Derek DelGaudio’s Genre Magic Show Will Make You Feel Things
In 2008, DelGaudio met artist Glenn Kaino, and the two began working together: exchanging tips and lessons, and leading a performance art (and magic) duo. “Derek cares about using his abilities to insert meaningful ideas that have caused him consternation and anguish,” Kaino said. “He cares about putting them out in the world in a way that we can collectively approach them.”
The big idea DelGaudio was stumped over as he developed In itself and in itself was identity: why we are the way we are, and how much or little of it we share with the world. In part, that meant working through his own past, growing up as the son of a single mother who came out as a young man; working in the seedy world of underground card games; pursue a career where every performance is a tightrope and where the opportunity exists to be discovered.
“That’s the part that gets scary, just being a cheat,” DelGaudio confessed.
What a weird industry you got intoI told him.
“That’s what makes what I do kind of interesting, it’s like, here’s a guy who’s honest enough and cares about telling the truth and maybe doing things of some value for the world other than entertainment. What does he choose to do?
“It’s stupid. It’s not very wise,” he continued. “But … my work finds itself living in this space, this paradoxical space of, like, ‘Whoa. It can be both alive and dead. It is impossible for a magician to say anything significant. It’s honest. It shouldn’t be.'”
He stopped himself. “But I hope it will be so.”
Towards the end of our time together, I asked DelGaudio about people who could give useful context to his work, and he came up with an interesting name. “Strangely, Stephen Colbert understands this show in a way that I don’t even understand, it’s pretty deep,” he said. “It’s really shocking to me, having only seen the show once. He kind of got it in a pretty amazing way.
The affinity has a certain meaning: Colbert, in a past life, was a sort of master of deception. And when I called him to talk about DelGaudio, he hit on the tightrope walk that DelGaudio does every night – the thing that separates his act from your traditional magic show, that makes it something like art. “You can be intimate on stage in a way that can sometimes be difficult in person,” Colbert explained. “And because the scene gives a distance that feels like fiction, but it’s not fiction…you’re allowed to confess things that you couldn’t even take a drink.” DelGaudio had found a way to do what Colbert had done for over a decade: tell a lie and, in doing so, find communion.
Except, very early in In itself and in itself, DelGaudio announces to the public that everything he says for the next hour and change will be the truth. Would you believe a magician when he told you that? Of course not, and that’s the point. “I use knowing they won’t believe me as part of the narrative,” DelGaudio explained. “And I use it to confront them. I use it to confront them with their own biases and preconceived notions of what a thing is and what a person is, and turn the tables on them at a time when they’re like, “Oh shit, I I only got beat because I went into it thinking about a certain thing.” (“He plays 3D checkers,” Frank Oz, who ran the show, told me. “I’m sophisticated and I know enough about him to understand and support him, but not enough to be the one who thinks so.”)
DelGaudio sums up the show’s central irony thus: “It’s an insane thing to be up there and actually be honest, vulnerable, and authentic while simultaneously hiding a sea of secrets.” But when it works, it works. The show’s climax, when successful, sees DelGaudio and audiences bridge that gap – to find a moment of vulnerability not only in the midst of but because of this sea of secrets. With DelGaudio’s blessing, I’ll tell you what’s going on, but only because I don’t think it spoils the effect, which is just to say that DelGaudio is telling audience members who they are.