Magic, when elevated to a theatrical level, leaves audiences baffled and astonished, as reality fades into fantasy beyond belief. One such a spectacular magical production is The Illusionists. This Broadway sensation is known for mind blowing grand illusion, levitation, mind-reading, and disappearance acts. Two of the celebrated magicians adding to the awe of it all, is on and off stage partners, Mark Kalin (The Showman) and Jinger Leigh (The Conjuress). They reveal their magical perspective ahead of the much anticipated opening of The Illusionists at Grand West on 7 February 2018.
Kalin is very aware of the fact that magic needs to be presented and packaged in a certain manner for it to be transformed from mere parlour trick to large-scale theatrical experience. “Large scale illusion – 'grand illusion' – is generally presented on the scale of a human being, or larger: A levitating woman, sawing a woman in half, vanishing an elephant or car.” He reveals that method is key. Although the scale may sometimes be bigger, “with the use of IMAG projection, small effects can now be presented to stadium crowds”. That brings the most intricate magic to audiences at a grand scale.
Whatever the scale of the magic, Kalin admits that magic enchanted him from a young age. Though his imagination was not captured by another magician's performance. “It was a journey of discovery as a child, a magic book from the library – it seemed to contain so many miracles and challenges, secrets and projects" And just like that, with the opening of but one book, Kalin found “a purpose and an identity”. it is then no surprise that, like most magicians, Kalin is self-thought. “It’s not something that can be taught in a school really", says Kalin.
"A good magician presents something that they have found, something they are passionate about.” That inspiration Kalin found "in that first book [...] a trick with billiard balls, sleight of hand – I loved that trick; it seemed both intricate and simple". He has been performing that trick, in some form or other, ever since, "for more than 40 years, and I never get tired of it”. You may even spot this favourite trick in Kalin's The Illusionists act.
That childhood fascination set Kalin on a path to develop and test many other styles of magic: “I’ve been in magic for many years, so I have been through many different styles. I went through a phase of flashy, Vegas-style, magic in the 80’s – tigers, leopards, pyro and sparkly costumes. A more austere, theatrical style evolved from that – and certainly Jinger was a huge influence when we started working together. And together we have reinvented our style many times. You have to move forward, keep discovering and stay relevant. Or at least try. There was a simple joy to the magic when I was a kid. A very uncomplicated inner satisfaction and sharing with an audience. I find that as I get older I seem to be returning to that. Full circle.”
As to her influence on their style of magic and preference for the large scale stage illusions, Jinger adds, “For me it is just because there is a larger aspect of theatre and presentation to it – I love the staging and aesthetic aspect of creating a visual scene and routine”. Add to that magic the chemistry of performing alongside your spouse, and it is understandable that trust also plays a big part in their performances. “Challenge and personal annoyance too, occasionally”, Kalin jests. This all confirms that the Kaliln & Jinger connection you see on stage is anything but an illusion – that magic is real.
This duo seems to be able to handle any unexpected event with great magical finesse, but has someone ever uncovered or figured out a trick while they were performing? “Of course”, Kalin admits. “But it has little effect on the experience”. People voluntarily open themselves to believe the unbelievable. “It’s like going to Disneyland; you can know about the animatronics, know the trees are not real, and understand that it’s just a theme park, but when you go through the gates, it’s a magical feeling.” “Good magic is the same way, it’s not a puzzle to be figured out – it’s a feeling that anything is possible.”
That does not necessarily imply that magicians want to be caught out, even though they are open to the idea that an audience member may wake from their magical reverie before the illusions is complete. For that reason, magicians make allowance for a margin of error in their performances, an ‘out’ so to speak, to change the course of a trick if the audience reaction demands it. “Even though you try to anticipate everything, you can’t always”, says Kalin, “because tricks going wrong are part of the equation”. “Experienced magicians know it will happen and you are defined, not by how perfect your magic is – but HOW you handle it when something goes wrong.” That Kalin believes allows a magician to build a stronger bond with his or her audience.
Experienced magicians also know how to inspire other magicians. That’s exactly why Jinger looks to Dough Henning for inspiration when she takes the stage alongside Kalin. “Everything about Dough Henning made you really believe in real magic and wonder, because he believed”. It is then no surprise that Jinger still loves watching other magician’s who can conjure up that same feeling of realness.
Among these realness-driven magicians, Kalin definitely stands to be counted too. He is ever aware of the fact that a magician needs to understand realness from an audience, as well as performer, perspective when it comes to developing acts: “I had invented an underwater tank escape. Death-defying, chained underwater. I was performing it nightly, very proud of myself. After a show, a fellow magician and friend asked me, 'Do you know what you look like wet?' I sold the prop.”
It is clear that for Kalin and Jinger magic has become more than just a standard form of entertainment, as Kalin elaborates on the unique appeal if magic: “I think it is odd that magic has been largely dismissed as a puzzle or distraction, something you’d expect at a kids party or cruise ship. When performed correctly, it can be quite artistic. It actually has the ability to move us quite deeply, giving us a sense that nothing is impossible, that the world holds unexplainable mysteries. That’s core to human kind. That’s why magic has endured.”
The aim of their magic then? “To create and share a sense of wonder.” That magical pursuit has become their life, as it is so much more than just a job. It is in their lifelong passion. “Yes, it’s everything”, confirms Kalin. “Even if no one paid me, I’d still be doing the very same thing."
With that lifestyle and passion perspective in mind, what can audiences expect when they go see The Illusionists? “It’s a compilation of the best-of-the-best”, says Kalin. “It reinvents magic in a way that introduces it to new generations.” Everything in it has been well planned and developed, down to the details of the character personas each magician makes their own. And audiences are encouraged to look deeper than merely the names of the acts as well as the obvious smoke and mirror effects. There is meaning beyond all that too, as Jinger reveals. “I wanted to come up with a persona that was inspiring to young females, yet not in direct comparison with my male counterparts”. So, when Jinger takes to the stage as The Conjuress, you can place her magical character “somewhere between a strong Marvel Avenger and an enchanting Disney Princess”. Overall though, she believes audiences can expect to see the performers in The Illusionists reveal a genuine passion for what they do, as they blur the lines between reality and imagination in a show that offers the ultimate form of escapism… MAGIC!
Book through Computicket to see The Illusionists at GrandWest 7 to 11 February 2018.