Magicians in 2020 struggle to interact with crowds because virtual shows just don’t do the trick

The magicians Penn and Teller pose wearing pinstripe suits. – Photo via

On May 18, 2020, just months into the pandemic-induced quarantine, magician Penn Jillette said this on his Teller’s “Try This at Home” special: “No one can use their alone time better than a bunch of damn magicians.

As true as that sounds (and in some cases may be), he certainly made that statement in jest. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread rapidly in the United States in early March, nearly every group and individual has been affected, including magicians and other performers surrounding their acts.

According to Mike Jones, composer and music director at Penn & Teller, the duo have been working together “non-stop” since the start of the pandemic. They’ve been on several shows over the past few months, including The show tonight” and “Two-Headed Dreams”, but the type and number of tricks they can do together while physically apart are limited.

Jones, on the other hand, hasn’t been able to be a part of their shows lately. While he’s used to playing music with Jillette before every gig, quarantine has obviously put the act on hold.

“Our whole lives play out for people in real time. It’s a feeling of loss…not knowing is the hardest part,” Jones said. He still records and posts videos of himself playing the piano almost daily and gave a virtual live broadcast via Facebook last Friday, but he said it wasn’t the same and he was “basically performing a 90-minute concert for no one”.

Disney-based magician Ray Pierce said he had similar experiences and lacked the ability to connect with his audience. As a magician on the normally bustling streets of Downtown Disney in California, Pierce is currently unable to perform for his small audience.

With Downtown Disney now open to the public, performing magic would be “the opposite of what everyone wants,” Pierce said, as it brings a crowd together, space becomes tight, and performers sometimes hand objects to people. members of the public, among other things.

“The thing we need as magicians is feedback,” Pierce said, and that’s another difficulty that comes with virtual shows. People can still clap and react, but there’s no direct eye contact, no obvious moment where every audience member thinks, “No… There’s no way… He didn’t just do that.” …” upon seeing a trick or, apparently, a miracle. unfolds before their eyes.

For these reasons, Handsome Jack, an artist from Hollywood’s Magic Castle, has avoided doing virtual shows altogether.

“I had less desire to do magic online…and then recently I watched a Zoom show, and now I have less than less than no desire to do a Zoom show,” he said. While the pandemic has given him plenty of opportunities to write new magickal materials and practice an intricate card trick he’s been interested in for years, performing for others who can’t even be in the same room. does not attract him.

Trade show magician Seth Kramer has been a bit more active on this front, though it hasn’t completely quenched his thirst for performance.

“Honestly, I tried to avoid doing magic on video for many, many years because it’s something that should be experienced live,” Kramer said, but he recently gave magic lessons. online to children and adults, and does virtual shows. at corporate events. Even so, it’s not the same as performing in front of a live audience.

“It’s not the best solution, but it’s the only solution we have right now,” Kramer said.

While many magicians, big and small, seem to be doing as well as they can given the situation, they still suffer as artists and performers. They are eager to be able to give a member of the public a slick deck of bicycles and say, “Choose a card” or “Please shuffle this deck” or “Which of these cards has the most blood on it? but only time will tell when these artists can do it again.

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Brian L. Hartfield