Louisville has a strong history of magicians. Vegas greats Lance Burton and Mac King both hail from the city. The Barons Theater on Second and Main downtown (the former Squirrelly’s Magic Tea Room) was explicitly built to be a magic theater.
Next summer Louisville will play host to the combined International Brotherhood of Magicians and The Society of American Magicians conventions. There will be more than 24 performers, four nights of magic shows and lectures, and a trade show for the pros. It was last held in the city in 2008.
Sure to be following the action closely is budding Louisville magician Cody Clark. While he may not be a household name — at least not yet — Clark was just profiled in a four-page feature in the October “Genii Magazine,” also known as The Conjurers’ Magazine. “I think they did a really good job with it,” he said.
Clark, 23, is a full-time magician who has a show called “A Different Way of Thinking,” which combines autobiographical stories about his life as a young person with autism and classic magic tricks that illustrate the story. Clark will be performing his show Sunday, Nov. 13, at The Bard’s Town.
His website’s tag line is “Using the art of magic to bring out the magic of life.”
Clark says he first fell in love with magic while on a family vacation in Gulf Shores, Ala., when he was 11. The magician Bart Rockett had his own magic theater in a strip mall in town and the Clark family went to the show. Rockett brought Clark up on stage to assist with a trick, Clark says, and made him feel like he was the star. He says he reveled in how confident it made him feel. From that point on, he knew he would be a magician.
Before he wanted to be a magician Clark wanted to be a railroad engineer then a priest. His love of trains has stuck with him, and now, in addition to his autobiographical magic, he has a train-themed magic show aimed at children’s parties. Conductor Cody is his character’s name.
Mr. Rogers is one of his role models. So is George Carlin, who played a conductor on the show “Shining Time Station.”
Clark majored in marketing and minored in theater at the University of Louisville. While he was there, he was president of the Future Business Leaders of America.
Both disciplines serve his business well. Being a full-time magician means spending hours on the phone booking shows, making travel plans and engaging with social media. His studies taught him the importance of target marketing. When he books a show in a new town, he works hard to seek out groups catering to the autism community and other local magicians; they’re going to be among the most responsive audiences.
Clark frequently travels regionally with his show. This summer, he worked the fringe festival circuit in places like Cincinnati and Chicago.
At fringe festivals, he’ll perform as many as four shows over the course of a weekend. Performers are generally housed with festival volunteers. He’ll spend the rest of the weekend visiting other shows and concerts. In all, he can take home anywhere from $500 to $2,000 per festival, depending on his ticket sales. All the more reason to be a good self-marketer.
Finding his style of magic wasn’t easy. At UofL, he met Richard Ribuffo, who was teaching theater and using his own theater background to create character-driven magic acts. It was a concept that appealed to Clark, but it wasn’t until a few years later that the idea got driven home for him.
He had applied to the Slant Culture Festival in Louisville, which was — for its brief tenure — Louisville’s answer to a fringe festival. He submitted his magic act and was rejected. Co-organizer Teresa Willis suggested that he address his autism in his show. She hadn’t been the first to suggest that, but the rejection hit home, and that’s when he started building his show, “A Different Way of Thinking.”
He spent his senior spring break in Los Angeles where he met up with Ribuffo, who works full time in magic on the West Coast. Ribuffo is a member of the Magic Castle, an invite-only, elite club for magicians, and Clark was able to go with him. “It’s the Carnegie Hall of magic,” Clark said.
Clark also attended Jeff McBride’s Magic & Mystery school for a weeklong workshop in Las Vegas. He continues to take courses with the school online.
Clark is the Louisville Magic Club‘s Sergeant in Arms. The club meets once a month, usually at the Kosair building on Eastern Parkway.
“I met Cody when he was a teenager,” Jim Harris, president of the Magic Club, said in an email. “We were both members of the Louisville Magic Club. Since he couldn’t drive, his parents took him to the meetings and all of the other functions, and I became good friends with them. Cody finally got his driver’s license, and has become a pretty ‘free spirit’ since then.”
Harris said Clark learns quickly, and he appreciates Clark’s showmanship. “It’s a very magical, charming look at life through the eyes of someone with autism. Cody has a great future ahead of him as a magician and entertainer,” he said.
Clark says he’s more creative at night, so he spends most of his mornings and afternoons tackling the business end of being a magician and works on his shows at night. His magic tends toward parlor or stage magic — classics. His favorite acts involve the linking rings or multiplying balls.
Autism affects fine motor skills, so card tricks and other sleight of hand can be hard for Clark. But having autism can benefit his craft as well. He said his tendency to fixate on things, whether it’s practicing or marketing, makes him very disciplined. “I don’t get sick of doing something over and over,” he said.
That means, by the time he gets on stage he’s got the script on “auto pilot.” That gives Clark the ability to “notice everything in the audience” he said. Being able to read a room is essential to his act and to his ability to banter with the crowd and make each show a little different.
Clark was diagnosed with autism at just a little over a year old, too early for doctors to say where on the autism spectrum he fell.
Clark lives at home with his parents, Andrew and Kristi Clark, in Shively, where he grew up. He has a twin sister, Kelsey, who is a teacher at Watson Elementary, and an older brother, Reese, who has gone back to school at UofL. Clark went to Butler High School and was mainstreamed with some accommodations since elementary school.
Self-advocacy is at the core of Clark’s work as a magician. He deeply admires the autism and animal activist Temple Grandin. He met her when they were on a panel addressing autism self-advocacy at a conference. “She’s quite the grandmother,” he said. “She embraces her star role. She never went back to her hotel room.”
When he performs in other cities, Clark routinely donates to local autism groups, preferring to keep the money local than give to one of the big national monoliths.
Clark says that “autistic people need to see themselves represented in art.” In fact, he said in a recent Facebook post, it is “THE reason I do what I do!” Surely, during next year’s magic convention, Clark will have the chance to bring his message of advocacy and representation to more in the magic community and to a wider audience.