"I got it three weeks after he did his first commercial," remembers Masterson, 56, who turned that pack of cards into a more-than-four-decade career as a professional magician. "I did my first show at the Helen Plum Library (in Lombard) when I was 12 years old. I was practicing every day."
Lombard native stars in weekly magic showWhat: Sean Masterson's "Timeless Magic"
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Oct. 2
Where: The Chicago Magic Lounge, 5050 N. Clark St., Chicago
Cost: Tickets start at $35
For info: Visit chicagomagiclounge.com
With three older brothers who were good athletes, Masterson embraced magic. "Now I've got something I can do," he remembers thinking.
Masterson, who incorporates the history of magic and local magicians into his current act, will perform his "Timeless Magic" show at 7:30 p.m. every Wednesday through Oct. 2 at The Chicago Magic Lounge, 5050 N. Clark St. in Chicago. He has performed at countless venues, including the inauguration of Gov. J.B. Pritzker in January, the first Taste of Chicago, and annual festivals in France, including Festival Mondial de Marionnettes in Charleville-Mézières, Le Festival de Théâtre in Grenoble, Festival de Magie in la Vallée de l'Eau d'Olle and et Le Festimagic in Carrefour.
"There's a lot of hustle," Masterson says about earning a living as a magician. "You have to keep at it."
As a teen, he literally hit the streets to promote his magic at local libraries and beyond.
"I'd ride my bike to the Ground Round in Glen Ellyn and perform close-up magic table by table," Masterson says of his work at that restaurant. "Once I got my driver's license, I would drive to Elk Grove Village, where there were all these businesses next to each other, and go door-to-door to see if they wanted to hire me."
They did. Having mastered the tricks requiring sleight of hand and dexterity, Masterson worked store events and private parties. As a student at Montini High School in Lombard, he found a way to incorporate his act into his school's theater productions. "I was the devil in 'Damn Yankees,' so I did some magic," he says.
He majored in theater and French at Illinois State University and found a way to use both of those skills in his magic acts. "When I got out of school, I just did magic," he says. About 20 years ago, he added puppets to his shows.
"I have basically a mind-reading puppet," says the magician, who, as a teen used to perform puppet shows for his younger sister and her friends in the basement of their family home. "It adds another layer, another flavor."
The Chicago Magic Lounge, which highlights famous magicians and local history, is a natural fit for Masterson, who has read countless magic books and refers to some of his favorite magicians in his latest show.
"I'm telling a story," says Masterson, who shows the audience a silver coin from the 1893 World's Columbian Exhibition in Chicago and uses tricks from the magicians performing at that event to explain the mystery of how it came into his possession. Masterson's act features tales of magicians Adelaide and Alexander Herrmann, Howard Thurston, Billy Robinson, Chicago native Harry Blackstone, Chung Ling Soo, Herbert Albini and Harry Houdini.
To enter the Magic Lounge, customers pass through a secret passage that appears to be a laundry business and walk into a bar staffed by professional magicians. Customers must buy a $35 ticket to see Masterson perform in the theater.
Performing 140 shows a year, Masterson still does his acts at libraries and birthday parties, school events and corporate parties.
"I like to mix it up," says the divorced dad with a 24-year-old daughter. "Everyone responds to magic whether you speak English or not, whether you are young or old, affluent or not so affluent."
He says that he has used magic to overcome his shyness.
"The magic isn't the tricks," Masterson says. "It's the shared experience."