Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, April 6, 2001

Phelston Jones is also a photographer who uses
his skill as a magician to break the ice with his
subjects and help them feel more at ease.

with fire

The trick to magic
is in the moment

By John Berger

'The suspended moment is the magic," Phelston Jones says. He's talking about his professional calling as a magician but he applies the same approach to his other calling, photography.

Jones, headliner of the YES! Encore Hawaii show in Waikiki, shows off a large binder containing a couple hundred suspended moments captured with his camera last year on the streets of Southeast Asia.

Jones was performing on a cruise ship and would hit the street with his camera wherever the ship put into port. When a subject appeared suspicious or uncomfortable, he'd break the ice with a few simple illusions.


On stage: 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
Place: YES! Encore Hawaii, Polynesian Palace, 227 Lewers St.
Call: 923-7469
Cost: $22.50; validated parking at Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center is $4.

"Being able to create a little impromptu alchemy off the cuff without special lighting or set-ups is what it's about in becoming a magician. Everybody enjoys that because there's no cheating. It's pure skill."

Jones gave a quick example: He tore open a small packet of sugar, poured the sugar into his cupped hand, put the torn bag on top, then rubbed his hands together. Moments later, his hands opened to reveal an unopened packet of sugar.

OK, that may be "Magic 101" for student magicians. Watching Jones do table magic at point-blank range is still more impressive than seeing the Statue of Liberty "disappear" on television.

The discovery that he could manipulate objects is what got Jones hooked on magic more than 20 years ago. (His age? "I'm in my fourth life," he says). He honed his skills as a street performer in New York City.

"It was the best training I've ever had. The streets are definitely a university for the performing arts. You get a certain cynicism on the streets you don't get performing in a nightclub. You learn very quickly about what doesn't work. They can boo you in a club but on the street they can just walk away. The task is getting you to stop and then stay long enough that you decide to part with a dime or a dollar."

Jones' first stage was the rim of a garbage can, where he'd stand to lift himself above the crowd. He learned to grab attention by "creating a miniature episode of chaos," such as running into the street to stop a bus. "You had to do something absurd to get people to stop. ... Once I got about 50 or 60 people. I would go into a routine, but getting New Yorkers to stop and look at you is quite a task. They've seen it all."

As a showroom headliner, Jones has now turned to fire. He captures the crowd with his first moves on stage and maintains the excitement with illusions involving fire, water, silver disks, coins and more fire.

He also goes out into the audience, recreating tricks from his street days. "If the crowd starts to fade I know how to get them back. It's great armor to have."

Jones' "armor" also includes striking costumes of his own design. He designs his props and illusions as well. "I'm not a formally trained designer but I design around materials that won't burn, that will complement what I do and not overpower the magic."

Jones hopes to get out on the streets of Honolulu with his camera. He'd also like to visit a few public schools and share the wonder of magic as it was first shared with him when he was a kid. "The magic is not the trick itself but the moment that the magic creates. That suspended moment is the magic. Not the trick itself, just the moment."

Do It Electric
Click for online
calendars and events.

E-mail to Features Editor

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2001 Honolulu Star-Bulletin