Interview

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…)

INTERVIEW WITH AARON CALVERT

Aaron Calvert sat down with us after his show Declassified to talk a little about hypnotic suggestibility, his television show, and the pressures of performing at the Fringe.

Hannah: What got you into hypnosis?  What made you decide this is what you want to dedicate your life to?

Aaron: I got into hypnosis at 15, I saw a hypnotist onstage and around the same time I saw Derren Brown. I was interested in magic and being onstage and performing, so I started to read up on it, started to research it, try and practice it.  Then, I worked in America when I was 18, at a summer camp. They knew I was interested in this area and said “Hey, why don’t you put on a show for us?” I was hesitant, I was like, “…..ohh, okay…? Sure?” but I did and 35 people showed up and it was an amazing show and just worked. Then I went to med school, and I did hypnotherapy on the side, it was part of my medical degree, and I was kinda left with two choices at that point- either I could go full time into medicine or I could go full time into entertainment. And I couldn’t do both, because, if a patient walks in at 5 o’clock when you have a show at seven, it doesn’t really work out. So I just had to go with my heart, and hypnosis and performing in general are where my heart laid, so that’s exactly what I went for.  

So does the medical side of hypnosis interest you, or just the entertainment aspects?

It does interest me. I combine the techniques I learned from hypnotherapy and the techniques I’ve developed onstage for myself, to make the approach I have. I think that’s…it’s not revolutionary, but it’s different that what most hypnotists do, either they’re very much stage entertainment or they’re very much hypnotherapy. Whereas I combine both of those and because of that I get a really good response to the hypnosis. As you saw tonight, there were a lot of the people in the audience I could have chosen and I got fantastic suggestions on stage because of that.

Can you talk about hypnotic susceptibility? Some people say no one can be hypnotized if they don’t want to, and others say everyone can be hypnotized?

Sure, well I think they’re two sides of the same coin basically. You’ve got some people who say you can’t be hypnotized if you don’t want to be, and that’s absolutely true. And the other side of it is that everyone can be hypnotized. And yes, everyone can be, but if you don’t want to be you won’t be. Some people are amazing subjects, and like in my Channel 4 show, we had to go out of our way to find incredible subjects who were highly suggestible that would work and would be able to let me erase their memory each time. At the other end of the spectrum you’ve got people who are just open to some suggestion, and we might not ever be able to do something like erase their memories but they may well experience something like their foot being stuck to the floor, and that’s it. So you’ve got a spectrum of suggestibility. There is a moment when you’re being hypnotized by someone when you choose to go with them. If you go with it, it’s an incredible experience. But some people resist it and it doesn’t work.

What’s your opinion on the suggestion that most participants at a stage show aren’t actually hypnotized in the strictest sense, but playing along because they’re onstage? Do you think it matters?

I think it matters a lot for my show. I don’t necessarily think it matters a lot for comedy shows, where by someone wants to get onstage and might happily follow the instructions to dance with a mop or whatever that suggestion may be. In my show I invite the whole audience to participate, I go out to the audience, and I purposefully test them. They don’t know what I’m looking for, so I can tell when someone might be faking, and I test them to make sure I get the most suggestible people onstage. Because the things I ask people to do, they wouldn’t be able to do properly if they were faking. And it’s so important. Each of the participants, every one of them, does something incredible. And if any one of them was faking it, it wouldn’t work, and it would be very obvious, and it would become very awkward. That to me- I’d hate to have that be the case in my show.

What’s the most stressful thing about performing?

You know, I get asked this a lot, and I don’t tend to get nervous before a show until I am side stage and I hear the video intro play, and suddenly I’m like “Oh my god, why do I do this to myself.” But the moment I step onstage the nerves are gone, the moment I open my mouth, on that stage, there are no nerves, I’m just having fun. When it comes to fears for performing, the first week of the Fringe is what terrifies me. I don’t get nervous before doing a corporate event or even a stage show in Manchester or anywhere else, but coming to Fringe, I know there’s so much to do. Fringe audiences are tough. They won’t let you get away with it if you’re rubbish, and so the first week of the Fringe is probably my most scary time of the year, and then I settle into it and I just enjoy the rest of the run.

What’s the most exciting?

It’s got to be sharing an experience with people. I want people to leave my show having had an experience that they will take away and talk about with their friends and their family. I don’t really care if they remember my name, but as long as they were in some way moved or left with something to think about and talk about from the show, that’s my job done, that’s great, that’s entertainment. It’s not about ego, it’s not about me, it’s about the audience experience. And if the audience are having the best time, the most exciting thing for me is seeing that response.

And now you have a TV show, Hello Stranger. What was your inspiration there?

That tv show came about through the production company that had an idea that was based on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, where two people have their memories erased. And they approached me with basically, ‘was it possible to erase one’s memory’ and I was like, yes, depending on how long and what for. And so we started to develop this idea and eventually came up that we wanted to have a couple and we wanted to have them erase their memories of each other and then go on a date. So the inspiration come from two points, one, the film, and two, the idea of giving a couple the chance to meet for the first time again. And getting them to meet each other, that’s what it’s about. It wasn’t about sending them on a date or getting them to break up, it was about getting a couple to meet and fall in love all over again.

Did it turn out the way you expected?

Yes. It did and it didn’t. I loved working on the show. What was brilliant was stuff that happened off camera that reaffirmed for me that everything that was happening in this experiment was genuine. The thing I didn’t like was that a lot of people called fakery on it. Which is natural with a hypnosis show and I think it was because we didn’t quite display all of the moments of genuine interactions we had that happened off camera. I’m very happy with the program, I’m happy that it’s out, I’m happy that everyone got to see it. But I think it taught me we need to help people understand hypnosis more, help people understand what’s going on.

So what do you think you enjoy more, live performance or television?

I enjoy both for very different reasons. I enjoy the live because you’re instantly getting feedback from the audience. So I know, if the audience don’t like something or don’t react to something at one point in this show, I can change it up again, that the audience can leave having the best show. And it’s great that when you see it live, you can’t call bullshit, because what is happening is happening to you, or is happening to your friend. That’s what makes television difficult, because they’re not there and can just say ‘oh they’re just stooges’. But what I love about television is that you can do things that take three days, or two years of planning, and bring it out, and put it on for such a wide audience. So I enjoy television because it allows us to do much bigger things, and I enjoy the live shows because you get to interact with people.

There are hundreds of shows at the Edinburgh Fringe. In one sentence, tell our readers why Declassified is a must see.

If you want the opportunity to be involved, and see people demonstrate inexplicable feats live onstage, come to Declassified.

 

Aaron Calvert can be found at The Gilded Balloon at the Museum during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe, at 18:00 on August 5-26

More information on Aaron Calvert and his performance dates can be found here

INTERVIEW WITH CHRIS COOK

Now that Edinburgh Fringe 2017 is over, our reviewer Hannah got to sit down and chat with Chris Cook, whose shows Control and Concealed we absolutely loved.

Hannah: The first thing I wanted to ask you, what is it you want your audiences to get out of your show?

Chris: The [performance of Control] you came to, I feel like the guy on stage really dug that out of me. And I think that was the moment I really realized it. What I want is for the audience to  leave that room better people than when they came in. And I think one of the ways we do that is by building a little community, by getting to know each other better and feeling like we’ve made something, not like we’ve just watched something, but that we’ve experienced something. What came out of me that day is that it’s really easy to impress people- as a magician I think it’s really easy to make people clap and laugh and to impress them, but it’s hard to make people think and it it’s really hard to make people feel, and that’s all I want to do.

And that’s what the show is about, that’s what the journey is. People come into that room and they’re expecting a magic show, so I have to deliver, I have to impress them in the beginning,  I have to make them clap and laugh and be wowed. And then half way through, I’ve got them on board, now I can do what I really want to do, which is to start to make them think, think about their own lives and why they are not the people they want to be. Then by the end of the show I don’t know if we make it, but my hope is people will feel something. I think the person who helps me with the finale, they will feel something, and I hope the audience sat there really do as well. It’s not for me to say, and it’s also not for me to ram it down people’s throats. If you can make a connection with the show, that’s amazing, if it didn’t quite hit, that’s fine. Maybe it’s my fault, maybe it’s just not the show for them. But I think all I really want to do is make people feel and make people better. I think humans are great, I think we can leave that room and look out for each other and make the world a better place. That’s my hope.

Which of the life goals that you talked about in “Control” are you going to work on first?

One of them was just to paint some more, and I think I’m going to do some painting this evening, now that the Fringe is over and I’ve got some free time. That might be one I start on first. One of them was to spend more time with my brother, which I’ve already started to do.

I think the ones that are more important to me are the ones that are harder to do, but I think that’s okay. I don’t think life should be too easy, like if life was easy it would be boring so- I’ve never visited some family that I have in New Zealand, so I really need to make that happen. There were quite a lot of travelling things. I really want to get my qualification so I can go scuba diving and that’s going to require some work and some time, and I’ll probably book a holiday away somewhere so that I can do it somewhere beautiful. I don’t know which of them means the most to me. One that I was just talking about, the dream was to do a show at the Fringe that isn’t a magic show. I think that will be the hardest. If I can come up with a way of still being entertaining and still connecting with an audience, but without doing magic, I think that might be the most difficult thing I do, but maybe that’s the most important.

So what exactly is the appeal of magic to you?

The appeal? Hmm. I don’t know, I don’t think that there is an appeal. I actually don’t think I like magic. I think magic is often about – a magician’s aim is often to fool an audience, and I think inherently with that comes making a fool of the audience, and I don’t want to make a fool of the audience, I want to connect with them and empower them and make them better. I don’t want to make them look stupid, I want to make them feel smart I guess. So actually, I don’t think there is an inherent appeal with magic, I think magic is often a thing where you see something and think, that’s a really impressive trick, but I could never see myself doing something like that because that’s- it wouldn’t fit with what I’m trying to achieve. So I don’t know- I realize that might be a bit of a weird answer to that question but I do think I want to use magic as a tool, not just do magic. I guess I want that tool to be a tool of encouragement and try to make the audience connect and feel better. I really don’t want to use magic to make people look silly or make a fool out of them.

As a magician, what kind of audiences have you found to be the most difficult and the easiest to entertain?

(laughs) Sometimes Sundays can be really hard? Cause everyone’s had a big night out and my shows are quite early in the morning. Sometimes tired crowds can be hard. I feel like I’m quite good at pitching the audience, figuring out where they’re at and getting myself on the same page. So like, I can do shows that are quite sweary and political, but I’ve also done things for a lot of kids that are more gentle, or whatever. Some of the most difficult audience are people who are drunks, or sometimes people that are just too excited. Like with the Control show, on the show that you came to, it was amazing, the crowd were so on board, like everything that I said was hilarious that the jokes that maybe used to get a little laugh were getting rounds of applause and huge cheers and I just remember thinking, “I’m not going to be able to get to the end of this show. I will not be able to do the gear change that takes this from like funny silly magic show to thoughtful meaningful audience interaction.” And  I think  we really got there by the guy I got on stage and we started asking each other questions. But sometimes that can be hard, audiences that are so excited that they’re not even really paying attention.

And the easiest?

The easiest are people who have seen you before and they know you and they like you. Or they’ve been recommended you, so they show up to that room knowing that they’re going to have a good time so you don’t have to win them over. They’re probably the easiest crowd.

What would you describe as the most rewarding aspect of performing  for audiences?

I really like it when people get in touch and say “you were the best show we’ve seen in years,” like when people do that it’s really amazing, it feels really rewarding. I had someone say that he comes to the Fringe every year for like ten years and that my show was the best thing he’s ever seen. I think like, wow, that’s really- it feels really rewarding. But I think I know when I’ve made a difference. I don’t think I need someone to thank me. I can do a show and I know sometimes I’ve connected with the audience in a way that they’ll go away and think about what we’ve dealt with, and that’s probably the most rewarding experience. Certainly with Control and with the arrows, sometimes I do that and I know they’re going to think really hard about their dreams, and they’re going to go and try to achieve them. I don’t need them to thank me, I don’t need them to email me a photo of them stood on the top of Kilimanjaro or whatever their dream was, I know I’ve made a difference, and that’s probably the most rewarding.

Can you talk about the importance of showmanship as opposed to just having the technical skills?

Yeah it’s the most important thing. Yeah. I think I’ve seen so many magicians who have incredible skills, like magically they’re very good, but their performance is not good and I think showmanship and performance is the most important thing. Not even showmanship, you can be yourself, but confidence is it, enamoring the audience, that’s what is important. Whenever I speak to magicians that are trying to get better, young magicians starting out, everyone gives them the same advice- which is “practice, practice, practice.” My advice is don’t practice. Just don’t do it. Don’t sit at home in your mirror practicing that move again and again, just go out and do it. Just go down to the pub and show that trick to your friends, show it to your  parents, your girlfriend, your boyfriend, something like that. They’ll tell you what’s wrong, they’ll help you get better, people will go “I saw that, it’s hidden in your other hand” or they’ll go “eh that’s okay, but it wasn’t as funny as you thought it might be.” So I don’t think you should practice. Don’t get me wrong, you gotta be good, your magic has got to be good, but like, it’s probably 10-15% of what’s important. I’ve seen magicians absolutely slay audiences with a trick that costs three pounds in a magic shop, that every kid has probably bought at some point, but they’ll do it on stage in front of a thousand people and have everyone in stitches because it’s not about the trick, it’s about the performance. That’s what I think is important.

Okay, this is a question you’ve kind of answered in your show, so just answer for people who haven’t seen it- did you attend university and did you have any other career aspirations early on or was it always magic?

I don’t think my career aspirations have ever been magic. I don’t think I ever really wanted to be a magician, and I still don’t think I want to be one. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy my job- I think it’s amazing and I love it. But I certainly never planned on becoming a magician. I’ve always wanted to work with people. I used to work as a youth worker and I really enjoyed that, I used to work as an outdoor instructor at a ropes course center where I taught kids how to climb and I really enjoyed that. Then I went to Leeds University to study journalism- I’m interested in the media- and I thought I wanted to be a reporter or a presenter or even a travel reporter or a war reporter, but I just realized that the media is very broken and I didn’t feel like I was the best person to fix it. So I didn’t feel like I could really go into that job. There’s a lot of nepotism but also there’s a lot of laziness, we call it churnalism, where journalists churn out press releases without really thinking about it. I think the 24 hour news cycle has meant the demand for news- like that we need to know now, straight away- that’s not really good. I don’t want to know when something happens, I want to know why it happens. So, yeah, we shouldn’t really know, this many people died in Iraq today, we should know, why are we at war in Iraq? What’s going on there? I feel like until the world of journalism changes there is not really a place for me in it. That and also I wasn’t even that good at it anyway.

I actually watched your TED Talk and I wanted to know if you ever considered astronomy or seriously thought about being an astronaut?

Yeah, that’s good, yeah! I love astronomy, or not even really astronomy, but I’m fascinated by space. I think space is amazing, and I think that it fits in with this idea that I feel like we’re all a collective, and like if you’re from Edinburgh you don’t like people from Glasgow and if you’re from Glasgow you don’t like people from Edinburgh but then suddenly, if we’re talking about countries, it’s like well I’m from Scotland, and we’re all from Scotland, and now we’re in part of that collective. Or we’re all from Britain, or we’re all from Europe, or we’re all from the West, and I think that’s why space is so exciting- cause we’re all from planet Earth. We’re all in this together, we’re all humans, we’re all life, like life is exciting, so I’m constantly fascinated by space and just the insane distances between things. It’s also quite depressing though, it’s quite sad, that there could be life out there but we’ll probably never find it, it’s too far away. I often wonder why, why are the distances so great and why is the speed of light so slow? It takes so long to get anywhere that by the time you’ve got there you’ve died. And that can be a bit bleak, but yeah I’m fascinated by space. It’s just a little hobby, to read about that. I don’t think I could ever become a physicist.

Do you watch other magician’s shows and what goes through your mind when you’re watching them?

I don’t watch loads of magic shows because I don’t really like them. What I want to see when I see a magic show is a point, a purpose, a message, a story. I don’t want to see like a magazine, like “here’s a trick, and then we’ll turn the page, and here’s another trick, if you didn’t like that one you might like this one.” I want it to feel like it’s really like reading a novel, like it’s going and experiencing a thing, and I don’t see a lot of magic shows that do that so I don’t go and see a lot.

But there are some that do that and that’s really exciting. I think when I’m talking about “let’s create a new genre of magic” I think there are people that could be doing that. So like, I went to see Sam Fitton’s show on the last day, and I loved it, because it was -it was by no means a perfect show, but- he had a concept and an idea, and instead of going “here’s a load of magic tricks”, he’s going “I’m waiting at a train station and I missed my train and then I went into this dream world and in my dreams I’m really magic and that’s why magic is happening.” It was charming and it was lovely and it was a piece of theatre. It might not have had a really solid message but it had a point to it and it wasn’t just a selection of tricks.

And similarly with Ava Beaux, with her show, I thought that was a really bold first show at the Fringe, because like, she’s very young, she’s new, she’s kind of nervous, and instead of going “I’ll just bring some of my favourite tricks, and I’ll just do what I’m good at”, she’s going ‘no, I’ll tell the stories of Edgar Allen Poe through magic tricks” and I’m like yeah, that’s what I’m talking about, let’s do more of that instead of just trying to show off. I don’t like magic that feels like it’s just showing off. Those were a couple of things I saw this Fringe that I really liked.

And there are a couple other people doing things like that, I just wish there were more people doing things like that. Like if I asked Ava Beaux “what is the point of your show” and she’d be like ‘I want audiences to love Edgar Allen Poe as much as I do or to feel like they’ve understood him more.” And you’d ask Sam Fitton “what is the point” and he’d be like “I want to transport them to a dream world where we’re all stuck on a train station platform together.” Whereas you ask other magicians what the point is, they just go “I just wanna make people laugh and clap and be impressed by me” and I just think that seems very needy to me, that’s not what we want. We shouldn’t strive for that. I want my audience to leave that room better people than when they came in. I think that’s important. That is the first aim, impressing them comes second to that. I wish there were more magic shows that were trying to do more than impress people.

So who are your heroes, mentors, and models in the magic world?

I’m not sure. I grew up in the Lake District and I didn’t have any other magicians around me, so I didn’t really have any magic mentors, I felt like I learnt more from folk musicians and storytellers who taught me more about how to perform on a stage. I do really like Penn & Teller. And I really like Derren Brown a lot although I don’t really like mentalism, I really like what he does because I feel like he has a point. Most of his shows whether, it’s his stage shows or his tv shows, he has a purpose or he has a message or he has something he tries to deliver, and again he does it without taking himself too seriously. He’s still very funny and casual and I like that. Last year I saw Charlie Caper and I actually got him to perform in Best of Magic. He won Sweden’s Got Talent with this really charming street performer style act. While I don’t think the magic I do is similar to what he does, I really liked his style and it inspired me to go and do more street performing.

Do you think that every magician lives in the long shadow of big name magicians like, as you mentioned, Derren Brown, or Dynamo or David Blaine?

Yeah, I mean we’ve all got to be grateful for them. I think it’s easy not to like David Blaine, especially as some of his performance style can seem like he’s taking himself too seriously, but I think it’s amazing because we have to respect that he made magic cool again. Before that if you said you were a magician it meant that you were wearing a top hat and you had a cape and you’re producing doves, or you’re doing children’s parties dressed as a clown. Whereas he came along and made magic cool. And I think one of my idols was Paul Venon, who’s like the British David Blaine. He was doing street magic at the same time, I liked him more because he didn’t take himself too seriously, he was very silly, was very funny, he focused more on the reactions, than on the magic tricks and I really liked that. I’m not a huge Dynamo fan, I’ve watched his tv shows, but again I’ve got so much respect for him because I can tell he’s making magic cool and he’s got kids into magic. Then Derren Brown I think is the God of mentalism. I’ve never seen a mentalist live and not though, “eh, you’re just like a poor man’s Derren Brown.” I feel sorry for people who do mind reading and mentalism shows because a lot of them are working really hard to to really incredible stuff but they live in the shadow of Derren Brown. I’ve never seen anyone better than him, they often seem just like a cheap imitation.

What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve received and what was the source of that advice?

One of the best pieces of advice that I’ve received was from a juggler who I used to work with doing circus and juggling shows. We were practicing something, it was one of his shows, and I was doing this joke that was a physical prop gag and I was making it really obvious and really trying to make it so clear, so everyone got the joke. He was like “I think you should make it more subtle” and I was like “I worry if I make it more subtle people won’t get it” and he just said to me “if they don’t get it they don’t deserve it.” It really was just the best piece of advice, and I feel like I’ve lived like that since. But other than that…my advice is don’t listen to other people’s advice, just go out and be yourself.

Just before we go, do you have any exciting future projects that you’re working on?

Lot’s of things! You mentioned my TED talk, I’m doing that for ITV at Emmerdale,  in about 5 days time. I haven’t done that for about two years so I need to relearn my own TED talk so I can do that again, I’m a bit nervous about that. I’ve booked in some tour dates of Control, so I’m doing it in Bristol and in the Lake District, and I’m doing it in Vienna and Bratislava in November, and I’m going to try and take it to Australia. I’d like to do it at the Adelaide Fringe Festival or possibly the Perth Festival next year. The whole time I’ll be thinking about new ideas for my new show at the Edinburgh Fringe next year. And I guess I’ll try and do a bit more street performing. So when I am away travelling I can just busk anywhere and not have to book things so far in advance. So yeah, lots of exciting things in the pipeline!

INTERVIEW WITH SCOTT SILVEN

We were fortunate enough to steal a moment of Scott Silven’s downtime from his two shows at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe to talk a little about his shows, inspiration, what it’s like to perform, at much more. 

Hannah: First I’d like to speak a little about Wonders at Dusk, what do you want your audience to get out of the show?

Scott: “Wonders at Dusk is a very personal show to me, telling the defining story from my past, something that really affected me and what I do today as an illusionist and a mentalist, so I want audiences to look at their own lives in the same way, at what defines them and how they can challenge themselves to achieve more. Every sort of effect in the show is guided towards that in some way, its not just about connecting with each other, it’s not just about connecting with your surroundings, but connecting with yourself, what you’re capable of. I hope its an inspiring experience for most of the people that come along. I don’t know how you found it yourself?

Yeah I would say inspiring is a good way to describe it

(laughs) Yeah that’s how I try to be with all my work, it’s not just about me standing on stage and presenting skills I’ve learned over years, it’s about using those skills to look at the world in a different way and allow audiences to look at the world in a different way as well. So that’s what I hope…there’s no set agenda when audiences come in, that they must experience a certain thing by the end, but I certainty hope it’s more than just entertainment.

What genre of magician would you say you are?

Well it’s interesting because magic… magic comes in so many different forms. Some [magicians] purely focus on close up, others focus on cards only or mentalism, so if we were defining by genre I’d say mentalism. But I also don’t want to limit that in terms of what I do onstage. I hope I’m a performance artist and a storyteller as well as being a mindreader. My background is theatre and hypnosis, so it’s bringing all those individual elements together and feeding them into an experience that hopefully isn’t just another mentalist or just another magician.

Did you attend university and did you have any other career aspirations other than magic? Or was it always magic?

Amazingly it has always been magic, which my family were thrilled by I’m sure. I started [magic] when I was 4 or 5 and then when I was 12 or 13 I was studying psychology, it was something I was studying in school and was fascinated by what the human mind was capable of. I studied hypnosis when I was 15 and in Milan on a summer holiday so I think my family knew at that point I had a real interest in the human mind. I studied theatre at Edinburgh University and the reason for studying that was purely because- I did acting when I was younger as well, was definitely a showman, and enjoy presenting in front of audiences, and I felt if I had a strong understanding of the craft of theatre that would be able to feed into my work that I do onstage. So I specialized in contemporary performance, which was a great subject to study because you study directing and producing and playwriting as well as acting, so you’re creating your own theatrical toolbox as well as your magical mentalist toolbox. Once I graduated I felt I was in a good place to begin to put the pieces together to shape my own work, so incredibly I have never had a real job, which is exciting and terrifying at the same time, but I would’t have it any other way.

It’s not every day that a person encounters a magician. What’s the first thing people ask you to say or do when they find out about your profession?

Well of course it’s “what am I thinking right now,” and “can you read my mind,” but once you pass that, I think generally it’s a bit of nervousness from people that meet you. It is quite a strange thing to meet someone who claims to have these skills. But I love interacting with people, as a kid my main reason for getting into mentalism was that inquisitiveness- as soon as I meet people I’m always wanting to find out more about them more so than have them find out about me. But also I think it’s really important to be able to switch off when you’re with friends or with family or sharing a coffee, you’re not trying to pry into the deepest reaches of their mind, you’re just trying to be present in the moment.

So what exactly is the appeal of magic to you?

Goodness that’s an excellent question. The appeal has shifted over the years, when I was much younger- my grandfather was the guy that taught me first of all- I started in a very traditional sense with card cheating. So I liked the manipulation, the deception, the artistry behind it at that point in time. The fact that you were working to present a great skill that to 99% of the public was invisible, I found quite exciting. As I got older I studied psychology and hypnosis I realized that magic is so important in our lives- to have a sense of wonder, to have a sense of curiosity is a delightful thing. I think in the world we live in today, to have something mysterious, to have something profound, is the most incredible thing, so that’s what drives my to develop my new shows is that sense of mystery. Yeah, I think that every time I develop something new, every time I see new piece of magic, it ties back to the what we are capable of as humans, what we can aspire to be.

Can you describe the most rewarding aspect of performing for audiences?

I think it’s the transformative nature of it, there’s almost a metamorphosis that takes place. Which for me is incredibly magical, that you see this audience coming in, especially during the festival- it’s late at night, they’re tired, I’m sure they’ve seen ten, fifteen shows throughout that week, and over the one hour I have with them, by the end I hope there really is a transformation where they’re much more open, much more connected. Certainly in the shows that I’ve done it’ll be an idea of connecting with each other, a sort of unconscious connection that runs through the piece, I often notice people exchanging numbers or speaking to each other down at the bar afterwards, so I’d say that’s the rewarding aspect, seeing the transformative nature.

Comedians are famous for referring to certain groups of people as tough crowds. What would you say are the most difficult and the easiest crowds for a magician to work with?

People often say that drunk audiences are the easiest to entertain but they are definitely the most difficult. Wonders at Dusk is on at 10:30pm at the festival and it is billed as a late night show but it not a traditional late night show, it is not a raucous experience, so I would say drunk audiences are definitely the most difficult. Surprisingly I find skeptical audience are the most enjoyable to work with because they come from a place of rational thought and I like to twist that subvert it in a way. I travel all over the world doing shows, and I find American audiences like yourself just to be fantastic, open and receptive. British audiences are a little bit more reticent. But I never look upon the audience as a situation where it is me vs them, its about an experience that were sharing together. I’ve never tried to convince them of something that isn’t real or may be real, it’s just about taking them to a different place and allowing to look at that place and make their own decisions from it.

Can you talk about the importance of showmanship by magicians as opposed to just having technical skills?

I think technical skills are really important and that’s absolutely what everyone should start out with, whatever branch of magic you’re doing whether that’s card magic or mentalism is to take yourself to the level where you have your own toolbox that you can delve into and create your own effects. Of course like any art form you’re going to be inspired by other people but it’s really important to have a strong set of skills. But a wonderful set of skills doesn’t make a great show. To truly connect with an audience, to truly shape something that is an unique experience, you need to craft your own persona or essentially your own character in some way. Showmanship is a difficult word because it can suggest a slickness or a unrealnness to who you are onstage. So I think its important that you display your humanity but that you also offer the audience something they haven’t seen before. The person I like to be onstage is some whose enigmatic, someone who clearly has a great love of mystery. The person I like to be onstage isn’t just someone whose smiling about how wonderful they are, ‘look at these amazing effects I’ve created’, as a lot of performers do seem to do. For me it comes from a place of real joy and innocence of seeing what we are all capable of. Showmanship is important, more important than technically skill, but what’s more important is that you display your humanity.

Do you watch other magicians’ shows? Who inspires you?

I really like Derek DelGuadio, he’s doing a show in Los Angeles called In & Of Itself, It’s directed by Frank Oz and is a magic show but also a piece of performance art, really philosophical and really interesting stuff. And of course in the UK, Derren Brown is incredible, a wonderful mentalist and wonderful performer and really the main inspiration I take from him is that he is a big proponent of using magic as a metaphor, that it’s something so much greater than what you see onstage. Another performer I really took inspiration from is as a child is one that unfortunately passed away a few days ago, Eugene Berger, a wonderful Chicago close up magician who was an incredible storyteller and he was- performing in small  spaces and bringing the audiences close to him. He might only perform three or four effects but they would be the most incredible three or four effects that you would ever see in your life because they shaped a beautiful story and had humanity attached to it as well. So those are the three main magical performers I take inspiration from. And interestingly I think I like them all because with them it’s not just about the magic itself, it’s about pushing magic into different realms.

This is kinda leading off that as well, do you think that every magician lives in the long shadow of the big names like David Blaine and Derren Brown to some extent?

I think the majority of the public look on Blaine and Brown as gods and I think that is absolutely right because they are both incredible performers who have done very unique things within their perspective realms. So Blaine is one of the first to do street magic or the first to present a really minimalistic purist form of magic where it’s just about what you see in front of you, and there’s so many performers who have copied that, well known performers though the UK and the US, but Blaine deserves to stand at the top. And Brown is exactly the same, he is an incredible mentalist. I know he takes inspiration from another performer who is very inspirational who is David Berglas. He was Brown’s equivalent in the 80’s and 90’s in the UK, who presented this really interesting show of exploring the human mind. I think it’s really about carving your own path as a performer, certainly using those people as an inspiration but not worrying about living in the shadow. I think it’s like, once again like any craft, you’re going to take inspiration from artists that inspire you but its just about focusing on your work, and presenting the best work possible. I believe that if you take the time to craft and present good, unique work the opportunities will open themselves to you. And if not, if you just look on Brown and Blaine as great performers and copy all their material, then of course yeah you will live in their shadow.

What is the best piece of advice that you’ve received or influence that you’ve had and who was the source of it?

The first one- there is a very old magic shop in Glasgow called Tam Shepherds and there is an man in Glasgow that runs it is called Roy Walton, who is an incredible card magician. A lot of the card effects you see other magicians do came from Roy originally, so I had the great pleasure at a young age of being able to go to Tam Shepherds. Something Roy always stood by was having originality in your work, and to yes be inspired by other people and to learn other moves but really to have originality. Whilst we do very different styles of magic that idea of originality and taking the time to create has always stayed with me. Then, the second influence I’ve had was very much my grandfather,  he wasn’t a magician himself but he had a great love of mysteries and practical jokes and really shaped my childhood experience with magic. Anytime I’m crafting something new now I’m always thinking of him in some way and what he would think of it or how I would react if he was presenting this to me. So it’s always a nice base to begin from.

And then, what is the best piece of advice you’ve given and who was the recipient?

That’s a difficult question because I think the advice we give to people comes from other people, sort of percolates through from somewhere else, we pass it down and its sort of like a myth in that way, so it has probably been passing on what Roy said about originality, I’ve said that to multiple performers and magicians. And also really about finding joy in what you do. Certainly when you get to a situation like the Edinburgh Festival where you’re performing 50 shows in 24 days or something, or as I do I do a lot of work in America, travelling a lot, doing a lot of shows in big venues, its about finding joy in your work, deciding that’s the reason you do it. And if ever you look on what you’re doing- whatever it is you do in life- and you don’t find joy in it, you should step away and reassess if it exactly what you want to do. So every day when I wake up I’m hugely excited about getting ready for the show or practicing the next effect or perhaps to working towards something else. I’m in an incredibly privileged position where I know of myself, if I won the lottery tomorrow this is still exactly what I would want to do with my life. So that’s the sort of life goal I try to pass onto anyone that I meet.

We’re just about out of time, but before we finish, I just wanted to ask if you have any exciting new projects in the works?

I have a really exciting year ahead which I’m very much looking forward to, this September I start a film which is called Carmilla which is a Gothic novel from the 1870’s written by Joseph Sheridan le Fanu and it was sort of the quintessential vampire novella before Bram Stoker wrote Dracula. There’s a character in it called The Magician who is a very mysterious enigmatic figure, and very excitingly I’ve been cast as the magician and the illusion consultant in this film. We’ve got this amazing cast and it’s this really interesting project. Then after that I’m hopefully going to be going to New York to premier a new show which hopefully I’ll be doing for a few months. Then starting next year I start a six month American tour which will be going across the United States in some really lovely spaces with interesting theaters, and then hopefully I’ll be premiering a brand new show at next years Fringe. So it’s a little bit nonstop for the next few months  but I’m really excited about it all.

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AN INTERVIEW WITH HAYDINI

After Hayden Childress (aka Haydini)’s recent performance in Charlotte (review here), he gave reviewer Hannah R. the chance to chat with him a bit about his passion for magic.

Hannah: On your website it says you started performing magic when you were ten years old. What inspired you to start learning magic?

Hayden: I was always into weird things when I was younger. I can remember there was this Disney Channel Original Movie called Now You See Me, and during the commercial breaks they would teach magic tricks. I learned them and showed them to my family and friends and started from there.

Who would you say are some magicians and performers who inspire you?

I had the privilege to perform with Mack King in Las Vegas. What I really enjoy about his shows is how the magic comes from the crowd. Of course I also look up to people like David Copperfield and Penn & Teller.

We already know about your passion for magic, so what are some other hobbies you enjoy?

I really like learning languages and love music as well. I also enjoy being outdoors and hiking. I don’t own a lot and am pretty minimalistic; I like having experiences more than things.

You mentioned in your show you recently graduated from college. Do you feel you’ve been able to incorporate what you’ve learned into your performances?

Well, I went to business school so I’ve definitely been able to use what I learned in terms of marketing, merchandise, etc. As far as magic I always found data collection and its use interesting and I definitely like to see how I can apply that to magic by attempting to make correct predictions based on what I know.

You’re making quite a name for yourself in Charlotte and the audience really enjoyed your show. What do you have planned for the future?

My goals would have to be bigger shows and more cities. A lot of people who don’t live near big cities don’t have access to magic and I’d love to be able to take my show to places like that and give them a show they wouldn’t have otherwise.

 

If you’d like to see Haydini or learn more about him, visit his website