VANISH MAGAZINERead the feature story here!
Excerpts from an article by Morley Walker.
Reprinted from The Winnipeg Free Press
CRUISE SHIP LIFE IS PURE MAGIC
Life is a holiday for former Winnipeg magician James Cielen.
As a headline performer aboard Holland America Line cruise ships, Cielen plans to spend nine months of the year exploring the world's top vacation spots, eating lobster and filet mignon, and doing his weekly illusion show.
"I'm making more than I would make performing at some of the hotels in Las Vegas," Cielen, says via Internet e-mail from somewhere in the middle of the Caribbean.
"So, I'm very happy on the high seas."
If he's not happy, there's something seriously wrong.
A former "boy wonder" on the Winnipeg magic scene - best know for his performing colored doves - Cielen appears to have stumbled into a gig that even Houdini would be a fool to escape from.
"James has got it made," says his long time magical colleague Brian Glow. "It's the perfect gig."
Cielen has been plying his shipboard trade since he won the grand prize in the Las Vegas People's Choice Awards of Magic.
"He's in the ideal situation," says Glow. "He's good looking, he's smart, he's talented beyond belief. I'm sure he enjoys himself."
Sports and entertainment promoter Sam Katz was among several Winnipeggers who caught Cielen's act aboard the Veendam cruise ship in the Caribbean.
"This guy could work any showroom he wanted to in my eyes," Katz says. "He got a standing ovation. That's all people could talk about the next day."
Cielen's father, Frank, retired in 1994 as the city's deputy fire chief. Cielen's oldest brother, Randy, says the cruise ship life also has it's downside. James gives up certain freedoms," says Randy, a teacher who used to work as a musician aboard the Lord Selkirk River Boat.
"Once you're on the ship, you can't get off. Once you've seen a port five or six times, you have no more interest." But Cielen does have a nice suite on the ship and tons of perks.
Cielen sums up the advantages of cruise ship performing this way: "Travel around the world. Eat caviar and lobster all the time. Never wear a winter parka."
Did he forget romantic interludes, a la Titanic's Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet?
"Romances do go on all the time on ships," he teases. "The Love Boat TV series was not all make-believe."
Cielen met his fiancee while performing in the Caribbean. The wedding bells were ringing in 2005!
You'd think it might get boring for him, taking tours of exotic ports of call and working on his laptop while sipping margaritas on the ship's sun drenched deck.
A typical cruise, he explains, lasts seven to 12 days. He stars in his own show, An Evening of Magic, one night during the cruise. He also performs a close-up show one afternoon, for about a thousand people, using videos screens and HD cameras. Then, on the final night of the cruise, he performs as part of a variety show.
"That may sound like a very light schedule," says Cielen, who often gets compared to Las Vegas magical birdman Lance Burton.
"However, I am working behind the scenes all the time."
His show requires 10 to 12 hours of brute labor. That includes lighting and sound rehearsals, the actual show, then a breakdown of everything in the show.
On non-show days, he spends his time rehearsing, practicing new effects and improving the existing show. Maintenance of props also eats up time.
"My birds also require a lot of attention and continual training," he says. "I suppose I could just kick back and relax, but my work will eventually suffer and I will not grow as a performer."
An old friend, lawyer Brad Minuk, backs up Cielen's claim that his life is not a permanent vacation.
"James is a workaholic," says Minuk, a former magician who has been Cielen's pal since their junior high days in Garden City.
"If you look at him, he's not tanned," Minuk adds. "He's not the type to lie around on his ass in a hammock."
Mind you, he has been able to squeeze in the odd recreational hour.
"In Europe I spent the days sightseeing, trying to get unique publicity shots and meeting other magicians," Cielen says.
"In the Caribbean, sightseeing is out, as I've just about seen it all."
He lists some highlights of his travels.
"Monte Carlo was like a fairy tale with all the wealth. Shanghai was interesting with all the temples and inexpensive silks."
That's not all.
"I saw the Berlin Wall, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Eiffel Tower, the Western Wall and the Hermitage in Russia."
Can it already, James. What about the food? Don't you get tired of all that rich, high calorie intake?
"When you can have all the lobster, crab legs, filet mignon, soufflé and the most amazing desserts you can eat, you're inclined to indulge because you are on vacation," he explains.
"The food isn't all that special to me - because I get it ALL the time."
Despite his exotic lifestyle, Cielen says, his heart remains on the frozen prairie. The youngest of six Cielen offspring, he does get to visit his family occasionally.
"Winnipeg is a great place, and I'm glad to have grown up there," says Cielen, who earned a Commerce Honors Degree from the University of Manitoba.
Cielen has been living in Las Vegas since 1998. He continues to travel the globe on many Holland America ships, and performs in US and around the world for various corporations.
This article by Morley Walker.