When he was seven years old, Michael James saw something on The Muppet Show that captivated him.

As Canadian magician Doug Henning was performing, James realized that he wanted to do the same. The Corner Brook, N.L. native threw himself into magic and stuck to that path.

By his 20s, he was accepted for an apprenticeship with Dale Salwak at Chavez Studio of Magic. He quit his radio station job and moved to Los Angeles to study under the renowned magician.

The urge to perform is in his blood. His father was an actor, singer, and entertainer while his mother managed a theatre in Newfoundland.

“I grew up surrounded by performers of all genres, musicians, actors, variety entertainers—you name it,” James says. “This constant exposure to the arts as a child sparked my desire to be on stage to perform. Magic was fascinating to me … There was just something appealing about being able to mesmerize, amaze, and bring that sense of wonder back to people. You have this innate sense of wonder as a child, but you become jaded as you get older, and magic brings that back.”

During his time in Los Angeles, his manager submitted a Halifax Busker Festival application. He had no experience as a street performer, but took the plunge for the first time at the festival in 1999.

“I dove in, got my feet wet, and learned a lot, and aside from falling in love with street performing, I fell in love with Halifax,” he says. “I called my roommate back in L.A., told him I wouldn’t be coming back … and tried to build a career in Halifax.”

Michael James. Photos: Submitted

James will be one of two magicians performing on Magic Monday at the 2021 BuskerFest on Aug. 2. It will mark the magician’s first performance since the beginning of the pandemic. It’s been a tough 18 months. He saw two years of booking evaporate, losing festivals and live shows, plus lucrative corporate work like conventions, conferences, and tradeshows.

Looking ahead to this year’s festival, James is excited to perform live again in front of the audience. With public health protocols in place, he’ll be cutting back on the audience participation.

“There’s going to be some definite changes to the show, but the entertainment value is still going to be there,” he says. “It’s filled with amazement, and magic, comedy. I’m thrilled to be back on stage. I feel like the weight of the world has been lifted off my shoulders. If for 45 minutes I can take away your worries and entertain you and put a smile on your face, then I’ve done my job.”

And that’s what organizers hope for: you might notice a different structure this year, but they want visitors to be as entertained as always.

“Knowing that there wouldn’t be any international travel and such in the crowd sizes, we couldn’t do a traditional Buskers festival,” Christina Edwards says. “At Buskers, people want to go up and sit up close to the artists, and we couldn’t have that, so what could we do to create live entertainment and some job opportunities for artists themselves, and create great entertainment for audiences.”

This year’s three-day event will be on the stage at the foot of Salter Street. The theme is Music and Magic. On July 31 and Aug. 1, musicians will perform on the hour from 1 to 8 p.m. James and Ian Stewart headline the Magic Monday event on Aug. 2 from noon to 6:30 p.m. It will be a busy week, as East Coast Amusement’s midway will also be on the waterfront from July 26 to Aug. 1.

“It’s the first time we’re going to be into crowds in a proper outdoor event, and we’re excited,” Edwards says. “I hope that they get some sense of joy, some sense of ‘oh yes, this is what my life could be like if we all follow the rules, get vaccinated, and help contain any future outbreaks’ … I want everybody to have this good feeling of being together but apart and enjoying each other’s company.”

Halifax Magazine