As a magician and science entertainer, David Hagerman tours the country with a van full of equipment. Depending on the show, it could be thousands of dollars worth of props, ranging from a Van De Graaff generator to costumes, gyroscopes, bungee cords, chemicals, and vanishing boxes. But his vehicle has been broken into several times, so being a master of illusion, Hagerman figured out a trick to deceive potential thieves. Now he places a big magnetic sign that says “dead animal removal” over his logo. Voila, no more break-ins. He does get funny looks, however, when he pulls into restaurants or gas stations. But Hagerman, 46 — and known as Hagerman the Magician — is all about showmanship and appearances. He performs more than 600 stage shows a year at theme parks, schools, county fairs, and conventions. He’s based out of his home in Branson Missouri, but is often on the road. For nearly a decade, Hagerman has been a fixture at Canobie Lake Park in Salem, N.H.
Sometimes, he works 16 hour days, zigzagging across the states to different school assemblies for his Extreme Science shows. Science and magic go hand-in-hand, said Hagerman, who had a double major in chemistry and physics at the University of Missouri, Columbia, before he dropped out to do magic to help pay student loans. He gave himself three years to try being a magician but knew the odds were against him. He never returned to college, instead discovering that the entertainment route had potential for him. “I realized I was funny and people laughed. I believe magic is a form of humor, or maybe it’s the other way around. Magic makes people laugh and I believe laughter is universally appealing,” he says.
His mother recently told him that she used to worry her son would never make a decent living, but he’s proved her wrong — Hagerman charges $775 to $1,175 for a show, and has earned as much as $200,000 in a year.
He spoke to the Globe about some of the tricks up his sleeve.
“Some people get into magic because it’s a social ice breaker and distracts from any issues they might be having. I had a genuine interest in magic as a kid, but it also served as a diversion during my parents’ divorce. Magic also spurred my interest in science, and helped me overcome the geek label – and nowadays, geeks are cool. I would say a magician is a choreographer of information. Everything we do involves presenting information in such a way so the magic happens in the mind of the audience. I like to say that everything I do is 100 percent fake.
“I’ve always embraced the golden age of magic and loved vaudeville. Magicians from the turn of the century, like Thurston, Herrmann, and especially Willard the Wizard, captured my attention. Early on in my profession, I had a modern stage presence, but later decided that I needed a look that would age well, so I adopted an appearance inspired by those greats from the past. I grew a handlebar mustache, dressed classically, and donned a top hat. Fifteen years later I still look the same.
“I like my magic to look organic, using common everyday objects. My house is like a large storage unit. I don’t spend much time there, but for a while I had my 9-foot-tall guillotine setup in the living room. Every room has boxes and shelves of exotic apparatus, including antique and vintage storage cases. I like having them around to inspire new ideas.
“Around 80 percent of my magic is original; the rest are classics that I put heavy twists on, including routines I’ve built from the ground up with equipment found in department, hardware and magic stores. The props I have can cost pennies to thousands of dollars. Though I add extra surprises to my large illusions, a magician can buy any oversized box prop for $2,000 to $10,000 apiece. I’m also having my first two custom-made illusions built at a cost of around $100,000. They should be complete in a year’s time and then the polishing starts, figuring out the stage presentation.
“Other expenses include sound equipment, tools for spot repair jobs, and my full-time assistant, who I found through an ad on Craigslist. She earns about $20,000 a year – her biggest asset are her facial expressions, adding to the physical comedy of my show. I should also mention that I spend around $20,000 a year on advertising.
“Sometimes the best routines are the simplest ones, like Fuzzy the Bear, a bear puppet who comes to life and enchants with his lifelike antics. It’s actually a ventriloquism act, with ventriloquism and magic being very similar. I’ve been doing this one for 20 years or so, and it always gets laughs. When the magic moment happens, people often laugh out loud. This is the most rewarding aspect, putting smiles on people’s faces. I don’t know if I was predestined to do this kind of entertainment, but everything fell into place for me.”