Pittsburgh Current Staff Writer
At the beginning of his career, Pittsburgh-based magician Lee Terbosic found himself buying deck after deck of playing cards. His tricks rely on 52 unmarred, new cards to maintain the illusion, meaning Terbosic can’t reuse a deck after folding a single card.
One year, the family decided to help Terbosic with his card conundrum. So, they went to a wholesaler and bought the budding magician a years-worth of cards, beginning a running joke and tradition.
“That’s kind of how it started and it became funnier and funnier each year,” he says. “Each year I would have a stack of… three or four hundred decks of cards.”
Since then, Terbosic has gone from performing for family and friends to having his own magic residency in Pittsburgh with “In Plain Sleight,” which he performs from now until May 12.
Located at Liberty Magic—the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s new parlour magic venue—“In Plain Sleight” combines sleight of hand magic with storytelling and stand-up, a culmination of Terbosic’s favorite tricks from the last 10 years on the road and on television.
Terbosic, 36, was first introduced to magic at age 10 when he saw a live magic show. Afterward, Terbosic begged his parents to teach him magic tricks. Instead, they took him to the Carnegie Library of Homestead, where he checked out books about magic. While he was teaching himself, Terbosic traveled to the Cuckoos Nest Magic Shop in South Side to build his toolbox of tricks and deceits.
“I remember how magic was something that I could fool adults with, and I thought that was very powerful,” he says. “The fact that a kid could, you know, blow the mind of an adult was new to me.”
Terbosic had his first regular gig at 13 performing at a Pizza Hut in Lincoln Place. While customers sat and ate their pizza, Terbosic bounced from table to table handing out business cards between tricks.
Those Pizza Hut performances soon lead to performances at banquets, birthday parties and community events.
And, even later, Terbosic used these gigs pay his way through college at Robert Morris University, where he majored in business and marketing.
At first, Terbosic didn’t want to attend college, but changed his mind after discussing it with his mentor, Pittsburgh magician Paul Gertner.
“He’s the one who bestowed the information upon me: ‘You’re in show business, you’ll always have the show, you’ll always be the magician,” Terbosic says. But, Gertner told him, “you have to learn the business element of this industry.’”
In order to meld real world studies with becoming a professional magician, Terbosic took classes in economics, marketing and accounting to learn the business side and electives in theater, voice and television to learn the entertainment side, applying what he learned to his next gig.
After graduating, Terbosic toured across the country performing at corporate events, which lead to television work, appearing on “America’s Got Talent” on NBC, “Now You See It” on the BBC and, most recently, “Houdini’s Last Secrets” on the Discovery Channel.
But, his career wasn’t trouble-free. During the 2008 recession, Terbosic had to work even harder to stay relevant.
“Companies aren’t saying yes anymore,” Terbosic says. “They’re saying no, and that’s only because they didn’t have the budgets they had before.”
On top of this, Terbosic says it’s not an easy life as a professional magician, a lifestyle that includes living out of suitcases, missing family events and constant travel.
So, after about a decade on the road, Terbosic decided it was time to return home.
“I decided that at one point, I was going to transition and I was going to come back to Pittsburgh and I was going to just work my butt off to make myself a home, instead of on the road all the time,” he says.
After returning to Pittsburgh, he became a regular correspondent on Pittsburgh Today Live with “Monday Magic,” performing magic tricks on the last Monday of the month beginning in August 2015. In 2016, he self-produced a residency at Dave and Buster’s on the Waterfront called “Bamboozled,” which ran for 100 shows. That lead to a residency at Hotel Monaco called “52 Up Close,” a 90-minute show featuring sleight of hand card tricks in a small setting, which began in 2017.
On top of residencies, Terbosic also performed Houdini 100 on Nov. 6, 2016. The stunt celebrated the 100th anniversary of Harry Houdini’s upside down straight jacket escape, with Terbosic recreating Houdini’s trick while hanging 100-feet above the corner of Liberty Avenue and Wood Street.
Over time, these events showed him that magic had a place in Pittsburgh.
“I envisioned a theater in Pittsburgh like the Magic Castle [a nightclub for magicians and magic enthusiasts in Hollywood, California]” he says. “But of course, that’s a huge, huge idea.”
With the help of the Cultural Trust, though, Terbosic was able to make that huge, huge idea a reality.
According to Terbosic, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust reached out in early 2018 after attending a show and scheduled a meeting with him. In those talks, Terbosic and the Cultural Trust discussed how to bring more magic to Pittsburgh.
“We think the city is hungry for this kind of entertainment,” Kevin McMahon, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust said at a Liberty Magic press event in December.
Along with Dennis Watkins, Terbosic serves as the artistic advisor to Liberty Magic. According to Scott Shiller, Pittsburgh Cultural Trust vice president of artistic planning and Liberty Magic producer, Terbosic’s expertise in magic and his connections in the industry help with Liberty Magic’s mission of bringing top entertainers to the Steel City.
“Lee is the keeper of Pittsburgh’s prestidigitation history and has been an invaluable member of the team helping us establish a truly authentic experience for our Pittsburgh audiences,” he says. “He has his pulse on the best emerging and established magicians across the country and is a great collaborator.”
According to Terbosic, television appearances, stunts and now his residency at Liberty Magic would not have been possible without the hours and hours spent practicing and working, flipping cards and perfecting magic at birthday parties, community events and, of course, the Lincoln Place Pizza Hut.
“I’m living proof that if you set out to do something and you follow it and you stay with it long enough, incredible door starts to open and the magical things start to happen to you,” Terbosic says.