THE ILLUSIONISTS is coming to SHN Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco to blow your mind from February 16-21, 2016 as part of a 45 city U.S. tour. Seven illusionists from around the world will perform family-friendly tricks and death defying stunts.
I got a chance to interview Kevin James – The Inventor, known for innovative illusions. He’s also a comedian and collector of the strange and unusual. He didn’t start out that way as he remembers his first attempt at magic as being “pretty awful”. He grew up in a small town with a population of 2,000 people. Being pre-internet days his only resources were 6 library books with basic ‘use stuff from around the house’ tricks, “I was the only one checking them out over and over. I remember trying it for my classmates and it was just really bad. It didn’t deter me, I kept moving forward”. We’re glad he did, as he’s one of the most prolific inventors of magic in the world today.
What’s the secret to his success? “The biggest secret in magic is that secrets don’t matter,” he says. He told me about all the work that goes into a great performance including storyline, mood, sound, costumes, the technical crew and timing. “It’s the 1,000s of other things you have to think about that matter. Penn and Teller can show you how something works and immediately fool you with it afterwards.” Magic is about making things interesting, “It’s the artistic interpretation that’s impressive to watch”. Want to know more, continue reading the rest of the interview below.
What inspired you to get into magic?
Most of the magicians all have the same story; we all got hooked when we were a kid. I think most kids are fascinated with magic at some point and, the lucky ones; we never grow out of it. For me it was a love at first sight, I just completely knew that that’s exactly what I wanted to do the rest of my life, instantly. I was so enamored by it and I wanted to share that feeling, that feeling I had when I saw it. I wanted to give that feeling to everyone else, that sense of wonder. I never ever wanted to be a fireman or astronaut or that other stuff that kids really like or think they’re going to do, it was magic the whole time.
What was the first performance that you saw?
Now in hindsight, I realize that the performer was not that great. He was a very average performer but for me, it was just mind blowing seeing it for the first time. He came to our elementary school and did a show for the school.
Has one of your performances ever gone wrong? How did you handle it?
Let’s just say that everything has gone wrong. That’s why you have to do 1,000s and 1000’s of shows to experience all those things that can go wrong. The list is just too huge to mention. You know, you learn each time something happens and make sure it doesn’t happen again and you’re better for it afterwards. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right.
You’ve traveled around the world. Which country seems to have the most enthusiastic audience?
You know it’s funny, I’ve performed in 91 countries so far and the biggest reaction we ever got was in I think, Ecuador, because I don’t think they’ve ever seen a big magic show before or any magic for that matter. We were use to a certain level of reaction and it was double in Ecuador and I think it was just the element of surprise that they had just never had the opportunity to see magic live like that because magic is much better live than on TV.
Which one of your performances gets the most reaction from an audience?
That’s kind of hard to say because I try to elicit a different emotion with each trick, you know sometimes its sweet and innocent, sometimes it nostalgic, sometimes it’s shocking and visually arresting. I just try to elicit all these different emotions. I think, probably the thing I call, The Operation. Cutting a person in half is a classic premise, it was first invented in 1921 but it’s always been done inside a box, put the blades in and separate the box, I decided to try to do it without the box. So, there’s a terrible accident on stage with a chainsaw and the poor guy gets cut in half and falls over like a tree, two pieces, and the two body parts, they animate and they chase each other around. I end up putting them back together on a table using a staple gun to stick him back together. And it dances off stage.
Will this be part of the show?
Oh yeah, this will be part of The Illusionists show.
What’s it like traveling with other magicians?
Some of these guys I’ve known since I was 12 and 13 years old going to different magic conventions and other ones are new to me. There are no big egos we’re all at the top of our game so we all have mutual respect for each other and we like hanging out with each other.
How often do you introduce a new magic trick into your performance?
I usually have 10 projects in the pipeline at any given moment in different stages of development. You kind of have to have a break in the show in order to get something new in because that’s when you got all your technicians, lights and sounds and backstage help and that’s when everyone is able to learn new projects and learn new things. The trick is to get your material to a certain level and then say okay, here’s a break coming up, we can try to get it worked in to this next show and plan ahead to get that done. It’s a big machine with a lot of parts and everyone has to be working together on it. Once something is in the show you can tweak it all the time just with little details but, getting a whole new piece in is not quite so easy.
How do you come up with a new trick?
There’s 1,000s of ways to find inspiration and sometimes I have a great method for something and I’m looking for a story and sometimes I have a great story and I’m looking for a way to do it. So, it comes at you from lots of different directions.
There’s a routine in the show where I make it snow on the audience and it’s a direct illustration from my life experience. I grew up in Michigan and I was fascinated with snow every year. For me, it was part of the magic of nature and so I talk about that and I make it snow on the audience and its fun to watch kids just leap to their feet and just play in the snow. Even if you don’t remember the first time you saw snow fall you probably have good memories of building a snowman, sledding. It’s a collective personal journal.
I love hardware stores cause I see all kinds of crazy interesting things. Sometimes. I’ll hear a piece of music and go ‘Oh my god’ I got to use that cause I just feel a certain way, you know.
You’ve been labeled one of the world’s greatest magicians but when did you first realize,’Hey, I’m pretty awesome at this’?
I’m just trying to do good work and trying to use the art form that I love to communicate with people. For me, it’s a lifelong journey and I’m just having a ball, I just think I got the best job in the world.
Why should people go see, The Illusionists?
Instead of seeing one performer for 2 hours where you get the same vibe and the same point of view, you’re seeing 7 magicians who are all at the top of their game. They’re from all over the word, we got magicians from England, Italy, Korea and the US. It’s a big smorgasbord of great magic.
The wonderful thing about magic for me is that it breaks all barriers. There are no age barriers, culture barriers, language barriers, it doesn’t matter who you are you can still enjoy the show. It’s definitely not a kid show but it’s a wonderful, exciting, funny, artful display of magic that kids can absolutely enjoy.
For more information on THE ILLUSIONISTS, visit: http://www.theillusionistslive.com.
February 16–21, 2016
Tuesday–Saturday at 8pm
Wednesday, Saturday & Sunday at 2pm
2 hours, including one 15-minute intermission.
Appropriate for all ages. No children under 5 allowed.
Tickets are available now for current SHN members and to the general public at shnsf.com. Members may call SHN Audience Services at 888-746-1799 (Press 2), or purchase tickets through their SHN ACCOUNT at shnsf.com. Tickets range from $45-$212. Prices are subject to change.
SHN is the preeminent theatrical entertainment company in the Bay Area, bringing live entertainment experiences to San Francisco’s premier venues. SHN presents current hits fresh from Broadway, original Broadway cast productions, pre-Broadway premieres and one-of-a-kind live events that are at the forefront of the national theater scene.