From Box Jumper to Magic Maestro: The Nikola Arkane Odyssey and Interview

From Box Jumper to Magic Maestro: The Nikola Arkane Odyssey and Interview

Nikola Arkane's journey into the world of magic is a narrative of passion turned profession. At the age of twenty-one, while pursuing a Drama degree at Queen’s University in Belfast, Arkane's path took a magical turn during a work experience stint with Cahoots N.I., a children's theatre company with roots in magic. This experience, which included her role as a "box jumper," ignited her love for magic, setting her on a path to become a professional magician.

Arkane's accolades in the magic community are numerous. After joining The Ulster Society of Magicians, she was elected as their first female chair in 2012-2013. Her organizational skills shone brightly in 2016 when she orchestrated the Irish magic convention, 'Belfast MagiCon,' featuring renowned magicians from across the globe. Her dedication to the craft also led her to co-create "Danny Carmo’s Mathematical Mysteries," a tour across the United States that included stops in major cities and the magic capital, Las Vegas.

In 2018, Arkane ventured into performing close-up magic professionally, a leap that saw her showcasing her talent in prestigious venues like The Magic Club in Oslo, Chicago Magic Lounge, and Mystique in Stockholm. Her skills earned her first place in the International Brotherhood of Magicians British Ring Close Up Competition and the Ali Bongo Micro Marathon.

Arkane's resilience was tested in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic halted live performances. Undeterred, she innovatively transitioned to virtual platforms, performing for international audiences and expanding her reach. This period also saw her featured on the cover of The Linking Ring magazine, a testament to her growing influence in the magic community.

Aside from her performances, Arkane has contributed to the magic community through her writing, with her Monday Magic blog and publications like "Becoming FizzWizzPop!" and "The Chaos Within" lecture notes. Her commitment to her craft and continuous learning has made her a prominent figure in magic, known for her theatrical style and engaging performances.

Arkane's story is not just one of talent and determination, but also of inspiration, encouraging others to pursue their dreams with perseverance and belief in oneself. Her impact on the magic world and beyond serves as a testament to what can be achieved with passion and hard work.

Arkane was kind enough to grant Magic Pro an interview and share some of her valuable insights into magic and beyond:

Can you describe the moment you realized magic was your true calling, and how has that initial spark evolved over your career?

Nikola: When I was 21 I worked with a theater company (the director was a magician) and after auditioning I was put into a Bow-staff illusion as part of the show. It was after that performance opportunity that I fell in love with magic. When I finished my degree there was no acting work so instead of getting a regular job to pass the time, I created a magic show for children. 

Which magicians (and non-magicians) inspired you most?

Nikola: When I was 18 I got the opportunity to work at the Belfast Festival as a stage manager at one of the venues. There, I got to manage several well-known comedians, actors, and musicians. Whilst working, I got to stage manage and meet Tim Minchin, who is now a global superstar. When I watched his show from the side of the stage I was completely in awe at his stage persona. I loved how he used lighting, sound, and even a wind machine to make his songs theatrical for audiences. I saw how a creative talent could use several mediums to make a performance better, funnier, and, in a way, magical.

There are so many magicians that inspire me for many reasons but to name a few, Tommy Wonder, Max Maven, and Tom Stone.

What is it that you love about magic?

Nikola: I love how magic makes me feel. Both when I see it and when I perform it for others. Magic is such a special type of performance because it opens doors for both the performer and their audience. The door to creativity. The door to imagination. The door to opportunity. The door to wonder!

Everything goes POP - Nikola Arkane

In your magic you sometimes feign surprise at the magic happening in your hands. When performing, do you try to see the trick the way the audience does?

Nikola: It depends. As I perform for both children and adults this approach varies. For children I most definitely act surprised because I want the children to see that I too am experiencing the wonder. This is something that has developed with my character FizzWizzPop over time. The fact that she is also surprised by the magic, I feel, makes the moment the magic happens for the children real too. We experience the magic together. I think this innocence is more believable in a children’s character and can heighten the magical experience for children.

When performing for adults I have discovered a different character suits better. One of confidence, understanding the magic. Adults have to be led to the magic and to believing in what’s happening on stage and in their hands. The innocent approach can be used but a lot more sparingly than with children.

Throughout your journey, you've transitioned from children's magic to close-up magic for adults. What inspired this shift, and how did it challenge you as a performer?

Nikola: After performing magic for quite some time for children I began to crave an outlet for all the other tricks I was reading and learning that were not suitable for the children’s shows I was performing. I decided to attend “The Session” magic convention thanks to some advice from my friend Andi Gladwin, with the hope of being inspired by the performers there.  After attending the session I was so inspired by seeing several performers, including Paul Vigil and Johnny Thompson, that I knew I had to begin performing close-up magic.

The biggest challenge was getting over my fear of this type of magic performance. When I first started out performing magic I had several horrible experiences when performing cards tricks in bars at home in Belfast. I found no one listened to me, people were quite rude, and I ended up leaving with very low self-esteem.

But this was a long time ago. By the time I attended “The Session”, I had already completed two tours across America with an interactive magic show performing for audiences of over 3000 people in each venue. I began to realize that I had moved on. I had achieved a lot and my confidence and stage persona had developed so much. After attending “The Session,” I put together a close-up set and performed at an event where not only did people listen to me, but they were laughing, and I was laughing and having fun. That was the moment I knew things were changing.

Your success in international magic competitions is commendable. How do you prepare for these events, and what do you believe sets your performances apart from others?

Nikola: I believe that it’s all about attitude. Competitions should not be looked upon as competing, but more as an opportunity to aim towards a goal. Competitions are a set date in your future where you must have an act ready to perform and ultimately compete. By thinking of a competition in this way you already win, because you achieve your goal by doing, not by winning. The winning part is an unexpected bonus.

So I suppose how I prepare is by entering myself into these so that I have a goal to aim towards. You will always need more time and your act will never be perfect. But no matter what you perform, what you have been working towards, that is the most important thing.

Competitions are not just about winning. They are about showcasing your work. Meeting other competitors. Being creative. Learning and growing as an artist. Travelling to cool places.

For me, in my performances I always look for a story. What story am I trying to tell with my magic? Being theatrically trained I am a sucker for character, lighting, sound, everything dramatic. And my magic will always have these extra elements in them. I don’t know if it sets me apart from others, but I love these elements in performance and it’s why it’s important for me to include them to engage my audiences in my performance.

You've placed a significant emphasis on learning and personal development, even building a studio theatre in your bedroom during lockdown. How do you maintain your commitment to growth, and what advice would you give to magicians at the start of their journey?

Nikola: I think if you want to do something in life you have to do it no matter what. Life will not always present opportunities for you. Sometimes you have to create them by asking.

My mum used to say to me, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get,” and it’s true in life. If you hang around waiting to be asked to do something that opportunity may never happen. Not because you’re not talented enough or smart enough. But because the idea has not been offered up as a potential fun opportunity waiting to be explored. Yes, there may be some no’s along the way, but it will always be a no if you do not ask in the first place.

Carpe diem. Seize the day. Do everything, try everything. You won’t know if you are good at something unless you try and try again! Don’t be afraid to fail, and fail spectacularly. Failure is the mother of success, and good magic only comes from learning from your mistakes.

What gives you the energy to keep pushing forward?

Nikola: Simply my love of performing for others. Magic is my life and love. Even in the rare moments when I feel I can no longer do magic, I know that I cannot ever stop performing magic as it’s part of me.

In 2019, you achieved a significant milestone by performing at The Magic Castle. Can you share your experience and how it influenced your career?

Nikola: Performing at The Magic Castle for me was more than just an opportunity. It was the start of many good things to come and also the beginning of my journey as a close-up and stage performer. In order to perform at the Castle I had to devise an 18-minute act from scratch, record it, and send it to the entertainment director for approval. What a daunting task! But in doing so, I have now performed at the castle three times. In three different rooms. The Close-up Gallery, The Parlour of Prestidigitation, and The Palace of Mystery.

The amount of unique magic material I’ve created in order to perform in all these spaces is staggering.

Performing at the castle in the close-up gallery gave me the confidence to realize that I am good at what I do. I can perform for adults in a theatrical way. Performing in the castle has helped my adult character, Nikola Arkane, become who I’ve always wanted her to be—different from FizzWizzPop! I suppose performing in the castle has helped me grow up, mature, and become more myself.

5 ways to keep your magical mind switched on - Nikola Arkane

Looking back, what do you wish you’d known then that you know now?

Nikola: I wish I’d studied Engineering. The last few years I have been building almost all the magic I create. And at times it is very frustrating when I literally do not understand how things work. From morning to night I’m problem-solving stuff that feels beyond my intelligence, and although I am doing it, if I had studied this area when I was younger, I feel I would have a better understanding of all the puzzles I’m trying to solve and magic I’m trying to create. Having said that, I have talked with many friends who have studied this, and they say I’m doing more practical work now than I would ever do studying it at university. So perhaps the way we find our way through unknown territory is best for us in the moment.

I also wish I’d known that once you achieve a “goal,” life will not change drastically. When we are young we imagine that when we achieve our goals everything will become easy, we’ll be set up for life, everything will change and happiness will reign supreme. Sadly, this is simply not the case. Life is life. It has ups and downs and as a good friend of mine says, happiness comes from within.

Your work in organizing magic conventions and participating in magic workshops highlights your active role in the magic community. How important is community and collaboration to you, and what impact do you hope to have on the magic world?

Nikola: Magic is and should be considered Art! It is an art form just like all the other arts: dance, theatre, and music. I think if we work to build a solid community of professional magical performers working together instead of against one another, magic will be accepted by the rest of the world as an art form. It’s really important for all sorts of reasons. Funding being one of them. If magic is not seen and respected as a form of art it will not be taken seriously by funders and organizations outside of magic. Sometimes, in order to achieve bigger long-term goals as artists, we need extra support. This can be through businesses but also through colleagues in the industry. We achieve things so much faster working together. An act can be built in just a few days by working with others. A life goal can be achieved through funding support that could never be done on a normal wage. All in all, collaboration is essential for art. Art is essential for magic. Community is essential for magicians to make art.

What do you want to be remembered for?

Nikola: That’s a hard question. But my first thought is that I really would like FizzWizzPop to be remembered. The impact performing for children has had on my life has been incredible. I have learned so much performing as this character and met so many children and families. I hope that when I’m gone adults who saw me as children will think back to a time when I made magic real for them with FizzWizzPop!

Ultimately, I want to be remembered for bringing real magic to this world.

Home - Nikola Arkane

Writing seems to be another passion of yours, with publications like 'Becoming FizzWizzPop!' and 'The Chaos Within'. What inspired you to start writing, and how does it complement your magic?

Nikola: I believe what ultimately got me going with writing was to become better at it. I had an initial desire to share my love of performing for children with others but I didn’t feel I had the skills to be a writer. So I began with writing a weekly blog which I did for a full year. Several of my blog posts then became inspiration for my first book Becoming FizzWizzPop!

I think writing about your magic helps you understand what you’re doing in a deeper way. It’s difficult to write up magic effects in a way that others will be able to understand. In writing up your inventions you create a transparency and understanding that I feel is broader than when you just perform an effect from memory. And the joy one feels when others actually understand what you are trying to explain is just immense.

As you look to the future, what new frontiers of magic are you excited to explore, and what can your fans expect from Nikola Arkane in the coming years?

Nikola: There are several goals I wish to achieve.  I want to compete at FISM (Fédération Internationale des Sociétés Magiques), which has been a lifelong goal since I began performing magic. After watching Lance Burton’s act I remember saying to myself, “I’m going to compete in FISM one day with a theatrical magic act like this and win.”

I want to travel the world, particularly the eastern quadrant of the world, including Japan, Korea, and Australia. Most importantly I just want to perform. I want to perform in places where I can do more than one show a day. I’m just back from the magic castle performing 29 shows in the Palace of Mystery, and honestly, this was a dream come true. I developed so much as a performer by performing multiple shows, and really, this is the dream for me. Above all though, I just want to become the best performer, magician, and person I can be.


Big thanks to Nikola Arkane for her generosity in granting this interview and giving us all a window inside the mind of a true artist. 

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