Fans of sleight-of-hand — that highly-skilled field of magic involving small-scale illusions done up close — can soon stop relying on the occasional touring troupe coming to town or surfing YouTube videos of Ricky Jay (RIP).
This week, Pittsburgh Cultural Trust announced Liberty Magic: Elevating the Art of Magic, an immersive arts experience, is opening in February in Downtown. The space at 811 Liberty Ave. will offer performances in its new intimate 70-seat theater.
“We are excited to see our expertise in the Pittsburgh arts community fuse with the art of close-up magic advanced by world-class magicians like Eric Jones, Dennis Watkins and Pittsburgh's own Lee Terbosic," says Scott Shiller, vice president of artistic planning for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and producer of Liberty Magic.
On Monday, guests got a sneak peek of what to expect, with small group performances from Watkins, Terbosic, and Philadelphia-based magician Eric Jones. Invitations came in the form of a cryptic package sent by the Cultural Trust, which included a deck of cards, a red envelope, and a magic marker.
Recipients were instructed to pick a random card, write their name on it, put it in the envelope, and bring to Monday's event as the "price of admission." I chose the ten of clubs and while it did get me in the building, I didn't end up using it for anything. I might have missed an instruction somewhere.
Inside, each magician had their own performance spaces jerry-rigged with tall black curtains. We were separated into groups to see each magician one by one; our group started with Terbosic, who can frequently be seen performing at Hotel Monaco and recently announced his role as co-host of a new travel/magic series on Science Channel called Houdini's Last Secrets.
Our group included two non-media children, which made each trick more fun for everyone involved, but also meant that it was harder for the adults to get chosen as an audience participant. Those kids got picked every time.
Since this was a teaser event, all three magicians kept the tricks short and appealing, relying on dice, cards, and those little red spongy clown noses. I was finally picked for participation by Watkins, who gave me a die to roll as he looked away, then put my hand over it. The trick went like this: he told me he was going to guess each number and I was to say "no" every time, meaning that one of the times it would be a lie. It was a two and I did my best to sound nervous and uncertain with every "no," but he guessed correctly.
This brought up a question I felt bad asking in front of other people, but have been wrestling with since: what's magician protocol for getting a trick wrong? According a magician on a Quora forum on this subject, "Everyone can see when an acrobat misses a catch or a skateboarder fails a trick ... But nobody knows what the magician was intending!"
Other articles on the topic say pretty much the same thing; the skill of the magician is eluding the audience and controlling what they see and how they see it. Which is probably why up-close and sleigh-of-hand magic is so much more fun than the high-production, big stage shows with the doves and whatnot. There's so little to hide behind, which makes the performance hit all that much harder when a trick truly lands.
Jones' IMPOSSIBLE show kicks things off at Liberty Magic on Feb. 6, 2019, and runs through March 17. For more information visit trustarts.org.