Russ Stevens is a bit of a magic legend; both for being an incredibly successful illusionist, and now more commonly as one of the most exclusive directors and managers for magicians. Russ has worked with a small handful of magical performers, who have each gone on to be massively successful in their own right, following his guidance.
I first met Russ when I was thirteen-years-old at the Blackpool Magic Convention. I wasn’t really aware of quite who he was at the time - all I knew was that he owned a production company and had made a few promotional videos for some of the magicians I looked up to. So, being the overly-confident, slightly narcissistic kid that I was, I wanted him to make one for me too.
I had aspirations to perform at corporate events and private parties, just like those other magicians I’d heard about - so I thought that if I were to have Russ make me a video, the gigs would start rolling in! Right?
I’d mentioned this idea to my parents and they said that it may be worth chatting to him about it, if we happened to bump into each other. That was enough for me to hear: I was now on the lookout! In fact, I was committed to meeting him before the weekend was over!
3,500 magicians attend this convention every year, so stumbling upon just one of them can be a bit like finding a needle in a haystack. Nevertheless, I kept my eyes peeled and fingers crossed.
It wasn’t until around midday on Sunday, the final day of the convention, when I spotted his face through the crowd. Filled with my excitement, I darted towards him with my dad at my side.
“Russ!” I shouted from the distance, as we were making our way forward him. I can only imagine what he must have thought was happening! We introduced ourselves and I mentioned the idea that I’d like to have him film a video for me, just like he’d done for those proper magicians I’d seen.
He chuckled to himself about the idea of a 13-year-old wanting their own promotional video.
“Well…” he said. “With you just getting started, I’ll do you a special deal! How about we say £1000 for two videos - one for your stage act and one for close up?”
My heart sank. £1000! £1000! I’d never even seen that much money!
“Erm, great! Thanks!” I said, with some hesitation. “Would you mind if we called you to arrange it another time?”
Russ wrote down his number and handed it over, presumably never anticipating a call.
I’d been working at The Late Lounge for a few months at this point, and although I was only earning £30 per week, I’d managed to save up a few hundred pounds, so my parents made me a deal. They’d cover half of the money, providing I paid every penny of it back to them. I agreed in a heartbeat and we phoned Russ the following day.
It was actually amazing of my parents to offer to do it and I was extremely grateful! As it happened, a lady who had seen me perform in The Late Lounge had hired me to come along to an event for her company a few weeks later, so we arranged for Russ to me there.
A few days following that night, we filmed my stage promotional video and Russ and I kept in touch ever since; seeing each other at magicians’ conventions and different events. With all that said, here’s the first video Russ filmed and edited for me, back when I was 13 years old.
The reason I tell you all this is because after performing my show at The Actor’s Studio, I knew I wanted to try and take it to the next level. So, I sent Russ an email asking if he’d consider being my director. Now, this was around the time that another magician, Darcy Oake, had done spectacularly well on Britain’s Got Talent and I knew Russ was the man behind it, so I actually didn’t think he’d say yes. I assumed he’d be incredibly busy and that he’d be getting inundated with requests from other magicians as well. He told me that both were completely true, but amazingly, he agreed to do it!
He phoned me the following day to discuss the details. He said he’d always kept an eye on my career and really enjoyed my performance style, so was keen to help however he could. He suggested that we work on my act targeted specifically to the cruise ship industry. He’d performed on cruise ships for a few years, so knew the audiences well. He was also good friends with one of the main ship agents in the world, so said that if we do the show right, he’ll make sure he sees it. I couldn’t believe my luck! This was absolutely amazing! And then he offered something else:
“Also, do you know my Shape of My Heart routine?” he questioned.
Now, before I continue, I’ll give you some background to this. One of Russ’s signature magic routines is something called Shape of My Heart. It is a sleight-of-hand, card manipulation effect performed to the Sting song of the same name. It really is a masterpiece of a routine, and you’d struggle to find a decent magician who isn’t aware of it.
“Of course!” I said.
“Well, since retiring from performing I’ve been looking for someone who I can pass the routine along to. Someone who will perfect it and give it the dedication it deserves. So, I was wondering if you would like it?”
I was stunned! I didn’t know what to say! I paused for a moment to compose myself.
“Russ, that would be an absolute honour! I’d love to do it!”
“Perfect!” he said. “Well, how about this: come around to the house at 10am every Monday, starting next week. We’ll begin by working on Shape, then once you have it down, we’ll move onto your act.”
This was beyond incredible! I reached out to Russ completely on the off-chance that he might just say yes to being my director, but now he'd offered to personally help me with my show, which he’d take directly to one of the top cruise ship agents, AND he’d give me his personal, signature magic routine to close the show with. l was completely taken aback.
Russ and I probably spent five weeks working on Shape, then around another five working on the show itself. The core of the card routine is that I needed to learn how to hide a total of 32 cards from the audience in just one hand. I had to be able to display my palm and the back of my hand as if it were empty, whilst secretly manoeuvring all of the cards to various positions. Technically, it’s absolutely the most difficult thing I’ve ever learnt. I probably spent about 4/5 hours with Russ each Monday, then around 6 hours per day rehearsing it before our next session.
The rehearsal process of the routine was gruelling: the sharp edges of the cardboard would cut into me as I manipulated them into different positions, and the hours I was dedicating to it each day just made the incisions worse. I wasn’t allowing them to heal, and the progress of my dexterity felt incredibly slow, but I was totally committed to getting it perfect.
Finally, after weeks of dedicated practice, I told Russ I was ready. He called his wife, Bernice, into the front room to take a look. She’d seen Russ perform the routine hundreds of times, so this was to be the real test.
The music began and I adopted my position on the barstool. What if I mess this up? Would he decide that I wasn’t good enough and that he should really give the routine to somebody else?
I threw the cards into the air and impaled one on the end of a sword, finishing the routine with its final, dramatic crescendo. Russ leapt to his feet, “Stephen, that was perfect! Absolutely perfect! You’ve nailed it!”
He turned to Bernice who burst into applause! “That was incredible!” she said, “Everything down to your expressions were exactly right!”
I was elated! This was one of the most well-respected performers in magic telling me I’d perfectly executed his own signature routine. I couldn’t wait to show it to an audience. Before that though, we needed to work on the rest of the show….
Find out what happened next by clicking here.