Though it was nearly five decades ago, Gay Blackstone can still vividly recall the first time she was sawed in half onstage. Her screams were an intended element of the illusion, but nerves and fear made them genuine that time. For Ms. Blackstone, that gig assisting the master illusionist Harry Blackstone Jr. turned into a love affair and, later, marriage. After her husband died in 1997, Ms. Blackstone moved center stage and went on to a successful career as an illusionist, coach, producer and director.
But she is an exception. Only around 8% of professional magicians are women, according to a spokeswoman for the Magic Castle, a private clubhouse in Los Angeles for members of the Academy of Magical Arts. Ms. Blackstone and others say a number of factors are to blame for the stubborn disparity, including sexism, wardrobe limitations and the enduring stereotype that women best serve as the audience’s distraction.
“I think for many years, no one really thought of the need for women to be the magician,” Ms. Blackstone said. “But now, as we’re coming up with different roles and different things we want to be doing, then there’s no reason why women can’t be just as great as men.”
Ms. Blackstone predicted that there would be “an explosion” of women pursuing magic in the next five to 10 years, as a younger generation of illusionists learns to take old tricks and make them their own. For now, though, being a woman in magic can be a lonely pursuit. Take Nicole Cardoza, who often says she is the “only Black female magician I know.”