Things are never quite what they seem around Rob Lake. That’s just the way he likes it. Lake’s life of illusion began years ago when a 10-year-old Norman boy, Robert William Calonkey, visited Branson, Mo., with his family. He attended a show by magician Kirby VanBurch and was so impressed, the boy stood in line to get an autograph. He told the performer, "Now I want to be a magician.” The boy took a magic class, and year after year he would return to marvel at VanBurch’s illusions. Eventually, VanBurch began to recognize the boy and his passion. "That’s when he realized it was more than just a hobbyist interest and just a phase or a cool thing,” Calonkey said. Or, rather, Lake said. Actually, Lake is the magician that Calonkey became. A good one. Lake, as he’s now known, recently was honored by the International Magicians Society with a Merlin Award as the International Stage Magician of 2008. For a magician, said Lake, 25, the Merlin is "the gold medal of the Olympics, the Oscar, the Tony, the Emmy.” As a boy, Robert Calonkey was into swimming and track, said his father, Steve Calonkey, who owns Mr. Robert, a furniture store his father started in downtown Norman. Along with his younger sister, Katelynn, Robert "enjoyed entertaining,” putting on plays with neighborhood children, Steve Calonkey said. "They were always doing something.” For magic tricks, Katelynn would serve as Robert’s assistant. After VanBurch realized how serious Robert Calonkey was about magic, the magician would spend hours coaching the boy in his magic shop. "He’d give me homework,” Lake said. "He’d say, ‘Before you come back next year, I want you to read these things and do these things.’” Through the year, the magician and his protege would write each other. When Calonkey turned 18, VanBurch suggested Calonkey come to Branson to work on his magic full-time. But Calonkey decided he would "try college first” and enrolled at the University of Oklahoma, where he majored in health and sports science. Already an adept magician, Calonkey would perform before civic groups and company functions, but he had to turn down many other offers to keep up with school work. When he turned 20, he decided to spend a summer in Branson studying with VanBurch. That’s when his journey of illusions really turned. "That summer turned into a year,” he said. Calonkey got an agent, launched his own Web site and produced a promotional video, which he sent to numerous venues. The response: Nothing. It wasn’t the talents he was offering, Calonkey’s agent told him. It was his name. As a stage name, Calonkey was a clunker. Calonkey needed a new persona. He gathered his friends and they brainstormed. Somehow, and he can’t remember how, they came up with "Rob Lake,” he said. "It magically appeared.” The aspiring performer mailed out the same promotional materials he had sent before, only this time as Rob Lake. "The phone started ringing like crazy,” Lake said. Since then, Lake has developed a two-hour show that features his repertoire of tricks, from causing audience members to levitate or vanish to his signature disappearing motorcycle. He has performed around the world, from Mexico to England to Japan, although he still lives in Norman when he’s not on the road. He just finished footage for a television special to be aired next year and is planning his own TV special. Lake just signed for another cable TV special, and closed a deal with a major national retailer to carry a line of merchandise. He is negotiating with investors for a permanent "Rob Lake Theater” to be built at a location yet to be decided. Lake’s future seems limitless. Of course, it might all be just an illusion. That’s just the way Lake likes it.
VideoGo online to NewsOK.com to see video of Rob Lake.