Perhaps the toughest trick among Pamela Fyre's many magical feats has been her transformation from magician's assistant to full-fledged illusionist.
Female headliners are few and far between in the male-dominated world of magic, especially in the rarefied realm of large-scale stage illusions. Fyre, one of the stars of the "Spellbound" illusion show opening Saturday at Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park, hopes her success will encourage other women to join the ranks.
"I didn't set out to be the first female grand illusionist," Fyre said before a recent rehearsal.
"It's nice that it happened, but I didn't set out to be that, and by no means do I want to remain the only female. I hope that what we do here will change that (the role of women in magic) in some ways in people's minds. Maybe it will prompt some of the girls that have been wanting to do magic to learn about it."
Fyre said she knows of just two women who have tried, unsuccessfully, to establish careers as grand illusionists in the 10 years she has worked in magic acts. "I looked around and I thought, there haven't been any female illusionists, and there haven't even been many female magicians that I've come in contact with," she said. "I think it's really time."
Her own involvement in magic started inauspiciously enough at age 16, when she started dating a magician in her San Gabriel Valley hometown of Covina. (That magician, Mark Kalin, is also one of the featured players in "Spellbound.") During part of their 9 1/2-year relationship, Fyre worked as an assistant and decided on her own career in magic.
"I knew I didn't want to just be in the position of being an assistant. I wanted to learn more about the magic," she said.
But apprentice she did, working as an assistant for magicians who included Harry Blackstone Jr., Chuck Jones and Andre Kole.
Although an audience may regard a magician's assistant as mere stage dressing--"They think you come out in the little black tuxedo and just hold a tray," Fyre said--assistants are actually an integral part of their illusions.
"I got to learn the illusions from the inside out," she said, adding that the work of being sawed into sections or disappearing from boxes is often difficult. "There are a lot of bumps and bruises. I've got the scars to prove it."
While continuing to work as a magician's assistant, Fyre started planning her own act three years ago. Within a year, she had developed an act "I felt I could sell--a marketable product." She took that show on tour in Northern California before starting work on the "Spellbound" show last January.
In the Knott's magic show, which will run through Sept. 7 in the amusement park's Good Time Theatre, Fyre is partnered with magician Tim Kole, son of illusionist Andre Kole. To liven up the marquee, Fyre switched her stage name from Pamela Hart to create the "Fyre and Kole" moniker.
Kalin, her former boyfriend, is known for his use of tigers and other big cats. "Spellbound" also includes comic magician Mark Kornhauser, dancers and fireworks. The 45-minute show will be performed up to four times daily (except Mondays) in the 2,100-seat theater.
Like most magicians, Fyre declined to talk about how her illusions are created. But she said she sees the show as confirmation of her arrival as a bona fide magician and a special milestone of sorts, because the last time she worked at Knott's she was an illusionist's assistant.
"I think that when this run at Knott's Berry Farm is over and these shows are under my belt, I will feel more established, because it's rare that you get an opportunity to actually experience a show like this," said Fyre, who is now in her middle 20s.
She said she has found acceptance--albeit tinged with a certain skepticism--in the magic community. Winning over a public that has come to expect to see a male magician with a female assistant is the next hurdle, she said.
"With Tim and I teaming together, I think it's a nice introduction to the public on a female doing magic," she said. "I think it's going to be something that they more readily accept."
On the other hand, working as part of a team presents its own problems. "When I enter, they may think that Tim is the magician and I am the assistant, but I am not going to shove it down their throats that, 'No, I'm the magician.'
"I hope that just comes across naturally. I want them to be comfortable and entertained. It's not a stand."
But she does intend to capitalize on her differences, something it took her a while to come to terms with: "All those (male) magicians, they're all apples. I'm an orange; I'm not an apple, and I've never been able to be an apple.
"For a long time I wanted to be an apple, because they're the ones who are accepted, the people who are getting what I thought I wanted. But I finally realized that the best thing I have to offer is myself."