There are plenty of venues for music, theater, and dance in Pittsburgh, but none to see magic until now. Liberty Magic, a new downtown venue built to showcase magic and illusion, opened earlier this month. If an expensive magic show geared toward adults seems like an unnecessary, but fun addition, you might be right.
The venue will host local and national magicians for residencies lasting weeks at a time. For its opening month, Philadelphia-based magician Eric Jones performs his show IMPOSSIBLE through March 17, which focuses on small-scale illusions, like card and coin tricks.
The venue is intimate, also known as small. The entryway to Liberty Magic is cramped if 10 people are in it. The theater itself has three rows of seating that fit 66 people, which makes for a cramped arrangement when the audience is being seated or leaving, or when someone in the middle of the row has to shuffle out to participate in a trick.
The decor recalls 19th- and 20th-century carnival magic with trinkets like a crystal ball, a ventriloquist dummy, and the animatronic Zoltar. As guests mingle before the show, a speaker plays faux old-timey renditions of pop hits like “Shake it Off” and “Stacy’s Mom.” There is a gift shop that sells magic books and a shirt that says “sorcerer” in the Supreme font.
The show opens with Jones showing off a few “simple” coin tricks (that he notes took 10 years to learn) before jumping into the first of many tricks that involve audience participation. Though he has a soft voice and demeanor, Jones has plenty of charisma. He easily tosses out jokes and builds rapport with the audience, even in the briefest of interactions.
While showing off a card trick, Jones quips “Some people say ‘how do you do that?’ Other people say ‘why?’”
Throughout the performance, Jones weaves in his story: how he grew up in rural Virginia, went to Cornell, fell in love with magic, dropped out, and worked with David Blaine. He was on America’s Got Talent and smashed Simon Cowell’s buzzer with a hammer. He successfully tricked Penn and Teller (this fact is in his Instagram/Twitter bio).
A good portion of the tricks involve audience participation, which ranges from picking a card to forking over a wedding ring that he’ll make disappear. The show has two tiers of tickets: general admission is $40, and the “Skeleton Key VIP” experience is $65. The higher price “unlocks the first two rows” of the show and gives the audience a chance at participation (the theater is three rows), as well as a post-show meet-and-greet. Worth noting is that nearly everyone who participates on stage gets a hug, even if they go in for a handshake.
Liberty Magic is brand new, and that surely comes with hurdles, but it’s unclear who exactly this venue is geared toward. The high cost doesn’t make it accessible to everyone nor do the age limits. The venue recommends its shows for ages 18 and up, and the policy states that no one under 12 will be admitted. Children are, arguably, the biggest fans of magic.
Jones’ tricks are undeniably impressive and impossible to understand. How does he pull out of his hat the card an audience member was merely thinking of? How does he make a coin jump from one hand to the other? How did he put a red ball in my hand that turned into three without me feeling anything? Magic can be frustrating if you let it be. It can make you feel stupid if you think about it too hard. But once you relax and accept that the answers are completely unattainable, it’s an entertaining mind warp.