I had the amazing opportunity to chat with Billy as my first guest on the Podcast. If you have yet to see any of her stuff, I highly encourage you to check her out. You can find Billy online via her website or on Instagram.
Billy Kidd has been performing professionally since the age of 11. Her career started as an Actor in Canada performing in theatre,film and television. After being accepted into the top theatre schools in Canada & the UK and after 15 years of working only as an actor magic suddenly became a secret passion. So one day she left everything behind, vanished her career in order to turn into a magician.
Royal Road to Card Magic
Paul Harris books
Magician(s) to spend a day with:
Kray Mitchell: Alright. Welcome to the illusionary podcast everybody. Today, I've got the fantastic Billy Kidd joining me. Billy, thank you so much for joining me.
Billy Kidd: Thanks for having me.
Kray: No problem at all. So, you actually started performing early on in life, but it wasn't actually magic. What were you doing? What got you into performing?
Billy: I started performing as an actor, since I was probably about 10, 11 years old. I started working professionally as a kid actor, in Canada, in Edmonton. They have a very great, vibrant theater scene there. That's kind of how I started in show business, I guess, was through the theater.
Kray: Yeah? What kind of got you into that? What was your inspiration, or were you kind of pushed into it?
Billy: Oh, no. I was never pushed into it. My parents have no control over me whatsoever. Happy to say. I think this lady ... I remember being a kid and some lady would come and pick me up, and drive me to go see TYA, which stands for Theater for Young Audiences. So, I remember being like maybe, five or six years old sitting on blue mats, watching these little plays.
My earliest memory is actually thinking, "That guy on stage sings out of tune." I don't know why, it's just something that's always stuck in my head, of like, he sings out of tune. I think it was this lady who brought me to the theater really got me interested in to it. This theater company that did shows for young people, sometimes they used kids in their shows depending on what the production was. So, if it was Cheaper By The Dozen, Peter Pan, whatnot. So, I started seeing other kids on stage and that's what peaked my interest I think. I was like, "Oh my gosh, if they're there, why can't I be there?"
Literally, had a dream of performing on some show and then I think that was it. So, yeah, it just kind of sparked that interest in me right away.
Kray: Once that bug bit you, there was no turning back, eh?
Billy: No, unfortunately, no. I'm still here.
Kray: Well, I'm glad you're still here. So, when did you transition into magic and what kind of sparked your interest in the magic side of thing, and made you do that transition?
Billy: Yeah. I got into magic quite late, I guess, compared to most magicians. Most magicians probably started in magic, like when I started in theater. I had never seen magic at all. My life ... Like, I guess I knew it was there, but was not aware that it was actually a thing, that there were people who were actually magicians. Just never crossed my mind whatsoever, so I was never exposed to it.
Having said that, I'm pretty sure if I was exposed to it I would have become a magician way early on. Just because I just know the nature of myself. So, it's kind of weird. It's kind of like two stories.
The summer right before I went to theater school, a friend of mine who's not a magician, he had bought the ball and vase trick, you know for like eight year olds ... out of plastic? And he showed it to me and I was like, "That's the stupidest thing I've ever seen." Because, I thought it was hilarious. I was just like so dumb. Even when I knew how it was done, I was like, "Stupid little toy." But it made me laugh and I think that was entrance. Still, my friend's not a magician. Literally, we were lying on the carpet and he showed this to me. That's all I remember and then I went into theater school. At that point, I was probably 17, 18 years old, but again, magic's not on my radar.
I'm like an actor. That's my goal. I got into all the theater schools I could have dreamed of, so it's just not on my radar. Until, maybe four or five years after that moment of seeing the ball and vase trick, I graduate from theater school. I end up working for a theater company at a street performers festival, and again, I'm a snobby actor. Couldn't give a toss about street performers. What are they? Why are we at this festival? Like, total snob, and I see a magician there named, Nick Nicholas, doing a cups and balls show. That was the moment, watching him. Seeing an actual magician do magic. On the street as well, which I was totally novice to.
I couldn't believe the things I was seeing magically, and also I couldn't believe how he was able to gather an audience out of nothing, make them watch him for 45 minutes and then pay him. So, street performing and magic were like two separate things that I happened to fall into at the same time because of Nick Nicholas. It was him that really got me into it. I hid behind a tree with a deck of cards, as I remember. Completely embarrassed that I liked this thing called magic, I was so embarrassed.
A juggler walked by and he's like, "You should go tell Nick you like magic." I'm like, "No! Don't tell anybody. This is embarrassing." Of course, he did and Nick told me ... all I remember him telling me is, "Go find Royal Road to Card Magic", if I want to become a magician and if I want to learn about street performing, go find somebody named Gazzo. That's all I knew. So, that was the day. That was the day.
Kray: That started the hunt and the passion.
Billy: Yes, very much so.
Kray: That's awesome. So, you actually got to work with Gazzo as well, didn't you?
Billy: Yeah, well it was kind of weird. So, about two years after seeing Nick ... Now, you have to remember, I've now graduated from theater school, I'm somehow a working actor. I have no idea how. Especially doing theater. You don't say no to work as an actor, it's just stupid if you do. So, my career was starting and now I'm an adult. I'm an adult actor. I'm trying to convince my parents that I'm not a kid anymore, and all this. About two years after seeing Nick, I was reading Royal Road. I'm like, "This magic thing it's becoming a distraction." I'm going into rehearsal halls with a deck of cards, and I can feel my focus being completely split and that was really hard for me. To know that my focus is not there anymore, in the acting world.
So, it took me probably those two years to transition and kind of admit to myself, "Oh my God, I'm in the wrong profession. I'm completely in the wrong profession. What am I going to do? Since I've been 10, 11 years old, all I've done is work in theater. I've never had another job in my life."
There's no way I could even become a magician at that point because I've only just opened the book, like a year and a half ago when I saw Nick. So, it was a massive jump. It wasn't like, "Oh, I'm going to start off doing kids birthday parties." It was just like, "I have to do this. So, the only way I can do it is just leave Canada and go somewhere where nobody knows me, nobody knows my past." Change my name, just pretend I know nothing and if I put myself in a situation that would be that, I figured it would force me to become a magician because nobody would know anything about me.
That's what I did. So, it was probably end of 2007, so 2008 I moved to a little city called, Bath in England where nobody knows me. Just started doing street shows and literally just lived off of whatever I could make out on the street and nothing else.
Kray: So, after you moved there, do you remember your first performance, like the first time you actually went out and performed for people who knew nothing about you?
Billy: Yeah. I do because I knew nothing about the world of busking and magic. So, yeah I came to Bath and I knew of this pitch ... well it wasn't even really a pitch yet. I saw no other variety acts working there. There was maybe one old guy and his violin that sometimes worked this pitch and I was like, "I like that pitch." As if I knew what I was talking about ... I just started working there, and I just started hustling and just really learning the tools of the trade there.
It all kind of blends into one, but really the streets is kind of where I would say I learned how to perform magic. Not just street performing because one of the first lessons I learned doing street shows was that ... I was like, "Oh my God, as an actor, nobody taught me actually how to talk to an audience as if they're just people." Like, I know you do monologues to the audience, but it was just, there's no fourth wall and it's just me. That was the biggest lesson for me was going, "Oh my gosh, I have no idea ... this is terrifying." I just basically honed everything out on the streets there.
Kray: That's amazing. So, do you still do a lot of street performing now, or are you more stage performances now? I checked out your YouTube channel and stuff like that. I've seen you on stage. I've seen you in performance. I've seen you on Penn and Teller. What's your focus now?
Billy: My focus is kind of all of it. I still do streets a lot, as much as I can, and I do a lot of stage stuff as well, and close up magic. I learned as I was street performing, meeting other street performers ... especially the legends, the old timers, right? I started to see this kind of problem. A lot of the guys who are let's say 60, 70, even 80 year olds who are still street performing, busking. It's great, it's fantastic, but it's getting harder and harder and there's like more rules and regulations, weather. It's just harder, the older you get, for a number of reasons.
So, I was very conscious of that and so, I always knew I'm going to dip my toes in all areas of magic, so I can always be working no matter what. So, what I do on the street is very specific to the street and what I do in my stage shows is very specific to stage. There's not really too much crossover. However, having said that, I use the street as my practice ground, I guess you could say.
Kray: That's a good idea actually. So, do you have any pre-show rituals, or routines that you do beforehand, and if so, are they different when you do street magic versus doing stage magic?
Billy: I don't know if I'd actually call them rituals, but maybe I do. I like to roll around on the floor before I do a show. Not so much on the street, though because it's a bit filthy. Yeah, I still take a lot of technique and stuff that I learned as an actor, into my performances as a magician as much as I can. Mostly with voice, vocal warm ups and also just physical stuff. It's one thing I find, I can't relate to with magicians is that there's no awareness of all that other stuff that actors learn. Which I find so important because your voice and your body is your tool. You know what I mean? As magicians, a lot of times we've been taught to be natural, even though we're doing unnatural things, which is the hardest part of our jobs.
At the same time, as magicians, a lot of them don't know who they are. They don't understand their idio-synchronicities and their 'isms. The things that they do, like how they're breathing, or their bad habits. Which is interesting to me as an actor, my actor brain because that's all I've studied my entire life, is all the bad things about my voice and body. I'm trying to overcome that to become more natural. So, yeah I guess I still think like an actor when I'm doing magic. I don't know if that's good or bad, but that's just how I'm trained.
Kray: I think it's got both good and bad connotations to it. I think you're definitely right in the fact that most people don't take into consideration their breathing and how they talk. I've done quite a bit of online courses and stuff, so I'm constantly recording myself and then having to go back and edit. When you're doing stuff like that you become very conscious about all the breathes that you're taking in between words, and you're like, "Wow! I didn't realize, like I paused so much." And then you become a little bit more conscious on flow and the rhythm of your speech patterns. So, I think that could help quite a bit.
Billy: Yeah, there's that and also just ... There's a routine I'm working on right now where I'm like, "Oh my gosh, this is all going to be based on my vocals." I don't mean necessarily, when I'm breathing and how I'm breathing. It is actually and emotional response, vocally that I'm only just discovering by improvising at home, talking to myself and filming. It is a complete vocal thing that I need to figure out. It's hard to explain why and what that is, but it's just not something that most magicians are thinking of, is their vocals, and just how that is so informative just as a human being really. Just the placement of certain things in your voice and your breath. It brings me to very dark places, emotionally, just figuring out my voice. I'm like, "Wow! Didn't know that was in me." But, now it's driving the routine to a certain area which I would have never written myself. It's a new playground.
Kray: That's awesome.
Well, speaking of the whole breathing and vocal work ... Something that impressed me about one of your earlier performances ... you do a card trick hanging upside down. I've hung upside down before and for like 10, 15 seconds and my head feels like it's about to burst, and I'm puffing and huffing. What kind of stuff did you do to prepare yourself for such a physical task to be able to perform upside down and still keep the vocals going without ... you just made it look so easy ...
Billy: Without dying?
Billy: That's funny. That video haunts me to this day. So, because I started late, I never really did birthday party magic and all that, which I wish I did like most magicians. However, when I started doing magic, it was my theater colleagues who started this theater circus school, I guess you could say. They didn't have any students, really. They were just brand new and they asked me if I wanted to learn circus, like trapeze and silks and rope. I was like, "Not really into it, but sure why not? I'll give it a go."
So, they decided to put on this little show, thinking that nobody would show up. We thought maybe 30 people would show up. It ended up being like 300 people showing up.
Kray: Oh wow!
Billy: Yeah, it was weird. We were taking seats away and then all of a sudden we had to put the seats back in. Their challenge to me, and I'm just starting magic. Like, this is maybe my first few months into magic. They're like, "Can you do magic on some of the circus apparatus?" I was like, "I don't know, okay?"
I know nothing about magic at this point, I'm so new into this and so I created a routine on the trapeze, which is what you're talking about where I hang upside down doing this card trick. That's a harder routine for me to do today because at that point I was training a lot in trapeze, so you're using all your muscles basically just to stay on the trapeze so you're not going to die. Vocally as well, yeah because you're using so much of your energy, basically trying not to fall down. So, that was a very hard routine, so what I did ...
I don't know if you remember, I don't think a lot of people realize, if they watch that very old footage ... because of the constraints of the physicality of what I was doing, both with my hands as far as the slight of hand goes and vocally, I got my friend to be my translator. So, he would stand behind me ... and we improvised that. I was like, just before got on, I'm like, "You know what? I'm not going to be able to talk a lot of the time." Sometimes it's because I've got the deck in my mouth and all this, so I'm like, "You just improvise what you think I'm saying." And that was basically the routine.
Kray: It worked out really well.
Billy: It worked out really well. Too well, that I get requested to do the trapeze act a lot, even though it's not really logistically feasible for me to do all the time.
Kray: That's impressive though. That's, like I said, it's a hell of a trick. I get winded walking upstairs most of the days, nowadays. The older we get, the harder things get.
So, since you've been in magic and now that you've been in it awhile, what are some of your perceptions on things that have changed over the years since you've started? Like, what kind of trends or changes have you seen that you think are really impactful in the industry?
Billy: I'm kind of glad I started when I did. Like, I said I wish I started earlier, but a thing that I've definitely seen change is that transition with the internet, and YouTube and stuff. I was still lucky enough to go into brick and mortar magic shops when I first started, and I'm finding that's more and more rare now, I believe, anyhow. I mean, some of them are closing down.
Young people nowadays, when I meet young magicians and they ask, "How do you become a magician, where do I learn?" I'm glad I can just be one of those people going, "You got to go get Royal Road to Card Magic. You got to go find these books." Because most of them, when I ask them how they're learning, it's all from YouTube. Which I think is great as well because it exposes magic in a good way in the sense that there's information that's accessible. Because of the internet, there's more magicians who are learning because it's just so easy. Then there's also the downside of the bad exposure. So, that's I think one of the main things that I've noticed in the last 10 years of joining the brotherhood.
Kray: With all the changes heading towards more social media and stuff like that, have you considered doing more on the social media side, or trying to do something that would be more digital based?
Billy: Not really, no.
It's funny. I am on social media, but I don't use it as "Oh I got to work on my card trick thing for the camera." And all this, because at the end of the day, my work is through real people booking me for my show. Again, this is something I learned from all the street performers, who would always teach me, "Back in the day before the internet ... " people were booked on the quality of their show. Even if it's just word of mouth, it would be the show that would give them their name, not the internet. You can hype yourself on the internet and say how good you are. There are really, really bad magicians with the best promos and the best websites, yet when you see them live, you're just like ... You know, they can't perform for toffee live.
Which, I find interesting as well, and I think it still proves true because I like I said, I don't have a lot of videos on YouTube that I post myself. You know what I mean? I'm not a YouTuber, I'm not an Instagrammer, and the live footage that I put on YouTube is usually done for a very specific reason. Like, someone needs to see this, I'll just edit this quickly and just put it out there so they can see it. Like, the card trick you're talking about with the trapeze, which like I said to this day I always get requests to do that. I put that video up, not to get work or not for people to see that. I put that up for my friend who was my translator so we could study it ourselves. Not thinking at that point that it was going to be my career, and I should probably take that video down so people stop asking me to do those routines.
Kray: It is the first video on your YouTube.
Billy: I know, and it's one of those things where it just shows you the content of the stuff that are in my videos, is I know is what gets me work. That trapeze act, it's different. No one else is doing an act like that which then gains the attention, et cetera, et cetera. So, yeah, I don't have any goals to sit in front of my camera all day.
Kray: You're working on a new routine right now. Can you talk about it a little bit?
Billy: Yeah. I'm working on a few new routines right now, but one of them is knife through jacket. An old classic. So, yeah, my process is very long because I like to take old classic routines and of course I think we're always trying to make things original and unique to us. How I kind of approach magic is, I'll look at these old routines and I'll research as many acts as I can see doing said routine. Anything that I see similar in all of these performances of different magicians performing, let's say knife through jacket ... I write down and I'll be like, "Not allowed to do that. Not allowed to do that. Not allowed to do this." So, I make rules for myself and that's my starting point. Which can be very tedious and long. So, taking that routine as an example, people always would use that piece of paper as a target maybe, or for no reason at all they have a piece of paper and I've never understood. Why do we have this piece of paper.
So, for me I'd be like, "Okay, I need to justify this piece of paper." I'm not allowed to use it as a target because that's what I've seen other people do. So, that's my starting point, why do I have a piece of paper. I've been making discoveries with that. I've figured out a way to do that, which I'm really, really happy about. Same thing, like why do we have to use someone else's jacket? Why can't I use my own? So, trying to justify every little piece. That's kind of how I approach all these routines, basically.
Kray: That's really cool. I like that. I come from a web design and tech background and I do that quite a bit and try and figure out how things are done and to try and not do the same thing that everyone else has been doing. So, that method can work out fantastic across a whole range of industries. It's cool to hear that somebody in magic is doing stuff like that. So, it makes me curious on how many other people take that method when they're building stuff.
Billy: Yeah. I wish more people would, so I'm not watching always the same videos of different magicians. I'm just like, "Oh here we go, target, there we go." And it's the same way I developed my straight jacket routine. Which is just a straight jacket routine, but yeah. I looked at everyone else going, "Okay, they're always going to do a trick at the same time as doing the escape. Don't do that. They're always going to say this line, don't do that line. Oh they're going to add chain and rope, I'm not allowed chain and rope now." So, yeah, just creating those boundaries which can, depending on how quickly you work, could take a long time. The knife through jacket I probably working on it for like eight or nine months and just in the last month I've discovered how to use the piece of paper.
Kray: Well, it can sometimes take awhile. I've seen lots of magicians mention that they're taking months and even years working on and perfecting tricks. Out of your current repertoire and everything that you've done so far, do you have a favorite trick or routine that you like to perform, or wish people would request more of?
Billy: Yes. I do a trick with a monkey, not often, but I would love to do it all the time. Again, my monkey routine is one of the first things I ever came up with and in relation to working with the circus company. Where I was like, "We got a trapeze, I got people who can move, what if I had a monkey? I love monkeys. What act could I do with a monkey?" Who doesn't love monkeys, right?
So, I guess it's like the trapeze act. It's one of my first acts I ever created, but because I don't always have a monkey with me at all my gigs, I don't get to do it very often. I recently was doing it ... I did it at the castle. I brought it to the Magic Castle, at the end of August I think it was. I thought the monkey would be fired by Monday, and it turned out, everyone loved the monkey. I really had not good hopes for the monkey. I don't know why. I was like, "No one's going to understand the monkey at the castle." And they did. They got it more than I did.
I was like, "Great." But now I'm monkey deprived. So, I'm writing monkey material. Basically, if anyone wants to pay me enough to always have the monkey I will always have a monkey with me.
Kray: I've always wanted a monkey butler, so I'm totally on the same page-
Billy: Well, you can borrow mine when he's not at work.
Kray: Excellent. I'm not sure how my cats would react to that, but I think that would be very cool in and of itself. To a monkey, that would be absolutely fantastic.
Other than Gazzo, because you were doing some work with them, who would you name as some of your other big influences that kind of got you moving along on your path?
Billy: Magician-wise, Nick Nicholas for sure. Gazzo, I guess what happened, Nick told me about Gazzo and I trained with him. He was doing a cups and balls workshop in Seattle and then he kind of took me under his wing. I did some busking in Florida and then when he was in England as well.
Other big influences, magic-wise for me, I would also say ... it was mostly books really. I started off reading a lot of Paul Harris' books. I love Paul Harris' work because he just thinks out of the box. You read some of the stuff in his books and it's just like, "I don't know the method, but here's an idea. Go and try something." So, that was really influential to me. I was like, "Okay, I really love that."
I'm also a huge fan of Wayne Dobson. I don't know if you know him over here. Just his style and his comedy magic, I could just watch forever. So, I'm into a lot of that kind of stuff I guess you could say.
Kray: That's awesome.
If you could spend the day with any magician, or illusionist, mentalist, anything like that. Living or dead. Who would it be and why?
Billy: Ooh. That is a good question. Oh Gosh, there's so many. You just want one?
Kray: Well, let's go ... if you've got top three, let's go top three.
Billy: Okay. Damn. I can't say top three in any specific order, but I'm thinking living and dead. I know who I always wish I could have hung out with? Bob Read. I love watching his work and listening to him talk. He was just such a natural performer, just so at ease. He's one of those acts where he would just walk into a room and everybody instantly loves him. It almost feels like he's not even trying too hard. You're just like, "What a nice guy." You just want to give him a hug. He was so likable and he was fantastic. I wish I could have seen him live, which unfortunately he passed away too soon. So, he would definitely be one, top of my list.
Who's another one? Oh gosh, this is such a horrible question, why do you got to do this one?
Kray: Because it's a hard question. I love the hard questions.
Billy: It's so hard. There's so many names going through my head right now. I think for sure, okay, living ... I would love to just from when the sun comes up until the moon goes down, I would love just to be and hang out with Juan Tamariz. He doesn't sleep and neither do I, so I think we'd get on quite well and I would just love to see his process, personally. Just be a fly on the wall going, "What are you doing? How are you doing this?"
Kray: I could be the fly on the wall in so many places.
Billy: Yeah. He would definitely be one of them. You want another one?
Kray: Sure. Let's go one more.
Billy: For completely other reasons, Channing Pollock because he's hot.
Kray: Hey, that I'd want to know too.
Billy: There you go.
Kray: Absolutely. I've always been a huge admirer of Houdini's and I was down in New York recently and I stopped by a local magic shop which doubles as the Houdini Museum, and I think I learned more in there than I ever learned online or in books. Just seeing some of the photos from his performances and some of the costumes. It was such a flashback to this olden day, and to just think about how people were perceiving magic back then in comparison to today where YouTube's very prevalent and you can find out how things are done pretty easily. It kind of ruins some of the magic, so being back in those days, to see in person how people would react to seeing that upfront I think would be just-
Billy: That would amazing.
Kray: Yeah. Alright. I have one final question for you.
What is one trick that you think every magician should learn, or at least attempt in their career?
Billy: One trick, that everybody should learn, or at least attempt? Ooh that's another good one. You're full of good questions. Trying to get the good answers.
Billy: In any kind of branch of magic?
Kray: Absolutely. I think it's important to look at the other things. That's something I've always done. I was always in tech, but I always knew what other people were doing around me for their jobs because it allowed me to do my job better and just being able to learn all this other stuff, I always found fascinating. So, any branch.
Billy: Okay. Well, I'm going to swing back full circle to ... Well, the first trick I saw was the cups and balls, and probably I would say it's one of the first tricks I learned. However, learning that routine and doing it specifically on the street taught me so much. I think this is one of the things that I learned from Gazz, the routine is not technically difficult, per se, but it's a routine ... and more specifically on the streets. It kind of magically, you put those three cups there and it instantly gathers a crowd for you. For some strange reason, it kind of does it on it's own.
It doesn't matter how short or how long a routine you do, for some reason learning the cups and balls, you learn slight of hand. You learn misdirection, but more importantly why doing that trick on the streets ... and I think this can relate to doing this routine indoors as well, is because the magic is so strong with it, it'll instantly gather you a crowd. So, the biggest lesson I learned from learning the cups and balls and performing it in different environments was that it taught me how to be a good entertainer and a good performer. Because everything else was already there, so how can I relax from that and make the routine more about me, I guess you could say, and get the audience to come on the ride with me as opposed to just the trick I'm doing. So, I think just that routine alone, I've learned so much from it and I think other people would as well.
Kray: Absolutely. That was an awesome answer for a very tough question.
Billy: Very tough question.
Kray: Excellent. Well, those are all the questions I have. Again, thank you so much for coming on the show. Like I said, I want to help inspire other magicians, especially from the homeland of Canada. There's just not enough coverage of the Canadians around, so let's see what we can do to change that.
Thank you very much.
Billy: Nice one. Nice chatting with you.
Kray: You as well.
Alright everybody, we'll see you again next time.