Cal Poly Engineering| Mini Documentary
Standing next to an applause sign he engineered himself, Elliott Hunter begins his virtual show with some of his most time-honored tricks, making cards magically appear from his hands and mouth. When his intro music ends, Hunter inches closer to his screen and addresses his audience, roughly 30 people that are benefitting a community theater in Hunter’s hometown.
“I’m so excited to share with you the show I’ve been working on for most of my life,” says Hunter, whose real name is Elliott Hunter Hofferth. “And I’ve had the opportunity recently to transition to the virtual format so that now we can connect with everyone in a front row seat, and we can share magic all over the world.”
Hunter, a 5th-year industrial engineering student from Anacortes, Washington, normally performs in-person to much larger crowds at venues that include the Magic Castle in Los Angeles, casinos, corporate events, fundraisers around the country and Cal Poly events. But, just as he was lining up cruise ship shows and a tour in China – poof! -- months worth of gigs vanished due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“To have 12-18 months of work just disappear in 24 hours – that’s not awesome,” he said a few days after the virtual benefit show.
Of course, as an engineering student, Hunter is trained to adapt. And engineering and magic have called out to him since he was in elementary school.
“When I was a senior in high school, we received letters that we wrote to ourselves in the fifth grade,” he said. “And mine said, ‘I want to be successful as a stage magician, and I will go to college to become an engineer.”
The engineering influence was easy to pinpoint – both his grandfather and father had worked as engineers. His grandfather, Dean Hofferth, was director of propulsion for the Apollo program, which sent humans to the moon.
Meanwhile, Hunter embraced magic at age 7, when he saw a magician perform at a public library in his hometown.
While his Cal Poly days were still a few years away, Hunter began studying with accomplished magicians when he was 12. As he learned about the history of magic at Jeff McBride’s Magic & Mystery School in Las Vegas, he began honing his earliest tricks – the appearing cards – practicing without even thinking about it as he sat on his couch watching TV or while talking with friends.
“The point of practice and rehearsal is to get to the point where you can do it without thinking about it,” he said.
Eventually, his tricks became more sophisticated, involving larger props. Luckily, he liked building things and was a lab tech for his high school shop class, where he worked with welders and CNC cutters.
“If there was a magic prop I couldn’t afford, I could build it or watch my dad build it for me,” he remembered.
While still in high school, Hunter began arranging tours to raise funds for nonprofits, starting with his high school and Boy Scouts.
“One summer, in my small hometown we made close to $4,000 in one night for the Seattle Children’s Hospital’s Urgent Care program,” he said.
With travel made easier by his father, a pilot, he also did benefits in other states, including Montana and Wyoming.
Meanwhile, the analytical side of engineering also appealed to him, leading him to attend Cal Poly, where he works as a lab tech in the Material Removal Lab.
“I’m helping teach the freshman class how to turn parts on a lathe and how to use the CNC machines,” he said.
While that job allows him to use university machines, throughout college, Hunter has mostly supported himself with magic, including several gigs for Cal Poly departments and the Cal Poly Corporation. Often, he pays fellow engineering students to help him onstage and off. During a WOW Week performance, recently graduated aerospace engineering major Lacey Davis danced and assisted onstage while two other engineering students worked as stagehands. During the virtual show for the Anacortes Community Theater, Hunter made Nina Aliamus, a civil engineering student, levitate and vanish.
As a performer who employs others, markets himself and arranges his schedule, Hunter also uses business skills.
“Being an entertainer on stage means I have to be an entrepreneur off stage,” he said.
Those experiences, on top of Hunter’s extrovert personality, helps him in class, said Trian Georgeou, a lecturer who first saw his student’s magic show during a department banquet.
“By being able to perform in front of large crowds, he has built his confidence level up,” Georgeou said. “And I’ve seen that in class. When dealing with his peers, he has that confidence and he’s able to be a leader in class.”
On top of his gigs and studies, he’s a typical college student with an active social life. Except he’s not completely typical. When he began attending parties, Hunter would bring his cards, as always, and work on his muscle memory. Inevitably, crowds would gather, the music would stop and Hunter would find himself performing.
At parties and events for his swim club and triathlon team, it just became expected that he would perform.
“So, yeah, I got to socialize at parties, but also I got to go around and practice my strolling magic that I could then polish to then get hired to do,” he said.
Hunter watches a lot of magic shows himself and often will know how the performers pulled off their tricks. But if he doesn’t know, he won’t necessarily try to figure it out.
“There are two different lenses you can watch magic through,” he said. “You can watch it to be entertained or you can watch it to try to figure it out. If I don’t know how something works, I don’t want to know because I miss the feeling of not knowing.”