Schenectady County

PRIME TIME: Making magic well into your 70s .. quite a trick

Probably the most subtle trick in Helen Patti’s repertoire is making people forget the fact that she

Probably the most subtle trick in Helen Patti’s repertoire is making people forget the fact that she is in her late 70s.

Retired from the Skidmore College Registrar’s Office after 29 years, she is still an avid bicyclist, gardener, stays fit at the YMCA and usually takes classes at the Academy for Lifelong Learning. Plus, she also performs two or three magic shows a month under the stage name of Magic Patti.

In the late 1960s in Ohio, Patti met her soon-to-be-husband, Jerry Patti, and the couple moved to Wilton two years later. “He was a budding magician,” Patti said, of “The Great Patti.” “I was his assistant for many years until he passed away in ’86. By ’88 I had my own act together.”

Patti said she had never thought about doing her own magic, which might compete with her husband’s. Now that she has her own show, she thinks her late husband would be happy.

“I hope he is proud of me,” she said. “I still do some of the things he did in my act and even say some of the things that Jerry said.” She has no plan to incorporate an assistant into her act.

The name Magic Patti came about after some internal brainstorming. She initially rejected the name Magic Helen, but felt Magic Patti had a good ring to it. “It flows.”

Grace under pressure

Her biggest advantage in making the transition, she said, was her background in education. She had taught in England and Canada before she met her husband, which helped her speak in front of people and stay organized under pressure.

Additionally, Patti, a native of England, said her accent also helps keep small children under control at shows. When she plays up her native tongue children are captivated.

The acts from Patti’s solo shows haven’t changed much in 33 years, but some of the older props have been rotated out in favor of more relevant ones. A trick she used to perform with records is no longer part of her routine because younger audiences, familiar with CDs and iPods, don’t recognize the discs. She said she probably doesn’t do enough to stay current with her young audience, except she does incorporate Pokemon into her routine, even though she’s not that familiar with the digital monsters popularized by handheld video games.

Patti stays current with her magic as a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians and the Society of American Magicians. Twice a month she attends meetings, where there have lectures or performances. She is currently the club secretary for the International Brotherhood and stepped down as secretary for the American Magicians two years ago.

Additionally, she tries to learn at least one new trick a year and feels like she is always learning. When searching for a new trick, Patti said the important thing is finding one that fits her personality. “That keeps your brain going … studying a new trick,” she said. “It’s a great hobby for keeping your brain active.”

Putting in the extra work is a simple decision for Patti: “I love it, that’s why.”

Because Patti started performing magic tricks late in life she never developed the skills to do hand manipulation tricks, like those involving coins or cards. When she was still an assistant her husband had suggested she try doing some close up tricks, but it wasn’t something she pursued. “If you start that when you are 14 or 15 you have a terrific advantage,” she said. “I do more of the stage music, instead of the close up,”

Her tricks involve larger props, like pulling a rabbit out of a hat and having kids on stage. Doves are not used in Patti’s tricks, even though she has a handful of them in cages in her house and has protected her house from their droppings by covering the tops of her cabinets. She said her doves aren’t well trained and noted that her costume, a dress and blouse, didn’t accommodate dove tricks. “With women as magicians you don’t have anywhere to keep the doves,” Patti lamented. “[Jerry] used to do quite a bit of dove magic.”

Patti tries to remain coy about her age and only gives hints about how old she actually is, with references to life during World War II. She doesn’t feel like her age impacts her ability to perform, except, “the stuff I carry seems to be getting a little heavier.”

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