If you’ve been to a magic show, you’ll be all too familiar with the feeling of suspense, confusion and frustration as you attempt to solve the tricks you’ve just witnessed.
What if you could enjoy the same experience in the comfort of your own living room?
BAFTA-award winning magician, Fergus Flanagan, has created a virtual magic show that has now taken him across the world, from Canada to Australia and all over Europe.
The London-based magician had a sold-out theatre show and was scheduled to perform at Edinburgh Fringe this year, but all of his work was cancelled when coronavirus struck.
“This year I’d been working towards a theatre show I had running, called ‘When I Grow Up I Want to Be A Magician,” he said.
“It had sold out for five nights, I had another run of dates in May. I’d been accepted at my dream venue, Edinburgh Fringe, so, I was really excited for the year. Alongside that I had my corporate events and weddings then all of a sudden in a space of a week I had it all wiped out.
“It really knocked me for six, it was a couple of weeks of mentally feeling rubbish. I was really low, I guess you then think I’ve got to do something. So, I thought I’d give digital magic shows a go. I wasn’t convinced at first it would translate well but I was quickly proven wrong.
“Magic as a medium you would think would only work in person, but actually if you structure it in the right way, people can pick a card or think of a number.
“It can be really interactive, they can do things with objects in their hands or they’ll instruct me to do things. I’ve had a few people say they think it’s more impressive than magic in person, as there’s no way I can manipulate anything through the screen.”
Fergus has performed over 80 virtual shows, much of those to international clients. With such contrasting time zones, how does he manage all of his performances?
“I’ve had a load of bookings in Australia and good exposure there,” he said. “What that tends to be is from about 10am through till 1pm would be Australia. It works out really nicely.
“Somewhere like New York is trickier, so I tend to do lunchtime events for that audience, so it’s around 5pm here. Otherwise, if someone wants an 8pm show in New York I’d have to stay up till 1am and then it makes the morning shows quite difficult!
“It’s mad, you’ll go from a full on corporate with people dialling in from all over Europe to a house in the sticks in Australia to a birthday in New York. It’s the most weird and wonderful experience of my whole career.
“It has been so much fun, so bizarre, emotional at times. Some one bought me as a gift for their parents in Australia! So I’ve been popping up on a screen on a porch in Melbourne.
“You would assume Zoom would feel quite distanced, but you would only really Zoom someone from your living room, kitchen or your home that you’re really close with. I’m really quickly getting to that point in a relationship with someone that you’d only really get to when you know someone quite well.”
The virtual magic experience isn’t the first time Fergus has reached audiences through a screen.
“Two weeks after university I got a show with CBBC and started filming straight away,” he explained. “The series was called ‘Help My Supply Teacher Is Magic’.
“It was fantastic, so much fun. The kids were aged 7-11. I’d walk into a school and pretend to be a teacher, there’d be hidden cameras everywhere. Under the guise of a history lesson we’d then make things move around, float and appear. We’d do all sorts of crazy things and then the kids went bonkers! The second series won a BAFTA for Entertainment on Children’s TV.”
As Fergus completes his 40th show in a fortnight, does he think virtual magic shows will stay for the long-term?
“I think I’d be surprised if digital entertainment doesn’t hang around in the future,” he said. “It’s funny how quickly we adapt. “I’ve had people get dressed up, get snacks, drinks and treat it like they’re at the theatre. It’s amazing how quickly people connect.”