Magic trick: How Ryan Davidson is engaging teens with sleight-of-hand

Ryan Davidson in Castlemilk. Picture: Donald MacLeod
Ryan Davidson in Castlemilk. Picture: Donald MacLeod
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RYAN Davidson is making a name for himself as a magician – just ask the teenagers he works with in the Castlemilk area of Glasgow

YOUTH worker Ryan Davidson always has a trick up his sleeve when he wants to grab the attention of the Glasgow youngsters he works with. His days might be spent helping teenagers find their way in life but by night he is earning a reputation as a rising star on Scotland’s cabaret circuit, with sell-out shows on the Glasgow club scene and a series of street magic for STV on the cards.

Ryan Davidson showing off his card skills. Picture: Donald MacLeod

Ryan Davidson showing off his card skills. Picture: Donald MacLeod

For Ryan, his two passions come together perfectly when he uses his magic tricks as a way of engaging the youngsters he works with at the city’s Castlemilk Youth Complex. The 26 year-old says: “The kids absolutely love it. Magic is a fantastic tool and having them as an audience is great for me as a magician.

“If I am working on a new trick I ask them what they think. If you can fool a 14 year-old you can fool anyone because they want to see and touch everything in the hope of catching you out. There are also a couple of young lads who want to take magic seriously, so I have been working quite a lot with them.

“At one school, I had been working with a really quiet wee boy during a transition programme for primary school kids moving up into high school. I had showed him a few tricks and the next time I was in the school the head teacher pulled me aside and asked to have a word with me.

“She told me he had been showing people tricks and nobody could believe it was the same wee guy because he had so much self-confidence. That was a rewarding story for me to hear.”

Davidson first became involved with the youth centre when he was a teenager. Like most youngsters growing up in Castlemilk he hung around the streets, but managed to steer clear of trouble, and his talent as a footballer saw him turn out for one of Livingston’s youth teams. He visited the youth centre for the first time by chance but it was the opportunity to work in the performing arts which saw him return.

He said: “I just loved getting a chance to do performing skills. Then I became a volunteer and finally joined the board of directors. I have been there 10 years and feel like I grew up there. We also work in the schools and go out on to the streets, taking services out to young people who are detached, vulnerable and can’t access services because of whatever barriers.”

Many of the youngsters Davidson works with have recently been released from secure units and prison or have been kicked out of school. Helping them transform their lives is a challenging task but it is one that he relishes. He says: “It is never the young people who frustrate me. The biggest frustrations come from the yearly struggle to find funding. The youngsters I work with can be challenging but I love to see them even just a year or two down the line and having made a bit of a change to their lives.”

Davidson’s passion for magic was born during a holiday in Greece with his family when he was 18. A meeting in a bar with a retired hustler sparked the young Scot’s imagination, and he set about learning the tricks he had been shown. “I started showing people the tricks and they always asked if I could do anything else. That’s how it began.”

Davidson’s magic tricks soon became more than a party piece, and on a visit to New York, he gathered crowds wherever he put on an impromptu show. He says: “For me it is not just about doing a trick, it is about the performance and the interaction with the audience. I love to see people’s reactions and I thrive on the social aspect of it all.”

Two years ago, Davidson realised his magic could be a second career when he was asked to perform at a birthday party. He says: “Until that point I had never really thought of it as a career. I just really enjoyed it but that made me think that there might be money to be made. I did some research to see what people charged and then decided to set myself up in business. Very quickly I was booked for weddings and corporate events and it was all just through word of mouth.”

With his popularity on the rise it led to his own two-hour show for the Glasgow nightclub circuit, called Past Times of the Strange, and he booked the city’s Buff Club for one night only. A message placed on Facebook led to tickets being sold out in half an hour. To keep up with demand, more nights were added until a four-show run last month was sold out. He now has a monthly slot at the club, and describes himself on his website as “magician, hustler, cheat, con-artist and mind reader.”

It was almost inevitable that television would follow. Davidson says: “They (STV) initially asked me to do some filming in the studio for their website. I said it would be better to film on the streets which is what we did. We filmed 10 episodes for the website which are going out over the next few weeks before going out on TV at some point afterwards.

“It really is incredible how it has all happened, and I wonder where it is all going. I don’t think I ever would leave my career at the youth complex, though, because I really enjoy my job. I am not a top hat and rabbit type of magician and I don’t do kids parties, and that’s the way I like it.”

BACKGROUND

MAGIC is as old as humanity. There is evidence from cave paintings to show that men and women 52,000 years ago had a concept of magic as entertainment.

The art of illusion, though, as we know it today can be traced back to the 16th century when, in 1584, Reginald Scot wrote a book called The Discoverie [sic] of Witchcraft. His aim was to prove that witchcraft didn’t exist by unveiling the secrets behind their tricks. Many believe this book is the first conjuring text book.

Illusion really came to the fore, though, in the 18th century when Jacob Philadelphia travelled Europe and Russia performing magic.

At the start of the 19th century clockmaker Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin opened a magic theatre in Paris and British magician J N Maskelyne followed this up with one in London.

Our modern image of a magician – top hat, tails and a curling moustache – comes from the French magician Alexander Herrman. Known as Herrman the Great he was said to come from the “first family of magic”.

Modern magic was possibly only truly born, though, when Harry Houdini, below, and his escapology became world famous at the start of the 20th century, paving the way for the likes of David Blane, David Copperfield, Penn and Teller and Dynamo Magician Impossible.

FAVOURITE TRICK

MY favourite trick is roulette with a staple gun. There are five carpenter staple guns on a table, all shown to be empty and fired.

One of the guns is then loaded by a random member of the audience and mixed with the other guns. The spectator turns away and the guns are mixed once more by me. To ensure I don’t know where the loaded gun is, the spectator is asked to mix them once again to ensure that nobody in the audience, or the spectator who loaded the gun, or myself, know which is the loaded gun.

I then stand in front of the table and face away from the spectator, who is asked to hover his or her hands over the guns from left to right and to stop on any gun. That gun is then fired into my hand by the spectator to show it is empty. The same happens with the next three guns which are fired into my neck and my face by the spectator, then I fire the third one into the spectator’s hand. All shown to be empty.

The final gun is then taken and fired into a wooden chopping board, stapling the spectator’s ticket to it and given to that person as a souvenir. The chamber of the final gun is opened and the staples are emptied in to the spectator’s hand. The spectator makes all the choices!