11/07/2014 11:23 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Behind the Scenes With One of Broadway's Biggest Magicians

The cold blade brushed against my shoulder. The sword snagged my left sleeve. He pushed, but noticed resistance. He quickly pulled me out of the box.

Aha, I thought. That's why magician's assistants wear tight clothes.

This is where Adam Trent, one of the world's biggest, up-and-coming magicians, began. Nearly a decade ago in a small theater in Boulder, Colorado, with a starving writer hoping to make an extra buck as his magician's assistant.

The magic world is calling him "the futurist," the next big thing for magic. Others call him "Justin Timberlake meets David Copperfield;" he's been known to dance on stage, and he's an admitted boy band wannabe.

Today, Trent, now 29, is taking his magic to Broadway in New York, as part of a group of the first magicians to hit Broadway in nearly two decades. The last magician on Broadway: David Copperfield, at the launch of his career.

Trent's crew of seven magicians from around the world is known as "The Illusionists." Their Broadway show runs Nov. 26-Jan. 4, with a national tour at the nation's biggest theaters. You've probably seen him on TV, including Rachael Ray this week.

Looking back, I really should have taken the whole magician's assistant gig more seriously.


Photo of Adam Trent by Dale Berman/Syfy

Nearly a decade ago, I'd found Trent's ad seeking a summer assistant on Craigslist. The main qualifications: small stature, not afraid of small spaces, able to dance. Not many people are claustrophiles, so I had an advantage.

We'd rehearsed only a few times before our first show. My tricks included disappearing, reappearing, being cut into pieces, crammed into tiny boxes, levitated, disassembled and locked in a Houdini box. I'd had an encyclopedia of odd jobs before, but, alas, I'd never been levitated.

Trent, on the other hand, was a pro. A self-taught magic man touted even then by the big shots as a genius headed straight for stardom.

There was a reason for everything Trent did. A flick of the hand, the color of pants, each sparkle, each word. The tight attire I'd learned the hard way I needed to wear. It was all intentional and precise.

The magic was in the details, I thought. The magic was all the things I had never noticed before, from the audience.

Even inside the box, after then-22-year-old Trent revealed to me the secrets of his show, I still didn't fully get it.

Magic had always baffled me. Even the simple card tricks. I had fallen for the so-called "52-card pickup" trick about, oh, 52 times. (For those of you who don't know -- and I say this mostly for myself, as if anyone doesn't know this trick but me -- the 52-card pickup is when the trickster just tosses the full deck onto the ground and you have to pick it up.)

When I was a kid, my dad used to bring home tricks and gags to mess with me, the ever-gullible victim. His repertoire included pens that shocked you when you tried to write with them and strings tied to knobs that snapped when you opened the door. Every once in a while, I'd pull a book from the shelf and find it hollowed out with a funny surprise inside.

Compare that to Trent's childhood. He was also introduced to tricks at an early age. His aunt, Ann Bruggeman, gave him an "Encyclopedia of Magic" as a present when he was 9. The book went from card and rope tricks to bigger illusions, and included tips on performing magic.

Trent began performing professionally at age 12. After his aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer, he began using his shows to raise money for breast cancer research. He placed in magic contests. At age 15, he became the youngest person to win a medal in the Pacific Coast Association of Magicians' annual international competition. He began traveling.

I would have never expected my silly shock-pen upbringing to have led me here.

I remember one particular rehearsal. I'd changed into a tighter shirt that wouldn't snag blades and approached the "sword basket" to rehearse again. Trent was wearing short sleeves. Nowhere to stash extra cards or props.

Earlier, I'd cornered him and all but forced him to show me the act he was known for: his ability to make cards disappear and reappear in his mouth, fingertips and thin air (and not like my dad used to make quarters appear from behind my ear). I stood close and watched cautiously. I was an "insider" now; I should be able to spot a sneaky hand, if anyone. Right?

I walked around Trent, made him slow it down, checked his pockets. Nothing. He smirked. He'd been working on this skill for years. And even after he told me what was happening, it didn't stop my eyes from filtering out certain details that made the impossible possible.

Like being diced up by five swords while crammed in a tiny red box.

I eyed the sword basket I was supposed to step into. Tight shirt or not, journalistic curiosity and small stature notwithstanding, this stunt was ridiculous. I did what Trent told me to do, and (I confess; sure, make fun of me) kept my eyes closed until it was over. Phew, I still had my left shoulder. No resistance this time. And also no clue as to what just happened.

Inside the box, the magic still baffled me.

Of course, that's assuming I stayed inside the box.

I'll never tell.

Portions of this story originally appeared in the Boulder Daily Camera.