not guys who do a couple of card tricks like me,” said Tait, who came to magic two decades ago via juggling and still maintains a similar mindset when he performs, balancing a series of highly technical sleight of hand tricks that he compared with the act of keeping multiple balls in the air. “I grew up looking at FISM and thinking, man, it would be cool to do that, but never thinking I actually would. And now I’m in that situation, and it’s pretty overwhelming.”
Following the trials, overcome with the emotion of the moment, Tait escaped to a pub across the street from the venue to have a drink and relax his nerves. While seated at the bar, he was approached by a local who noticed him shuffling cards and, after striking up a conversation, requested Tait do a couple of tricks, which left the man gobsmacked. The man then invited Tait to join him at a table with friends, introducing the magician by saying, “This is Erik. Please be quiet. He is the wizard.”
“And he and his friends were just really enthusiastic, and asking lots of questions, and there wasn’t this sense of, ‘Oh, do you do children’s birthday parties?’” said Tait, who plans to spend the next 10 months working with a team to refine and perfect his trick in advance of FISM. “They were really treating what I did as an art form, and asking probing and interesting questions. … They were sharing this sense of wonder that is really unique to the human species, and it was this grounding moment that, yes, we were there for a competition, and, yes, we were there to test our mettle. But at the end of the day, the reason we do magic is to be able to share this moment of mystery and wonder with other humans. And it kind of brought me back to the real world, and I was like, OK, let’s go do this again. Let’s share this moment and experience with others.”