*Wow! This is huge. It’s one thing to be recognized by people around the globe because you’ve built a reputation backed by talent, skill and a great work ethic. But it is quite another to be singled out and chosen by The Society of American Magicians (S.A.M.), the 112-year-old organization that at one time had legendary magician Harry Houdini in the role you will now hold.
Talking about filling some big shoes.
As master illusionist Kenrick ‘ICE’ McDonald prepares to step into the role of the organizations’ National President, he also realizes that he is making history as the first African American to do so.
But he is way too busy to gloat over this. Yes, he is excited. Proud. Happy. Grateful. And everything in between. But to tell you the truth, he hit the ground running at age 10, when he got his first magic kit as a gift from his dad, and from the looks of things, the brother has not slowed down since.
Asked how this all came about, he says…
“About 5 or 6 yrs ago someone asked me if I would be interested in holding that position. They were actually looking for a qualified person to kind of take it to where it was supposed to be, or where it had been in the past,” he told EURThisNThat editor, DeBorah B. Pryor.
Ice said he believes they also felt they needed to get more diverse. And that they were looking for the most qualified professional out there that happened to be an African American.
“And I said well, why don’t you just look for the most qualified person out there,” he continued. “And he looked at me and said, ‘That’s what we did.'”
McDonald has been at this magic thing for a l-o-n-g time – 35 years to be exact – so not surprisingly, he has built quite the repertoire around the world. His sheer mastery of illusion has astonished audiences in London, Wales, India, Singapore, Jamaica, Bahamas, and throughout the United Kingdom. He has entertained on the PAX TV series, “Masters of Illusion”, the documentary “The Art and Soul of Magic – The Story of America’s Black Magician,” and has appeared on just about all the major networks: ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, UPN, BBC; and has been featured in the New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and quite a few international publications.
We share conversation about behind the scenes of being a performer, and all that leads up to what the audience sees.
“The pleasure in being a performer is when we step out onstage, people don’t see the two hour tech time. They don’t see us fighting the crowds at the airport and loading the illusions and the magic and caring for the livestock. But that’s not what they’re supposed to see. If they saw all of that, it ruins the illusion of the performance.
Ice says that audiences are only responsible for receiving what they are given by the performer onstage.
“People want to be entertained. They don’t care that you smashed your finger and can’t do the magic. They want the magic…All that [other stuff] is the sacrificing part. But if you love what you do, like they say, you’ll never work a day in your life. I’m in a kid’s game. I’m in an imagination game. We are responsible for taking grown people back to their childhood.
McDonald is a lifetime member at the exclusive Magic Castle (you can’t even get in this place to see a show without an invitation!) in Hollywood, and he has broken audience and box office records with the tough New York City crowd at Monday Night Magic, he has many celebrity fans – like Jay Leno (who he calls a ‘big kid’), who brought him on to entertain audiences on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”
After witnessing Ice’s performance, Commander Lt. Colonel Trent R. Pickering from the United States Air Force Space Squadron presented him with the “Commander’s Medal for Excellence.” The magician was also honored by the Minister of India with the “Performer’s Trophy of Honor.” And he was the only United States representative in their Festival of Global Magic, held in Kerala India. Ice even broke attendance records with his tour of Singapore.
But as for the offer by S.A.M. Ice didn’t immediately jump on it.
As an international organization that extends its reach to countries including Europe, Japan, China – and a membership of more than 43K, Ice realized he would have the same responsibilities as a CEO, solving problems, running the day-to-day, making appearances and most of all, he knew the position would be quite taxing.
So at first he told them he wanted to step in on a regional VP level, to see how things went – because after all, he was already at the top of his game and really liked what he is doing.
“Once I got involved, it took off from there. They saw my work and how I handled things…They asked me to run up the line…”
I guess they were impressed because on July 3rd, Ice McDonald will be inaugurated as the first African-American National President of The Society of American Magicians (S.A.M.), the world’s oldest and most prestigious magic organization. Houdini served as president of S.A.M. from 1917 until his death in 1926.
And the humble illusionist, who was given his first magic kit at age 10, one that was “incomplete and missing pieces,” couldn’t be more proud.
“It is an honor to be elected as National President and a privilege to take this step into history. My passion for and the belief in the Magical Arts is so strong, that if you were to cut me, I would bleed magic; it’s in my DNA.”
Formerly a fashion model, McDonald – who is self trained as a magician – says he built his audience by using his runway experience to introduce them to his magic act years ago.
But as life would have it, nothing is perfect; and the young magician speaks about an onstage disaster, where the saying “Never let ’em see you sweat” was put to the test. Here, he speaks of doing a presentation called ‘Burning Glove’ on the runway.
“Yes, I had a very interesting problem…At this particular time I was doing a performance during the modeling presentation. I was doing this thing called burning glove and I was going to blow up the gloves and produce a bird in the glove. Well, I was a little nervous and over-whetted the actual glove. So when the lighter hit the lighter fluid, the glove went ‘whoosh’ . So I’m in the middle of the stage and people think its wonderful. And I’m blowing these things, panicking actually, but they didn’t see it. So you can imagine me standing on the stage, I’m going to take the gloves off and produce a live bird. If you can imagine the flames are about two to three feet high on both hands, so it looks very spectacular from the audience (but I was panicking).”
Ice said although he managed to blow one of the gloves out, in his panic he actually used that glove to slap the other gloved hand, trying to put the fire on that glove out. But instead of doing this, the first glove reignited!
But the amazing thing he noticed afterwards, when he viewed it on videotape, was that it actually looked like he was juggling fire!
“I finally got one off and the other one wouldn’t come off so I flung it to the ground,” he continues. “When it hit the ground, and its still burning, I step on the glove.”
But this wasn’t the end.
“Some lighter fluid had squirted on my shoe and now my shoe is on fire,” he adds.
At this point I am nearly screaming with laughter in disbelief, saying ‘It’s not funny. Why am I laughing?’
“I am not lying. I think of it and its hilarious. I finally got my shoe off but you can see on the videotape, you know, they have these Kabuki Theaters in Japan where they secretly sneak onstage and so on the tape you see the stage hand with the fire extinguisher sneaking in and I continued with the show and people still went crazy and I’m like [thinking] ‘You guys have no clue? Really?'”
With illusionists like Criss Angel, and David Blaine out there today; and of course, old school greats like David Copperfield still in the mix (fortunately!), I wondered which magicians Ice McDonald might admire or if he had any mentors coming up.
“Wow,” he starts out as if genuinely exasperated by the question alone. “I know all those guys. That would be difficult to say only because, I think for the last few years, I’ve been really pushing and not really watching. I know what they’re doing, and to give you a little…” He is interrupted. “I was self taught. I had no mentors or any recollection of who was the best at that time when I was coming up,” he explains. “Making mistakes and making achievements in magic; and then when I was exposed to folks in the magic world, I was then saying ‘OK, I need to work harder. I need to get to that level. I did like the mystery of David Copperfield. I liked the way that when he told a story, he didn’t only do the magic he made it theatre. He changed his whole set to accommodate the story.”
Ice doesn’t generally perform interviews. He says that, as a Christian, he used to think of talking about himself as “braggadocios,” but now feels that people should let others know where their gifts come from.
“I recently heard the minister at my church say, “Don’t be ashamed of what God has blessed you with because its the blessing He gave you. He shines when you shine.”
Well, at this point I think I speak for all of us, sir, when I say: Here’s to you, my brother. Shine on!
The historic and ground-breaking inauguration will take place on July 3, 2014 at the combined 2014 National Convention for the International Brotherhood of Magicians and the Society of American Magicians (I.B.M./S.A.M.) in St. Louis, Missouri.
Learn more about it here.
Click here to watch Kenrick ‘ICE’ McDonald work his wonders in the world of magic.
This article was written by DeBorah B. Pryor