Magically Yours… The Story Of Leon Etienne
Utica, NY (WIBX) - He sat in a booth by the window at Babe's, slowly sipping from a glass of water and telling tales of his success. If the average person were listening, they might think the words coming from his mouth were a complete fabrication. But, like the man himself, the stories are entirely true...with a hint of mystery, of course.
Leon Etienne was a normal kid born and raised in the city of Utica. He played sports, hung out with friends and, in one particular case, got in trouble with his mom.
"I was 12 years old, and bored out of my mind, when I started reading a magic book that an aunt or someone had given me. I was so bored, I just kind of found it under my bed and learned a trick from it. When I left my room, which is a no-no when you're grounded, my mom said, 'What are you doing out of your room?' I said, 'Ma, I just want to show you this trick' and I showed her the trick. To my amazement, it worked."
Soon after, Etienne was performing magic shows for parties and other events while honing his craft. At age 13, though, Etienne and a friend were struck by lightening during baseball practice. Neither of them were hurt, but the event played a role in shaping the young teen's future, and is currently in the process of becoming an illusion for Etienne's touring show.
Etienne eventually progressed through high school, and came to a crossroads. Should he continue to invest himself in sports, or try to pursue magic? Etienne chose magic, joined a local magic club and immersed himself in the joy of mystery.
"The real epiphany came in senior year of high school. 9/11 had just happened, and for government class we had to do community service. So, I got the principal to agree to this... it was a Friday afternoon, and I said on this Friday afternoon if kids donate two dollars can they leave their class and watch a magic show... We had tons of kids show up, so we made like $3,000 for the 9/11 fund."
His new-found local success and blossoming friendship with Shaun Robison, the Delmonico's magician helped Etienne get his feet off the ground, so to speak. Two years later, while attending Mohawk Valley Community College, he became the apprentice of Peter White, a well-known magician living in New York City.
But, unable to pay for White's private lessons, Etienne had to find a different way to learn from the famed performer.
"At the time, he was charging $500-$700 per lesson for students in New York City. A kid from Utica, NY, with a paper route could not afford that. So, the deal he cut with me is he produced what would be called the Rolls Royce of magician's hankies, in a little factory next to his house. So, that's how I would pay for the lessons. I would work in the factory, learning how to make these textiles for him."
Etienne spent nearly every weekend in New York City, driving down on Friday, after his college classes, and returning late on Sunday. The time spent with White soon proved to be a blessing, as Etienne learned the ins and outs of the business, while, at the same time, earning a marketing degree from Utica College in 2006.
After gaining skills relating to both ends of show business, Etienne began touring. He has since built a following, including recently winning the 2011 Campus Entertainer of the Year award for his production. He's also been all over the world, performing on five of the seven continents and playing for audiences in Germany, Australia and the United Kingdom. But, there are still times when he longs for home.
"People think it's awesome to travel like this, and it is, but we don't have a lot of down time. I mean, it's literally, you get off a plane, you go to the hotel, you might be able to catch two or three hours of sleep, then you're in a theater setting up and doing your show. Then you're back in the hotel, then you're back on the plane and you're in a new city. So, it does get crazy once in a while."
However, Etienne has worked hard, riding the wave of success for more than ten years now and is showing no signs of holding back now. His act includes many slight of hand tricks and fully-produced illusions such as "The Bowling Ball," but in his eyes one trick stands out, mainly because of its personal nature.
"The most requested is 'The Snowstorm.' It's a great illusion, but I don't think it's a great illusion because of the magic involved. I tell the story of how my father - whose passed away - we used to play in the snow together. Then, I make it snow on stage and relive that memory of playing in the snow with my father. So, that's very emotional; people connect to that and they really like it."
Etienne's talent has also gotten him recognized by the magic industry as a whole. The past few years, he has become one of only 200 magicians invited each year to Fechter's Finger Flicking Frolic, a conference featuring some of the greatest magicians and illusionists in the world. Renowned showman, including David Copperfield and Max Maven.
But, whether he's predicting the winners of the Boilermaker, along with their times, making a bowling ball fall out of a pad of paper or playing in the snow on stage, one thing is crystal clear- Leon Etienne is a Utica boy, born and raised. No matter where he goes to perform, he remains "magically ours."