THE OPTICAL DELUSIONS

Performing in the Turner Hall Ballroom in Milwaukee was a homecoming show for magician Ben Seidman and juggler Marcus Monroe, who both come from and began their best friendship in the area. And truly they received a fitting welcome home from the crowd, who filled up the entire hall and seemed to feature a lot of family and friends of the two performers. But although they had the overwhelming support of their community, they far from need it to make The Optical Delusions a success. This show positively vibrates with infectious enthusiasm- for the skillful juggling and tricky magic demonstrated, and for the best friendship of Seidman and Monroe.

The Optical Delusions experienced by the crowd in Milwaukee must have been a unique experience from the rest of the tour, because it was absolutely teeming with Milwaukee and general Midwestern humor. Seidman and Monroe were overtly delighted to be among the only people who could appreciate this content, and so even seen through the eyes of a transplant to the area, every joke hit purely on the strength of their energy.

It’s impressive that two men the same age from the same area have both done so well in the variety performance world, although in different subsets of it. Magic and juggling make sense together if you squint and don’t think too hard about it, and it helps that so many performers who do one have also tried their hand at the other. But they really do require different talents even beyond just doing them – how to present the skills, how to interact with the audience while they do, and so on. And what is startling is how very, and equally, good Seidman and Monroe are in their respective arts.

Monroe is demonstrably aware that if you can juggle you can’t just juggle, that would get boring after a while. But juggling with a few smart jokes, a lot of endearingly dumb jokes, and a solid assist of audience involvement, turns his admirable skill into a show well worth watching. Seidman is a magician who should be paid a lot more attention to on a national or even international level. His attitude and showmanship are impeccably crafted, and he has found a way to make nearly every trick in his repertoire seem brand new and completely fresh- an almost impossible feat in such an old art.

Seidman and Monroe are at their best when they’re working together, a beautiful thing to be able to say about two ‘best friends’. It’s absolutely obvious that their partnership in this show isn’t just a gimmick; they have amazing chemistry that could only come from knowing, supporting, and building each other’s acts up for years. For the beginning, end, and flashes in between throughout The Optical Delusions, the two trade banter crackling with energy and experience, and play ‘straight man’, or the other way around, to the one who’s turn it is to do his bit. The construction of the show genuinely only falters when one is left alone on the stage. This is not to say either performer could not carry a one man show- they both could, and do outside The Optical Delusions. But the energy of this particular show changes too drastically when they aren’t both contributing, and it makes for a somewhat fractured experience. Fortunately, they’re back together in peak form by the finale, and blow any memories of lagging out of the audience’s minds. 

The Optical Delusions is a delightful show where the hilarious comedy almost distracts you from how good the magic and juggling actually are (but not quite).  And as an added bonus, it’ll make you really appreciate your best friend.

 

 

More information on Ben Seidman and Marcus Monroe and their future performance dates can be found here and here.

 

BILLY REID: WATCH CLOSELY

☆☆

It takes a good magician to entice a busy Edinburgher to Glasgow on a Wednesday evening. Luckily, Billy Reid is worth the trip.  Reid makes his audience for Watch Closely feel welcome as soon as they step through the door, taking the time to learn as many people’s names as possible.  This allows him to address many of his participants by name when inviting them to take part in his show, giving the entire performance a pleasantly intimate and relaxed atmosphere.

The majority of Watch Closely is close-up card tricks, which Reid performs with neatness and style.  Reid lists the awards that he has received for his magic at the beginning of his performance, but he does not really need to, as his evident skill speaks for itself.  Reid’s card tricks set the standard for precisely performed magic, and his storytelling and comedy are executed with the same dexterity, ensuring that the energy of his performance remains constant as he transitions between tricks.  Watch Closely is narratively and thematically cohesive, as Reid uses stories from his life to gradually guide the audience toward the inspiring message with which he ends the show.

If you are a magic fan, you’ve probably seen some of the same tricks repeated often, especially if you see the same magician more than once. But Reid’s tricks are so visually beautiful that watching them again is a joy more similar to that of revisiting a piece of art at a museum.  The use of color in a trick themed on childhood memories of outdoor adventures sets this tone, and it is epitomized in Reid’s incredible illustrated deck that is always a highlight.

Every so often the right performer at the right time is more than entertainment, but also an inspiration to their audience to view the world differently, or the medium to help them process emotions that they might not have even known needed processing.  Reid conveys all of this intensity with his trademark artistry, in what is still unmistakably and unapologetically a magic trick.  The title of his show initially sounds like standard magician bravado, challenging his audience to catch his sleight of hand.  By the end of the evening the double meaning becomes clear, that Reid uses his magical skills to encourage his audience to pay closer attention to their own lives.

 

More information on Billy Reid and his performance dates can be found here.

THE MIRACLE OF CHRISTMAS FUTURE

☆☆

The Miracle of Christmas Future set out a promising premise, advertised as futuristic magic performed by Charlie Caper, with his amazing robots, and Kevin Quantum, whose performances frequently incorporate his love of science.  They easily deliver on this.  While the show was not flawless, it had many magical and scientific highlights.

The most overtly futuristic element of the show is Quantum and Caper’s third performance partner, the artificial intelligence named Bob.  Bob primarily functioned as an emcee for the human magicians, occasionally also rating their performances, and even taking her turn at performing a magic trick.  While she was not convincing enough to make any reviewer or magician fear that they might soon be replaced by robots, her recurring participation in the show alluded to these exciting potentials for the future of AI.

This left the majority of the magic performed in Quantum and Caper’s able hands.  An unexpectedly lovely highlight was Caper reading a sad Christmas story while performing complementary magic.  This was an odd tonal choice, as it briefly brought the otherwise cheerful Christmas mood down several notches.  The apparently random tone shift only highlighted the disjointed nature of the show as a whole, as aside from Bob’s work as a show runner there was little binding the elements performed together.  This particular moment demonstrated that even that futuristic theme occasionally wavered.  However, the beauty of Caper’s performance made its inclusion worthwhile.

The disjointed feel of the show did not just come from the lack of consistent use of theme, but also from the way that Caper and Quantum rarely actually performed together, instead taking turns with their tricks.  This was a shame, as while no pairing could match the perfect connection between Caper and his robots, Quantum and Caper appeared to work well together when they did interact on stage.

Audience participation often seems to be one of the more challenging aspects of magic performance from the perspective of the watching members of the audience, as the wrong randomly chosen individual might not act according to the magician’s plan.  This looked to be the case in Quantum and Caper’s final performance of this run when two children got a little too competitive with their onstage task.  Quantum and Caper dealt this turn of events with professional aplomb.  Quantum was especially impressive in his handling of the unrulier child.

The futuristic theme of The Miracle of Christmas Future comes naturally to both Caper and Quantum.  It could perhaps even be the theme of each one of their individual magical careers.  Watching them collaborate in sharing that passion with the audience was the most magical part of the evening.

 

More information on MagicFest can be found here

AN INTERVIEW WITH SIMON EVANS AND DAVID AULA

Edinburgh Fringe 2018 is over, but reviewer Hannah S. got to sit down with Simon Evans and David Aula, whose ‘The Vanishing Man’ and ‘The Extinction Event’ we’re absolutely obsessed with. Read on to find out about what it was like to create and perform these shows, and how they’re doing after spending a month doing two shows a day (they’re fine, they’re absolutely  fine, don’t bring it up, okay?) Warning: heavy spoilers ahead- if you haven’t seen these shows, figure out how to make that happen first.

Hannah: Important question first: you’ve done two shows a day for nearly an entire Fringe now- are you guys okay?

David: Mmmmmm yeah, okay, okay, okay, I’m absolutely fine, okay… (laughs)

Simon: Don’t ask us those sorts of questions.

D: So I also have…my son is with us, he’ll be eight weeks tomorrow, so he’ll have spent more time at the Fringe, proportionally, than anyone else, ever, in the history of mankind.

S: Of percentage of his life

D: of percentage of his life, yeah. So he’s been keeping me busy when I’m not on stage, so being onstage is like a little break.

S: It’s funny, we’ve been very lucky, we’ve been sold out quite a few times, and on the days when we haven’t it’s very noticeable, when the audience is a bit smaller and a bit quieter, those are tough shows to do. And you really feel it I think-

D: when you’re not riding the wave

S: yeah when you’re not riding the wave of them bouncing back at you, when we have our own momentum and it’s stopped by a quiet audience member who doesn’t want to play, that’s when we feel tired.

D: Yeah.

S: Whereas today, we sold out again, so I’m looking forward to -and when that happens, I think, we both come off, both, quite buzzy.

D: Yeah absolutely. And actually this morning I reflected, so we’ve had what, eleven days straight without a break, and only three more to go.

S: Yeah that’s right

D: And actually that’s fine, it’s fine, a final way to spend a bank holiday weekend.

S: So yeah we’re fine.

D: Yeah we’re fine, we’re fine. (laughs) Hope that answered your question.

So how has the response been? I know you’ve been performing The Vanishing Man for a while, but The Extinction Event is pretty new?

(more…)

MICHAEL RAJASINGAM: AN AWKWARD MAGICIAN WITH A LEMON

☆☆

As he admits in the title of his show, Michael Rajasingam is awkward in An Awkward Magician with a Lemon.  Luckily for the audience, it is a relatable, humorous type of awkwardness that adds charm to Rajasingam’s performance.  Rajasignam spends plenty of time in his show allowing this humor to take center stage.  His magic tricks are entertaining as well, although perhaps not so consistently, and he does occasionally have trouble combining the comic and magic aspects of his performance.

There are several points in the show in which Rajasingam successfully combines his magic tricks with his performance.  The recurring motif of the lemon is a fun acknowledgement of the title of his show.  In an unrelated moment, Rajasingam takes the time to tell a sweet story about his family as he performs a coin trick.  This unexpectedly heartwarming routine is a break from the overall awkward humor that nevertheless harmonizes well with the rest of the show.

Unfortunately, Rajasingam’s performance of his other tricks is not always so impressive.  There are a few times that he is noticeably distracted from the thread of his show to focus on getting a trick right.  At other times, his sleight of hand is lacking, and his props might be visible at the wrong times.  Both of these flaws simply require more practice to perfect his skills and integrate them with his performance.

The awkwardness of Rajasingam’s performance allows his relationship with his audience participants to develop a little bit more easily, as it is difficult to feel conspicuously awkward when standing on stage beside Rajasingam.  Audience participants quickly feel at ease.  Rajasingam is kind to those who he invites to join him, using them to demonstrate his tricks while still ensuring that they get to see the full extent of the magic.

While Rajasingam’s performance is not perfect, he is dependably entertaining and fun to watch.  He uses his awkwardness as a character quirk rather than allowing it to hinder his performance.  Rajasingam’s mistakes are only momentary, the overall effect of his show is delightful.

 

 

More information on Michael Rajasingam and his performance dates can be found here

DINO DORADO: EXPERIENCE

Dino Dorado welcomes his audience to Experience himself and his mind reading tricks in this show.  Incredibly enough he is even performing in his non-native language—Dorado is Austrian but his English is strong enough for an entire mind reading show.  This is extraordinary enough from a monolingual English perspective.  Dorado’s mind reading itself, however, is patchy.  He has difficulty recovering from a rough start, although he does, in the end, get himself back on track.

The rough patch hit Dorado at the very start of his show.  Dorado mis-read his participants’ minds on his first few attempted effects.  This is understandable, mistakes do happen.  Magicians are people too.  However, as a performer Dorado could have dealt with the situation a bit better.  He was visibly dispirited at each miscalculation, and seemed to lose a bit more of his performance persona at every misstep.  Dorado would have been better off keeping his performance energy high and keeping the audience engaged in watching him.

That being said, Dorado’s mind reading skills picked up as the show went on.  His spirits and energy picked up in direct correlation as his effects began to have more successful results.  By the time he managed to correctly determine two pieces of meaningful information thought up by two different participants, he had fully regained his enthusiastic energy and the audience’s wonder.  His early errors did have the beneficial side effect of making his later successes appear that little bit more impressive in contrast.

Once Dorado had gotten his mind reading back on track, his exuberant stage presence was able to shine.  All of Dorado’s audience participants—although perhaps especially his later participants, who he was better able to read—were made to feel welcome on his stage.  Dorado likes to get physically close with his participants of all genders, but his mannerisms make this playful and nonthreatening.

Dorado’s show was a mixed Experience on the evening that it was reviewed.  He could not consistently back up his requests for applause from the audience with solid magic, or even consistent showmanship.  However, if the latter half of his show is any indication, he does have the potential for a much better performance.

 

More information on Dino Dorado and his performance dates can be found here

BRANDON BARRETT: BRAIN ACCESS

Brandon Barrett is easily the youngest performer to be reviewed by this publication so far.  His initiative in taking the step of putting on an hour long Fringe show at such a young age in pursuit of his goal of working as a magician is admirable.  Brain Access certainly has its high points.  It is clear that Barrett has done his research by attending more established magicians’ shows—perhaps at times too clear, as some aspects of his performance feel a little bit too much like an imitation of other performers.  Nevertheless Barrett shows promise as a budding comedy magician.

The playful first trick sets the tone for Barrett’s show.  He simultaneously impresses the audience with his trick while joking about their expectations.  Barrett performs other tricks with character as well, including a mind reading trick that integrates his set design.  His finale is non-magical but dramatic, and features an interesting degree of audience participation, as Barrett allows an audience member to choose the soundtrack for his last effect.

Barrett describes himself as a comic magician, and he endeavors to give near equal stage time to his comedy performance as his magic tricks.  This often works to his advantage, as he has a lot of great comedy material, but he does joke an awful lot about his young age.  His emphasis on his age does have the perhaps desired effect of impressing the audience with his accomplishments relative to his youth, but as he belabors the point so frequently it becomes unwelcome.

In terms of magic, Barrett unfortunately has enough issues with his sleight of hand that the frequency of the props peeking out at the wrong moments is distracting.  Additionally, some of his mannerisms come across as forced.  It is clear that he is still working on his style.  However, these flaws are completely understandable given his age and level of experience.

While Barrett’s Brain Access has its flaws, these all come across as experience-based issues that a young magician like Barrett should have plenty of time to remedy.  Both his magical skills and performance persona would benefit from additional work.  But Barrett is on the right track, as getting out in front of a crowd is the best way to get this practice.

 

More information on Brandon Barrett and his performance dates can be found here