Imagine integrating magic tricks and a comedy show, with an added pinch of impressive afro hair: here comes Ross Stephenson, a young entertainer, known for his out-of-the-box performances in Malaysia. Many people would assume that performers like him are super confident and not anxious at all as they enter the stage, yet Ross told us otherwise.
“People often think that I don’t get nervous. This is a lie. I get nervous, in fact, I’d be hard pressed to find any performer who doesn’t feel even just a little bit of nervousness before a performance.”
In fact, there is much more to performing as a career, whether it lies in the art of magic, comedy or emceeing, than simply showing up on stage, and especially in Malaysia, where the arts are not completely accepting as a path for young people to pursue. The reality of it all is much more complex.
Ross Stephenson’s interest in performing magic tricks started when he was just 9 years old. Back then, he considered himself to be “quite a shy child”. Nevertheless, Mr. Dass, the instructor of the Memory Master & Leadership Workshop he was attending at that time, piqued his curiosity by doing a magic trick in class and that small moment of wonder for the students was followed by the introduction of a Magic Class, which everyone had excitedly agreed to.
“Magic helped me break out of that shell because magic requires you to interact and perform tricks to people. It was thanks to those early experiences in life that I built my confidence and creativity.”
It was only years later that Ross mixed jokes and humour in his magic tricks, which was suggested by his father when he was asked to perform for the Annual Ball of Taylors College Sri Hartamas, where he was studying. After pushing his creative boundaries to the max, his performance was more than successful. “It was at that moment, I realised I should give comedy a try.”
Today, Ross Stephenson considers himself to be an independent freelance entertainer, albeit part-time, merging not only the art of magic with comedy shows but also incorporating his hilarious tricks in emceeing for various events. In fact, emceeing—another performance he enjoys doing— is another way to express his passions and talents on stage.
The journey to arrive at where he is today was nonetheless not without its pitfalls. One of them was his parents’ reluctance to allow him to pursue a career in the performing arts industry. Indeed, back in his Magic Class, he was not permitted to go above Level 1.
“My father firmly said no, and often told me that magic was just a hobby and at times, just a waste of time too, I was treated to the age old ‘focus on your studies’.”
He was heartbroken and, admittedly, angry at his parents at that time, especially as his friends would climb to advanced levels and even get the opportunity to travel to Thailand to learn from a Magic Master.
However, he decided to channel these emotions and future unfortunate circumstances into productivity: he would keep on practising, while making mistakes and learning from them.
It is thanks to his hardwork and perseverance which he directed towards his passions that he was able to build his reputation as an entertainer.
“Nobody asked me to perform magic at every event, nobody asked me to carry tricks around wherever I went, and nobody asked me to sacrifice hours of my time to help others. I did all those things without being told, instructed, or directed. I did those things, because they were the kind of things I was passionate about and intrinsically motivated towards doing,” he said.
Moreover, what motivated him strongly to keep at his job and embrace it every day is his belief that God has purposed in his heart to be a helpful person who brings joy to the lives of others with the talents he have. “For me, there’s no greater joy than bringing joy into someone else’s life,” he added.
He is further inspired by other people’s talents. In relation to his career, his magic teacher, Mr. Dass, was a huge inspiration to him; along with Ed Alonzo, an internationally recognized comedy magician; and Gabriel Iglesias, also known as Fluffy.
Additionally, other unique display of the arts also catch his inspired eyes: from balloon art, to coffee, to Photoshop and even those who perform cool scientific experiments. The latter resulted in the emergence of his Mad Scientist workshop for children!
We asked Ross for some advice for young performing artists and freelancers out there and here was his initial response: “Let’s be real here. Being an entertainer isn’t easy. And if you’re a part-time freelancer like myself, then job opportunities are not always consistent, which means income isn’t stable.”
He further stated that he aims to both pursue his passion in entertainment and earn, on the other side, a stable income and lifestyle. It is definitely not easy in Malaysia to earn a decent living when your career lies in the arts (although it is not impossible); however, it neither means that people should give up on their talents nor quit their stable job to follow their dreams.
In the end, it is all about self-initiative and motivation. Ross said, “My personal advice is, don’t look at the world like it’s only in Black or White. Like as if you’re forced to choose between one or the other.
I often find people have this idea in their minds that if they’ve got a certain job that sustains their life; they can’t do something else that they love. I always encourage people to use any opportunity, no matter how small, to express their passion for something.”
Indeed, why not do both and make all ends meet? This is exactly what Ross is planning to do.
Despite loving his current job as a comedy magician and emcee, he is also interested in Psychology and education. In fact, his next career goal is to become a lecturer in the academic field in the future, yet without letting go of his talents: “I look forward to trying to merge my talents in performing with my love for education and bringing a whole new level of fun through learning in my classrooms.”