On magic and theatre


The film adaptation of In & Of Itself by @derek_del and @TheFrankOzJam is a cinematic achievement that recreates the intimacy and teetering vulnerability of the 2016 stage show. It’s breathtaking. twitter.com/derek_del/stat…

I continue to tell friends, family, and anyone who will listen a story about Nothing to Hide, Derek’s show with @thisisHelder from 2013. I forget how I first heard about it, but I remember I convinced my employer to send me to NYC on a “business trip” so I could see it.

I remember press material for Nothing to Hide credited Derek with “writing” and Helder with “magic choreography.” I suspect they collaborated on both, but that’s fine.

I remember this because in my hotel room the day before, I read a review that paraphrased this as Helder having done “the magic” and Derek having written the “patter.” I hadn’t even seen the show yet and I was already annoyed with the reviewer.

By showtime I was riled up to argue that magic is storytelling, that all theater has both magical and literary elements, that a big reason I love magic is its potential to grow out of its traditional story forms. Then Nothing to Hide straight up made my point for me.

At this point I usually start describing (to whomever is still listening) entire acts from the show, highlighting how the text is doing just as much work as the choreography in guiding audience attention and motivation. I have several favorites.

Instead, I’ll mention an odd feeling I had just now while considering describing such an example here on Twitter. I felt that I shouldn’t do this without Derek and Helder’s permission.

Of course I wasn’t about to describe the inner workings of the illusions (not that I know them). But it occurred to me that I absolutely was. If the text is as much of the effect as the choreography, then any code of silence that applies to one ought to apply to the other, yes?

With all due respect to generations of magic practitioners, as a thought experiment, I wonder if discussing the craft openly would spoil it as much if we used it to tell richer stories. The “I have magic powers” story is easily spoiled, but there is so much more within reach.

In & Of Itself tells the story of a man who is seen by others to have magic powers, and becomes defined by this perception, even tortured by it. It explores the identities we see in others, that we wish others to see in us, and the humanity between them.

Maybe it’s a modern take, but as an audience member, the best magic doesn’t leave me wondering how it’s done. It leaves me never wanting to know at all. As an armchair lit crit and stagecraft wonk, I want to know how all of it is done. It’s all magic.

You can stream In & Of Itself until November 19 as part of the DOC NYC film festival for $12. It will debut on Hulu in January 2021. tickets.ifccenter.com/websales/pages…

(I also watched the Met Opera production of Akhnaten this weekend, so I was on a multidisciplinary theater kick when I wrote this. 😅)

(Originally posted to Twitter on November 16, 2020. It received 2 likes.)