If it wasn't for his parents' spur-of-the-moment gift purchase, illusionist Shawn Anthony might have ended up working a 9-to-5 job.
Fortunately, an original Blackstone magic set, given to the young and impressionable Anthony for Christmas almost 25 years ago, would ignite a fascination within him, guiding him down a road to magic stardom.
"My parents had no idea that I'd be so into it," says Anthony, 34. "What amazed me was how people reacted to it. Their astonishment really blew my mind."
Anthony dove into all the literature about magic that his local library could provide. And after countless hours developing a small repertoire of tricks at age 15, the Glen Burnie native began performing professionally.
Despite the recent resurgence and popularity of street illusionists David Blaine and Criss Angel, Anthony has wowed large audiences with an elaborate Houdini-esque stage show that combines theatrical elements (drama, music, dance and audience participation) with a variety of illusions, including transposition, levitation, inverted escapes and sleight of hand.
Throughout his career, he's performed at the Mirage and the Aladdin in Las Vegas and has toured Japan, France and Monaco.
One thing he noticed when traveling abroad was how differently magicians are treated in Europe and Asia, compared with the United States.
"Other countries are really excited about magic," he says. "Countries in Europe and Asia treat magicians like rock stars, as great performers. It's almost like when The Beatles came to the United States. You get a lot of attention."
Despite a warmer reception abroad, Anthony will kick off a U.S. tour in Baltimore tomorrow at the Lyric Opera House, where he will unveil his "most ambitious undertaking yet."
Although Anthony is sparse with the details in a recent interview, he did reveal that this feat has been four years in the making, and there's a certain possibility of death and disfigurement.
It's OK. He doesn't seem to mind.
Although he admits that he's gotten a few scrapes and broken bones while perfecting certain feats, he's been mishap-free on stage. His perfectionist tendencies have prevented him from taking any of his acts public before they meet a strict set of guidelines.
"I'll only unveil something new after thousands of hours of practice. Magic is a perfection art. I videotape everything. It won't ever see the light of day until I've perfected it," he says. "If I can't catch myself doing it, that's when I know I'm ready to perform it live. If I realize it's happening or if I have to think about it when doing it, I'm not ready. Thinking kills magic."
Although Anthony was somewhat of a self-starter, he has had some help along the way. He attended Jeff McBride's Magic and Mystery School, an institution in Las Vegas that teaches the techniques behind various illusions.
"Your own level of professionalism is pretty much based on how well you do at the school," Anthony says. "You hope you make a breakthrough by achieving mastery at a particular art, but there's never really a graduation."
Although the school helped Anthony deepen his bag of tricks, there's one thing that wasn't taught in school -- charisma and the ability to keep a crowd engaged. He's glad that he has had that all along. "That is what separates the great from the OK," Anthony says. "You either have it, or you don't."
Shawn Anthony will perform at 8 p.m. tomorrow and at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday at the Lyric Opera House, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave. Admission is $25-$45. For tickets, visit the box office, call 410-547-7328 or go to ticketmaster.com.