Keeping the magic alive: How magicians have adapted to socially distanced shows

“I don’t have to reinvent my hardware,” Cagigal clarifies as we chat on Zoom. “I just have to re-choreograph it.” The other magicians were a good source of information on video conferencing basics, home lighting, and adjusting some tricks to fit their screens. Ultimately, however, it was the audiences themselves who were the best barometers of a particular track’s success. And according to Cagigal, they’ve been pretty accommodating with his limitations.

“People give us a little more leeway… and don’t be suspicious of everything,” he explains. “Because they know we’re all trapped in our space, and that’s not the situation we’re trying to create.”

Magical Nathaniel had to pivot during the holiday pandemic from in-person (above) to Zoom, where he found a global audience. (Jim Vetter)

Everybody zoom in on the act

For Magical Nathaniel, currently based in Oakland, adapting to the moment has been both challenging and inspiring. A mostly local entertainer with a penchant for family reunions and birthday parties, the 25-year-old performed his first full magic show in third grade (“a disaster!”), and developed his chops at the over the years as a resident magician in El Cerrito. Playland-not-at-the-Beach, where he estimates he performed over 1,000 shows before it closed in 2018.

Through shelter-in-place and the internet, he was able to expand his audience base to levels previously unimaginable. Recently, he performed for an after-school group of nearly 200 people, including members from as far away as China. He has also performed custom shows and given magic lessons to people across the country. In the spirit of embracing the unknown, he adapted his performances to a variety of platforms, such as Instagram Live, where up to 500 people can watch at any given time, and up to 23,000 for a full set. .

“No one knows what the future holds…but I think it’s going to be a long time before we get back,” Nathaniel thinks. “And I don’t know if virtual shows are going to go away. I think they are here to stay.

Sitting at a low table in front of a shimmering backdrop curtain that traveled with him during his live performances, Nathaniel matches his shirt and bow tie to his decor, and his patter to his changing audience. Like Cagigal, he relies in part on his virtual clients’ willingness to trust him not to use camera manipulation. He exudes a wholesome camp counselor vibe, and even from a digital distance, there’s a sense of personal care in his routine.

Magical Nathaniel performs one of his signature tricks online. (Courtesy of Magical Nathaniel.)

Growing up without a lot of extra money for props and the usual newbie gags, Nathaniel started building his own towers at a young age. He demonstrates some of his favorites: a camera-friendly moment in which he “steals” the money and another using a series of sealed envelopes, which he opens one at a time with trained aplomb. “I love envelopes,” he smiles. When he finally pulls out the card I was thinking of from the last envelope, I’m relieved, for me and for him. Even from afar, this confident magickalist has “read” my mind, and I’m suitably impressed.

“We all need something, a sense of hope, a sense of wonder,” he says. “And that’s, I think, what will get us through this, whatever we’re going through.”

Brian L. Hartfield