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BWW Interview: Scott Silven On Making His Magical JOURNEY During These Isolating Times

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Scott Silven will west coast premiere his virtual creation THE JOURNEY for The Broad Stage opening October 20, 2020

BWW Interview: Scott Silven On Making His Magical JOURNEY During These Isolating Times

Mentalist/performance artist Scott Silven will west coast premiere his virtual creation THE JOURNEY for The Broad Stage opening October 20, 2020. Storyteller Scott will weave illusions and feats of imagination into his tales of his Scottish heritage for a maximum of 30 fortunate households per online performance.

Scott managed to find some time to answer my queries during his world premiering run of THE JOURNEY, which began September 29, 2020 at The Momentary in Bentonville.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Scott!

Illusionist. Mentalist. Magician. What are the distinguishing definitions of these terms and which term would you prefer in describing yourself?

To me, whether I'm defined as a mentalist or illusionist doesn't really matter, as both fit under the same category of the mystery arts, and each category has a fluidity we share in techniques and style. But whilst traditional magicians and illusionists often focus on tricks or elaborate props; as a mentalist and performance artist, my work is not driven by any of this, but by the power of story, memory and the mind. I often call it 'theatre for the mind.' For me, mentalism is the purest form of magic; it happens inside the audience's own heads, and as it directly involves their memories and emotions it can affect them in the most remarkable of ways.

What was the very first trick your grandfather taught you?

My grandfather took a piece of candy that I'd signed my name on, vanished it and made it appear in a sealed matchbox on the table. He then immediately shared the secret with me - it was embarrassingly simple, but I was instantly captivated by him taking something ordinary and creating something extraordinary from it.

You studied hypnosis in Milan at age 15. Do you still use any of those techniques in your current shows?

I secretly went to Milan when I was 15 and didn't tell my mom. I told her I was going on a school trip for the week, and suddenly came back with hypnotic techniques. My shows use a variety of methods - storytelling, suggestion, psychological and traditional theatrical methods; anything that affords me the opportunity to connect with audiences on a much deeper level. There's something beautiful about leading the audience to a place of mystery where they're not sure if what they are experiencing is only an illusion and are left in a place of wonderment.

How did you originally come up with your concept of THE JOURNEY?

As soon as the pandemic hit, I knew I wanted to create something that could connect people despite being physically apart. I had returned to Scotland to visit family for what I thought would be a short time and ended up staying much longer than expected. I realized that there was something very powerful about people around the world experiencing exactly the same thing at the same time, and began to explore the power of home and place in our lives.

Scotland is a nation of storytellers, so I began creating the experience based around the landscape and myths of my childhood. I discovered that I wanted to take my audience on a virtual adventure from their home to mine in rural Scotland, and to use their imaginations and memories as the guide on THE JOURNEY.

By combining breakthrough technology, projection mapping, and high-definition visuals and stereo sound to help tell my story; we have hopefully created something audiences will have never experienced in the online realm before. I can't wait for them to see it!

Which came first in your crafting of THE JOURNEY - the illusions you wanted to perform? Or the story you wanted to tell?

All my effects tie to the narrative of the shows, so usually my initial focus is the story I want to tell, and how I'd like my audience to feel. The illusions are then woven throughout the story to make it resonate more deeply and to allow the audience to directly impact the experience.

What cosmic forces initially brought THE JOURNEY's creative team together (director Allie Winton Butler, your co-writer Rob Drummond, composer Jherek Bischoiff, Jeiff Sugg for design, Gareth Fry for sound, creative producer Michael Mushalla)? Chance meeting at a pub? Friend's referrals? Past working experiences?

The unique situation of the current climate meant I was able to assemble my dream creative team for the project in a very short amount of time. Most of my team's schedule would be tied up 24 months in advance. Allie and Rob are two of my favorite creatives in Scotland, and I thought it was important to have Scottish voices as a key part as part of the creative process. Jeiff Sugg, a veteran of Broadway, is an iconic visual designer, and we were already collaborating on my new live show; so were able to quickly pivot to this experience. I've admired Gareth Fry's work for years- he's not only one of the world's leading sound designers, but someone who approaches sound design in such a thoughtful way, utilizing magical techniques such a binaural sound. Jherek has a beautiful sound and, serendipitously, my manager used to represent him, so he kindly agreed to be part of the project quickly. Michael Mushalla has been my personal manager for the past few years, so we have complete trust in each other, and knew we wanted to produce the show together. Whilst undeniably challenging to develop something of this scale during these times, it's been an incredible experience to work with a creative team from across the world.

What was your most memorable moment of the world tour of AT THE ILLUSIONIST'S TABLE?

There's too many to count! We've had multiple marriage proposals, people falling in love, and people serendipitously reconnecting after years apart. It's always a powerful experience connecting with a group of strangers around a table.

BWW Interview: Scott Silven On Making His Magical JOURNEY During These Isolating TimesWill THE JOURNEY be your first show performing for online audience?

Indeed it will. I've developed effects for film and had lots of experience performing on TV, so I was able to approach the creation of this show in a similar way. But the visual and interactive medium of the show has allowed unique opportunities to connect with my audience in a deeper way. The audience will be sent a secret link where they can interact with advanced films and a binaural sound experience before they come to the show. They are also asked to bring an object of meaning from their own home to the show, as well as some personal memories.

These are carefully crafted personal moments that I'd never been able to offer an audience in a live setting, so it's exciting to develop them for this context.

When live theatre opens up again, will you revamp THE JOURNEY to be performed live? Or will you create a brand new Scott Silven show?

I have a new theatre show in early development, but it's been wonderful to see how THE JOURNEY has been so warmly received by audiences. It's been heartening to receive messages saying that it's the closest thing to live theatre they have experienced and that we've managed to create an all-new form of connection. I'd definitely be open to the idea to expanding this into a live experience, perhaps with an online audience and live audience co-existing in the same space.

When I asked, "What factors came into play in selecting The Momentary in Bentonville, Arkansas as your world premiere and The Broad Stage in Santa Monica as the west coast premiere?," Scott handed it over to his creative producer Michael Mushalla to answer.

In April of this year, as the degree of severity of the pandemic was becoming evident, I had a phone conversation with Lieven Bertels, director of The Momentary. I've known Lieven for many years and we were simply chatting as colleagues about the impact that this pandemic was having on the performing arts industry.

During that call, Lieven asked me if Scott Silven had any thoughts about creating a show that would be a natively-online experience. Lieven was interested in new, live, interactive, theatrical experiences - not a stream of pre-recorded material that was never meant to be seen on a small screen.

When I asked Scott if he would be interested in looking at something like this, he said that he needed some time to think about it. Scott then came back to me with a brief outline of a project that was the germ of an idea for THE JOURNEY.

Creating a new piece of theatre is an expensive proposition at any time. Meeting the challenges of working under lock-down and not being able to have a creative team in one place added layers of complications to the process of creating and building a new theatrical experience. Once Lieven made a commitment for The Momentary to be the lead commissioner of THE JOURNEY, it was my job to secure a group of co-commissioners to make it possible to realize the project. The Broad Stage joined the project immediately upon being asked to participate and secured the West Coast premiere of the piece. With the commitments from The Momentary and The Broad Stage in hand, we were able to put together a total of nine international partners, without whom we would not have been able to make the show. We owe a deep debt of gratitude to all of our co-commissioners and the extraordinary creative team that has made THE JOURNEY the successful show that it is.

THE JOURNEY was commissioned by The Momentary. Our co-commissioners are The Broad Stage, The Hong Kong Arts Festival, Arizona Arts Live, Purdue Convocations, The Traverse Theatre, The Virginia Arts Festival, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts - University of Illinois, and UtahPresents.

Thank you again Scott, and Michael! I look forward to experiencing THE JOURNEY you created.

For tickets for this online theatrical event, now extended through November 15, 2020; log onto thebroadstage.org

THE JOURNEY's immersive soundscape is best experienced with headphones or earbuds.



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From This Author Gil Kaan