Anthony Hernandez has made a career out of escaping tight situations.
The illusionist’s tricks include getting out of handcuffs, locked boxes and 55-gallon drums of water.
Now he is looking to escape a national crisis that made his livelihood disappear.
Hernandez performs professionally as Anthony the Magic, and before the novel coronavirus pandemic he performed the equivalent of almost two shows for every day of the year. He and his partner Dawn Morgan said they did 650 shows a year, ranging from two-hour Las Vegas-like productions at Welk Resorts San Diego to one-on-one visits with patients at Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital.
“On March 13, that all came to a screeching halt,” Hernandez said in a phone interview.
That was when businesses began to shut as cases of COVID-19 began to mount in Southern California, quickly leading to stay-at-home orders from Gov. Gavin Newsom and that closure of all performance venues.
In addition to losing work, the shutdown will likely cost Hernandez a milestone in his career.
His home base is Castle Park in Riverside, where he was hired by founder Bud Hurlbut in 1995 to work the concession stand in the Big Top, a performance space shaped like a circus tent. The amusement park had scheduled a 25th anniversary celebration for him at the end of the month. But with Riverside County and the state grappling with multi-stage plans for reopening, that date could be in doubt.
“The hardest part for us is the unknown,” he said.
Hernandez came to Riverside at 18 after graduating from high school in 1994. He is originally from Santa Maria on California’s Central Coast, where he was raised by his grandparents. Hernandez became interested in magic after being inspired by a David Copperfield TV special at age 12.
He didn’t get off to a smooth start.
“It was terrible. I tried to escape from handcuffs underneath a cardboard box. I tried to make my cousin disappear. This was at the Strawberry Festival in Santa Maria, so there were hundreds of people. I saw this trap door on the stage, and I said ‘We’re going to pull this cloth over you and you’re going to jump in the hole.’ So we practiced that. We didn’t practice him coming out.”
His grandparents advised him to get a teacher. He found Ralph Adams, a local retired magician who had performed his stunts on TV shows such as “The Hollywood Palace.”
Hernandez honed his skills during his early years at Castle Park after convincing Hurlbut to let him perform on the Big Top stage.
That’s where he met Morgan, who has a background in figure skating and sports marketing.
“Sixteen years ago, she said ‘Let’s work together. I’ll make you money, and we’ll make some magic.’ And we took off.”
They teamed up in 2004, increased their bookings and polished the act.
“People think magic is corny,” said Morgan, joining the phone interview. “A lot of magicians do the same corny jokes. It’s just finding the right music, the right joke, the right way to present a trick and making it cool.”
Their regular gigs include Tom’s Farms in Corona for 16 years and Marriott resorts in Newport Beach and Palm Desert for seven years. They thought their run at the Welk Theatre in Escondido would last a couple of years, but it’s up to 14.
Each venue gets a custom show.
“Anthony and I are constantly trying to find something new, and that’s how we’ve kept our venues for so long. Our shows are like our children. Lawrence Welk will get a grand illusion. And we’ll leave it there for two years. And then it will go to Castle Park, and then it will go to Tom’s Farms, and then it will go into the school shows. And then it will either go back to Lawrence Welk, but if we’ve outgrown it, we’ll sell it or trade it to other magicians.”
Hernandez called them family shows.
“Our show is not a kiddie show, and there’s no major innuendo.”
He noted seniors among the best audience members, because they respect the art.
Hernandez and Morgan miss their audiences. Hernandez initially thought he could use the COVID-19 down time to work on his illusions, but it hasn’t played out that way. The couple immediately got warehouse jobs to avoid dipping into their savings and are working graveyard shifts.
They’re hoping that some of their summer bookings come through, even if audiences are reduced for social distancing.
Meanwhile, Hernandez still has a key to Castle Park and visits it to feed a peacock that lives there.
It remains a magical place to him.
“It’s home. It’s where I practice on a full stage. I have a key to the park. It’s where I met Dawn. It’s an incredible place. And I love it.”
Anthony the Magic
Castle Park: castlepark.com
Tom’s Farms: tomsfarms.com
Welk Resort Theatre: sandiegotickets.welkresorts.com