Abracadabra! Retirement is a magic carpet ride at Dickens Theatre

DAGSBORO — In the magic carpet ride of life, Randy Forster has a rather unique distinction of having been associated with both IBMs.

“I worked for IBM after college, as a salesman and sales manager,” said Mr. Forster. “And I am a member of International Brotherhood of Magicians. So, I have been involved with both IBMs: International Business Machines and now International Brotherhood of Magicians for a long time.”

Magician Randy Forster performs a trick at American Legion Post 28 during a March fundraiser supporting the Auxiliary Unit 28 and one of its charitable causes.

A salesman in the computer world by trade most of his working life, the 69-year-old Baltimore native remains quite active. His home away from home is the Dickens Parlour Theatre – a cozy staging venue where he and others perform magic.

“Rich Bloch, the owner and an amazing magician in his own right and a magic inventor, brings in magicians from all over the world that are world class magicians, guys from America’s Got Talent, from the famous Magic Castle in Hollywood that are all phenomenal,” said Mr. Forster. “I am happy to be associated with them and have become friends with many of them. That is the excitement for me, in addition to the audience, hanging around with the real magicians. I never did it for a living. These guys do it for a living. That is the difference.”

Yes, he has seen the movie Houdini starring Tony Curtis. That’s not what – Abracadabra! – hooked him on magic.

“I was a salesman for IBM, I started in 1973. I was walking up Charles Street in downtown Baltimore. I saw a little sign that said Yogi Magic Mart … third floor,” Mr. Forster said. “I was in a suit. I was out selling IBM equipment. I said, ‘I’ve got 10 minutes. I’m going upstairs.’ It was a tiny little room. Junk was piled everywhere. And the place was packed with people – guys like me in suits, kids, women, bums stood in line. I got to the front of line and the man said, ‘Can I help you son?’ and I said to him, ‘Yeah, I’d like see some magic. I don’t know anything about magic but I like it. But show me a trick that anybody can do.’ He said, ‘Sure.’ Then I said, ‘I’ve got to know how to do that.’ He said, ‘It will cost you a dollar.’ I couldn’t get the money out of my wallet quickly enough. I gave him the dollar. He takes you to a little backroom, shows you the trick. I said, ‘That’s all there is to it? For a buck I could have bought a whole deck of cards. I’m only buying three cards?’ He says, ‘Sonny, the cards are free. What you are buying is the secret to the trick.’ That is when I got started.”

The magical fire was further stoked a few years later when Doug Henning burst onto the scene.

“Doug Henning was in my opinion the man that re-birthed magic. He was a little hippie kind of guy; longish hair, wild costumes. It wasn’t the traditional attire of a magician; very colorful, flamboyant clothing and long curly hair with a mustache. He burst on the scene in New York with a Broadway show called The Magic Show in the mid to late 70s. I was still fooling around from the Yogi Magic Mart when I saw Doug Henning perform. He went on to have TV shows every year, which were the predecessor of the David Copperfield Specials that followed. I saw him in person. I was hooked. I decided I wanted to learn how to do magic,” said Mr. Forster. “I saw David Copperfield many, many times and that just continued to fuel the fire. I love it.”

“In fact, when I worked at Compaq Computer, we would always have an international sales conference and would always do something spectacular. We had David Copperfield one year, introducing the chairman of the board out of four empty boxes. We had him introduce some new products out of empty boxes also.”

Mr. Forster was born in Baltimore. “Near old Memorial Stadium, where the Orioles and Colts used to play,” he says.

He’s a master of old-time Orioles trivia.

Quick like a cat and without Googling, name the four winning pitchers in the Orioles’ stunning four-game sweep of the mighty Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1966 World Series.

In sequential order, Moe Drabowsky (in relief of Dave McNally), Jim Palmer, Wally Bunker and Dave McNally.

“I spent lots of summers there. This is back in the 60s. Friends of mine, we’d hang around in front of the stadium. Tickets weren’t expensive then. And people would be like, ‘Hey kid, we’ve got a couple extra tickets.’ We’d be there every night during the summer,” said Mr. Forster. “There might be two of us, might be four of us or six of us on any given night. We’d end up with two, to four, to six, to eight to 10 to 12 tickets. We would know which ones were best. We’d keep those and sell the rest and be able to buy a hot dog and Coke. We were 15, 16 years old. I went to baseball games every night. I have Oriole trivia coming out my ears.”

“I was there when Rocky Colovito hit four home runs in one game. I was there when Mickey Mantle broke his ankle in centerfield; he got it caught under the fence. I was there when Roger Maris hit No. 60 in Baltimore against ‘Fat Jack’ Fisher,” Mr. Forster said. “I knew and still know, even though it has been demolished, Memorial Stadium like the back of my hand. I can tell you how the sections go.”

Mr. Forster and his wife Pat reside fairly close to the beach, although their address is technically Dagsboro. They’ve been married for 18 years and together for 28 years. It’s the second marriage for both. Between them they have five children, ages 33 and 40 and six grand kids, ranging from nine years of age to three weeks.

“I was her son’s first basketball coach,” he said. “That is how we met.”

Mr. Forster attended Towson Catholic High School. “I actually went to West Point for a couple years. I decided I didn’t want to make the military a career and left and ended up graduating from then Towson State College,” he said.

He worked for IBM for 13 years before moving on to other employment endeavors. “I was in sales and marketing my whole career and a sales VP at Compaq and Metrocall,” he said.

This week’s People to Meet: Randy Forster.

Card tricks are a staple in Randy Forster’s magic act.

Your magic career?

“I never did magic as a profession. I am used to be being in front of people at a sales meeting. I would start meetings with some trick that would relate to something that I was talking about that day or a product. Then through word of mouth I ended up doing more, adult parties for friends, but in somebody’s living room. Only when I got here did I start getting on stage. The owner, Rich Bloch has mentored me on the stage so to speak, from the theatrics of it. He has mentored me and helped me develop a stage show. When you do a show at Dickens it’s an hour show, on stage for an hour which a lot of people can’t do. And it’s a one-man show. He has been great to work with and work for.”

Your magic routine?

“In my show I have a couple standard things I say leading into certain tricks. When people find out you are a magician they always ask you one of three questions.  They used to say, ‘Can you make my wife disappear?’ But I’ve changed it to, ‘Can you make my mother in law disappear?’ so I don’t alienate anybody in the audience. Can you make my mother in law disappear? I say, ‘We don’t touch that one.’ Number 2, How did you do that? We usually say, ‘Pretty well.’ Number 3, ‘Will you teach me a trick?’ In my show if they say ‘Will you teach me a trick?’ I teach the audience how to do a trick but there is a surprise ending where they really don’t know how it was done. Even though they think they know how it’s done, they don’t.”

Audience response?

“There is certainly some comedy in a lot of the magicians’ shows and there is comedy in my show, I hope. Usually people are laughing. I have a few bits that are pretty funny and a few standard lines that are funny.”

“There are only 50 permanent seats, and 60 seats total if we put a temporary row in. When they leave hopefully they will remember that they laughed, and they had a good time but they will leave with some amazement hopefully and enjoy the magic.’

“If you don’t like magic in my opinion there is something wrong with you. Now certain people like it in different ways. Some people have to know how it’s done. There are some people that are dying to know, and other people say they don’t want to know, they just like the amazement of it. It’s fun to see both sides of the audience, to see the joy on people’s faces that this was a fun night out. That’s what it’s all about.”

The 50-sometimes-60-seat Dickens Parlour Theatre in Millville is the staging venue for magic, and now other forms of entertainment.

The Dickens Theatre?

“The summer is seven days a week in two locations for the theatre. A lot of people don’t know this but we have a relationship with the Holiday Inn in Ocean City, Maryland on 67th Street. It is called Dickens on the Road. They give us a conference room. We turn it into a theatre just for the summertime. And the same thing with our theatre, it’s seven days a week from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The rest of year Dickens is open all year round, just on weekends.”

“This year we started branching out and had lectures, plays and musicals and musicians in addition to magic. It is still mostly magic, but we’ve done those other things. But in the summertime, it’s seven nights a week, magic, a different magician every week and the same at Ocean City. Typically, the guys that come in do two weeks – a week at Dickens and a week in Ocean City. We change on Wednesday nights so if there is a family vacationing in either Ocean City or Bethany and they love magic they can see two different shows by two different people.”

Mr. Forster is scheduled to perform for a week Aug. 15 -21 at the Holiday Inn in Ocean City.

Your Sussex connection?

“I’ve always had a second home here in the Bethany area. My dad worked for the state of Maryland. We used to come to Ocean City all the time. Then as a young man I started going to Bethany and had a second home there since the late 70s. My wife, Pat, used to also come to Bethany. We both love Bethany. When we retired for good which was five years ago we both decided that this is where we wanted to live. So, we moved here full-time five years ago.”

Leisure time?

“The kids and grand-kids come down to visit quite often. And we have a boat. We love being on the water. We love the beach. We both love to play golf. I played tennis as a younger man. My oldest son is a tennis pro at Bethesda Country Club in Bethesda, MD and my youngest son is a USTA Champion in Virginia Beach.”

“Golf, boating, beaching. I’m involved in the theatre. I do a lot at the theatre in the summertime, particularly when we get busy.”

Closing thoughts?

“I’m having a blast. I’m hanging out at the theatre. I’m selling sponsorships to the program. I do community nights in the off-season. People have fun. They see their neighbors. We sell the place out. And it’s a good time. It helps the theatre with some revenue on a night that they typically wouldn’t get much revenue.”

“Even though we are starting our ninth season, it is a well-kept secret. It’s a beautiful little theatre. The magicians are phenomenal. And nobody has ever come and left and said they didn’t have a great time.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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