There’s a Zoom magic show keeping the drama alive in LA – and it starts with a package in the mail

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It’s not the first time that Helder Guimarães has been in quarantine.

As a child, an accident left him bedridden and confined at home with only his grandfather to care for him during the day.

And that’s about as much spoiler as I’ll give you for Guimarães’ new play, “The Present,” which debuts tonight (virtually) at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles.

Yes, it’s a play you can actually catch via Zoom — specifically, a one-man show that’s part autobiographical monologue and part magic show. “I kept thinking about the stories I could tell at that time,” Guimarães told KPCC’s Take Two. “That kind of feeling was the only one that made sense for me to share.”

I “attended” a recent preview (meaning I showered and dressed to look presentable to strangers on the internet) and have to say it was a lot of fun.

The surprises begin with a small gift sent to members of the public in advance. Showing the sealed brown box to the house manager, who greets you on Zoom, is your ticket in.

For just over an hour, Guimarães then shares his story, while asking members of the public to open their own boxes, so he can perform tricks inside their own homes – yes, he has. actually found a way to do some magic, not just on Zoom but by Zoom.

“I had this crazy idea of ​​doing magic without physically being around people, and I thought now was the perfect time to really try that,” he said.

The magician Helder Guimarães stars in “The Present”, a new piece from the Geffen Playhouse that takes place with the entire audience in videoconference via Zoom. (Jeff Lorch/The Geffen Playhouse)

It helps that more and more people have become accustomed to using video conferencing to connect with friends and family remotely, but the technology still poses challenges in recreating a theater experience.

“I wanted the best possible picture we could have,” said Frank Marshall, director of “The Present.” “On the audio side, it’s not really expected that everyone responds at once. Our stage managers and stage managers are all there to mute and unmute people to keep the show running smoothly.”

However, the audience mics are mostly active throughout the performance, so there were a few times when someone’s small talk or the barking dog meant I couldn’t hear exactly what Guimarães was saying.

But I actually found it oddly comforting and familiar to be annoyed by strangers disrupting a performance; that hadn’t happened for so long! Remember when someone munching popcorn too hard on the seat behind was the most irritating thing in the world? Now, that seems oddly mundane, in a good way.

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Magician Helder Guimarães performs a magic trick for an audience entirely on Zoom for Geffen Playhouse’s new production “The Present”. (The Geffen Theater)

The most unique moment of the play occurs when each audience member is “pulled onto stage” during the show (meaning their Zoom window is enlarged), so that Guimarães can work magic with them one-on-one. -head.

“It’s great that we can see all these movies at home right now, you know, but you can see them today or tomorrow,” Guimarães said, “in this live show, what people see is for them, and I’m there right now, doing it for them, interacting with them, responding to what they say.”

Ultimately, Guimarães wants to channel the same kind of connection he feels with the audience during a live performance; and connect audience members to each other, so that even on Zoom, the play becomes a shared experience at a time when we feel more isolated than ever.

“We’ve had people who are friends who live miles apart. Someone who lives in New York, for example, and someone who lives in Los Angeles; they bought tickets for the same show so that we can experience it together,” Guimarães said. .

Who knows when we will be able to reunite again in physical theaters? It’s possible that the format of “The Present” will become the norm for theater in these pandemic times, when people want something a little more interactive and community-focused than flipping through Netflix.

“There are a lot of technical challenges here,” Marshall said, “but I think maybe for single performers of music or individual pieces, or comedians, this might be the way to go. [if you want to] release your show for people to see.”

The first five-week series of “The Present” sold out in less than an hour, and an extension to July 5 also sold out. If Zoom Theater sounds like your thing, we recommend getting on the waitlist early.

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Brian L. Hartfield