When Juan Estrella was a boy growing up in Cuenca, he didn’t have television or the internet. He’d read about magic in books, but he’d never seen a magic trick performed until he was 14 years old, when the father of a friend showed him a card trick.
“I was astounded! I begged him to show me how he’d done it. He told me the first rule of the Magicians’ Code. ‘Never explain how a magic trick is done.’ I asked him to show me the trick again and I learned the second rule. ‘Never perform the same magic twice,’” says Juan. “From that moment on I was determined to figure out what he’d done, but all I had was my memory of what I’d seen. Finally, after much frustration, I could perform it. I went back to my friend’s father and showed him my trick. He was impressed, but he said, ‘That’s not the way I do it.’ I was thrilled, realizing that I could invent my own magic tricks.”
Learning magic with friends
Juan learned about a magician in Quito who could sell him books about magic. He devoured everything he could find and began performing wherever he could. When Juan was 16, he met two other boys in Cuenca who shared his interest in magic. They started doing small gigs like birthday parties. “The first time someone asked me how much I would charge to put on a show, I was shocked. ‘Pay me? I would pay you for the chance to perform!’”
1st magic show in Cuenca
The three teenagers staged Cuenca’s first-ever magic show at Casa de la Cultura, in 2008. “We had to finance the performance ourselves. My father, a businessman, advised us not to do it. He thought it would be a waste of time and money, but it was a huge success. “People sat in the aisles when there weren’t enough seats. We were over capacity by more than 100 people,” says Juan. “A real fire hazard!”
There are different types of magic, including close-up (sleight-of-hand moves generally performed for a small group of people) and stage magic, which can use large, complicated mechanical props and be performed in huge auditoriums. Juan Estrella prefers a hybrid type called “parlor magic,” where a story is told using small props and involving members of the audience.
Juan uses his mother’s last name as a performer. “My father’s side of the family has always been involved in the business of hotels and restaurants. We have run the restaurant Raymipampa, on Parque Calderone, since 1933. On my mother’s side, we are all artists, musicians and performers. I am glad to have the influence of both sides.”
His skills as a performer and businessman have helped Juan become an internationally known magician and teacher of magic. He is a member of the Magic Circle in London, England, Mundial de Magica, Cali Magica and he has performed at many other international magic events. He was chosen to present TED talks about the use of psychology in magic. “As a magician and someone who invents magic tricks for other magicians, I generally can figure out how a trick is done, but I’m thrilled when I can’t figure it out.” Juan enjoys sharing magic with people who have never seen it performed. In 2017 through 2018, Juan rode a motorcycle all the way to Alaska, performing magic to people living on remote islands and areas without television of the internet. There are plans to make a documentary about the trip.
Things have changed since 14-year-old Juan saw his first trick. Several magicians now live in Cuenca, and magic can easily be found on the internet, on international talent shows like “America’s Got Talent” and “Fool Us,” with Penn and Teller. “People can see a magic show anywhere now, but I especially enjoy using my magic to support charitable organizations like Hearts of Gold,” Juan explained. “The audience always gets good value for the price of their ticket. They can enjoy the show while knowing they are supporting something important. They know with Hearts of Gold that the money will be well spent to change the lives of poor people.”
Where to see Juan
Cuenca magician, Juan Estrella, was scheduled to perform at the ACT theater on Saturday, May 21, from 4 to 6 pm, as a fundraiser for the Hearts of Gold foundation and its member organizations. This event has been postponed until further notice. We’ll keep you updated when we have new dates.