or nearly two decades, magician Dan Chan ’99 has wowed audiences by getting up close and personal. Flipping cards, picking pockets, and disappearing coins are some of the tricks he has mastered. But when the coronavirus pandemic began last spring, his business ground to a halt as shows were canceled. Chan, who performed mainly at corporate gigs, lost $8,000 in business the first week, leading him to get down on his knees and pray. The 43-year-old father of two realized he had to reinvent his act for virtual audiences. In doing so, Chan found himself turning to the concepts he learned as a business major at UC Riverside, just as he did at the start of his career, and later while establishing himself as a Silicon Valley crowd pleaser.
“At first, my wife and I were scared,” he said. “I had to rewrite my show completely, and because this was a new medium, many mistakes were made, but now I am a lot more confident.”
Chan drew from one of the lessons he learned in business class on SWOT analysis, a strategy in which a business identifies strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. He also looked to Porter’s Five Forces, another technique for analyzing competition.
“Having that framework to analyze your business really helped me,” Chan said.
He studied how other magicians were transitioning to Zoom and purposely avoided doing similar tricks. He enhanced his presentation by adding a backdrop with red curtains, placing the camera at eye level, and dressing up for performances from his Fremont home. It was slow at first, and there were setbacks — he described a Zoom-bombing incident as “traumatic” for him and his 13-year-old son, James, a magician himself who helps with the act. Within two months, Chan was back performing for clients like Google, but this time for offices outside Silicon Valley. He’s done as many as 52 shows in a week and even 12 shows in a day — a personal record — for viewers in various time zones. In a recent Zoom call, Chan demonstrated some new card tricks — or effects, as he calls them — as well as a levitation illusion. He’s found a different level of intimacy when performing online, noting that everyone has a nametag on Zoom.
“At the beginning of the show, half their screens are off. Often, by the end of the show, all the screens are on,” he said, noting his favorite part of performing is seeing the audience’s faces light up in wonder.
MAGIC (AT) SCHOOL
That same feeling of wonder inspired Chan as a 6-year-old in San Francisco while watching a David Copperfield TV special in which the superstar magician made the Statute of Liberty disappear. Chan recorded it, watching the tape over and over, playing it in slow motion. Between fourth and eighth grades, he picked up a few card and coin tricks and started reading magic books and learning from magic kits. In high school, Chan performed magic to disarm bullies who made fun of him.
“I didn’t have the social skills, so magic was a crutch for what I lacked,” he said. “Because of the magic, my social skills really developed.” He said UCR gave him the opportunity to flourish and discover his interests, including magic — and juggling. During his first year, a comedy-juggling duo called the Passing Zone performed in his residence hall.
“Everything they did, I wrote down,” Chan said.
He learned the skill himself after meeting members of the student juggling club near the bell tower. After joining the group, members lent him magic-instruction VHS tapes.
“The relationships I built at UC Riverside springboarded my career,” he said. Chan worked at PayPal as a customer service representative after graduation, doing magic on the side at children’s parties. Thirteen months later, when the company was laying off employees, he asked to be let go in order to follow his passion.