P3 Magic Theater is easy to miss. It’s a tiny venue, nestled — almost hidden — between bars and restaurants on High Street. It’s easier still to miss since there is little to no advertising for its shows, but every Tuesday night, word-of-mouth packs the theater with an audience ready for magic.
Nick Locapo is a magician and theater director of P3 Magic Theater, and has been performing magic shows professionally for more than a decade.
“I was doing magic when I was 15 or 16. I auditioned for a magic show at Universal Studios in Orlando, and I became a magician. I used to do a show down at Universal five days a week, 20 shows a day,” he said.
Locapo came to Columbus to work for P3 Magic when it was also an independent retailer of magic tricks. Later, Las Vegas-based Penguin Magic bought out that side of the business, but the Columbus performances continue on, developing tricks for the new owner.
P3 Magic Theater and its Tuesday shows are now run by Penguin Magic, an online retailer of magic tricks. The shows exist so professional magicians can record footage of an audience reacting to their new tricks, footage that can also be used as demonstration for selling tricks.
“It started just to get performance footage, because on these products, you have to show a performance of what you’re trying to sell, so you need people laughing and reacting,” Locapo said about the shows. “It’s a great little night, and it’s only an hour long, you’re not committing to anything. It’s a little upscale, so it’s great if you wanted to go on a totally unique date. We like the mysteriousness of ‘Where am I, why is this free?’ It feels like it popped up out of nowhere, but it’s been here for a while.”
Mandy Hartley, the owner of P3 Magic Theater, said the Ohio State campus area is the perfect place to film instructional magic videos for advertising its tricks online, but money isn’t everything — the performances also bring something unusual to the community, she said.
She added the industry began to change after now famous magician David Blaine’s first street magic special premiered on television in 1997.
“We saw the David Blaine special — the first one, back when nobody did street magic — and we realized we have this ability. We can film magic like this because we have this amazing source of people who would love magic — OSU,” Hartley said. “In the industry, our demo videos were always way more exciting, I think in part because of the fact that we had a live audience, and we were able to have a constant stream of spectators on campus.”
She said the free Tuesday shows also pay in their own way.
“I think we would all say this really isn’t about money — it’s really all about how fun it is to see people react and be amazed. This stuff, some of it, you can’t believe what you’re seeing,” she said.
Nathan Kranzo, a magician from Michigan who had stopped in to film his tricks and perform at the Sept. 2 show, said he has been working with Penguin Magic for a long time to develop tricks. He said it isn’t easy, and he has to spend a long time researching the tricks just to make sure he’s the first one to do it.
“I had known about Penguin for a long time, they’re one of the biggest, probably the biggest magic online resource,” Kranzo said. “I met the owner, because I realized he lived close to me. I started doing some consulting for him and research. A lot of these tricks have to be researched to see if it’s actually a creation of someone here and not someone 200 years ago. Sometimes it’s buried in print, and you just don’t know it.”
The P3 magic show is held every Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. P3 Magic Theater is located at 2575 N. High St. Admission is free, but the event is 21 and up and seats tend to fill up fast.