When you think of a magic show, you may picture a magician wearing a suit and holding a baton, pulling out a white bunny from his top hat. But in Cerebral Sorcery, a collaborative show from magicians David London and Francis Menotti, magic surpasses basic tricks. Their magic is complex, blending and exploring the relationship between magic and philosophy, surrealism and reality.
Tell me a little bit about yourselves and your background. When and why did you start doing magic?
David London (DL): I discovered that I was a magician at the age of seven, when I performed my first magic trick— pulling a rabbit from out of a hat. Through my early teens, I was fascinated by tricks, and learned as many as I could. In my late teens, I started to realize that when performing magic tricks, I was playing with and tapping into something more. This set me down my life path to understand and embody what it means to actually be a magician. This path has been deeply infused by my interactions with surrealism and alchemy, and has manifested in shows, talks, inventions, and a variety of interactive experiences.
Francis Menotti (FM): For me, magic began when I was five. I received a Fisher Price Magic Set and, unlike many kids who get disappointed when discovering that the magic wasn’t technically “real,” I became enamored with the idea of creating illusions of the impossible. The idea that we can use our brains to create things that aren’t was and is fascinating. Eventually, my interest evolved into a philosophy that the magician’s job is as a trickster to get people to question their certain realities. To use magic to challenge assumptions in a way that strengthens or changes the way people look at the world and their lives.
Can you talk a little bit more about surrealism, alchemy and how they relate to performing magic?
DL: Magic provides an opportunity for each individual magician to take on that exploration in their own unique and individualized way. My own particular journey has lead me to explore magical ways of thinking and philosophy that exist outside the performance of magic tricks. Actually, alchemy was a dual experience where the alchemist engages with materials, self-transformation and self-reflection. One of the interesting things about performing magic tricks and creating magic shows is how it forces the magician to exist equally in both the extremes of the imagination, as well as the extremes of logic.
What inspired you both to do magic shows? And what inspires the material you include in your shows (such as your tricks and riddles)?
DL: I do many things as a magician, and presenting magic shows is one of them—I think is just comes with the territory. I feel like the presentation of illusion inherently references the great mysteries of life. My materials emerge from my journey through this magical universe, and the desire to give people the opportunity to see the world a little differently. Magic tricks momentarily open the mind to possibilities. I see it as my duty as a magician to take these moments when audiences’ minds are open to actually say something about life and reality.
FM: The inspiration to do shows comes from the desire to positively reach and affect the greatest number of people possible. As for the inspiration for my material, a lot comes from literature, specifically more witty, whimsical authors such as Dahl, Bradbury, Borges and O’Henry. I like to take stories or ideas and see how I can bring them metaphorically to life through theatrical magic pieces that are fun but still laced with allegory.
Have you two performed together before? How did you meet?
DL & FM: We met at the Phoenix Gathering, which was an experimental retreat for magicians, designed to take a look at the deeper sides of magic. It was a critical gathering, fostering many important relationships that still exist to this day. We were both young, incredibly enthusiastic and just beginning to explore and understand our magical powers. At the June 2001 event, we decided to create a show, and in December 2001, we premiered the original Cerebral Sorcery in Chicago, IL.
Why did it take 15 years before you did another show?
FM: Well, I’ve been waiting for 15 years for David to call me again, so. –Laughs– He finally got tired of me pestering.
How did you come up with the idea of “cerebral sorcery”? What was the process like preparing for this show?
DL & FM: When we met, we were both just beginning to use magic to explore ideas. We had a shared interest in philosophy, and saw magic as a tool to not only amaze people, but to transport them somewhere, and give them things to think about. The show emerged from this desire. We wrote most of the show over the phone, coming up with wacky ideas and giggling like teenagers as we figured out how to do them. The tricks evolved as we met and performed the show, and has evolved even further as we prepare this new production of the show. And lots of Google Docs.
Is this an interactive show?
DL: I think that one of the things that makes magic unique is that it has to be interactive. Without the audience, the magic simply cannot exist. Throughout the show, we interact with each other, the audience, and individual spectators. We are interacting with magic at all times.
FM: Theater is traditionally trapped onstage by the fourth wall, whereas magic usually requires that there be no such wall. Blending a magic show with a play of sorts, there will be introspective moments when the wall exists, and others when it decidedly does not.
I never thought of it that way. Do either of you have background or experiences in theater?
FM: I did some theater in college, mostly so I could perform better as a magician. Not really professional acting, per se.
DL: For the most part, my theater training has come from performing on stage for 17 years. But acting is different from magic. Theater asks you to step in and observe in an imaginary world, whereas magic asks you to momentarily participate in a world where it’s unclear what’s imaginary.
Your show includes metaphysical puzzles and taking the audience on a “philosophical journey.” What does that mean?
DL & FM: The show is based on a series of vignettes that are sewn together by an overarching story about two eccentric magicians who encounter a box with 12 locks, which they are compelled to open. The locks present a word, which either, or both, of the magicians respond to in order to gain access. Both the overarching journey, as well as the individual vignettes offer a journey for audiences to embark upon.
DL: When I was a young teenager, the most critical turning point for me as a magician was two clear and concise realizations about the performance of illusion: 1) That magic is a great tool for telling stories and exploring ideas, and 2) That magic is only limited by the imagination of the magician. I think that magic is inherently philosophical, in that it fundamentally examines the nature of reality, perception, knowledge and existence. The work that Francis and I create could be said to be self-referential on magic’s inherent principles.
FM: For me, it came from listening to Teller (of Penn and Teller) talking about magic in conjunction with philosophy and theater. As soon as I looked at magic from a storytelling perspective, it has ever since guided how I watch, create, and perform.
How do audiences react to your show? Any memorable stories?
DL: Audiences feel delighted, puzzled, baffled, and hopefully see at least some part of their reality a little differently.
FM: When David and I perform, either solo or together, audiences often excitedly express that they’ve not seen or considered magic in this manner. And quite often, the response is that they can’t wait to come back and watch it again.
See Cerebral Sorcery at The Theatre Project Nov. 18-20. Tickets start at $20. For more information about the show, visit cerebralsorcery.com.