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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Teen Magician Gives His Time to Teaching Others Tricks of Trade

November 30, 2000|ANNA GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

OAK PARK — Mike Freiman is addicted to cards. But his weakness isn't poker, rummy or gin. His game is magic and he has a repertoire of more than 250 tricks.

There is the disappearing card trick. The metamorphosis. The credit card change.

"It's like chips. You can't eat just one," said Mike, 14, a freshman at Oak Park High School. "If you do a magic trick, you have to keep doing them. It's an obsession with me."

Mike discovered his first magic trick--making a coin disappear--in a Cracker Jack's box six years ago. Since then, he has become somewhat of a local magic celebrity, having appeared on "The Tonight Show," "The Donny and Marie Show" and "The Gong Show." He performs at birthday parties and charity events, and he teaches card and coin tricks to elementary school students. He also belongs to a youth program at the Magic Castle, a Hollywood club for magicians.

Much of his success attests to his tenacity. To get on Jay Leno's show, the outgoing teen with braces and spiked black hair sent in a tape and a letter touting his skills and personality. He hands out business cards, with his stage name, "The Mike," everywhere he goes. He spends hours on the phone calling networks, talk shows and politicians to promote himself and set up more shows. He even left a message at the White House last summer, hoping for an invitation to perform.

"For a young kid, he does pretty well for himself," said his mother, Leslie Freiman. "He's very persistent. He gets through where agents don't."

Magic has become a lucrative hobby. He earns $100 a week teaching the after-school classes, and between $100 and $125 for each birthday party. Of course, he promptly spends his earnings on magic supplies and playing cards.

Props--wands, a top hat, colored handkerchiefs, a bent spoon, decks of cards--cover Mike's bedroom. The books cluttering his magic table include "Expert Card Techniques" and "The Art of Astonishment." He even has a box for doves, but he won't be using that any time soon. When a friend was practicing a trick with the birds, Mike had a sneezing fit.

Richard Freiman, a professor at Loyola Marymount University, said his son has always been a natural performer, and magic has only helped him become more confident and outgoing. "And it's made him happy," he said.

At a recent class at Lang Ranch Elementary School in Thousand Oaks, Mike gave the 20 squirming students tips for their upcoming magic show. Project your voice so your parents can hear you. Stand where everyone can see you. Always talk while you are doing your trick.

A few of the children, including 8-year-old Austin Garrard, had trouble during their rehearsal. Attempting the rising "Ace in Pocket" trick, Austin cut the deck of cards and stuffed it in his pocket. "I am going to take out the ace of clubs," he said. But when he pulled out the king of hearts, he looked bewildered. The class giggled. He tried again and pulled out the right card. This time, the class clapped.

"When something goes wrong, make a joke out of it," Mike suggested to Austin if it happens again during the real show.

If comedy isn't part of his students' magic yet, it is a staple of Mike's shows. He often throws jokes into his tricks, saying "whatever isn't funny is magic." When asked if his brother was also a magician, Mike answered, "Yeah he does a little magic. He makes my money disappear."

Sometimes, however, Mike said his magic tricks get him into trouble. His friends get a little annoyed when he steals their watches again and again. His parents get a little tired of watching dozens of tricks every day. His teachers get frustrated with him playing with cards during class.

While practicing recently, Mike flicked a card that hit a classmate. "It was attack by playing card," said Patti Kokinos, Oak Park's assistant principal. "I don't know if he levitated it over there or what."

The incident prompted school administrators to threaten him with suspension if he brought his cards to school again.

Aside from magic, Mike is a peer counselor and has performed in several school plays. He wants to attend either UCLA or UC Berkeley and plans to be an attorney.

But his mom said he may not make it if he doesn't start concentrating on school. Mike spends on average two or three hours a night practicing his tricks. On one occasion, Mike propped up a textbook in front of him and pretended to be doing his schoolwork. When Freiman walked by, she realized that Mike was actually practicing tricks.

"He loves magic," she said. "It's all he thinks about."

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