After starring in the first two series, international star Eugene Burger will be the Grand Master of Muhlenberg’s third Theory and Art of Magic program. On September 6, 2004, Burger will kick off the 2004 series with a presentation entitled “Invitation to Mystery,” and on September 8, he will star with Topas in the Inaugural Theatre Show. His thoughts on the upcoming series, and on magic in general, shed light on the unprecedented popularity the series has enjoyed – and explain why this year’s series is not to be missed!
When it comes to Eugene Burger, seeing is believing – in more ways than one. His glorious white beard and deep voice that seems to resonate from Middle Earth make him a perfect candidate to be cast in a movie featuring young wizards. But Burger doesn’t play a magician – he is one. A compelling performer who held audiences spellbound at the previous two Theory and Art of Magic series at Muhlenberg College, Burger is a real “magician’s magician” whose 15 best-selling books are a testament to the respect he commands in his field. He also garners much attention from the media; being named “Best Magician in Chicago” by Chicago Magazine and “One of the 100 Most Influential Magicians of the 20th Century” by MAGIC magazine are just two of his numerous accolades.
Preparing to serve as Grand Master for Muhlenberg’s upcoming Theory and Art of Magic program this fall, Eugene explains how he got into magic and why it plays such an important role in our lives. “In my case,” he says, “fascination with magic began at age eight when I saw a magician perform. But when it came to a career, I was always told to do something ’worthwhile.’” Eventually, Burger became a welfare director in Evanston, Ill.
Although he found his work rewarding, deep down Burger had a different dream. In 1978, he took the plunge, leaving his “normal” job to become a full-time magician – and found his life rather magically transformed. As a performer, he was creating magic with people – giving them great pleasure – and was becoming widely known for the artistry of his magic. And as a writer and philosopher of magic, he found himself teaching magicians all over the world how to think about and perform their art in a deeper, more substantial way. One of those inspired students was one of Muhlenberg’s philosophy professors, Dr. Larry Hass, who went on to conceive The Theory and Art of Magic and carry it through two incredibly successful installments (Fall 1999 and Fall 2002).
Burger believes that Muhlenberg’s Theory of Art and Magic program, which unites the worlds of magic and academia together in an unprecedented manner, is highly beneficial to both communities. “It’s very exciting that an academic institution would find magic an interesting subject to study,” he says. “This is groundbreaking stuff! It’s edgy and fascinating. The school is to be congratulated for taking a chance on a program like this.”
Part of what makes Burger an ideal “Grand Master” for the series is his experience in both arenas: His 25 years of magic performance is complemented by a strong educational background that includes studying theology at Yale Divinity School. Dr. Lee Siegel, another speaker/performer in the series, earned his Ph.D. from Oxford. That magicians hold impressive academic credentials doesn’t surprise those who actually study magic, such as Hass. After completing his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Hass discovered that performance magic is an ancient, universal art form with an extraordinary history – and that it has the power to create feelings and experiences unlike any other. For Hass, who specializes in phenomenology (the study of experience), it became a mission to create an academic forum that would bring scholars, students, and magicians together to think about and celebrate the magical arts.