Joel Ward got his first big break in magic as a 6-year-old boy growing up in Cardiff-by-the-Sea 25 miles north of San Diego.
“They had a magician at my elementary school who had these Chinese linking rings,” he says. “He picked me for one of the tricks. He told me they were going to link together, and I didn’t believe him. Sure enough, they linked together and the whole school applauded and I thought I was a magician.”
“What keeps me going is there is so much to learn and create. I’m always coming up with new trick ideas. Sometimes it takes years for an idea to come to fruition and make it to the stage.”
When he arrived home after school, Ward told his parents about his newly realized superpowers. They gently explained that this wasn’t real magic per se, but a craft that one could practice and master. His father bought him a sleight of hand guidebook and the following Christmas they learned how to make a coin disappear in a well-known trick called the French Drop.
The Loft | South Lake Tahoe
Feb. 3-4 | 7 & 9 p.m.
Feb. 6 | 7 p.m.
Feb. 7-8 | 7 & 9 p.m.
Feb. 9 | 4:30 & 7 p.m.
Feb. 10-11 | 7 & 9 p.m.
By the age of 10, Ward started his own business complete with a Yellow Pages ad. It was a called “Joel: The Kid Kid’s Magician”. He printed up flyers to distribute on car windshields while his parents shopped for groceries and wore a $75 tuxedo with cut off sleeves and pant legs to perform at local birthday parties for $25 a pop.
“It was as pretty cool,” he says. “None of my other friends at the time were hustling like that.”
When Ward was 15, he became a world champion teen magician after amazing the crowd at the International Brotherhood of Magicians annual competition. His signature act involved making white doves appear out of thin air. For his grand finale, the birds turned into helium balloons and disappeared.
This success led to his first national television appearance on the Las Vegas-based “Lance Burton’s Young Magicians Showcase” on NBC. He later performed the trick for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus right after the tiger act, which was admittedly nerve-wracking for the doves.
One of Ward’s longest-running jobs was a 13-month stretch at the Horizon (now the Hard Rock Casino) in Stateline, Nev., where he was part of a magic variety show.
“I did close to 500 shows that year,” he says. “It was just the repetition of working on a new line or a new trick. It was a new audience every night to see what works and what doesn’t.”
When he returned to Tahoe last summer, his three-week stint at The Loft was cut short. While riding a rented Lime scooter down Lake Tahoe Boulevard, he hit a pothole in front of Harveys casino shattering his dominant left wrist.
“It took me out of business for two or three months,” he says. “I was strengthening and learning how to do tricks right-handed.”
Now Ward has returned to Tahoe for a week-long stint at The Loft, a cozy nightclub and theater in the Heavenly Village constructed with inspiration from the famous Magic Castle nightclub in the Hollywood Hills.
“It’s designed for intimacy and closeness,” says Ward. “Even the seats at the very back are close enough to have a one-on-one chat with the performer. It’s not just a show you sit down and watch. The audience is there to interact, and everyone actively participates.”
Along with his sleight of hand hocus-pocus, Ward uses situational comedy to disarm his crowd and get them laughing before he blows their minds with his uncanny illusions.
“I put myself into a situation where either I get the trick wrong or I’m not doing the trick correctly,” he says. “I kind of bill myself as the inept dumb magician who can’t do a trick, except the payoffs are really great.”
Although he may only be 36 years old, Ward is already three decades into a career as one of the nation’s top touring comic magicians.
“What keeps me going is there is so much to learn and create,” he says. “I’m always coming up with new trick ideas. Sometimes it takes years for an idea to come to fruition and make it to the stage.”
What separates Ward from other magicians is his sense of humor, his endless creativity and a youthful approach to the age-old art of deception.
“I think a magic show is there perfect place to escape reality and enter a world where anything can happen,” he says. “I don’t think there is any other entertainment where you can literally transport yourself to a place where anything is possible … I’m not a dark wizard or anything. I’m just a California surfer who happens to do magic.”
Resident magician Robert Hall performs a family friendly show at 7 and 9 p.m. on Feb. 5 and an adult’s only show at 9 p.m. on Feb. 11. | thelofttahoe.com