Well-produced magic shows are still worth catching live, even if clips of the visual tricks are freely available online.
The theatre fell silent when the 1,000-strong audience stopped breathing in unison as they fixed their gaze on a lithe performer who’s chained upside down in a water torture cell.
The audience was challenged to hold their breath as “The Escapologist”, whose head was submerged in water, struggled to free his shackled hands and feet using a paper clip. Most gave up and resumed breathing in less than 2 minutes. Then, the paper clip dropped, leaving the crowd gasping in horror. When “The Escapologist” finally emerged unscathed after close to 4 minutes of oxygen deprivation, everyone breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Such death-defying stunts as well as many other visual tricks can now be streamed online, with many clips featuring extreme close-ups, multiple angles and even a low-down on how the tricks work. But to many who caught the recently-concluded bestselling show The Illusionists at Marina Bay Sands, “magic” is still best experienced live.
“When you watch it in real life, the atmosphere is special as there are hundreds of people in the same theatre reacting and applauding together with you,” Mr Gerald Tan, 19, told the UrbanWire while queueing for a photograph with “The Escapologist”. “When you watch it online, you also tend to doubt if the clip could have been edited in a certain way for the magic to happen,” he added.
Ms Ysabel Suratos, 19, agreed that live magic shows are worth paying for, especially for those who enjoy being part of a shared experience. “Performances like these are better watched in person than on a computer screen,” she said. “You can also feel, in a way, what he (The Escapologist) is going through because you can hold your breath as well.”
Produced by Australian duo Simon Painter and Tim Lawson, The Illusionists premiered at the Sydney Opera House in 2012 and has had successful runs at Broadway in the US and West End in the UK. The high-energy and extremely interactive show features 8 illusionists from countries including Australia, Mexico, Portugal, South Korea and the US. They take on distinctive personas such as The Escapologist (Paul Krendl), The Enigma (Sam Powers), The Clairvoyants (Thommy Ten and Amélie van Tass), The Manipulator (Hyun Joon Kim), The Eccentric (Charlie Frye), The Alchemist (Leonardo Bruno), and The Master Magician (Luis De Matos). The illusionists are each given two segments to wow the audience with their card tricks, psychic power or sheer lung prowess.
The “shared experience” was also very much cherished by the magicians, as American performer Paul Krendl told the UrbanWire.
“At that moment people can relate and identify with me in the tank because they are holding their breath and can feel a slight pain in their chest. They know that I am feeling that. This bonds people,” said Mr Krendl as he recalled his signature stunt as the Escapologist in the water torture cell. “I love having an intimate connection with the audience like that. Even though there can be thousands of people in the room, there is something that we all share.”
His fellow performer Leonardo Bruno, or “The Alchemist”, adds, “Just like how people hear a band that they like on the Internet, they still go to the concert and say ‘my god it’s really awesome’. Seeing things live will give you the full experience of amazement and wonder – that’s what makes it so great.”
Performer Kim Hyun Joon, or “The Manipulator” , also believed that live magic performance would stay relevant as there’s still demands for the grand theatrics, well-composed scores and great showmanship. “If magic show is 100, magic trick is only a 12 or 20,” Mr Kim said, adding that a good production would still be appreciated.
But the performers are deeply aware of the need to reinvent themselves so that their show would not become stale and predictable. “I think magic is like any other art forms, like songwriting,” said Mr Charlie Frye, or “The Eccentric”. “Songwriters are always thinking of new songs, we’re always thinking of new tricks.”
Photos courtesy of klix Photography