Trick and treat

THE BIGGEST SELLING magic show on earth will appear on The Sheikh Rashid Hall stage, at the Dubai World Trade Centre tonight for a two-week season featuring seven world grand master magicians in The Illusionists: Witness the Impossible.

By David Light (

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Published: Wed 28 Aug 2013, 9:50 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 5:42 AM

Here we speak to the performers to find out more.

Kevin James - The Inventor

Philip Escoffey - The Mentalist

Jeff Hobson - The Trickster

Andrew Basso - The Escapologist

Dan Sperry - The Anti-

Mark Kalin - The Gentleman

Jinger-Lee Kalin - The 

How would you describe your act?
Kevin James (KJ): My act is a collection of stories that try to connect with the audience on an emotional level. Some parts are sweet, some are shocking and all are memorable.

Philip Escoffey (PE): Understated and, I hope, intriguing.

Jeff Hobson (JH): A triumph of energy over talent. Or simply, “sneaky sleight-of-hand flying upon the wings of irreverent comedy.”

Andrew Basso (AB): A man escaping a drowning death. In full view. For real.

Dan Sperry (DS): I’d prefer people just take a few minutes during a lunch break and watch some of my YouTube videos:

Mark Kalin (MK): Classic Illusion re-imagined.

Jinger-Lee Kalin (JLK) Enchanting… should I say more?

What, in your view, is your favourite illusion and which trick, from your fellow performers do you enjoy watching and why?

KJ: I really love watching the ‘Water Torture Cell’ by escapologist Andrew Basso. It is real danger. He could die every show. Not that I want to see him die but if he does, I don’t want to miss it.

PE: I love all the things that I don’t do myself. Of course I have a favourite, but I can’t possibly say.

JH: Any trick that directly involves an audience member is always my favourite. You can’t beat a look of shock on an unsuspecting person in the audience.

AB: I like watching Kevin James, The Inventor, from when he gives life to a Charlie Chaplin puppet, to the shocking moment when he saws a man in half.

DS: I like watching Phil, The Mentalist, because I really don’t know how he reads minds and I don’t want to know either.

MK: Anything Dan Sperry does because its always unpredictable.

JLK: Kevin James. I love when magic is seen through the eyes of a child.

Can you describe your journey into becoming an illusionist? When did you decide it was a career you’d wish to pursue and when did you believe you had made it?

KJ: I was eight years old when I first became interested in magic. I knew instantly that it was all I ever wanted to do with my life. I have no regrets. I believe I “made it” when I was teaching David Copperfield one of my inventions. He is a really good student.

PE: In about 1999 when I was just turning 30, I decided that reading people’s minds at fancy parties was a nice way to earn a living. I’ll let you know as soon as I’ve made it.

JH: At the age of seven, I saw my first magician performing. That was it. I knew I had to make audiences feel the same sense of wonder that that first magician made me feel.

AB: I was a kid, maybe five, when I thought the circus would be my future. So, I start practicing everyday juggling and putting together a one-man show. Then I met a magician when I was eight. He amazed me. I started to play with magic with a classic magic kit, but it wasn’t enough, so I devoured every book on magic I could find in the library. Luckily at 12 I met a master magician, Sergio Molinari, who decided to teach me the real secrets of magic.

DS: I saw a magician when I was young and played with magic trick as I grew up. It wasn’t until I was about 10 years old that I saw a magic shop in a mall and started saving up and buying tricks and building material. I did my first real performance not long after. Then throughout my teens I honed my skills in sleight of hand and performing as many shows as I could. This resulted in kind of a natural “settling” into a genre of performance that was to become I guess my “style”. I’ve just been riding the wave since. But, I don’t think I’ve “made it” yet.

MK: Wait... I’ve made it?

JLK: I started as an actress/dancer/performer, specialising in live theatrical presentations. It was a natural progression to Illusions. I knew it was what I was meant to do within the first month that I performed Illusions over 20 years ago.

Who was your inspiration/ favourite magician?
KJ: Penn and Teller are my favourite magicians in the world. They are so smart and funny. I want to be like them when I grow up.

PE: Chan Canasta (mentalist in the 1950s, 60s and 70s) had a charm and classiness, which is very inspiring.

JH: Fred Kaps, a Dutch magician. He passed on in the 1980s but has left his legacy among every magician in the world.

AB: Harry Houdini.

DS: David Copperfield.

MK: I’m a big fan of Doug Henning because he really believed in it.

JLK: I would have to say I really enjoyed watching Doug Henning as a child.

What was your first trick and how successful was it?
KJ: My first attempt at magic was a card trick. They are usually pretty bad, but you have to start somewhere.

PE: A card would appear in an orange. On reflection, I should do that in the show, it was great.

JH: It was a trick where a coin disappears and reappears in a nest of boxes tied up with rubber bands. It was a disaster in my opinion but somehow my family still thought it was great.

AB: It was a trick with three coloured cups and three balls. I remember I liked watching people’s amazement with this little trick.

DS: When I was about five-years old I went on a trip to Disney World. While there I was allowed to hold onto $1 so I could have some money of my own. At one point my father needed to borrow the dollar bill to pay for some food and for some reason I have no idea why but I didn’t want to give it to him and told him I didn’t know where it was. As he proceeded to inquire where it was he eventually asked if I swallowed it. I have no idea why, but I agreed that yes I had swallowed the dollar bill. This resulted in him taking me to the Disney World nurse station and it was there I “magically” made the dollar bill re-appear from my sock...

MK: Still do it today... will do it in The Illusionists - the “Billiard Balls”. I did it for my mum when I was nine. She said it was a “masterpiece”. I felt like a king. That started my path.

JLK: An Illusion called the “Blammo Box,” an instant appearance. The adrenaline was amazing!

Why do you think so many people are drawn to illusions?
KJ: I think that magic is an international art form that transcends all barriers. It doesn’t matter if you are young or old, or what language you speak, everyone can enjoy magic. It reminds people what it was like to feel like kid.

PE: There are two types of people, those that like to be baffled and those that don’t. Both like watching magic for very different reasons.

JH: It makes adults feel like children again.

AB: We like illusions because they represent our dreams. In the very moment we watch one of the Illusionists we fall into a suspension of disbelief.

DS: It makes you feel something you may see in a movie but live in person. When people come to a magic show with the right attitude - that attitude to sit and enjoy it and enjoy not knowing how these things are done - they can encounter an amazing experience of emotion.

MK: Today we have answers for everything. It’s all just a Google away. Experiencing great magic reminds us that we don’t have the answers and there is amazing stuff all around us that was never meant to be explained.

JLK: It’s a fascinating field for many reasons. Everyone wants to feel that all is possible!

What would you say to someone who wishes to follow in your footsteps? Where or to what would you direct them?

KJ: To any budding magicians out there, read everything you can find on the subject of performing magic. Not only study magic but theatre, acting and business as well. Then try to do as many shows as possible. Even for free. You will get clues from every show. Listen to the audience. They will tell you what they like and don’t like.

PE: I’m not a big fan of competition so I’d probably get them to read a book on balloon animals. That should stop them in their tracks. If they’re really serious, I think that there’s a lot of truth in the idea that the more interesting and interested you are as a person, the more engaging any performance becomes, be it mind reading or balloon animals.

JH: Be a shoe salesman instead. You get to look at lots of feet. It’s much better than show business.

AB: Believe in your dreams and never give up. Find somebody who inspires you and learn from them.

DS: Watch a lot of movies and read as much as you can about anything and everything.

MK: Buy a book on magic or get one at the library. That’s how I started. A book engages your mind, it forces you to think and experiment and ponder (as opposed to learning magic from YouTube).

JLK: There is no one right or wrong way. My best advice would be to follow your heart and try to achieve a sense of wonder for your audience. Magic is best expressed through emotion.

Is there a pressure to continually evolve your act? Does the profession continue to push limits and how difficult is it to keep up? What is the most elaborate act you have seen and do you always think bigger is better?

KJ:There is always pressure to keep coming up with new and wonderful illusions. But this is a self- imposed pressure. I always want to find new ways to communicate with the audience. Bigger is not always better. Sometimes the simplest most delicate moment can have the strongest impact on the audience.

PE: Iwas once told to do something so complicated that no-one would ever be bothered to copy it and that was good advice. Performing mentalism to such large audiences has presented all sorts of original challenges but as a result, I think that it’s pushed me to come up with some of my most original stuff.

JH: My act stays the same for the most part. My specialty is dealing with different audience members every show. I never know who it’s going to be or how they’re going to react. I have to be ready for anything… even a knife fight.

AB: Well, in order to be on top, evolving is a must. I have a challenge with myself to push the limit everyday. Pressure is my daily bread, I need it to do my homework as an artist.

DS: I pressure myself to evolve my act only because I get bored with it. That saying ‘an artist’s work is never finished’ is true.

MK: Great magic has no size. It can fit in the palm of your hand. It can be as big as a boat. The largest trick I’ve seen, we performed. We made an American Airlines jumbo jet disappear.

JLK: Bigger is not always better. And yes, the pressure is always there to push the limits as it is with other areas of life. The seven Illusionists assembled together for this show are, no doubt, the leaders in the field.

Are you ever amazed by illusions or are you aware of how they’re done?
KJ: I have been studying magic and methods for many years. It is really hard to fool me. So when it happens, I really cherish it. I love to be amazed. It is that very feeling that got me into this profession in the first place.

PE: Normally the latter but always delighted when it’s the former.

JH: I know how pretty much everything is done. My life is over.

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