But he's also used his craft to share his faith and deliver a Christian message at mega-churches like pastor Rick Warren's Saddleback congregation in California as well as small churches "in the middle of nowhere."
Now he's organized an Oct. 22-23, 2021 conference to educate and equip Christian magicians/illusionists to use their slight-of-hand and other skills to advance the gospel (see details at the end of this article).
"I want to bring the things I've learned to people who want to do ministry," said Laflin from his modest "Grand Magic Theatre" storefront in downtown Colon Mich. "Teaching is a big part of what I do these days."
A MAGICAL JOURNEY
Laflin dedicated his life to God in his early days and studied to enter the ministry. "I was in Bible college and learned a simple (magic) trick for a children's sermon," he recalled. He learned more "magic" stunts to use as object lessons, but discovered he had a real knack for the tricks as well as a personality for the platform. "From the beginning I have seen (magic) as a tool for ministry."
He took on secular shows as he went on and realized it could "pay the bills" even as he continued his magic ministry.
To encourage more hesitant churches to book his presentations, he dropped the term "gospel magician" and began using "Christian illusionist."
"I reminded people that God is the author of illusions – he created the chameleon (a lizard with the ability to change colors) and mirages, which are real phenomena but appear as illusions," he reasoned. "I'm taking concepts from creation and using them to entertain, illustrate and inspire.
"God does the miracles, I do the tricks," he often quips.
SETTLING IN THE MITTEN
Two years ago Laflin (now in his mid '60s) and his wife Mary left a long-term engagement in Branson for a new three-year contract opportunity in tourist-heavy Lancaster, Penn. But after moving there COVID struck, ending all live performances. "We didn't know what to do with ourselves," he recalled of the uncertainty which lasted into the next year.
The couple had always liked Colon, the small village in southern Michigan which owns the title "Magic Capital of the World." Once the home of famous magicians such as Percy Abbott and Harry Blackstone, Colon still features the Abbott Magic Company, one of the country's major magic trick manufacturers.
The Laflins decided to make it their new home.
"Then when Colon's old hardware store building became available, we decided to put down roots and open a small scale theatre and magic shop. We're keeping it simple," said Laflin of their 100+ seat Grand Magic Theatre which formally opened this past summer.
Fellow magicians have appreciated Laflin's heart for helping younger magic enthusiasts.
"Duane is a fabulous entertainer and a wonderful teacher and creator of items specializing in gospel magic," said PJ Weber, a Grand Rapids magician. "This conference will be a must from beginners to professionals."
A MULTI-LAYERED CONFERENCE
This month's conference opens with a Friday evening "Glitz and Glamour Magic Show,"
featuring a 1940s to '60s costume theme. Magic acts will be performing to background music only – no talking or words from the stage.
"It's for sharpening our showmanship and stage craft," said Laflin, who provides a great introduction – with a few tricks - on video online here.
Saturday includes lectures and demonstrations on magical ideas, illustration and inspiration. Training in arts such as "card forcing" and object manipulation is also scheduled.
There's also a full stage performance with comedy, illusions and more - all with a gospel message. An after-party concludes the event.
Debuting at the event will be "ministry playing cards." These are standard-sized decks of playing cards with the usual numbered and face cards but with a twist. Each card also contains a Bible theme or life concept image such as a cross, a Bible, love, heaven, etc.
"We designed this deck so it can be used to show many of our other gospel card tricks on the table top," Laflin added.
A HOPEFUL EFFORT
There is hope for the magical genre. The 2021 winner of the NBC-TV reality series "America's Got Talent, is a professing Christian magician, Dustin Tavella. That's the potential of the talent that Laflin wants to sharpen and encourage.
"I'm working hard to make this event something special," Laflin said of the conference. "People will see some great magic, the kind that inspires and shows how skills can be elevated, and learn many wonder-full gospel message ideas."
Conference: "Advance Your Ministry Through the Art of Illusion"
What: Various workshops, lectures and performances, including full stage shows in an inspiring setting
Who: Featuring Duane Laflin, Aaron Gilliam, Jamie Doyle & more
When: 6pm -10pm Fri Oct. 22 – 9:30am to 6:30pm Sat. Oct. 23, 2021 (after-party following)
Where: Grand Magic Theatre, 130 E. State St. downtown Colon, Mich.
Cost: Registration $35.00 Pay at the door or call 406-291-2004 to pay ahead of time. If paying at the door, please send a text or email to let us know you are coming.
More info: http://christianillusionist.com/conference/