The "willing suspension of disbelief" is a tricky business.
When we're very young, we can easily believe Mickey Mouse is a huge rodent who happens to look good in formal wear and Santa Claus is a benevolent old guy with aeronautically advantaged reindeer and a lot of time on his hands.
As we get older and start to look at things more critically, we tend to dismiss those beliefs as "childish" and put our faith in sure things like, say, the stock market.
But occasionally, if the mood and setting and company are right, we can push the mute button on reason's yammering voice and believe in the unbelievable. And Dale Salwak is always happy to help.
A professional magician, Salwak has, at 48, spent nearly 40 years helping people not only suspend their disbelief but make it disappear altogether, for a while at least. He is the producer of and one of five performers in "Stars of Magic," a two-hour magic revue that showcases everything from card tricks and floating silks to lovely assistants melting into thin air. The show, recommended for ages 5 through adult, returns to Orange Coast College's Robert B. Moore Theatre in Costa Mesa on Saturday for the sixth consecutive year. It has sold out every year so far, so an advance ticket purchase is suggested.
Emceed by comic magician Stan Allen and his "magical rabbit" puppet Stewart, the show will feature Salwak; Canadian juggler and magician Steve Webb; Jade, who presents stylized magic with silks and parasols from Asia; Lyuda Wilson, a Russian Hula-Hoop performer; and her husband, Greg Wilson, an illusionist whose large-scale act Salwak compares to David Copperfield and Las Vegas' Siegfried and Roy.
During his career, Salwak has performed for children at birthday parties (he broke into the business doing parties and service club gigs), high-powered executives, nightclub crowds and just about every type of audience in between. Kids, he says, are by far the toughest.
Mickey and Santa notwithstanding, "a child doesn't suspend disbelief as easily" as an adult, Salwak said by phone from his studio in La Verne. "By the age of 6, 7, 8, they're less easily distracted by [the magician's] misdirection. . . . They're always trying to figure out the trick as you do it.
"They're the ones who always say 'I see how he does that' even if they don't really."
Salwak understands that well. He was 5 when he saw his first magic show at a birthday party in his hometown of Amherst, Mass. From that moment, he said, he knew he wanted to make magic himself.
"I remember running home and telling my parents about it. My dad had this book called 'Magic for Boys,' . . . and my mom would read me the instructions and help me figure out the tricks."
Salwak--who now has a 7-year-old son of his own--never lost his passion for magic. Along with earning a master's degree and a Ph.D. from USC, he trained and later taught at the Chavez College of Manual Dexterity and Prestidigitation, a training school for magicians founded in the 1940s. In addition to performing as many as 200 nights a year, he now directs the West Coast division of the school in La Verne, teaching magic and showmanship to a student body that ranges in age from 10 to 91 and includes a child psychologist who uses his magic skills as therapy for his patients.
In "Stars of Magic," Salwak performs sleight of hand, or what he calls the classics of magic.
"They're classics in the sense that they've been around for years. It's magic of the hands, cards and floating balls and silks . . . the type of magic that began with Cardini in the 1930s and '40s.
"I think of magic as a high art form. I like the idea of a magician being able to produce miracles with his bare hands."
* What: "Stars of Magic."
* When: Saturday at 4 and 8 p.m.
* Where: The Robert B. Moore Theatre, Orange Coast College, 2701 Fairview Road, Costa Mesa.
* Whereabouts: From the San Diego (405) Freeway, exit at Fairview, drive west, and turn right onto Arlington to enter the campus.
* Wherewithal: $8-$15 advance; $10-$18 at the door.
* Where to call: (714) 432-5880.