To perform the kind of magic he loves, Craig Cole had to do more than just practice. He built his own theater.
Cole’s specialty is “close-up magic,” which requires an intimate venue rather than the large stage and curtains utilized by illusionists. Fortunately, he’s as good with a hammer and nails as he is with sleight of hand. A remodeler by trade, Cole turned a portion of his home on West 29th Street North into the 10-seat Craig Cole’s Underground Magic theater.
“It’s the only venue of its kind in Wichita,” he said. “In fact, I’m not even sure there’s one in Kansas City. It’s a unique form of entertainment.”
The 250-square-foot theater is unique as well, featuring tiered seating, professional sound and lighting systems, and walls adorned with dozens of autographed photographs of well-known magicians Cole has met through the years.
Formerly the home office of a chiropractor, the property already had covered parking for a half-dozen vehicles out front.
Think Cole enjoys magic? Tattooed portraits of two of his mentors in Wichita – Joe Stevens, longtime owner of Stevens Magic Emporium, and Benjamin Small, a professional magician who’s now deceased – adorn his arm.
Cole said it was Small, who toured the Midwest with his act, who gave him his first lessons.
“He was old time, kind of an exquisite magician,” Cole said. “I asked if he’d give lessons. He said he didn’t, but for some reason or another he took me under his wing. We became wonderful friends.”
Cole also worked at Stevens’ magic conventions in Las Vegas for 25 years.
“I was able to rub shoulders with some of the world’s great magicians. I was able to get a tip here, take a lesson there.”
For instance, Cole said, he is one of only a couple of magicians authorized to do a trick invented by Armando Lucero, whom Cole called “maybe the world’s greatest close-up magician.”
Cole took small group lessons from Lucero with “two guys from Germany and one guy from the Netherlands. I won’t tell you how much that lesson was, but it wasn’t cheap.”
Close-up magic consists of card tricks, coin tricks and other sleight-of-hand maneuvers, many invented by street hustlers and card cheats. For years, magicians who doubled as bartenders performed for customers, although that seems to be dying out, Cole said. Cole mixes in tricks built around predictions and “mentalism” as well.
Cole performs shows around the community – he has a booking in June for the Wizards of Wichita’s annual installation – but as he got older, he realized he didn’t relish hauling around all the tricks of his trade.
Two years ago, he opened his own theater. Cole, a partner in the “Two Old Guys” remodeling business, said the work took about six months.
Cole performs by appointment for groups of people who already know each other, such as a group of women who arrived in a limousine as part of a girls’ night out. He charges $20 per person. He said the show is heavy on audience participation, leavened by comedy – and is not for children.
“If I can make people happy, I love that. And I like to fool people – there’s no question about that.”
Now you know
Craig Cole’s Underground Magic
Address: 1509 W. 29th St. North
Owner: Craig Cole