The typical modern magic show often requires two elements that are pandemic-taboo: a large crowd and real-life interpersonal contact, a bedrock that could previously be taken for granted in building the structure of the performance. Dave Alnwick gets creative in Ethereal to devise a magic show that is free from these foundations.
There are benefits and drawbacks to live virtual technology in magic, and Alnwick has clearly taken the time to adapt and find a balance that suits his style. While the particular capability of forcibly muting all but the chosen participant sadly eliminates the sound of applause, it also essentially eradicates any unwanted, distracting commotion, creating a tidier performance atmosphere. Alnwick’s dynamic stage presence feels especially unfettered to project through the screen.
Perhaps most obvious to feel but difficult to define is the lack of egregore in a virtual performance, where energy is less easily shared amongst the performer and members of the audience. Alnwick addresses this head on, structuring Ethereal around various categories of communication. This reflective use of his presentation scaffolding acknowledges the limits of his current means of performance without detracting from the display of his considerable skill.
Magically, Ethereal is particularly interactive, as Alnwick has evidently chosen to get around the limits of virtual magic by primarily choosing effects that he can instruct his audience to create at home. Alnwick helpfully sends out a list of the items required prior to the show, and it is well worth the price of a deck of cards to be able to participate. Ethereal at times feels less like a “magic show” and more like a “professionally guided magical experience”. Alnwick explains how to create the effect without explaining the “trick” that makes the magic, exporting the physical work of the effect to his audience’s homes but keeping their sense of wonder for himself.
Alnwick also takes the time to exhibit a couple card tricks more traditionally, in that he holds and manipulates the cards himself. His mastery of sleight of hand is indisputable. These are a fun diversion in a performance that relies more on mind reading and puppeteering the audience’s hands.
The pandemic is especially tough on the performing arts, and stage magicians in particular have had to redefine their genre during this universally stressful time in order to continue to work. Holding Alnwick and his colleagues to any formal standard of review at the moment feels entirely inadequate. That being said, a job well done deserves recognition, and Alnwick creates an entertainingly interactive magical experience in Ethereal that is worthwhile fun for all ages.