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Magic Morgan

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Whether making audiences laugh with his comic timing or inspiring gasps as he makes a flapping white dove appear from thin air, the man known as Matthew “Magic” Morgan is a showman first. One of Wisconsin’s many colorful magicians, he combines the arts of illusion, close-up magic, and comedy magic, along with live animals, using his unique blend of humor and mime to thrill any audience.

Magic Morgan has performed his colorful and cheerful magic shows across the US in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, and in 40 different countries including Austria, Belgium, Bermuda, Canada (three times), Germany (twice), Finland (twice), France, Italy, Japan (five times), Lithuania, Mexico, Panama, Slovakia, South Africa, Sweden, Russia (three times), and Ukraine. Along with a busy touring schedule, Matthew and his wife Liliana have been successfully operating their own theater in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin for the past three years. They have recently decided to temporarily take a break from The Little Magic Theatre and do some research to identify a community where they could have equal or better success. They decided upon St. Augustine, Florida, and are very excited about this new chapter, looking forward to opening a new venue in the fall of 2020. They have secured a location, and are currently working with the city to get the necessary licenses and approvals. They strongly believe in working with area businesses and organizations, and are excited to bring the spirit of magic to St. Augustine. Having embarked upon this new journey, Matthew and Liliana look back at the paths that led them to this point.

Matthew Matthew Morgan’s maternal grandfather, Carl Andress, at one time worked as a magician in a carnival, where his stage name was “Waxie.” It was Carl who first introduced some simple magic tricks to Matt at a very young age. Every time he and his family visited Carl’s home — or when Carl came to visit them — Matt ran to him and begged him to do more tricks. He loved watching Carl’s magic and Matt has not forgotten how his jaw hit the floor in astonishment every time his grandfather pulled a coin out of his ear. Around the age of six, Matt felt he just had to know how his grandfather produced those coins. Carl agreed to teach him about magic and from that time on Matt was fascinated with conjuring. Encouraged by his grandfather to practice as much as he could, Matt very determinedly practiced and practiced tricks in his bedroom. One day during practice he baffled himself by truly making a coin vanish right into his ear. He panicked and thought it must be real magic. He became extremely upset and scared. Crying, he ran to his mother, who reassured him that this particular trick had not really happened. He went back to his room, looked for the coin for several hours, and was still confused. Later he found it on the floor, with a big sigh of relief. He never gave up practicing after that. Whenever Matt and his brother went to the public library for the Readers’ Club, he always went straight to the Dewey Decimal section number “793.8” shelf that had magic books. He borrowed a lot of magic books from the library and created different new tricks for himself. He still remembers the Christmas when he received his first magic kit from his grandfather — “The Magic World of Blackstone,” including fifty different tricks. He studied and learned more tricks to bring to school to perform for his fellow students and teachers. When he was eleven years old, a friend led Matt to the House of Illusion, a magic shop just around a block from his home. He entered the store and fell in love with the place. From then on, he started going there every day. He would watch different people come and go; they were fans, beginners, amateurs, or professional magicians. He became addicted to this magic shop and ended up buying lots of new tricks. He never missed a weekend and faithfully did that until he went to college. At that time he was disheartened to learn that the magic shop had to be closed for good. But he still has fond memories of his frequent visits there through his childhood days. It was also at the age of eleven that Matt gave his first magic performance, in a church for the congregation members. Everyone seemed to enjoy it, he recalls, and the church people gave him $150. He was very surprised with such good pay. He was happy to be able to use the money to add to his inventory of magic tricks and supplies. After he watched magic shows performed by illusionists David Copperfield and Doug Henning, eleven-year-old Matt conceived an idea to establish his own magic theater in his parents’ auto garage in the summer of 1985. His brother helped him by spreading the word throughout the neighborhood to bring children to attend Matt’s show on Saturday. He had five to eight youngsters come to watch his performance and charged each child 25 cents. Matt performed eleven times that summer, but the theater lasted for just that single season. He did not continue his theater business because he was involved with sports and Boy Scout activities most of times. Importantly, note that Matt was born deaf in January 1974 in West Allis, Wisconsin with hearing parents and a brother. When he was young, he attended a mainstream public school with deaf and hearing students and a provision of sign language interpreters in classes. At that time, a deaf friend in his neighborhood attended the Wisconsin State School for Deaf Students in Delavan, Wisconsin every week. Later, Matt’s mother learned that the WSD had better educational programs than at the mainstream school, and a good social life among deaf students. She decided to move Matt to the WSD when he was fourteen. Matt tells an amusing anecdote of his first week at the new school. He attended a physical education period and, while playing a game with his new classmates in the gym, his flesh-colored plastic thumb tip fell out of his pocket onto the gym floor. A few minutes later, a teacher found the thumb tip on the floor, which caused him some concern. He looked around the gym and suddenly suspected that Matt, a new student enrolling that week, might have an amputated thumb. He rushed toward Matt and wanted to return the “artificial thumb” to him. Around this time Morgan wrote a letter to Dr. Simon J. Carmel, secretary-general of the Society of World Deaf Magicians, with a videotape of himself performing magic. After watching Matt’s performance onstage, Simon responded with lots of advice on better techniques and changes to make in Matt’s magic routine. For example, in one trick Matt made silk handkerchiefs appear out of thin air and float to the floor. Simon watched this on Matt’s videotape and clucked at him like a mother hen who is all out of sorts. He advised Matt not to “throw” silks onto the floor because it looked bad. He noted many of young Matt’s mistakes and admonished him to rehearse more and to learn how to cover mistakes with a subtle skill onstage. From this point on, Matt practiced until he made no more mistakes and dropped nothing more to the floor. His mother had chauffeured Matt to different places for his shows, but when he became sixteen years old he started to borrow her car to perform around Wisconsin. Around the same time his aunt presented him with a sports coat with his new stage name, “Magic Morgan,” sewn on it. It was her idea, and Matthew has been Magic Morgan ever since. At the age of 17, Matt enjoyed a rewarding experience as a professional magic entertainer performing his very first large illusion show in front of 700 audience members at a theater in St. Francis, Wisconsin, near Milwaukee, during a Halloween week event in 1991. A few years before he graduated from high school at the Wisconsin School for the Deaf, Morgan attended a warm-up summer school for newly enrolled and transferred students in the school’s kindergarten-to-twelfth grade programs. Matt decided to give a little impromptu show for a few young students and a teacher and made a dollar bill vanish before their eyes. They wanted him to show this feat to other students and teachers. Soon the word spread that they had a young deaf magician on their hands. Later he was invited to join the Sing Song Dance Troupe on their fall/winter/spring show tour. During intermissions, Matt appeared onstage and performed with his doves. He was a big hit. After his graduation from the WSD, in the spring of 1992, he attended college for a while with an undeclared major. In his heart, he knew he loved his work in the community as a magician and performer, so Matt decided to leave college and pursue magic as a full-time career. His first big-time out-of-state show took place in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1993. Since then he has performed at Milwaukee’s famous SummerFest many times and at numerous state fairs, as well as at many public libraries, schools and universities, and other public sites. A superintendent of the Mississippi School for the Deaf who had watched deaf students’ excited faces during Matt’s magic show, exclaimed, “This is an opportunity not only for the kids to learn, but also to set goals for life. Matt’s performances say: ‘You can be an entertainer. You can be in the arts.’ You see how the kids’ eyes light up. It’s fun to watch them!” It must be noted that audiences do not clap their hands when Matt concludes each of his tricks or at the end of his act. He is not able to hear the applause or even see the movement of clapping hands in the audience from the stage. So, both deaf and hearing audience members wave their hands in the air so that deaf entertainers can see them clearly. This is one of the traditional cultural ways of deaf people. From 1993 to 2006, Matt participated in different national and international deaf magicians festivals in different states and in Europe, including Leipzig, Germany and Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia, where he won two Grand Prix awards and first place awards, respectively. It was in 2002, at the ninth World Deaf Magicians Festival in Moscow, Russia, that Matthew met and fell in love with a lovely young Russian deaf conjuress, Liliana.

Liliana Born in Ufa, Bashortostan, Russia in February 1975, Liliana Khalikova became deaf when she was three years old, due to a severe ear infection. Her parents and sister can hear. She attended the Demskaya Shkola dlya Glukhi (Demskaya School for the Deaf) in Ufa, and her favorite subjects were Russian history and literature. After graduation in 1993, she received a job as a full-time cultural secretary at the deaf club in Ufa, responsible for taking care of drama and the performing arts, social parties, recreational games, holiday celebrations, and other social events. In 1999, Liliana was asked to be an assistant to a Russian deaf magician at the second Russian Deaf Magicians Festival and also at the ninth World Deaf Magicians Festival in 2002, both in Moscow. She really became intrigued with magic when she saw Matt Morgan, an American deaf magician, performing the production of white doves at the Festival in the spring of 2002. She kept wondering where those doves came from. Later she fell in love with Matt. In the spring of 2003, Liliana came to visit Matt in West Allis, Wisconsin in order to see the country and learn how deaf people lived in the US. She was surprised to learn for the first time the great benefits of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to deaf children and people, the interpreting services for the deaf, and the videophone and teletypewriter (TTY) devices for the deaf. She was also surprised to learn that there are many deaf teachers in the schools for the deaf in the US. On November 23, 2003 Liliana and Matt were married, after which she emigrated to the US. The couple now has two hearing children — son Elijah, fifteen, and daughter Samantha, twelve. Today they often appear onstage with their parents, going on tour when their schools are closed for a week or two. Matt continued to teach magic tricks to Liliana before she became his valuable assistant onstage, traveling with him across the United States and abroad. In the spring of 2006 both Liliana and Matt participated in the eleventh World Deaf Magicians Festival in St. Petersburg, Russia. The Morgans both perform solo, as well as working as a team. Liliana relates, “My background is in Russian cultural dance. I didn’t even imagine that women could be magicians, but Matt believed in me and trained with me.” Matthew helped her become the award-winning deaf woman magician that she is today. Coming to the US from Russia, Liliana not only learned magic skills but also had to learn two new languages. It was a challenge to learn English, plus American Sign Language is very different from Russian Sign Language. From owning and operating The Little Magic Theatre, Liliana also learned comprehensive business management skills. “I had to adapt to American cultural ways, too,” she says. “Today I feel very confident and proud of all the progress I’ve made.” Despite all her progress, she admits that she still runs into barriers. “As deaf performers, we constantly encounter people unfamiliar with our deaf culture and language and it’s always arduous breaking into mainstream entertainment culture and getting access to things like interpreters. But our perspective is to turn ‘can’t’ into ‘can!’ We know deaf people can do anything!” Acknowledging the recognition and awards that Matthew has received for his work over the years, Liliana says with a smile, “I’m starting to catch up!” She took first place in the 2012, 2014, and 2016 World Deaf Magic Festival competitions in Finland, Chicago, and Lithuania, becoming the first woman to do so. She also notes, “The governor of Wisconsin sent me a letter of recognition of my achievements. I’ve even performed at the US Embassy in France and for the royal family in Norway.” Commenting on why conjuring has intrigued her so much, Liliana says, “I want to learn more mysterious secrets of magic in order to satisfy my own curiosity. Magic often fools my eyes. Matt is very skilled with magic and will teach me more, so I can catch up with his manipulation skills in order to become equal partners onstage!” Her own style of magic is a little different from that of Magic Morgan’s. She explains, “I’m a bit more flowing and dramatic and I like ESP and mentalism tricks. I think my dance experience has lent a certain grace of movement and heightened drama to my stage skills. I’ve learned over the years to finesse my set to the environment, right down to the individual theater where I’m working. I also just love being in full performance attire in front of an audience, seeing the enchanted expressions on the faces of my audience.” Today Liliana is involved in several exciting activities, including demonstrating Russian dances, lecturing on Russian culture, teaching classes in Russian Sign Language, and especially preparing to give magic workshops to young deaf girls and women since she wants to see more female deaf magicians in the near future. “I hope to inspire other woman to become magicians,” says Liliana, “despite all obstacles in their way.” She says that she would like to join an organization for lady magicians some day.

The Magic Morgan & Liliana Magic Tour Company In 2008, Matt came up with the idea not only to feature deaf magicians, but also to inspire deaf children to aspire to reach their potential. Liliana and Matt then created and produced The Magic Morgan & Liliana Magic Tour Company. In addition to public magic shows, their tours include appearances and workshops at deaf schools. These performances are designed to demonstrate that deaf people can do anything that hearing people can do — except hear. The first tour, in 2009, performed at deaf schools, universities, and public theaters in twelve cities on the East Coast of the US. Succeeding yearly tours have taken the Morgans across the US, covering the continent from Massachusetts to California and from Wisconsin to Florida Joining the tours over the years have been various deaf guest magicians from around the world: Nobuo Kamizuru (Japan), Franz & Lisa Paulus (Germany), Jayson Serripierre (France), Preeth Pavithran (India), and Paul Dymoke, Morty Feldman, and Steve Longacre & Greg Koppel (US). During one of the evening performances on the most recent tour a surprise guest — Sean Berdy, deaf actor from the Switched at Birth television program and a former award-winning youth magician — showed up to greet the audiences. Matt’s favorite magic categories are dove and duck acts, illusions, and rope tricks. To help pass along his enthusiasm for the art, Matt wrote an illustrated book called It’s Magic! (2009), and produced a DVD (2011) based on the book, with open captions and strong visual effects for the general public. In addition, Matt produced the beautiful “Magic Morgan’s Ultimate Magic Kit” in 2015 and quickly sold his entire stock of sets to both deaf and hearing children and adults at the end of his shows. At present, he has ordered a new supply of “Magic Morgan and Liliana — Rising Wand — Rises at Your Command with 6 Different Tricks” to sell. Matt is the long-time president of the US Deaf Magicians Society and was unanimously elected as the president of the Society of World Deaf Magicians at the 15th World Deaf Magicians Festival in Chicago in October 2014 — where Liliana won the Grand Prix award for stage magic. Matt and Liliana still continue traveling to give their big performances to both deaf and hearing audiences at schools, public libraries, conventions for deaf people, universities, and other events in many states and on cruises. They established their own magic and comedy show at their 100-seat Little Magic Theatre in Wisconsin in the spring of 2017. Designed to entertain all audiences, their shows there are visual, energetic, and family-friendly with a provision of voice interpreters for those people who are not familiar with American Sign Language. They have performed two full shows seven days a week throughout the summer season and weekend performances there year round, in addition to continuing to book road shows during the week. While having performed his shows in many foreign countries without a physical barrier for years, today Morgan is much concerned that he and Liliana have not yet been invited to perform at hearing state or national magic conventions in the United States or to appear on talk shows. In the meantime, they continue to travel all over the world. Most recently, they went to Johannesburg, South Africa, where they were really affected by the enthusiasm they saw in the deaf children there. The kids were so excited to have deaf role models and Matt and Liliana were happy to bring some magic to them. They are looking forward to continuing this in many other countries. Their own children have also become more involved in their show. Elijah is an expert with magic cards, and has become a member of the Society of Young Magicians. His younger sister Samantha is also helping out in many ways. It’s been fantastic having this become very much a family-centric business both behind the scenes and onstage. Liliana, who began with the show as an assistant, is now further branching out on her own as a solo female magician. The whole family is very supportive of this, and her journey is a success story for young females everywhere. Matt and Liliana truly look forward to bringing magic to people of all ages. Their shows are fully accessible, with ASL (American Sign Language) interpretation for every show. With bigger and better illusions, tricks, and shows, they know everyone who comes to see them will leave having laughed, been inspired, and enjoyed the experience. Matt says, “We keep our magic very visual, and we always make sure kids get involved. There’s a lot of enthusiasm, and a lot of interest. We have animals in the show, and we want to include humor. We keep the show diverse for a diverse audience.” Relocating their magic theater to St. Augustine this year, the Morgans feel they will be aided by the presence of a strong deaf community in the area, along with the St. Augustine School for the Deaf, upon which the magic couple will rely for support and networking. But they are certainly not marketing their shows exclusively to deaf audiences; in fact, their performances may be even more inspiring to hearing audiences. As Matthew says, “We can do everything except hear — that’s our very simple, basic message. We want everyone out there to know that if you work hard and work toward your goals, you can reach your dreams. We want to encourage everyone with that message.” These statements echo what the renowned deaf globetrotter magician Les Hunt of California (1895-1979) said about his deafness: “If you write a story about us, we don’t want a sob story. We have nothing to be unhappy about. Perhaps it is because our efforts are so well received that we are so peacefully happy. At any rate, people are wonderful in expressing their appreciation for what we are trying to do, and we have overcome all sense of self-pity and resentment over our loss. We have tried to turn it into an asset and our reward is very great.” He added, “Handicapped? Far from it. Because people enjoy our act, we’re happy, too. Being deaf is not a handicap when you’re a magician.” Note that internationally known magician Pierre Brahma of France (1933-2017) was deaf, and he won the Grand Prix at the FISM World Championship of Magic in 1964 and again in 1976. Another famous deaf magician was Theo “Okito” Bamberg of Holland (1875-1963), who devised a pantomime style performance without patter and never spoke a word onstage in his shows around the world. It is estimated that there are at least 300 deaf magicians around the globe in the past centuries and today. Their achievements have demonstrated their remarkable talents in performance and also shown that they can succeed beyond the misinformed expectations of the general public. The popular deaf magician Joseph Ledden of Rochester, New York (1898-1979) may have said it best when he commented, “One can overcome almost any obstacle with a magic wand if only one has, in addition to the wand, the will to work.” That will to work has been the secret behind the dream of Matthew “Magic” Morgan and Liliana, enabling them to achieve their goal of becoming true professional magicians, in spite of their deafness.