In 2009. Magic Babe Ning received the coveted Merlin Award for “Most Original Female Illusionist of the Year” from the International Magicians Society.
She somehow finds the time to serve as an ambassador for the Power Over Cervical Cancer campaign and Coke Zero’s “Wild at Heart, Fit in Body” campaign.
Inside Magic named her “The Smoldering Siren of Illusion.”
Ning is in great demand and so it we are appreciative of her willingness to undergo the Celebrity Magic Interview.
How did you become interested in Magic?
When I was 5, my kindergarten had a funny Chinese-speaking magician perform for us during Children’s’ Day. My friends and I were amazed at the things he could do – sure, he used comical looking stage props but it was the funniest moment we’d ever experience our entire lifetimes.
Later, when I first saw Copperfield on TV, he simply exuded steady sexiness and an air of deep sophistication with his illusions. He was the first illusionist I saw on TV and I was so smitten with the man, I even had his sexy GOT MILK? poster proudly stuck on my bedroom wall, instead of teenage boy bands like my other girl friends.
(I suppose it’s reasonable to hold DC responsible for my innate attraction towards older men 😉 )
DC inspired me to take up magic as a hobby.
So instead of playing with Barbie dolls, I picked up magic books at the local library and learnt easy magic effects that I could follow in the instructional pictures provided. The plush toys and stuffed animals on my bed would be my unblinking audience.
My first few tricks utilized crushed paper balls, Styrofoam cups, rubber bands and other typical items you could easily find around the house. But my family was nevertheless impressed by the precocious child that I was… am… and they’d always encourage me to perform to visiting relatives or friends, so they were mighty supportive about my love for magic – though it’s supposed to be only something boys did.
Then again, being the only girl in the extended family clan, I only had boys to play with so I’d be roughing it out with my cousins, playing soccer or wrestling. I was a real tomboy!
Though I was very young, I still felt the glee knowing magic secrets that could amaze and entertain others. I stuck to the Magician’s Code and with love and support from folks around me (the elders all found me strange – but in an endearingly geeky sort of way), I continued my journey simply because magic found me.
What does your family think of your career, success, and considerable publicity as Magic Babe?
Nope, I’m the “black sheep” of the family. It may have been easier perhaps if I had a mentor that way, but everyone else chose to be brainy engineers, medical professionals, busy bankers, successful business owners and there was absolutely no one in show business. My family is a respectable one and still rather traditional.
Everyone expected me to be some sort of corporate raider, since I spent my entire primary and secondary school education in a very strict all-girls Christian school (imagine – 10 years of sheer deprivation!), one of the very best academic institutions in the country.
In fact, it’s a known fact that most graduates of the school (Methodist Girls’ School) grew up to become politicians’ wives, just like Mrs. Lee Kuan Yew (the late wife of Singapore’s highly respected Minster Mentor) or high-profile lawyers or limelight-hogging socialites.
Hmmm… So that pretty much makes me the black sheep of the school too! Hahahaha.
While I’ve been inducted into my alma mater’s (film school) hall of fame, Methodist Girls’ School has yet to even ask me to come in to talk to the current students. I’m not surprised given that they are rather conservative and religious and might not think it very appropriate performing on stage in a bustier corsets and leather, but it’s perfectly fine. I’m still proud to be a MGS girl.
My family gives me their fullest support, though it wasn’t easy initially… understanding my rather unorthodox decisions and unique choices. My folks couldn’t comprehend why their eldest daughter wanted to be a full-time professional magician, after graduating with her Communications degree from The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (“RMIT”).
But in time they realized that I was enjoying my work and doing well doing what I do here and overseas, so they gave me their blessings. My sisters (they’re still in university and tertiary) simply think having Magic Babe as their big sister is pretty darn cool because of the special perks they get. Hahaha.
When did you begin to work as a professional magician?
I started from the ground up like most, doing magic for charities I felt for, like the Children’s Cancer Foundation. It was really fulfilling seeing these little tykes (who were recuperating from their painful chemotherapy treatment), grinning their infectious toothless grins and just plain laughing. I always believed magic to be used as a powerful tool to make other happy, and shouldn’t be used for an ego trip.
These memorable stints inevitably led to private parties because people I entertained wanted to have me perform at their homes, restaurants, company functions, etc., because I was such a novelty and they were simply, entertained! There wasn’t any other professional female magician in Singapore and I was more than just a pretty face.
Of course, the journey to getting where I am today wasn’t an easy one… It took a great deal of blood (literally), sweat and tears to push myself to be better and never simply settle.
So yes, magic was like a calling to me and this Libra girl believes in serendipity. The signs were all there. I was meant to become Magic Babe. Everything was simply destined.
In my earlier years, I was desperately trying to seek out female mentors in Singapore but was disappointed to find that the few women, who I knew, were only assisting the men in their lives – their father, their husband… and it was mostly for church. They weren’t full fledged magicians or professionals, but dancer/ assistants. Also, they didn’t share the same fire or passion I had for performing magic. They were very ‘old-school’ and didn’t know/ haven’t heard about the new effects I was talking about.
I was very disappointed but that made me realize I had to find my own way to become the magicienne I wanted to be. I took much inspiration from current pop culture, because I wanted a solid performance character that savvy audience of today could totally relate to… and not a cookie-cutter. I wanted it to be something of a believable extension of myself, yet larger than life on stage.
So the traditional image of the “lady magician” went out of the window for me. I rejected the safe stereotype because I knew I could be different and hence… instead of classic magic using parasols, rings and silks, I made use of my unique skills set like fire poi twirling, incorporating my love for martial arts, as well as, deadly weapons like Japanese sais and katanas. I guess I dared to challenge the “norm,” not caring what traditionalists felt, so I could truly radiate.
Is there a tendency to consider female magic performers to be assistants first rather than performers in their own right?
I think it’s a strong stereotype in the industry since it has always been a traditionally male-dominated art. But just because a woman’s a woman doesn’t mean she must be the assistant or dancer. One should check out her material and career milestones before shooting their mouths off or saying anything foolish that would make them look like a daft Male Chauvinistic Pig. >br> However, I’ve met men who think I’m a “bastardization” because they staunchly believe a woman’s place in magic should only be that of an assistant/ dancer, but they’re also the very same folks who insist on only performing the “classics of magic” and consider street magic trash. I suppose at the end of the day… Old perceptions are hard to change, but times are changing and one must roll with it, or risk being left behind 😉
How did you and J.C. Sum link up?
J C Sum’s been in the industry for 18 years and his notable magic production company, Concept: Magic, manages the country’s top quality magic talents, so after I’d made Second Runner Up in a 2006 stage magic competition and the news spread like wildfire (that a girl came out of the woodwork and made her mark, scoring high marks especially on originality), J C invited me over for an audition because he’d heard about me from various magicians working with him.
We’d met at a magic event and while I was thrilled with his invite, I was actually quite stressed about the audition, which had me perform close-up magic in front of him and his group of magicians. Also, I’d heard not-so good things about him from local magicians. But in the end, it turned out that these guys were just professionally jealous about J C’s accolades and were trying to tarnish his name.
Anyway, I went for the audition on a day I didn’t have classes at the University, and performed two different sets I’d prepared, as well as, my winning stage act – which was a visual mental magic/ contemporary mentalism piece. The finale had me do spontaneous combustion on a sheet of the day’s newspaper chosen by a spectator.
J C saw potential in me and decided to sign me up after we discussed about my views on magic and I was just very, very honest that I hated the stereotypes of magicians with bad outfits and generally, performing the lazy “same ole, same ole” – from magic effects, to even using the same music tracks. Of course, I was a young idealistic magician, who dared to try new things and wanted to make a difference. I didn’t care about the politics in magic, I just wanted to learn. I was simply, just passionate about magic.
I’d a very unorthodox set of skills and hobbies – so J C used them to my advantage. I could spin fire pois and and deftly work with a fire staff, so the next step was learning how to do fire eating. Initially I was afraid of getting injured because local magicians who did fire eating in their shows would flaunt their oral blisters like battle scars, but I quickly realized it was really about having the proper techniques. Breathe out, not in.
J C’s a reeeeeeeally tough teacher, but that’s because the man’s a perfectionist who only wants the best… that’s why some magicians can’t get along with him, because he has very high expectations – not just about magic showmanship and technical skills, but ethics too – like me, he’s against magic piracy because it just hurts the art and is very selfish.
To better myself, I practiced and rehearsed and trained intensively. I had long 16 hour days, and there were nights I’d cry in the studio because it was past midnight and I was deeply frustrated that I was still [messing] up a routine for an up-coming show happening a few days away. Most people don’t know how hard I worked but I really I had to work diligently to earn my stripes.
While some people may attribute Magic Babe’s good looks as a big draw of her success, I really beg to differ. It’s a blessing that’s also a curse. I had to make sure my magic was really solid to be taken seriously. If a female magician only has her beauty and isn’t equip with solid skills, it’d all just fall flat after the first show and she’d never get repeated bookings again since she’s unable to deliver what she’s billed for.
Working with him honestly is a love-hate relationship. We are fundamentally very similar in certain aspects – like our passion for good magic, ethics and originality… but he’s a very practical man who adopts realistic approaches, stemming from him being classically trained in magic (he has an amazing magic library of over a thousand books) and me being a magician from a younger generation, learning most of my material from DVDs and I’m always about being idealistic and pushing the bar.
We often argue and debate a lot, but we always reach a compromise. Turns out, it always works out for the best because I always challenge J C to design more innovative illusions and he makes me a better performer by being so hard on me . It’s a good professional relationship because we’re so different yet the same, and on stage, we just have that chemistry that definitely improved over the years we’ve worked together.
How did you come up with the persona Magic Babe?
Magic Babe was actually a nickname from an ex-boyfriend, which kinda stuck. She’s a wicked cocktail combination of all the sexy, feisty, confident, sassy real-life women I know… and an extension of me. I’m really a magic geek, still am really. I love reviewing magic items on my online shop (www.MagicBoutique.sg) Plus! The adrenaline junkie in me loves dangerous weapons and playing with fire, so all that got incorporated in – the fire eating, razor blade swallowing, fire spinning, dancing with katana swords, and flourishing with Japanese sais… Magic Babe is like your fearless kickass Charlie’s Angel who does magic. Lately, I’ve allowed my own quirky humor slip into my character because she certainly has evolved. I think it works well because it lends depth and dimension into her 🙂
Before I joined Concept: Magic, I was doing magic solo. My stage character was dressed in a tight-fitted tan colored trench coat as I modeled after Jean Grey, my favorite X-MEN character. After joining J C, the clothes just seem to shrink and get shorter/ less… Hahaha… Magic Babe definitely isn’t your birthday party magician because there’d surely be a lot of unhappy moms, but for my target audience, it works. Many big organizations use us and I’ve also been endorsed by companies who see my USP. Lately, I’ve also been the brand ambassador for several MNCs like Coke Light and LG.
I love magic and Magic Babe will be a character that will always continue to evolve over time… It’s essential to always keep things current and be relevant. But there are also other projects I’d love to explore and dabble in. Recently a few TV and film deals are being presented, but we’ll see… Magic is still my first love 🙂
Was it a big decision to perform the straight-jacket escape in Inversion?
Ahahahaha… I’m a huge Houdini fan-girl and the physically challenging upside-down straight jacket escape has been something I’d ALWAYS wanted to do. So the truth was, I didn’t even think twice when I was approached to perform it ‘live’ suspended 3 floors up without any safety devices.
To make things more challenging, J C placed a heavy bed of metal spikes (checked by members of the audience) directly under where I was – and I was simply being lifted up by hooks on my feet! There was no safety line or net below me. INVERSION was performed on Father’s Day last year and my Dad was in town watching the performance, so he wasn’t exactly too thrilled because all the risks were real, just like THE IMPALEMENT CAGE, which saw me having only 90 seconds to pick locks and escape from death.
Though my Straitjacket Striptease act has been in my one-gal show since the start, I still had to prepare for INVERSION in parts. When one is inverted, blood rushes down to your head when you’re upside down and the first few times I tried doing my straight jacket escape inverted, I got a blinding headache. I also had to improve my diet and step up on my workout regime to be in absolute top shape for the one-off escape stunt, which the media was buzzing.
I love escapology, and I really do admire the small handful of women who do it professionally because it really isn’t easy. Everything must be perfectly executed or your life will be at stake. If you’re a pretty girl, it’d be easier for you to get fame (if that’s what you’re after) by being a model/ actress/ singer than being in magic because being good in magic takes a lot of effort.
But to be a successful pure escape artiste, I think it’s more difficult than being a magician because it’s really physical work and you must always be in top condition. The Libra in me likes being pampered, so for me, it’s still magic first… escapology second. *purr*
Were you ever afraid performing an effect, escape, or in a certain venue?
I don’t get stage fright anymore, but I love that feel of adrenaline pumping away when we get massive crowds and when the lights are so bright they almost seem blinding. I think it’s all because of conditioning. After our 13-month ‘Ultimate Magic’ stint at Clarke Quay (Singapore’s only permanent magic show), which was endorsed by the Singapore Tourism Board, as well as, performing for different people of different cultures here and overseas (including Royalty)… I don’t feel scared anymore. We have a very efficient team and proper preparations are always done before the actual show, so because everyone is well aware of their responsibilities, there are never cock-ups. Unless the technical riders wasn’t met, some hiccups may occur, but J C’s trained the lot of us to think fast on our feet… so we always manage some way around it and the audience wouldn’t be the wiser.
If you weren’t performing magic, what would you be doing?
I’d be running a social enterprise here that would help under-privileged kids in need of food and education. For many years now, I’ve been sponsoring a young Mongolian boy through WorldVision. I’m glad now his impoverished community gets proper water sanitation and electricity, and that he also gets to go to school. From time to time he sends me drawings using the art supplies I got him, and he’s an incredibly talented young artist:)
What advice would you give to a young magician looking to succeed?
For the magician who wants to be a commercial artist: Dare to be different, doesn’t be a cookie cutter. Stay away from magic politics, negativity just sucks energy outta you. Be hungry to improve, being complacent = stagnancy = death. Always practice and make sure your material is good enough before performing it or posting a video out there on the Internet. Don’t support magic piracy, please have a backbone. Good ethics makes you a better person, as well as, a better magician. Also, don’t flaunt how many years you’ve been in magic. Instead ask yourself – how many real shows have you truly performed? The more shows you do, the more you improve because real life experience weigh far heavier than just showing off flourishes or technically complicated sleights. People just want to be entertained; no one cares about your ego when you try to show off.
What special advice would you give to the many young female magicians around the world who hope to succeed? How should they evaluate their public image and persona if they do not feel they have your beauty?
I’d really LOVE to have more girls in the magic scene 🙂 I think you need to know your USPs (unique selling prepositions). People have pointed out some Magic Babe wannabes, girls who model themselves completely after my stage character. It’s kinda cute to have clones, but I sure do wish they knew what their very own special potential was. It’s a big waste when you try to be imitation or copy of somebody else, when you can be yourself – a stellar unique one at that too. So while you can take inspiration from other women in magic like Princess Tenko, Jade, Luna Shimada, Connie Boyd, Arian Black, Melinda (now retired), etc – do your homework and create your own unique identity and persona. Identify what’s the good thing you have going for you, and come up with something fresh and different. But stage character aside, if you want to be taken seriously, be prepared to really work hard on your magic because you need decent skills, and not just rely on your charms.
What is (are) your favorite . . . Magician or magic act?
It’s hard to pick just one but I really love Marco Tempest’s tech genius when it comes to all things virtual, Luis de Matos for his suave style of performing illusions… and of course, J C Sum for all his creative illusion designs and mega illusions 😉
Effect that you perform or have performed?
Every major project is special to me, it’s like asking a mother to pick her favorite child. I can’t, they are all my babies. It’s been an exciting and awesome ride thus far, but I think the best is yet to be 🙂
Easy question… The one that J C and I are currently writing together! As many magicians may be aware, J C has published many books and they’ve been sold worldwide in 35 countries, including US and the UK. This one’s gonna be even more special. More info about it later 😉
Non-magic hobby or sport?
I’m a girl of extremes… 5 different things I love popped into my head, so I’ll just list them all here. In no particular order: Playing my violin – I own a classical violin and an electric one (in hot pink acrylic – from English luthier Ted Brewer, who crafted Vanessa Mae’s own electric violin). I am very much in love with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Music of the Night’. The melancholic piece is my all-time favorite violin score. Even cooler when you can do reverbs, loops and peddle effects on the electric.
Patisserie – I really enjoy baking cookies for friends and making loved ones homemade gourmet marshmallows. I recently created a few new, original flavors I’m very proud of because of they’re very popular with the folks. Maybe in my next break, I’ll take a short patisserie course at the famous Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, since French is my 4th language.
Art – I love visiting museums. I own a few art reproductions, my favorite being Van Gogh’s evanescent ‘Starry Night’, which I’ve hung up in the office. It always makes me feel better when I gaze at the swirling stars and brilliant colors. I also have a Da Vinci, Botero, Klimt, Miro, Escher and Dali.
KAPAP, short for Krav Panim el Panim is translated as “face to face combat”. Essentially, it is the martial art that trained the Israeli Special Forces use to kick serious butt. I was recently offered by my Sinseh to train as an instructor, which is a huge honor! It’s a very real street fighting technique, which also involves knife work, ground grappling, pressure points utilization, understanding body mechanics as well as, incorporating clever principles of Wingchun and Brazilian Jujitsu. In other words, it’s great for the fairer sex and it’s really FUN 🙂
Traveling – I loooooooooove to travel and there’s nothing better than experiencing new places, cultures, people, food and all things different. I don’t like doing the tourist thing, but instead, I enjoy taking the roads less traveled and not being treated differently, but instead, being almost one with the locals and relishing their way of life. Often, it deeply humbles me as a person and my soul feels recharged at the end of it all.
Motto or words to live by?
Karma is real – so be nice, or you’ll get bitten back in the arse.
Type of music and/or musician?
All sorts really… Except throat singing, maybe. When I was in film school, I was considering being a professional club DJ – I had my Numark turntables and the works. But instead, magic happened!
As cosmopolitan this girl is, she still likes her healthy tofu and noodles… I don’t mind junk food if there’s no other options, but I think it’s just such a waste of calories!
Color? Number? Texture?
I love the feel of dipping my fingers into deep sacks of rice, the brilliant splash colors in sky in the early morning and my favorite number… 11. Reminds me of soul mates. Two different entities separated, but one completely new whole joint together 🙂
Way to relax?
I read. A lot. I have books and books in my apartment and I always read before going to bed. I’m lucky that I’ve got perfect eyesight because I’ve always been a bookworm. Besides good magic material, I enjoy “muggle” books on philosophy, psychology, mythology, marketing trends, social media, your contemporary helpful stuff… so actually it took me an agonizingly long time to finish my copy of Eat, Pray, Love which my best friend gave me years ago. But gimme anything by Neil Gaiman and I’ll lap it all up!
Way to wake-up / get ready to perform?
Favorite way of waking up in the mornings… er, can’t say it here, because this is supposed to be a PG website?
Favorite way of getting all juiced up to hit the stage… Easy. I always have my trusty iPod with me and I’d blast my eardrums with the appropriate music to get me all started. Pussycat Dolls or Lady Gaga if I wanna feel hot, bothered and sexy …or ‘Eye of the Tiger’ if I just wanna get hyped for a high-energy illusion show that requires lots of physical exertion!
I’m sure there are plenty of great people in history and they are known for all their wonderful contributions to society. But my favorite person will always be my mother. She isn’t an inventor or some famous person. But she is my real-life hero because she gave birth to me, has always been there for me and completely accepts me for me. She’s made plenty of sacrifices and her selflessness is something I will always be thankful for.
Place to be?
The present. Here and now.
I never had a pet… As a kid, I had friends who gave me hamsters, goldfish and terrapins, but I always had to return them. I once helped babysit a friend’s tamagotchi for a couple of days, but never felt a bond with it. The digipet just ate and pooped a lot. So nope, I’m really not big on animals. But if I could I’d love a pet snake!
You can visit and communicate with Ning at one of her many locations on the web: Web: www.magicbabening.com Blog: www.magicbabe.wordpress.com / Twitter: www.twitter.com/magicbabening Facebook: www.facebook.com/magicbabe & www.facebook.com/jcsum.magicbabening