PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 August, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 August, 2003, 12:00am

A PASSING GLANCE might leave one thinking David Kaye is just your average New Yorker as he walks along in T-shirt and jeans. But what's with the shoes? Even in New York, they are hardly de rigueur - one red, with a multi-coloured, curly rubber shoe lace, the other blue, with a plain lace. They are, apparently, what all the best-dressed magicians are wearing.

Some of them, anyway. 'I was so embarrassed when we travelled on the train together this morning,' says fellow magician Steven Kline, while sitting in Eddy's Magic Club in Fo Tan, 'because he's wearing those shoes.'

Technically, they are not Kaye's shoes, they are Silly Billy's. And Silly Billy, Kaye's most famous character and New York's leading conjuror for children (he has been hired by Madonna, Susan Sarandon and Bruce Springsteen), has brought all the tricks of his trade to town for the 5th Eddy International Magic Convention 2003, which runs from today until Sunday at the Hong Kong International Trade and Exhibition Centre (Hitec) in Kowloon Bay.

This year, apart from magic performances and classes hosted by world-class magicians, including Kaye, Kline and Lennart Green, the convention will also include a summer fun carnival, with booths selling magic products, books and VCDs, a magic workshop, games zone, costume fashion show and DIY workshop for children.

There are also competitions for the magicians from around the region who have signed up for the convention - the winner will go on the Star Of Magic Show, to be held at the same venue on August 17 - and a children's magic artist competition.

'It is not easy to be a magician for children,' says Eddy Au Wan-leung, a former magic man and now the owner of the convention organiser, Eddy International. 'One has to truly understand how and what children think.'

The 42-year-old Kaye has been tapping into children's thought processes for 18 years, but his interest in the art of magic began when he was eight. He developed his skills on the streets of New York, where passers-by started to ask him if he could be hired for parties.

'I had asked kids on the street to choose the silliest name from a few names I gave them,' Kaye recalls. 'Every time, they picked 'Silly Billy'.'

Soon his unique style of fashion had made its mark: red hat, giant yellow spectacles, red T-shirt and colourful pants with lots of pockets. And then there are those shoes.

He knows his trade, too, because Silly Billy will set you back some US$500 an hour. And while he admits the money is nice, Kaye says there are other reasons he stays with children's magic. 'I think child magic is not as respected as the other genres,' he says. 'But it has its own difficulties because you have to make everything you do really funny so the kids will enjoy it.'

Not to be upstaged, Kline decides to perform a little magic of his own. He rubs a victim's left ear, and a 50 US cent piece is produced. Then, with a flick of his hand, the coin turns into a gigantic coin 10cm across.

Originally from Columbus, Ohio, the 33-year-old also fell in love with magic as a child before building it into a career, one that sees him paid up to US$1,500 an hour. These days he plies his trade at corporate functions and at live shows, where he has made a name for himself for his stand-up comedy and close-up tricks.

'Doing magic is not a job,' says Kline. 'I just love to do it. At magic conventions in the States, we gather together like this for weekends and perform our own tricks for each other. We fool each other and share our experiences and knowledge.'

Kline, who was in Hong Kong for the convention last year, says he hopes to inspire local magicians to turn professional. Maybe that's what Hong Kong needs to help lift people's spirits. The International Magicians Society has more than 30,000 members across the globe, but less than 100 members in Hong Kong.

Kaye is also hoping to inspire. 'Someone has to teach new people how to do it. Magic is still secretive and so it's hard to learn the right way,' he says. 'I do this because I want to teach them the right way, improve the whole business, which then make the shows more enjoyable. Then more people will hire us.'

And while the life of a magician certainly looks to be all fun and games, Kaye has some words of warning. 'Bear in mind that only 5 to 10 per cent of magicians in the US do it for a living. But it's still a good thing to learn,' he says.

And there are obviously fringe benefits as well: 'You can be the life and soul of the party and it's good for breaking the ice. Not to mention that chicks dig magic. That's why a lot of guys learn it.'

The 5th Eddy International Magic Convention 2003 runs until Sunday. Full registration is $1,500, with two-day passes available for $1,200 and one-day passes for $900. If you are a fan of a particular magician, you can pay individually for each performance. Entry to the accompanying Summer Fun Carnival is $20 per head. For more details, go to