05 May 2023

[Guest post] ‘Magic chose me’: How one man found his calling

The following is a guest post by Sheridan Williamson Fraser.


‘Magic chose me’: How one man found his calling
Mike Segal built a career by perfecting tricks and inspiring a new generation of magicians 

By Sheridan Williamson Fraser,
Journalism Undergraduate at Toronto Metropolitan University

It all started with a single bus ticket that in a flash became two. Day in and day out, Mike Segal, a young boy originally from Montreal, would take the bus to and from his new school in Toronto, carefully holding on to each bus ticket. One day in 1972, while playing outside at recess, another boy snatched the bus ticket from him, closing his tiny fist around the rectangular piece of paper. As Segal’s only way home was crushed between the other boy’s small fingers, concern built within him. Another second passed, then the other boy waved an erratic hand through the air before rolling back his fingers to show not one but two bus tickets lying on his palm. The boy then miraculously handed both tickets to Segal before walking away to enjoy the rest of his short break between classes. Looking down at his hand, Segal was left baffled. To him this was not some simple sleight of hand but an act of real magic.  

This one short instance, this one trick, was the start of a lifelong journey into the art of illusion and the beginning of a career which has spanned four decades. From this moment on, Segal began going to the library, constantly in search of the miraculous ticket trick. Initially he thought “If I could just learn that trick, my parents would never have to buy me another bus ticket.” 

During those days in 1972, flipping through book after book, Segal recalls learning all he could about magic, teaching himself different tricks and eventually building up a repertoire of techniques. “I never did find that trick,” he says, but now nearly 50 years later Segal can still remember that first magic moment, “I’ve seen thousands of magic shows. Can’t tell you anything about them but I remember that trick.” 

As for his own journey, Mike Segal has spent over four decades as a magician performing, teaching and inspiring the next generation of magicians. His career has impacted the trajectory of magic’s evolution in Canada by providing opportunities for young people to get involved with the craft and be supported in forming future careers. 

According to The Canadian Encyclopedia article “Magic,” the first reported magic performer in Canada was Maginnis in Halifax in 1875 but, Indigenous groups in Canada were said to have games and ritual practices prior to European arrival which are reminiscent of present-day performance magic. 

Since then, magic has evolved into a modern stage production involving close-up magic, big production acts and mental illusion among other tricks. 

Segal remembers feeling like the straight-faced and serious persona never fit his personality on stage, he was always more comfortable with presenting magic in a lighter comedic way. His signature performance style is the “magician in trouble scenario,” which appears on stage as a trick going wrong when in reality the act is another illusion in itself. 

This style of magic, which Segal performs to this day, was influenced by something that happened at the start of his career. At age 14, Segal recalls performing a comedic magic show at an elementary school. Following the performance, a young boy, approximately eight-years-old approached him. The boy asked hopefully, “You’re a magician. My brother just broke his arm. Can you make it better?” At that moment, Segal remembers thinking “Wow, okay so these kids think I could really do magic. Well, that’s wrong.” 

Segal says he believes in performing illusions not faking supernatural powers or witchcraft. “We don’t have any special powers. I have the same powers as all of you. I have just learned to create illusions, the way some learn to play tennis or how to play the piano,” Segal said. At the time, Segal felt it was unfair to misrepresent what magic was to young kids, innocent enough to believe his magic was real. 

Missing link: 

By 1982, Segal was nearing the end of high school and focusing on his career, choosing magic over his personal life. 

Jen Segal, Mike Segal’s wife, describes her relationship with Segal as an “Oprah story,” worthy of mushy daytime television. Jen and Mike met at York Mills Collegiate Institute. Shortly after starting high-school they began dating, staying together for years leading up to graduation where they amicably split.

Jen and Mike at prom in 1984

Jen and Mike at prom in 1984
photo source: Facebook

Jen remembers wanting to settle down and start a family, while Segal wanted to work and travel. “I was broken hearted,” Jen explained in an interview. 

After 10 years had gone by, both Mike and Jen had moved on with their lives until a single phone call in 1992 changed everything. “My [friend] Sherry called and she was like ‘Mike’s on BT’ [Breakfast Television] and so I turned on the TV and there he was”. 

In late 1990, Segal began making appearances on the Toronto morning show, BT. “I lived right by there [the studio], they knew me and we had a great relationship… I was part of the City TV family,” he said. 

Over two years, Segal made 100 weekly appearances on the show. Once Segal had built a relationship with the show’s network, he, in addition to his weekly appearances, became the fill-in visitor when scheduled guests were unable to arrive on time. 

“They would have you know, whoever coming into town to promote something that day, but the plane got delayed, or they're stuck in traffic or there's a snowstorm. So, these guys [Breakfast Television producers] would just call me and say ‘Mike, can you be in the studio in like half an hour and bring something?’ And so, I would do that,” said Segal. “I just loved it. The exposure was great. This was before the internet, so this was the greatest promotion I could ask for.” 

As for Jen, after seeing him on TV, she decided to take a chance, picking up the phone and calling the studio where she set up a time to meet Segal. “And that was 30 years ago,” Jen says as she sits on a white couch in the home she shares with Segal. “As soon as we saw each other it was like yeah we’re together forever.”

Creating a path: 

In the late 1980s, a few years prior to Segal’s reconciliation with Jen, he began carving out a place for himself in magic entertainment in Canada.  

After Segal had graduated from York University, he, along with a few friends and classmates freshly out of school, started Magic Unlimited Theater Productions in Toronto, a co-op theatre company that performed original shows for schools which were written based on the current school curriculum. 

John Rotstein, the owner of Rotten Pictures, a video production company, met Segal in a high-school theater class where they became close friends. Rotstein later received a performing arts bachelor’s degree with Segal from York University before joining the theatre production company. 

“Mike was very passionate about doing magic,” Rotstein explained in a phone interview. “He has a natural ability to charm people. He was very driven about his career and he knew what he wanted to do.”  

Segal says the idea for the company came about because they were “struggling artists” at a time when it was very difficult to get a grant for a magic-based performance because magic was not considered a legitimate performance art. 

“We were young and hungry. We hustled” Rotstein said. “We spent a lot of our time hustling for grant money to fund our projects.” 

Segal’s idea for the theatre production company was to bring performance magic some legitimacy and to show people why magic should get the same respect as other artforms. “Magic was such a great performance art and it bugged me so much that everywhere I went people would say ‘oh, magician? You should come and do my kid’s birthday party’. I just hated it.” 

Segal says he wanted to change the perception of magic in Canada by presenting it to young people who would not have preconceived notions surrounding what the craft could be. Connecting magic to youth was so important to Segal because when he was a young person, he had no one to mentor him or to look to for answers.


Mike Segal headshot

Mike Segal, circa early 1990s
photo source: Facebook


Fueling the future of magic: 

In 1980, Segal had his first experience receiving encouragement from a big name in magic entertainment. 

At 16 years old, Segal spent one week working as a stagehand for a CBC movie version of the Broadway hit The Magic Show, starring the famous Canadian magician, Doug Henning. The show was extremely popular, and according to the Internet Broadway Database, the magic musical earned Henning a Tony award nomination for best performance by an actor in 1975. 

A few years after the musical’s Broadway run ended, the CBC began working on a movie version of the show in Toronto, where teenage Segal gained a spot on the crew, skipping an entire week of high school to do so. 

The experience has become a blur, lost in time, except for one moment that would inspire not only Segal’s career but the decades of mentorship that would follow. 

On his last day on set, when Segal was sitting on a set of stairs helping to reset the stage lights, he looked up to see Doug Henning, the star of the show standing next to him. 

Henning walked the remaining few feet towards Segal before saying, “Hey, you’ve been here for a while. You’re a magician, right?” They both sat there on the stairs leading up to the stage talking about magic. 

“To me it seemed like we sat there for hours, we were probably there for 15 or 20 minutes,” says Segal. In that short time Segal recalls that Henning wished him luck in his future endeavors and listened intently when Segal described his future plans even dismissing another crew member who approached him with the flick of a hand. “So that stuck with me until today,” says Segal. “The way he treated me absolutely is part of why I decided to try and do that with younger magicians. If this guy is going to spend time with me now. I thought I should try and guide some people.” 

Segal, first and foremost, describes himself as a performer, though his work in mentorship for youth in magic has become a large part of his career. 

Sorcerers Safari was a Canadian performance arts camp, founded by Mike Segal, teaching youth magic, and it operated for one week every summer from 1997 to 2017. According to the Sorcerers Safari website, a typical day at camp involved various magic classes, outdoor activities and an evening show performed by professional magicians.  

After touring nationally and internationally with the Magic Mike Show for years, Segal recalls wanting to spend more time at home. Sorcerers Safari provided him with the opportunity to stay with his family and create magic education.

“He was the facilitator of mentorship,” says Keith Brown, a Canadian professional magician, who performs all around the world. Brown says he spent years of his adolescent life attending Sorcerers Safari, entering the camp grounds as a camper and exiting as an experienced counsellor. 

Brown fondly remembers his experience travelling to camp for the first time. “I remember making friends on the bus. And then literally jamming and doing card tricks the entire three hours up to the camp. And it was like, ‘Oh my god’, magic camp starts immediately on the bus ride.” 

When looking back on Segal’s creation, Brown said, “He's been around for so long, and is connected to so many different people and camp is like a by-product of that. He created this wonderful place out of love for all of these kids and his friends and his colleagues to come to”.

Brown attributes the days collaborating with peers and well-known magicians to his own success. “Magic camp was a huge influence on me and I would say that I would be a fraction of the magician I am today and I probably wouldn’t be a professional magician without it,” said Brown. 


It wasn't all cards and coins.  Segal (centre front) receives a haircut from Greg Frewin (left), Shawn Farquhar (centre back), and Lee Asher (right).

 "That time at Sorcerers Safari Magic Camp when some World Champion Magicians cut my hair." 
-- Mike Segal, August 2011
photo source: Facebook

Sam Pearce, another professional magician and ex-camper who attended Sorcerers Safari in 2005 and 2006, says his exposure to large illusions and comedy magic as a youth helped influence the magic he performs today. 

“I’m sure being exposed to all those different acts and seeing what was possible was certainly interesting,” Pearce explained. “That’s where I learned to juggle.”

Pearce can be seen incorporating his juggling into many of his performances. Two metal step stools are set up holding two rectangular planks, sandwiching a cylindrical piece of equipment similar to a hollowed out rolling pin, making the top plank reminiscent of a teeter totter. Pearce stands above the top blank shifting from side to side as he tries to balance. This is all made more complicated as he is simultaneously juggling three knives, the blades flying into the air and plummeting back down in quick succession.    

Rosemary Reid, a professional magician and Torontonian, spent 17 years attending Sorcerers Safari until its closure in 2017. 

When Reid first began showing an interest in magic, her father stumbled upon ‘Magic’ Mike Segal on Breakfast Television, while Segal was promoting magic camp, in 2001. 

Reid describes her first year at Sorcerers Safari as “The best experience I’ve ever had. I met some of my best friends who are still my best friends to this day that first year.” Adding, “So after that first year, I was like, I have to go back to magic camp.” 

During her 17 years attending Sorcerers Safari, Reid was a camper and instructor. Given there was only one cabin for girls at the camp, Reid worked as the social media manager and part-time videographer before becoming an instructor. “I kind of just tried to help wherever I could,” she said. 

“I remember speaking with Mike once and his advice to me one year at camp was to dream big. He told me to dream big and I’ve always remembered that and it always helps me to visualize the impossible, which is kind of like my job as a magician.” 

Since her time at camp, Reid has been an avid advocate for women in magic. Her goal is to continue the conversation and increase awareness of the effects of misogyny in the magic industry.  

“I kind of fell in love with [the camp] then watching the kids learn,” said Jen Segal, Mike Segal’s wife and manager of Sorcerers Safari, when thinking about her time walking through the camp grounds, peering into classrooms of overflowing excitement. Jen said she gets emotional thinking about the camp and the countless lives changed over those seven days every year. “Parents would write me or phone me after camp saying ‘my kid came home a different kid, they’re so much more confident’… ‘your camp totally changed them’.” 

Segal opened Sorcerers Safari to build new magic audiences and educate people on what is possible with magic. “In the beginning, we were just trying to find each other,” said Segal. “It became something so much bigger than all its parts. Sounds corny, but it really was like magic. It was the greatest magic trick I’ve ever done and I still don’t know how I did it.”

Dealers' Day' at Sorcerers Safari<br />A day when campers bought magic.

"Dealers' Day" at Sorcerers Safari
A day when campers bought magic.
photo source: Facebook



Thank you Sheridan for guest posting at Canada's Magic!



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