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BWW Review: THE CONJURORS' CLUB: Magic in Cyberspace

Immersive virtual experience at A.R.T.

BWW Review: THE CONJURORS' CLUB: Magic in Cyberspace

The intrigue begins with the arrival by mail of a special package a few days before your ticketed performance. You are instructed NOT to open it until you are at the show, when the host will tell you what to do with the contents. The Conjurors' Club is an immersive virtual experience in which the audience gets to see their fellow patrons on the zoom screen, try their hand at sleight of hand, and have a close-up view of the tricks and illusions as the magicians ply their trade live. It may be the best opportunity you could ever have to "catch" how they do it, but here's the one spoiler in my review: don't count on it.

Actually, a big part of the enjoyment of a magic show is in not knowing how it's done. In The Conjurors' Club, host and co-creator Geoff Kanick opens the session with a little background on the prestigious institution and details the set-up for the program. He is engaging and exudes delight as he gives the okay to unwrap the mysterious package. Among the items is a fresh deck of cards, the first tool we employ to become amateur prestidigitators. Call me amazed at what we were able to do under his tutelage! Before sending us off to breakout zoom rooms, Kanick administers an oath to make us honorary members of the Club, swearing us to secrecy of all that we are about to experience (other than to share widely on social media).

Kanick and fellow creator Vinny DePonto have managed to use the technology of the digital age to present their show to a live audience in real time, while nevertheless eschewing any special effects or trick photography. The magicians are performing up close and personal, giving the audience the sensation of being seated across the table from them. In fact, Kanick and DePonto use this intimacy to draw us in and impart a vibe that we are part of the show. They developed the piece in 2017 as a live, in-person show, but have pivoted to the on-line version as a response to the pandemic.

There are three breakout rooms to keep the size of the zoom groups manageable, and each is visited by the same diverse trio of artists. Eric Jones expertly practices sleight of hand with three shiny silver half dollars, solves a miniature Rubik's Cube in an astonishing manner, and involves an audience family in a card trick with a surprise ending. (I should note that many of the zoom boxes contained families with children or children on their own, and the show is suitable for ages 12+.)

Jeanette Andrews, a practitioner of magic and sensory illusions, reportedly had her first paid gig at the age of six and has been in the business for 26 years. She recruited a young audience volunteer to help with a mind-reading exercise, the twist being that she enabled the girl to predict what Jeanette wrote on three index cards. Admirably, she got two out of three. Finally, Jeanette performed a simple, ancient magic trick with a candle and a spool of thread, the kind of feat that leaves you shaking your head and wondering aloud, "How'd she do that?"

Last, but not least, Ran'D Shine proudly spoke of attending the College of Magic in South Africa and paying off his student loans by doing card tricks. He describes what he does as manipulating perception to alter reality and uses coins, thimbles, and playing cards as the tools of his trade. Full disclosure, I was one of the audience members he selected to participate in a card trick and, for the record, I was a willing dupe.

The breakout rooms close and we are shunted back to the main session with Kanick for a couple of closing exercises and a toast from him to conjurors past, present, and future that is a fitting coda: "May mystery be the spirit you take with you." Amen to that.

Photo credit: Geoff Kanick in THE CONJURORS' CLUB, courtesy of A.R.T.

Created by Vinny DePonto and Geoff Kanick; Original Music, Alex Harris; Voiceover Artist, Isuri Wijesundara; Opening Video, Gabe Jacobs; Video Voicover, Isabela Salgado; Technical Consultant, Joshua Samuels; Web Design, Eleanor Philips; Zoom Wizard, Alycia Marucci, Sumner Ellsworth; Scenic/Background Consultant, Heather Morris; Costume Consultant, Alma Reyes Burgos; Lighting Consultant, Joseph Lorenzen; Digital Systems Programming, Justin Paice, Michael Policare

The Conjurors (in alphabetical order): Jeanette Andrews, Alexander Boyce, Vinny DePonto, Kayla Drescher, Mahdi Gilbert, Eric Jones, Geoff Kanick, Noah Levine, Daniel Martin, Francis Menotti, Lindsey Noel, Ran'D Shine, Justin Willman

Virtual performances through April 11, americanrepertorytheater.org



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