* Interview with Magician and Businessman Joel Breen ~
by Tamar Alexia Fleishman, Esq.
Who knew that a parent's birthday gift could change someone's life? While a college freshman in Connecticut studying commercial art, Joel Breen received a week's training with a master magician. By his sophomore year, Breen was up and running -- transferring to UNLV and putting himself in Las Vegas' limelight. One might think that attending college in Sin City might be a tad, well, distracting. But, no: Joel does everything with an intensity that's quite unexpected, considering his boyish good looks. He switched majors to hotel administration, graduating as one of the top 10 in the US. He turned down management offers from Sheraton and Hyatt to pursue his dream of being a magician. "On Wednesday nights, all the professional magicians would meet from 12 to 5 am. All the old timers, Jimmy Grippo, Sigfried and Roy. By 5 am, you'd learn all their secrets. They'd be dropping cards all over the place and you
could look and see the trick. They were drunk out of their minds!" Joel exclaims.
Soon, Joel Breen's dreams came true. A member of David Copperfield's team approached him and asked if he'd join them. The hotel management courses did end up paying off: Breen's skills at making subordinates show up on time and do what they were supposed to do quickly lead to his promotion to Director of Illusions. "At 2, you'd get into town and have a sound and light check. We'd have two shows at 5 and then, at 8. Then, we'd have to get back on the road. I really honed my people skills. You'd have to work with a brand new crew in another city, do it all over again. We did 63 cities in 70 days."
Many people are surprised that David Copperfield has a team of people creating his tricks; most folks imagine a magician's life to be a solitary one. "We had secrecy agreements. Don't go home and tell your wife, who'll tell her friend. Even backstage people, they would be privy. They signed agreements, too." Copperfield's team consisted of 5 people from all walks of life; this helped him design new illusions. Some had a stage background, others engineering, etc. "David would say, here's what I want. Let's figure out how to do it. We'd come up with 4 or 5 methods and eliminate it down to 1 or 2."
Today's shows demand a new expertise in computers and electronics. With the advent of the Internet, performances have had to become more sophisticated. Joel has learned how to program music on CD's, as well as using remote controls for music around his ankles. Does he still have to practice? "Yes! Always. And, I'm always thinking about how to do things."
Joel was there with Copperfield when he performed at the White House and also, Ford's Theater. The historic venue presented some technical challenges. "Ford's had a historical, raked stage. It was a stage at a slant, so everyone could see. Nowadays, the audience is at a slant. But it made it so we had to build wedges on everything, so the illusions wouldn't fall off the stage onto peoples' laps!"
One of Copperfield's biggest gigs was the CBS special to make the Statue of Liberty disappear. But the biggest show presented the biggest headaches. "CBS had requirements. Their Ethics Committee would always review our special." A message would be scrolled across the screen: "Anything you see will be presented as though you were seeing it live."
This meant that they could never cut away and had to show the illusion with a single camera.
Before Copperfield was headlining, he opened for comedians such as Bill Cosby, David Brenner and Shecky Green. And all the while, Joel was taking careful note for his own future solo performances. "I differ from David in my presentation. Mine is more comedy and magic, more improv. David is more rehearsed. After years and years of study, I found out the root of what made someone funny. I studied Johnny Carson, when we worked with him. I do a lot of MC work." How else does he differ from Copperfield? "I'm changing in my car, driving around Wisconsin. I don't think David Copperfield is doing that."
Joel Breen has a huge business, besides magic: he is the owner of JB's New and Used Furniture in Milwaukee. He has taken his background of set design and working with all kinds of people to become a retail powerhouse in the Midwest.
Whether you want to book a world-class magic show or need some furniture, you can contact Joel at JBFurniture@sbcglobal.net