Like any other art form, being a magician or an illusionist can be performed by anyone but it takes someone with real flair and imagination to captivate audiences on-stage. You would be forgiven for thinking that magic and illusion shows are a little old hat now but there is an increasing demographic of performers that are making live magic ‘cool’ again. It’s by no means a dying art. In fact, the closest magicians and illusionists came to dying out was a long time ago when magic and sorcery was once considered evil. In the UK, The Witchcraft Act 1735 made it illegal for an individual to claim they had magical powers.
For sure, the advent of social media platforms such as YouTube and Facebook have made it tougher for magicians to remain conspicuous and interesting. YouTubers are forever spending their time trying to solve tricks and expose how they are performed. However, that has only further served to inspire the world’s leading magicians and illusionists to stay one, two, even three steps ahead of this online community of pretenders. If you’re concerned that live magic is a dying art, check out these four illustrious acts that are more popular than ever.
Penn and Teller
Arguably America’s finest magical double act, Penn Jillette and Teller have been wowing audiences since the late 1970s, perfectly fusing moments of comedy with awe-inspiring magic and illusions. One of the most fascinating things about Pen and Teller’s act is that Teller remains mute throughout their entire performance. This apparently dates back to his college days when he acknowledged the benefits of keeping quiet as it perplexed younger, more boisterous audiences that weren’t able to heckle him and became enchanted by his demeanour. Consequently, as a double act, they began to make money with unquestionable ease.
They are continually looking to push the boundaries of what’s possible. In 2010, they introduced an intriguing twist on the old-school bag escape trick. Instead of using a traditional brown sack, they replaced it with a black bin liner allegedly filled with helium. Teller is placed inside this helium-filled bin liner and attempts to escape. For a split second, the audience are blinded by a bright light and when the light returns to normal, Teller is stood on-stage outside of the bag, with Penn holding the bin liner – still filled with helium – above his head. It’s a trick that was performed in Las Vegas for the first time in June 2010. In recognition of their performances and commitment to magic, Penn and Teller were named as the 2,494th star on the world-famous Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Regarded by many as the most commercially successful illusionist on the planet, David Copperfield has had an incredible career spanning more than 40 years. Throughout his professional career, he’s scooped an incredible 11 Guinness World Records, 38 Emmy Award nominations – of which he won 21 – and, when he’s not on-stage, he’s overseeing his incredible chain of 11 islands in the Bahamas, known as the Islands of Copperfield Bay, which are a hugely popular tourist attraction.
One of Copperfield’s most impressive illusions was his ‘Walking Through the Great Wall of China’ trick in 1986. Interestingly, this was the only time Copperfield performed this illusion. Copperfield appeared to enter the Great Wall of China at one end, before appearing at the opposite end – and on both sides of the wall and above it – in front of a live crowd. Copperfield has also laid claim to the Death Saw trick, which is one of the most exhilarating ‘escapes gone wrong’ illusions that you will see. This Betway Casino infographic on the biggest acts in Las Vegas reveals that Copperfield’s 18-year residency at the MGM Grand Casino scooped an eye-watering $850m in revenue from the 8,000 live shows that made him a household name on the Vegas performance scene.
35-year-old Brit, Steven Frayne, known as Dynamo, has breathed new life into British magic. His three-year Seeing is Believing tour between July 2011 and September 2014 catapulted Dynamo into a new realm as one of the leading performers on the planet, not just on the British Isles. Dynamo confessed to being bullied as a child at school and channelled his energies into learning magic tricks. In October 2011, it was announced that Dynamo had joined The Magic Circle, which is a notorious British organisation promoting the art of magic.
Some of Dynamo’s most impressive illusions include his ability to walk on water across the River Thames in London, before being picked up by a Metropolitan Police boat in the middle of the river. Another one of his famous stunts was carried out in Central London when he made it appear that he was levitating alongside a traditional red London bus, hovering past gob-smacked bystanders!
It would be verging on criminal not to talk about the best magicians and illusionists of the 21st century without mentioning David Blaine. Known for his unwavering endurance and commitment to even the most dangerous acts, Blaine has been heralded by many in the industry for adding a much-needed fresh dimension to live magic and illusions. His first ever TV special was in May 1997 when his ‘Street Magic’ wowed crowds in the US as well as Europe.
He’s also done some incredible daredevil stunts that have taken magic and illusion to a whole new level of theatre in the post-millennium era. From being ‘buried alive’ in a plastic box for seven days and being frozen in a life-sized block of ice in the heart of New York City to standing on a 30-metre-high pillar for 35 hours in New York’s Bryan Park, this is a man who’s never been afraid to put his life on the line in the name of magic.
Magicians and illusionists are alive and well. With advancements in technology, it begs the question as to what performers will look to utilize next to wow the audiences. Virtual and augmented reality could be a possible addition as the biggest acts seek to continue to bend the minds and the sensations of their fans around the world.