Interviews, photos and video: Tulsa-based Capstone the Magician brings classic tricks to downtown OKC's Festival of the Arts
A version of this story appears in Friday's The Oklahoman.
Tulsa-based Capstone the Magician making his Festival of the Arts debut in downtown OKC
Valentina Vergara watched with wide eyes as Capstone the Magician blew dramatically on his interlocked Chinese rings and separated them with a delicate flourish, then reconnected them with a smart snap and spin.
Although her pair of solid metal rings remained solidly linked, that didn’t stop the fourth-grader, who was on a field trip with Norman’s Reagan Elementary School, from emulating the performer’s fancy ring spin, followed by a “ta-da” for the big finish.
“Whoa, she’s faster than I am,” Capstone praised as he posed alongside her. “These are real Chinese rings. I got them from a real Chinese magician from Texas. His name was Fool Ling You. Ha! But let’s stop fooling around.”
The Tulsa magician kept the wisecracks flowing as deftly as his sleights of hand during a Thursday afternoon performance at downtown Oklahoma City’s Festival of the Arts, where he is making his debut as the event’s official street performer.
“I’ve been doing this for 37 years and I’ve never worked this particular festival,” said the performer also known as Chris Capstone. “This is a great festival. There’s wonderful art, lots of great families out here having a good time, we’ve got great weather.”
The entertainer is showcasing classic magic tricks like the mystery of the egg in the bag, the mystery of the coins and the bucket and the mystery of the cups and balls for three shows a day during the festival, which continues through Sunday in Bicentennial Park.
Although the official street performer is a longstanding Festival of the Arts tradition, Peter Dolese, executive director of event producer the Arts Council Oklahoma City, said it has been many years since an Oklahoman was featured in that role.
“There’s a lot of good magicians in Oklahoma,” Dolese said. “They are making magic here.”
Keeping it classic
Like many magicians, Capstone said he was initially inspired by the magic kit he got when he was a child.
“I had an uncle that also had a trunk of old magic tricks from vaudeville in his attic that I discovered. So, it was because of him that I got involved in magic,” he said.
Although people often ask if there’s some kind of school for magic makers, he said most are essentially self-taught.
“When I was coming up in magic in the ‘70s, you had to learn from books and you had to learn from other magicians. In those days, the magic shops had back rooms where the magicians would hang out. So, if a person kind of showed that they were really serious about magic, then the magicians would take them into their confidence and would start to teach them some of the real secrets of magic, not just the stuff you can buy in a magic shop,” he said, adding that he still has a large library of magic books at home, including a collection of vintage tomes.
“Of course, with the internet, that’s kind of gone away, and now a lot of people learn their magic from videos. But I kind of liked it back when it was books because when people learn from a video sometimes they have a tendency to copy the presentation of the person on the video.”
Although he favors timeless tricks in his act, he has more modern influences when it comes to striking his humorous tone.
“Those tricks have all been around for hundreds of years, and there’s a reason why: because they work,” Capstone said. “As far as the way I present them and the comedy, that just kind of comes about from years of doing it. … When you’re in a situation where you have young children all the way to the grandparents and everything in between – crazy teenagers and all kinds of stuff – you have to make sure that you’re doing something that’s always holding everybody’s attention all the time.
“If you notice, in my show, a lot of the visual magic, the younger kids can see and appreciate. But then a lot of the verbal humor goes right over the heads of the kids. If you think about Jim Henson and the Muppet movies and ‘The Muppet Show,’ they would do that a lot.”
Fooling the eye
With a practiced hand, Capstone seemed to effortlessly conjure silver dollars out of thin air, to pull the ends off a looped length of string and to make a fanned deck of playing cards shrink.
“Would you like me to tell you how I did it?” he teased the appreciative audience. “I did it very well. I didn’t do it very good – because that’s bad grammar.”
Although his job demands that he make the tricks look easy, Capstone said keeping a crowd engaged for 40 minutes is tougher than it looks.
“I have to keep in constant touch with the audience, always scanning that audience and making sure that I’m connecting with people. In these kind of environments - outside where you have all this ambient noise and all this visual distraction – it really takes a lot of work to gain people’s attention and hold it,” he said.
“The tricks that I do, the magic is very visual and it’s not complicated. It’s simple to understand: Things disappear, they reappear, they change. A ring penetrates through another ring. Everybody, even a small child that hasn’t formed a lot of associations about the world yet, understands intuitively that if something was in your hand and then it was gone, that’s not supposed to happen – and that’s magic.”
By the time he pulled out a set of three cups and three balls, which he called “the oldest trick in all of magic,” Valentina and her classmate Jordin Peavler were bemused but delighted as they tried to track the little red balls.
“I was so confused on the final one,” Valentina admitted.
“How did he get two, though?” Jordin wondered.
“Exactly! He randomly got two in his hand!” Valentina replied. “But I liked it. It was awesome.”
53rd Annual Festival of the Arts
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Bicentennial Park, Colcord and Couch drives, and City Hall lawn.
Admission: Free. Pets are not allowed.
Performances by Capstone the Magician: Noon, 2:30 and 7:45 p.m. Friday and Saturday and noon, 2 and 4 p.m. Sunday.
Information: 270-4848 or www.artscouncilokc.com.