Magician Dallas Smith is happy to admit he flies coach, travels without an entourage and is a stranger to people on the street. He has no aspirations to headline a show in Vegas, be treated like a rock star or appear on the popular television show America's Got Talent.
Smith is content knowing he has mastered a trick few magicians ever will. Magic pays his bills.
"I've never wanted to be a famous magician," said Smith, 45, who lives in Wesley Chapel. "I just wanted to make a decent living doing what I love. To me, that's success."
It is also rare.
The International Brotherhood of Magicians, the world's largest organization for tricksters, has about 12,000 members. According to immediate past president Jack White, significantly fewer than half earn enough money to live on, much less live well.
"With the economy the way it is, the number of magicians able to earn a living has diminished even more in the last few years," White said. "It's a hard time to be a magician."
Smith, who got his first paying gig at age 11, worked full time as a traveling magician throughout the 1980s and 1990s. He performed on cruise ships, at private parties, for corporate events and at schools. In 2003, he and his wife, Patti, adopted an infant daughter, so Smith took a job in corporate America to be closer to home. Six months ago, he went back to magic full time.
It is so far, so good.
"I used to do 300 to 400 shows a year and my goal is to get back to that," Smith said. "It is definitely tougher out there now because people just don't have the money to hire a performer, but I've done about 55 shows in the last few months. It's going good."
Growing up in Jacksonville, Smith learned the tricks of the trade from a retired vaudeville magician. After high school, he developed a traveling act featuring a mix of illusions, comedy and parlor tricks. His current act is also a mix of comedy and illusions. Show rates depend on the venue and audience number.
He recently performed for a crowd of 300 people at Life Point Church in New Tampa.
"Dallas combined magic and comedy in a way that's family friendly," said Lee Wood, adult ministries pastor for Life Point. "The show was really good and everyone in the audience had a great time."
Smith's act relies heavily on audience participation and the element of surprise. One of his illusions involves making a toilet plunger appear atop a volunteer's head. Smith also does street magic at the Shops at Wiregrass, delighting passers-by with card tricks and sleight-of-hand maneuvers. He shreds a newspaper and magically puts it back together.
Smith said the trick to making it as a magician is doing shows whenever and wherever possible. He also finds it helpful to join organizations like the International Brotherhood, which is divided into chapters (called rings) across the world. The organization's local meetup is Ring 175.
"I can't believe how many magicians there are out there," Smith said. "It's good to get to know other magicians, and I like watching their shows."
Tampa magician Ken Spanola and New Port Richey illusionist David Evangelista are among Ring 175's members.
Land O'Lakes magician Mark Alan is also a member. For Alan, magic is a part-time gig. He works full time at a medical clinic. Before that, he co-owned a pest control business with his father.
Alan performs magic at parties, events and at Shriners Hospitals for Children. He has a card trick up his sleeve wherever he goes.
"I love magic, but I don't want to have to pay my mortgage with it," said Alan, 48. "I'd love to be in a position after I retire to do magic full time and work to raise money for children's hospitals."
Smith also wants to help children. He recently developed an act specifically for schools titled "Just Say No to Bullying."
"My daughter is 7 now, and she's experienced bullying," Smith said. "If I can help kids and use magic to teach them bullying is wrong, then I've done something."
According to the International Brotherhood, most working magicians find success by thinking outside the box.
"The days of just being a stage magician are pretty much over," White said. "You have to be open-minded now and think of new ways of making money."
Smith knows that to make full-time magic work the second time around, he has to be original. He watched this season of America's Got Talent, which featured two magicians, Michael Grasso and Murray. Grasso made it to the top 10 and will be on the national tour.
"I think Michael Grasso got further in the competition because he was humble and his illusions were original," Smith said. "I like watching the magicians on television, but I can't imagine being one. If I'd wanted that I would have moved to Vegas years ago. I just want to keep doing magic for people."