BENTON HARBOR — Stuart MacDonald is a senior training analyst for a home appliance maker by day and a magician by night.
However, the two intertwine from time to time.
While he has spent nearly three years as an analyst for Whirlpool Corp., MacDonald has dedicated 30 years to magic.
The St. Joseph Township resident got into the trade as a third-grader when his uncle gave him his first magic set. MacDonald parlayed this early interest into a profession in which he toured the college market for 15 years.
But then came the recession. As the economy fell apart, MacDonald went back to the school and eventually found himself at Whirlpool.
Having found his way back to magic the past few years, MacDonald is heading to the World Championships of Magic in Busan, South Korea, as one of the top contenders. He currently ranks as the No. 1 competitive magician after sweeping five major categories in the North American Competitive Magician.
To get better, MacDonald enlisted a few people to get his show to where it is today. This included advice from Gene Anderson, a famous magician from Michigan, and some wardrobe consultation from Tobin Ost, a Tony-nominated set designer.
MacDonald referred to Ost as the “go-to guy for Broadway.” Both MacDonald and Ost are from Adrian, Mich., which prompted MacDonald to reach out to him through Facebook.
“Those are some great influencers,” MacDonald said. “... Everybody has been helping me out along the way.”
His rise through the ranks came about from MacDonald’s unique routine that took years to perfect. He plans to use it to compete in the World Championships of Magic.
The routine involves MacDonald portraying a man who can only be described as “a fish out of water.”
“He’s this kind of loser who stumbles into this room. People see it as an old ‘Abbot and Costello meets Frankenstein’ scenario,” MacDonald said. “I walk into this room with a candle and I discover these props on the table. All the magic happens to me. In a sense, I’m just like an audience member when all these strange things happen.”
In the act, MacDonald uses a mirror to duplicate props on a table. He came up with the character through several performances among friends.
It wasn’t until he applied a method from Whirlpool, which he calls continuous improvement, that his act became great.
At Whirlpool, MacDonald uses continuous improvement to ensure all the processes and partners are communicating effectively, thus cutting down on handoffs.
And so his work bled into his hobby.
Trying to fool us
There’s a place in Los Angeles called The Magic Castle where MacDonald was invited to perform this past spring.
While he was there, MacDonald filmed the experience by hiring a professional videographer. On a whim, he sent his performance to recruiters for the television show “Penn & Teller: Fool Us.”
For those unfamiliar with the show’s premise, magicians – be they professional or amateur – perform their acts in front of the two famous magicians in the hopes of pulling off a trick they cannot figure out.
“You’re supposed to fool Penn and Teller on this show. They’re sitting like 30 feet away from you, like this (with their arms across their chest). And they’re trying to bust you, to figure out how you do the trick,” MacDonald said. “They talk to you in code, so only the magicians know. That’s kind of one of the charms of the show. They can reveal it in front of everybody, but nobody knows better.”
While MacDonald couldn’t reveal whether he fooled the duo, he said winners get a trophy emblazoned with the letters “FU,” to represent the name of the show.
MacDonald’s turn on the show airs on The CW on Sept. 25. The actual show was filmed in March. MacDonald said he thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
When he arrived at the Penn and Teller Theater in Las Vegas, he was assigned a handler and had a crew of cameramen that filmed him prior to the show (who happen to be the same people to film Katy Perry’s music videos).
“They were a tight crew and were always on the ball,” he said.
The show’s entire season is filmed within two weeks. With 60 magicians each season, it could be hectic, MacDonald said.
What blew producers away more than his act, was how prepared MacDonald was.
He used the continuous improvement model from work to sharpen his act. About 30 days before the show, MacDonald decided to videotape his act 100 times. In those 100 takes, he was supposed to improve one thing each time.
He also incorporated several different camera angles during those 100 takes to see every vantage point.
“Each improvement would equate to a percentage point. So, at the end of 30 days, my act would be 100 percent better than it was 30 days ago,” MacDonald said. “The producers thought that was the wildest thing they ever heard. It paid off. Usually in the first rehearsal they have tips for you because there are nine cameras. They said, ‘We don’t have anything for you.’”
Having performed in Las Vegas in front of Penn and Teller, MacDonald has also decided to perform here in Berrien County.
On Oct. 11, MacDonald will perform at Lakeshore High School as part of a fundraising effort for the United Way of Southwest Michigan.
“We really want to make an impact locally,” MacDonald said, “and what better way can I help than with magic?”
Contact: twittkowski@TheHP.com, 932-0358, Twitter: @TonyWittkowski