Sandra, left, and Heather McNeill, show off their first-place medals for stage magic from the Canadian Association of Magicians and Pacific Coast Assocation of Magicians competitions in April. Together, the Parksville sisters are The Magic of Zanthera. — Submitted by Heather McNeill

Magic duo ranks 1st in recent competitions

Parksville sisters go from Brownie badge to international stage

When it comes to magic, these girls are golden.

Sisters Sandra and Heather McNeill, otherwise known as The Magic of Zanthera, came home winners from a pair of competitions that pitted them against Canadian and Pacific Coast wizards this April.

It’s just their latest exploit on a more than 15-year journey into the world of magic that began for the pair in Brownies at the age of seven and nine.

To earn a badge that involved performing, they took a pass on the typical musical performance and chose to try their hands at magic instead.

“It was around the time that magic was starting to get really big … Harry Potter had just come out,” said Sandra. “We learned our first trick from our dad,” which included balancing glassware and making water disappear, she said.

So they put on a three-minute show for their Brownie troupe, and were soon asked to perform for other groups. Eventually, a parent approached them and asked if they did birthday parties.

“We were like, ‘Sure, absolutely,’ and then she asked, ‘Well what do you charge?’ … we were pretty close to seven and nine when we started, so we said, ‘I don’t know, talk to dad.’ And that was our first birthday party show,” Sandra said.

They’ve kept at it from then on, performing at a competition called the Battle of the Wizards in Qualicum Beach and continuing on from there.

Being a double-act of female magicians, the pair have always broken the mould in what they say is a male-dominated industry, and they’ve tried to do the same with their magic.

“None of our magic has ever been like the standard images of magic,” said Heather. “We’ve never done the rabbit out of the hat. We’ve never done cutting someone in half, as much as sometimes we’d love to. Everything we do is different.”

Asked why there are fewer female magicians, Heather said, “Whenever there is a woman involved in magic, they always get labeled with that assistant label, and even if they are doing some of the tricky business, or the moves, they are still labeled as an assistant,” said Heather. “It’s really hard, I think, for someone to break out of that.”

“It really is kind of a man’s world,” added Sandra, saying that most people think of men like Harry Houdini when they think of magicians.

“If you could name one female magician in history, I’d be impressed,” she said.

One benefit to having two magicians onstage at once, rather than a magician and an assistant as is traditional, is the pair can play with the audience’s expectations of who is doing what.

But of course, they only use their magic for good.

“It’s fun to watch people’s expressions when the whatever vanishes or when something appears and they get that look on their face like, ‘Wow, where did that come from?’” said Sandra.

“It’s also fun to watch people forget about all their worries and cares and their daily life, and you get to take them to a place where none of that matters and magic is real and it’s like being a kid again,” added Heather.

The pair also enjoy performing at fundraisers, having recently done so in Victoria for an elementary school.

Though they have nothing local fully planned as of yet, the pair hope to put on a local performance in late summer or early fall.