BWW Interview: Magician Derek DelGaudio Has Plenty to Hide
Derek DelGaudio's fascination with trickery and illusion began with his love of old musicals, the kind he watched on television as a child. "I was 12 years old and had always been interested in things that were magical, especially old Hollywood musicals," said DelGaudio, the writer and half of the performing tandem in the hit Off Broadway evening of magic NOTHING TO HIDE. His favorites starred Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire or even Buster Keaton. "They were all magical happenings to me, especially Willy Wonka," he said after a performance.
DelGaudio, NOTHING TO HIDE'S co-star, with Helder Guimarães, is a Los Angeles-based artist whose work, according to his website, ranges from "intimate and conceptual sleight of hand to grand-scale public interventions." He garnered critical acclaim for "184 Seconds," a conceptual magic performance, and #derek-showlive, a magic show on Twitter. NOTHING TO HIDE is crisply directed by Neil Patrick Harris.
Some of DelGaudio's most vivid magical memories have stayed with him to this day. "I recall seeing a magician make a pocketknife vanish and I couldn't believe it," he said. "I just couldn't believe these things happened in real life - I thought they only happened in movies," DelGaudio said. That youthful disbelief led to a life in fierce pursuit of bigger and more astonishing tricks to master.
"It sparked my imagination," he continued. "I got a book on card magic and cheating at cards. It was all very romantic to me and I fell in love with it." But his relationship with sleight-of-hand was kept fairly private for a number of years.
"I didn't perform for anyone until much later and through my teens I had an on-again off-again relationship with magic," he said. "I didn't find the relevance to do it other than a hobby." In fact, the rare times DelGaudio performed were after his family moved from L.A. to Colorado - where he found the popular Tower Magic Bar in Snowmass, once owned by John Denver. "I was young and obsessive in terms of technique and practice and I developed pretty quickly," he said. The bar had a storied reputation for attracting top magicians. It was a great place to watch and learn from contemporary masters, he said. And he learned to respect the craft as well as those who watched.
"I don't do what I do to deceive people, but because I want to generate wonder and amazement," he said. "The first time I saw "Singin' in the Rain" and watched Gene Kelly dance was just transforming. Or Willy Wonka, which was almost a documentary to me," he said with a laugh. "Those sorts of things and people blur the lines of reality and fantasy for me; they make things that seem impossible, possible."
DelGaudio's very first audience, not surprisingly, was his mother. "She was my first and best audience," he recalled. "She was always supportive," even when he could be slightly intrusive. "One time she was taking a shower and recalls seeing a hand with a deck of cars in it come through the curtain, and hearing my voice telling her to 'Take a card, any card.' She yelled at me."
Despite his love of all things magical he avoided turning pro. "It's interesting because I love magic and kind of didn't want to ruin it for myself. I believe magic is important because it's capable of expanding the imagination and creating new spaces for thinking.
"It's a synthetic wonder used to inspire awe and questions that can lead to big answers," he philosophized. "Anything that can't be explained by science is called magic. What we do aren't really 'tricks'- they're effects that develop depending on circumstances," he said. Not content to stick with a formulaic repertory of illusions, DelGaudio is more intrigued by being challenged and then challenging his audience.
"I'm also willing to abandon material very quickly," he added. "That's highly unusual for a magician. But I feel that creation is an important part of progress, so I develop work specific to circumstances and work in that moment.
NOTHING TO HIDE is a collaboration with Helder (whom DelGaudio calls in the show "a Portuguese Muppet") that "spawned out of our friendship," he said. One of their most dazzling illusions centers on a past issue of The Village Voice with some unusual qualities. "The Village Voice thing is a perfect example of us working together to create something amazing," he said. Another jaw-dropping feat involves scores of glass bottles that each contains a deck of cards. Mind-boggling tom-foolery ensues that includes an audience member's dream and a stuffed monkey.
"The bottle trick involves a dream and grew out of us asking: 'Wouldn't it be great if ... ?' It started with one bottle then expanded to 796," DelGaudio said. "Actually more, since we have to replace some every night."
He sees his vocation as a vehicle to express his romanticism "I'm like a poet who wants to write poems about poetry," DelGaudio said. "Magic is a very powerful thing. When done well, it can stand next to the greatest shows on earth."
NOTHING TO HIDE has been extended through January 19. It's playing at the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 W. 42nd Street at Tenth Avenue.
Photo Credit: Walter McBride / WM Photos