Many kids take up a hobby while growing up — painting, collecting baseball cards, horseback riding — but the number of kids who keep their hobbies in adulthood dwindles, and even fewer people turn their childhood hobby into a career.
Lou Johnson isn’t most people.
Johnson, 45, is a juggler, magician, performer and Valley Stream resident who learned his first trick at age 6. The youngest of three growing up in Massachusetts, Johnson said it was his brother, Maynard, who showed him his first trick in the early 1970s. It was that and his grandmother’s love of bridge and other card games that got him interested in the world of magic.
“I love great figure skating and gymnastics,” he said, “but I can’t pull a back handspring to save my life, but magic came to me.”
While in high school, Johnson took a career exploration course where he got the opportunity to get some hands-on experience at a local magic shop. The shop’s owner, Ray Goulet, a seasoned performer himself, took Johnson under his wing. Johnson loved working at Goulet’s magic shop where he would sweep floors and dust posters in addition to learning new tricks. Johnson didn’t receive a paycheck for his work, and when his class requirements were satisfied, he didn’t stop going to the shop.
Johnson worked in Goulet’s magic shop every Saturday for three years and over the summers as well. Professional magicians would come into the shop and Johnson would learn as much as he could.
Although history wasn’t his best subject in school, Johnson loved learning about the roots of magic and the performers who came before him. Goulet would give him tricks to learn each week, but it wasn’t long before Johnson was asking for entire books to read. It was there that Johnson learned that the oldest tricks are the best tricks. Every so often, he uses the first trick his brother taught him in his act.
He went on to the University of Maine to pursue a degree in theater, but he wound up graduating from another college first: the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College.
Johnson was a natural juggler, and has since made many high-profile appearances juggling, including a spot on the “Today Show.” He was an alternate for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus upon graduation but was never called.
In 1993, he graduated from the University of Maine and traveled to New York City to pursue a career in acting. A few years later he was offered a position teaching circus arts with the National Circus Project. Johnson estimates that he has taught more than 500,000 kids across the Northeast, but ultimately gave up the job because of the travel required.
He and his wife, Cynthia, who graduated from Central High School in 1991, will celebrate their 12th wedding anniversary in April. Cynthia first met Johnson at one of his shows, and years later she still enjoys his ever-evolving act. “Seeing the audience’s reactions, especially the children, it’s just a beautiful thing,” she said of his performances. “He’s so talented that it just radiates off the stage.”
Johnson works full-time as a magician and performer, appearing at local events and parties and also corporate gatherings. On a typical workday, Johnson will handle his bookings online, make sure his website, www.loujuggler.com, is up-to-date, practices in his home’s Magic Room and then does what he does best — performing for a group of people.
Johnson works with all types of props, including cards, coins, stilts and hoops, and can be seen frequently in Valley Stream at the Henry Waldinger Memorial Library and every Thursday from 7 to 9 p.m. at Sip This on Rockaway Avenue.