Fighting gender stereotypes one magic trick at a time

By Cheryl Tee

PHOTO: Adeline Ng

PHOTO: Adeline Ng

 

SINCE Ms Adeline Ng’s debut a decade ago, she has gone from rookie magician to CEO of her own company, breaking down every stereotype about females in the field of magic.

The NTU alumna is, to her knowledge, Singapore’s only professional solo female magician, after best friend and illusionist Ning Cai – better known by her stage name Magic Babe Ning – retired two years ago.

But despite her success today, Ms Ng found it challenging as a female magician to break into the male-dominated magic industry.

In an interview with the Nanyang Chronicle, the 29-year-old recalled her conversations with show organisers when she was just starting out. Many of them assumed that she was a magician’s assistant because of her gender.

“They would ask me, ‘So when is your magician coming?’ I was like, ‘Wait, what? You’ve been talking to her for the past half an hour.’”

While she was starring on local web series M For Magic in 2012, her male magician co-stars would tell her she was “pretty good at sleight of hand,” a common technique where magicians perform tricks so quickly that the audience is unable to tell how they are done.

“It’s more upsetting when people in the industry say things like, ‘Wow, you can do this trick?’ They hold female magicians to a different standard,” she said.

In the past, Ms Ng also had to do backstage work for other more established magicians.

She soon came across other male crew members who belittled her ability to operate the lights and sound system. So she decided to take classes on stage, sound and lighting management.

“When you do know what you’re doing, it’s more difficult for other people to ignore your opinions. We (female magicians) just have to work much harder than an average guy to prove ourselves.”

Grand debut

The first time Ms Ng dabbled with magic was in Secondary 3, after reading a book titled The Practical Encyclopedia of Magic written by Nicholas Einhorn.

She played around with it for two years, trying out magic tricks in the confines of her bedroom.

After befriending Ms Ning on a now-defunct online magic forum, the duo met for the first time at a magic performance for the Children’s Cancer Society’s “Hair For Hope” event in 2006.

Ms Ning then got her an audition as a magic juggler in local illusionist J C Sum’s company, Mighty Magic Factory, when she was a first-year student at NTU’s School of Biological Sciences.

Ms Ng landed the job.

Soon, she found herself doing 10 to 15 shows per month while studying, raking in an average of $4,000 per month.

“When you’re in university, that’s a lot of money, even when compared to peers with a second upper degree, who usually start out with around $3,000,” she said.

By her third year in NTU, Ms Ng considered herself a professional magician, and was spending more time touring and performing at events than attending lectures.

In her final year, Ms Ng was in Oman for a performance for the king, despite it falling between the dates of her Final Year Project submission and her last paper.

She said: “I was a full-time student in name, but a part-time student in real life.”

Winning over herself

Ms Ng’s civil servant parents were reluctant to let her pusue a career in magic at first, but came around after several months.

She said: “There’s a certain shelf life as an entertainer. I had to do it then.”

But when she turned 25, Ms Ng found herself going through a quarter-life crisis.

“When you reach that age, you no longer just think about wanting to do something. You start wondering how you can provide more for your family, your parents.”

She also found it difficult not to compare her own career prospects with her younger brother’s, who is an accountant at the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore. He is also an NTU alumnus.

“There’s no public holidays, CPF, or work increment in my line of work,” Ms Ng said.

“There was a point in time where I kept asking myself: ‘Should I continue doing this? Maybe it’s better to keep magic as a side thing.’

“I felt like there was not enough upward mobility in terms of what I wanted to do.”

But she realised that quitting wasn’t the right call, because the thought of leaving magic behind upset her.

Instead, she decided to start up her own magic company.

To her surprise, her parents were very much supportive.

“My mom said: ‘(Your family members have their) own income and can support (themselves) financially, and you have no spouse or kids to take care of. Just do it.’”

Her own boss

In July last year, Ms Ng started up Artful Deceptions, a company that specialises in magic and illusion shows for corporate events.

Right now, it has eight male magicians on its roster and is one of the largest teams in Singapore.

“Most magicians prefer to work solo, or only with a few people. But I wanted to provide an avenue for young magicians to be introduced to the industry. Let them go out and perform to the crowd and experience what it’s like.

“My previous company did that for me, so in a way, I wanted to give back.”

Despite being the CEO, Ms Ng still does regular magic performances, sometimes as many as three shows per day during weekends.

Compared to her NTU days when she charged $300 to $400 per show, Ms Ng’s rates are now in the four-figure range.

Magical success

Ms Ng’s friends admire her courage to pursue magic as a career, something seen by many as a “frivolous activity”, but she admitted that it was naivety that pushed her to take that leap of faith.

“I didn’t consider all the consequences before delving into it. But I believe that everyone should have a certain level of silly optimism and adventure,” she said.

If she had known exactly what being a full-time magician entailed, she would have been a lot more reluctant to go pro.

But she does not regret her unconventional career choice.

“I believe that everyone should have a certain level of silly optimism and adventure.”

“Never in my life would I have dreamt of touring so many countries – France, Hungary, Kuwait, India. Without being a magician, I wouldn’t have been able to visit these places. It’s just something that’s out of my reach,” she said.

Ms Ng believes that her gender did help in setting her apart.

“Being a girl – that differentiates me. It’s precisely because there are so few female magicians around that it’s easier to be noticed. So I guess it’s a double-edged sword.”

But this magician may yet again transform into something different in the future.

In recent years, Ms Ng found herself embarking on more side projects, from joining some Mediacorp productions to taking up directing classes.

She said: “I do like trying out different things though, so we’ll see.