magic

PAUL NATHAN: MAGIC HOUR

A charming San Franciscan, Paul Nathan makes clear to his audience from the beginning that his Magic Hour isn’t really a magic show, it’s just us hanging out with him and watching him perform some magic tricks.  It is not even really an hour, as the scheduled run time is forty minutes!  However, Nathan invariably gets caught up in performing and runs late.  Nathan switches up his show depending on the audience, and is even open to requests, inviting everyone present to suggest a trick that they might have seen him perform on TV or on Youtube.

When it started to rain, as is so common at this year’s Fringe, Nathan kindly allowed the audience to enter the tent that he is to perform in a few minutes earlier than planned.  The last few bits of set up become an appropriately casual introduction to the “not really a show”.  Nathan gradually starts introducing himself to his intimate audience during this time.  By the time the magic starts properly, being invited up to participate in the tricks feels less like joining a performance and more like helping Nathan show everyone the cool skills that he has mastered.

The magic itself is exceptional.  The Magic Hour is a close up magic show, and Nathan seems to favor his cards, but the one effect that he performs with several large coins is done to perfection as well.  Nathan encourages the audience to lean in for a closer look, and even move their chairs behind him to try to catch him out.  By the end of the hour, the majority of the audience has abandoned their chairs entirely to lean in as closely as possible to Nathan’s card table.

The time flies past in Nathan’s fascinating company.  He seems to take genuine delight in his performance.  Those looking for an hour of fun magic tricks can hardly do better than Nathan’s Magic Hour.

 

More information on Paul Nathan and his performance dates can be found here.

AARON CROW: FEARLESS

In Fearless, Aaron Crow performs an entire hour of dangerous magic, with few breaks for less scary effects.  It is in part a master class on the types of dangerous magic tricks that the audience might recognize as having been performed by other magicians, here done with Crow’s exemplary skill and distinctive style.

Through all of the danger, Crow is courteous to his audience participants.  They might briefly worry that they could cut themselves on the glass that he scatters on stage, the sword that he wields, or his perfectly chiseled cheekbones, but the vast majority are asked to take more supportive roles as Crow manipulates his dangerous props.  The few who are given more active roles look comforted by Crow’s quiet encouragement.

Crow fully commits to the aesthetic that he has chosen with his costume changes, set design, and clever use of lighting.  He has even perfected a characteristic style of movement to match and accentuate this.  Crow’s performance is almost dance-like as well as being magical.

Where such a show might falter would be in taking itself too seriously, leaving the contrived danger open to ridicule.  Luckily Crow embraces the inherent ridiculousness of his genre.  He performs silently to music, but his sly sense of humor shines through in his movements, especially in his direct interactions with his audience members.  This maintains audience engagement without relying on simply escalating the danger of the performance.  Crow certainly does this as well, but the multidimensional nature of his performance allows the danger escalation to come across as a choice rather than a transparent attempt to keep the audience’s attention.

Fearless is fantastic, but it is a very stylized take on a specific genre, which may limit its appeal.  That being said, even those who are not a fan of dangerous magic will see the delight in Crow’s wit and the flow of his movement, and could not fail to be touched by his charming finale.

 

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

ELLIOT BIBBY: MAGIC IN A JIFFY

☆☆

As magic show themes go, Elliot Bibby’s for Magic in a Jiffy is the most instantly relatable.  Who among us has never had trouble with buying things online?  Bibby covers common pitfalls, from a late delivery delaying important plans and buying something that arrives looking not quite how you expect.

While many of Bibby’s tricks use techniques that fans of magic might find familiar, each one is impressively tailored to fit his theme.  Bibby reads minds using the names of large companies with a focus on those in the shipping industry—albeit with an anecdote about McDonald’s that much of the audience seems to have no idea how to respond to—and predicts a second participant’s random choice with the help of a magically speedy Amazon delivery.  This is even noticeable in the little moments.  Many magicians make the exact same joke about sniffing their markers, so Bibby’s take on this theme is a fun surprise and perfectly suits his onstage character.

At the show reviewed, Bibby unfortunately made an uncharacteristic number of slip-ups in performing his sleight of hand, that an observant audience member would not be able to help but notice.  This was perhaps simply due to illness; Bibby’s voice was noticeably hoarse.  However, aside from those issues, Bibby powered through with an admirable amount of energy.

Bibby interacts with his audience participants with care and respect.  One woman in particular was slightly distressed at the halfway point of a trick involving her bank card, and Bibby quickly switched off his microphone to reassure her.  While this did briefly interrupt the flow of the show, it is commendable that he valued an audience member’s emotional comfort over his own performance.  This moment cut through the stage presence to reveal Bibby as a genuinely good person.

Magic in a Jiffy is charming in its skillful construction and delightful in Bibby’s adept performance.  It is well worthwhile for good fun magic.

 

More information on Elliot Bibby and his performance dates can be found here.

KEVIN QUANTUM: NEON FUTURE

☆☆☆☆

It is rare that a show literally starts with a bang.  It is unclear whether Kevin Quantum decided to use explosives in Neon Future specifically for this purpose or whether the bombs came to mind first, but he took full advantage of the opportunity that their involvement afforded him for an exceptionally exciting introduction.

The explosives set the tone for the show.  Quantum’s theme matches his title—the future—and from there his show explodes in all directions, encompassing everything from personal musings into the possibilities of a robotically enhanced humanity, the dialectic debate of destiny versus free will, The Matrix… and more typically magical pretensions to genuine clairvoyance.

Quantum is fantastically committed to this theme, altering every trick he performs to fit it.  A highlight in this respect is his version of the oldest trick in the world, which in Quantum’s world becomes a miniature futuristic teleportation device.  Quantum’s explanation of the history of the trick detracts from the moment ever so slightly, taking the audience out of the moment, but in fairness this is in keeping with the capricious nature of the flow that Quantum cultivates.

The audience has a high proportion of children, and Quantum is excellent in working with them.  He makes a point to involve them in the show, often selecting his participants entirely from the children of the audience, and tries to involve as many of the enthusiastic volunteers as is feasible.  On the other hand, there are points in the show where it is best to minimize child involvement, especially the sections involving the explosives, and Quantum makes the responsible decision to choose adult participants at these times.

Neon Future often feels like it is going in every direction, all at once, so it is impressive that Quantum makes it feel like a cohesive show.  This is perhaps in part him embracing that his early evening time slot and nominally semi-educational theme means that he might regularly attract a younger audience, and tailoring his act to suit those tastes.  And even adults can appreciate the childlike joy of watching things go boom.

 

More information on Kevin Quantum and his performance dates can be found here.

TOM BRACE: BRACE OF SPADES

☆☆

Brace yourself (sorry), Tom Brace’s show Brace of Spades is a whirlwind of fun, playful energy. Brace is a cheerful, exuberant performer whose enthusiasm is a solid match for the family demographic that one can expect at an afternoon magic show. Accordingly, while the show lacks a certain degree of cohesiveness or polish, it is bright and exciting for the youngest elements of the crowd.

Brace performs classic magic effects, but makes them fresh with his own effusive nature. Brace understands that in family magic in particular, the audience does not so much care about him- for an older audience the character of the magician is often an important element of the narrative, but when mostly focusing on children- well, they just want to see the magic. So while Brace’s presentation lacks in the personal, it is because it doesn’t have to.

The tricks themselves are performed with faultless dexterity, and Brace excels at sleight of hand. He also has, for the most part, a charmingly silly banter with the audience. The one occasional misstep in this is his attempt to keep enough cheek in so the adults in the room don’t get bored. At best, jokes about the women brought up for audience participation can be cute enough at first, but become repetitive to the point of irritating as they are recycled several times throughout the show. At worst, they are even unnecessary, as Brace is much more adept at the wholesome chat, and the cheek often seems forced in the first place.

But Brace has enough charm to keep the audience on bored, as evidenced by one particular moment of the performance reviewed. At one point, Brace has an audience member on stage who is expected to try to call a friend or family member, live an onstage. Unfortunately, a lot of people are busy in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday, and the participant struggled to do so- but despite this set up taking near twenty minutes when it seems to have probably been planned to last about two, Brace never lets the moment lag, and every attempt and failure is made to be a great source for comedy and audience empathy.

Brace of Spades is a fast-paced and silly magic show, perfect for a family afternoon out.

 

More information on Tom Brace and his performance dates can be found here. 

 

TOMAS MCCABE: THE MIND READING EXPERIMENTS

☆☆

You wouldn’t expect it from someone with a face so young, but the moment Tomas McCabe steps on stage, he radiates a sense of authority. Maybe it’s just the lab coat, but McCabe’s energy and articulation immediately set the expectation that The Mind Reading Experiments is going to be a captivating show – and it does not disappoint.

The Mind Reading Experiments is both a historical exploration and a magic show, cloaked in the wonder of “obviously he can’t actually read our minds…but what if he can?” McCabe brings his audience into the 19th century spiritualism craze, where psychical abilities were tested and debated both in private, spiritual spheres and in scientific and intellectual ones. Key to his show are the Creery sisters, a group of five girls who claimed to have psychic powers, and the experiments that were done on them by scientists of the time to determine just how true that might be. But this show is not just about the past, it’s about today’s spectators too. McCabe claims that he’s going to teach us all how lies are discovered, minds are read, and much more. He bounces between different ways our minds work, from how we present body language that gives our true intentions away when trying to lie, to how propaganda and technology work on us. A glimpse inside the magic of the mentalists, we think, but McCabes’s skills prove far beyond any audience member’s powers of comprehension, and even when doing their best to catch him out, McCabe proves that he’s the smartest one in the room – or at least the most extrasensory.

McCabe mentions dropping out of school to follow the subjects that truly interested him, but it is clear that despite that, he certainly knows how to study. The Mind Reading Experiments is put together with by-the-book magic show perfection, from the overarching theme to the quick and neat cycling through audience participants. It is, if anything, a little too perfect, a little too perfunctory. At times audience members are brought onstage to do a quick task, be set dressing for a moment while McCabe provides framework for the next bit, and dismissed. This seems like a bit of a missed opportunity, because McCabe truly shines when he banters freely with his audience members, or is faced with a participant so excited to engage that they carve a bit of the show for themselves. McCabe is better at improvising than he thinks he is. Similarly, one simple but striking moment is his method of collecting slips of paper from the crowd – it’s unexpected, funny, and lightens the mood. McCabe is already head of the class when it comes to a well-constructed magic show, but once he feels the comfort to be more creative, he will be unstoppable.

The Mind Reading Experiments is a cleverly wrought and enjoyable magic experience. You may not come out of it with a lot more information about psychical abilities than you may have already known, as your teacher has no intention in letting his students outsmart him, but really you wouldn’t want to. Tomas McCabe makes it more fun to be baffled than you could ever have imagined.

 

More information about Tomas McCabe and his performance dates can be found here.

AVA BEAUX: THE MYSTERIOUS TALES OF POE

☆☆☆☆

As the audience enters her venue, Ava Beaux appears to be incredibly sweet and welcoming, pulling over extra chairs to ensure that the sizable crowd who wish to see her show all manage to fit in the room. This is a comforting memory to cling to as The Mysterious Tales of Poe begins and Beaux’s eerie performance persona becomes increasingly unsettling.  Beaux holds the audience’s attention from the moment she silently starts cutting up a balloon string.  Her mesmerizing performance ensures that no one looks away even as the tricks get more macabre.
 

Nevertheless the audience feels a degree of safety, as all of Beaux’s creepiest effects and destructive impulses are focused on herself.  She is kinder to the participants who she calls upon to help throughout the show.  The magic itself is largely well performed.  If the odd prop is visible before it is meant to be the audience hardly notice or care as they are caught up in the flow of Beaux’s interpretations of Poe’s stories.
 

This is where Beaux truly excels, in the interweaving her storytelling with her magic.  Every trick supports the Poe stories that she narrates.  Likewise, each story is perfectly chosen as being suitable to be told through magic and further her theme, so the magic never feels forced.  The finale of her show is, however, entirely storytelling, and Beaux invites her audience to close their eyes to better appreciate Poe’s words, even at the expense of making her final reveal slightly anticlimactic.  Seeing the majority of the audience follow this advice is a testament to the degree of trust that Beaux manages to build in spite of the frightening nature of her performance.
 

The theatricality of The Mysterious Tales of Poe broadens its appeal; audience members certainly don’t have to be fans of magic to enjoy it.  On the other hand, those who are used to seeing magic performed as trick after trick with no unifying theme might gain a greater appreciation for the potential of magic when performed with Beaux’s creativity.
 

More information on Ava Beaux and her performance dates can be found here.