Michael McGiveney – Quick Change Artist – A Lost Performing Art

Front of Michael McGiveney’s Promo Flyer

Back of Promo Flyer

Information on Quick Change in Vaudeville

Inside the promo flyer for Michael McGiveney – history of his father’s act in vaudeville.

In 1979 I began research on a proposed book project titled “Quick Change in American Vaudeville.” I spend numerous hours at the NY Performing Arts library at Lincoln Center and had correspondence with many performing arts libraries around the world. My research was completed in 1981 (my book proposal wasn’t accepted by any publishers) when I realized that this was a ‘labor of love’. Most people I spoke to didn’t know what Quick Change was. Even performer friends that weren’t familiar with the vaudeville days didn’t have any idea what this kind of act was. One of the few remaining American Quick Change artist alive was Michael McGiveney. His father – Owen McGiveney – had been a big success in the vaudeville era (see Trav S. D. blog here for posting on Owen McGiveney) and when Michael was a child he worked backstage for his father’s act as a ‘changer’. I contacted him in hopes he would grant me an interview. He was very cooperative and was also very curious why I was interested in the art of Quick Change.

During his time performing his father’s act he made many TV appearances and in the beginning billed himself as ‘Owen McGiveney Jr.’. Here is his appearance on the UK Paul Daniel’s TV Magic Show.

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In 1979 PEOPLE MAGAZINE did a profile on Michael and his ‘est’ seminar realization that he wanted to perform.“I realized how much I wanted to perform the act,”he says. “It was up to me to figure out how.” He sold his condominium to raise $50,000 for sets, costumes and a rehearsal studio, which for a time doubled as his pad. See full article here.

In New York his show was mounted by the producer/agent Arthur Shafman at the Bijou Theatre on Oct.30th 1980. It closed after 5 performances on Nov. 1st, 1980. His show was reviewed by Mel Gussow. It seems Mr. Gussow was very unhappy with the show as he states here in one closing line from his review “At one point, he (McGiveney) tells us that the quick-change artist is an endangered species. One can see why!”

He began to work in his ‘stage manager-lighting designer’ trade after that and did assist Doug Henning in his Broadway success “The Magic Show’ beginning in December 1984 thru 1985 amongst many other shows that he did lighting for and managed stage.

In 2007 he spoke at the TENTH ANNUAL LOS ANGELES CONFERENCE OF MAGIC HISTORY on the ‘McGiveneys’. He was working as a lighting designer and stage manager then as well.On Feb. 23rd, 2008 a small listing in THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW quoted:“Last weekend we had the honor of seeing Michael McGivney give his final performance as a quick-change artist during the vaudeville show at Lake City Playhouse. McGivney has performed the skillful act around the world, learning from his British father who did the act for 50 years before Michael, who still builds theater sets for North Idaho College and Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre.”

When I looked up “Quick Change” in Wikipedia they didn’t seem to list any of the McGivney family. Only current artist like the amazing Italian Arturo Brachetti. Following in the tradition of Leopoldo Fregoli, Brachetti has really made a name for himself around the world except in the USA. Check out his links here

Some other performers have taken the QUICK CHANGE idea a few steps further. Check out this ‘paper’ Quick Change Artist Ennio Marchetto.

Jim R. Moore


Photographer/Videographer/Recluse Founder of Vaudevisuals.com