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March 3, 2010

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Home » Feature » People

Expat with that magic touch

ON first meeting Todd Plaster, it's not unusual for sparks to fly - from his fingers, and even from his ears. In fact, the American magician has been making memorable first impressions performing in Shanghai for the past four years.

Not content to just perform as Master Plaster, a wizard who entertains for children, corporate events and private functions, the canny entrepreneur also manufactures bag-of-tricks products for export to magicians around the world.

The gimmicks include devices that can be attached to a performer's fingers or ears and shoot sparks or smoke.

The Alaska state native has been even working with Shanghai Jiao Tong University to design a long magician's coat fitted with a sound system that plays sound effects.

During his time in Shanghai, Plaster has worked his magic at events ranging from weddings and children's parties to high-end corporate events for multinational companies such as car makers BMW and Audi and pharmaceutical giant Bayer.

Plaster describes himself as a close-up magician who does a comedy-style magic act using a mixture of sleight-of-hand and custom-made gizmos.

A close-up magician typically performs to a small group or an individual rather than on a stage. Unlike a stage magician who can rely on props and illusions, a close-up magician commonly uses sleight-of-hand and dexterity developed through years of practice.

Plaster's tricks can take anywhere from a few hours to two years to master.

One of his most demanding tricks is the so-called "muscle pass" of a coin.

The magician will make a coin "leap" up to a foot out of his hand with no discernible movement of the wrist or arm - claiming his magic coin can defy gravity.

The muscle pass is considered by magicians to be one of the most demanding coin tricks.

"Whether they be hobbyists or professional magicians, most people know this trick and each year the Japanese have a magicians Olympics where this is one of the events," says Plaster. "It is like the high jump: the person who can make the coin go the furthest wins."

Plaster says he was taught by another magician and practiced until his hand was blistered and bled from the effort.

Pursuing the magic behind making a buck in Asia is nothing new for Plaster, who went to Japan as an 18-year-old.

Inspired by the 1980s martial arts blockbuster "Karate Kid," the young Plaster launched a window-washing business that earned him enough money to head off to Japan in 1986 to learn karate.

Realizing he couldn't learn the intricacies of karate without a little Japanese, he took up language study. When he got a job in a nightclub to pay the bills, he had his first brush with magic.

"I saw a magician come in and do a few tricks at tables for tips and I thought to myself I might be able to make a little extra money if I can learn to do that," Plaster says.

He got a job working at a shop in Tokyo Station that sold and exported magic products. He translated instructions on the boxes from Japanese into English.

"I also worked at the club and developed a real love for magic," he says. "One day I was working at the club and realized that I had just done 30 minutes of magic for some customers."

He soon started working for tips at clubs in Tokyo and spent seven years plying his magic trade in Japan.

Plaster also spent two years in Taiwan where he learned to speak Mandarin and performed in clubs across Taipei.

Comfortably performing in Chinese, Plaster has made guest appearances at popular Chinese shows since arriving in Shanghai in 2006.

One his more notable guest spots was on the popular talk show "Lu Yu You Yue" (A Date With Lu Yu) that has an audience in the hundreds of millions.

Plaster is also expanding from magic to frights, planning to open a haunted house in May near the entrance of the World Expo 2010 site on Luban Road in Huangpu District.

Complete with murder mystery revolving around a dismembered Plaster - a mold of his head has been taken - the haunted house will feature some of the latest special effects imported from the United States.

Todd Plaster can be reached at 1860-2104-104 or at his Website

Todd Plaster

Nationality: American

Age: 42

Profession: Businessman, entertainer, magician


Self-description: Ambitious, silly, loving.

Favorite place: Xintiandi.

Strangest sight: Someone shaking my hand in a?public toilet while I was taking a dump!

Worst experience: Divorce from my ex-wife and her family.

Motto for life: It is the journey along the way in life that counts, so enjoy it because it is one of the few things we will not get a second chance at! Be the best you can and help others when you are able.?Laugh at adversity when it arises, because if you don't, you'll cry! Be thankful for what you have because things could always somehow be worse!

How to improve Shanghai: Driving manners and more green, green, green!

Advice to newcomers: Don't always ask why something is the way it is. Accept it for the way it is, after all, that is culture! Do this and your are bound to have a better experience!


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