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If an illusion is a false interpretation of what one sees, Kevin Spencer has got it down pat

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By Greg Summers

When Kevin Spencer was 5 years old, his mother told him he was going to be a magician when he grew up. Three years later, his parents gave him a magic kit for Christmas.He did magic tricks throughout grade school, high school and worked his way through college with his own magic act.But it wasn’t until he saw Harry Blackstone Jr. captivate an audience at the Tivoli Theatre in Chattanooga, Tenn., that he was hooked to the extreme.“I was totally captivated by the show and decided then that this is what I wanted to do as a profession,” he said. “Today, I’m living every little boy’s dream – I got to grow up and be a magician.”That might be an understatement.The man who was heavily influenced by magicians Blackstone Jr. and Doug Henning has redefined the art of illusion.After baffling millions across the globe, Spencers Theatre of Illusions is coming to the University of South Carolina at Lancaster’s Bundy Auditorium on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Cost per ticket is $50 and there are about 40 tickets available at the auditorium box office inside Bundy Auditorium. Tickets can also be purchased online at plittle@gwm.sc.edu or by calling 313-7143.Kevin, and his wife, Cindy (who was engaged to Kevin’s college roommate when they met), are the only artists in history to be named Performing Arts Entertainers of the Year for six consecutive years.That puts the Spencers in very elite company.The only other magician to receive the recognition, which is open to more than 4,000 artists and entertainers in the United States, is David Copperfield. They’ve also been named as America’s Best Entertainers of the Year twice by the readers of CA Magazine, an industry trade publication.Cindy said the show is a combination of several elements, including their favorite magic tricks that the audience can get involved in.“We try to take our audience on a roller coaster ride of emotions and allow them to experience laughter as well as drama and suspense,” she said.Kevin said Theatre of Illusion weaves the Spencer’s love of theatre with their passion for magic.Comparing it to dance, he said magic deserves the same respect as other art forms. Their performance combines music, movement, lighting, special effects, scenery and other elements to create a mood of grand illusion. It’s more like a space-age rock concert than a magician wearing a top hat and tuxedo tails with a smiling assistant. When it’s presented in the right way, Kevin said magic should move the audience intellectually and emotionally.As far as to what the audience can expect, Kevin said that’s a secret.“Just kidding,” he said. “Unless you’ve seen our show before, it’s difficult to describe. We have the most brilliant and creative minds in magic designing illusions just for our audiences. It’s a delicate balance between technology and keeping the magic believable and exciting.” Kevin said since every audience expects to see a woman cut in half, the Spencers “do that one with a twist.” He will also read a few minds and ask the audience to participate in one of the illusions.Another featured illusion is a modern version of Houdini’s “Walking Through a Wall,” that was first performed on the Broadway stage in 1914, along with one of Houdini’s underwater escapes. “We all take a lot of things for granted because of technology,” he said. “Sadly, we’ve stopped appreciating the wonders that are all around us. I believe my job as a magician is to help reconnect people to wonder.”There is another element of connecting with people that Kevin looks forward to.After the show, he said it’s quite possible that a young magician will seek him out for advice and encouragement in much the same way he spent an hour backstage with Henning, at the Holiday Star Theatre in Merryville, Ind., more than 20 years ago. Kevin said the impact of that meeting, when Henning took the time to talk to a young magician working his way through college remains a humbling experience.“My answer to them is almost the same as Doug’s answer to me,” Kevin said. “First and foremost, be yourself. Don’t try to copy another performer you respect. Add your own personal twist to each of the tricks you do and never, ever perform an illusion for someone until you’re absolutely comfortable with it.“That, and practice, practice, practice,” he said.No illusion with Healing of MagicThe Spencers are more than stage entertainers.In 1984, they started a program called the Healing of Magic, which helps people with various disabilities use 60-plus simple magic tricks to develop skills that may have been lost through stroke, injury or by accidents.The Spencers don’t take credit for the idea of using magic as a therapeutic tool, but they have been recognized for furthering the concept behind it.Kevin said having a successful career is a dream come true in more ways than one because it’s opened the door for the Healing of Magic. “It’s very gratifying,” he said. “I was involved in a really bad accident early in our career. I know from experience how boring physical and occupational therapy can be for a long-term patient.”Kevin said learning magic incorporates all the same movements as physical therapy.“The only difference is magic is fun and because you see the end result (the performance of the trick), you are more motivated to keep practicing,” he said. “Every time a patient practices, they are doing their therapy.” Cindy said Healing of Magic is now being used as a form of occupational therapy in more than 2,000 facilities in 30 countries around the world.The Spencers have hosted workshops and a national teleconference about the Healing of Magic. They have also written a step-by-step manual, and developed instructional videos for therapists to use. The Jaycees awarded the Spencers with their Outstanding Young Americans Award for Healing of Magic.They have also received the Harry Chapin Award for Contributions of Humanity for their work, joining Willie Nelson (Farm Aid) and Roslyn and Jimmy Carter (Habitat for Humanity).Cindy said there’s nothing magic about why it works so well.“A patient will practice a magic trick hundreds of times a day to learn it where with traditional therapy, he’s going to get tired of putting the pegs in a board.” she said.Want to go?WHAT: Spencers Theatre of IllusionWHEN: 7:30 p.m. SaturdayWHERE: University of South Carolina at Lancaster's Bundy Auditorium HOW MUCH: Tickets are $50 each and can be purchasedat the auditorium box office or online at plittle@gwm.sc.eduINFORMATION: 313-7143