by Jeff Lunden
A slender, dark-haired young man walks along the windblown Scottish coast, picking up stones and discovering the ruins of a cottage. The young man is mentalist Scott Silven, and you are about to go on a journey with him.
Silven has toured the world delighting audiences with seemingly impossible illusions. But with the pandemic confining him to his home in Scotland, he hatched a new interactive online show, commissioned by nine arts centers around the world.
The show is called The Journey, and the first step is you log in, and give permission to the producers to use your video and audio.
“I invite 30 people from across the world to travel virtually to my childhood home in Scotland,” Silven explains. “And we go on a journey together that explores the power of home and place and connection. And we use their thoughts and memories as the guide on that journey.”
From his house in Glasgow, which has been turned into a studio, with projections and elaborate sound design, Silven talks about his own personal journey as a magician, weaving Scottish myth into the narrative. In a pre-show email, he asks audience members to bring an object that is meaningful to them, and using a custom web interface, he can interact with them, pulling people onscreen to participate in gasp-inducing tricks.
“If you have an object with you today, take it out for me now,” Silven instructs. “Hold it up close to your camera so I can see it, right now.”
Of course, Silven won’t explain how he can, say, take the letters GG, which I wrote down in my apartment in Brooklyn, onto a piece of paper inside a locked box in Scotland. But he does say that part of his craft is to create an environment where people are willing to be open. He’s surprised by how well it works online.
“To create mentalism out of an experience, while people sit in their own home, is something I thought I’d never be able to experience before,” he says.
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Rob Bailis is artistic and executive director of The Broad Stage in Santa Monica, Calif., one of the co-presenters of The Journey.
“Audiences are reacting to it, especially those who are seeing him for the first time, with absolute amazement,” Bailis says. “And it’s just a wonder. And, you know, it’s all the ways that he’s just kept this from being a Zoom call.”
Silven says most effects involve at least five or 10 audience members. The show is going on a virtual tour, where it’s available on each theaters’ website for a limited time. The first stop was at The Momentary, a new art and performance space in Bentonville, Ark., which had just opened when the pandemic hit.
“I think it’s very important for us to find these new ways of engaging with an audience,” says Lievan Bertels, director of The Momentary. “And we cannot just sit here and wait until the pandemic is over, even more so for a young institution like ours that only existed in the real world for three weeks.”
For Silven, who, given the different time zones of the theaters, is performing his show in the middle of the night, that momentary sense of community is what it’s all about.
“I realize just how lucky I am to connect with people across the world and share something positive from this moment in time,” he says. “To take a moment to step back and reflect and realize that even in fragmented times, we can still find new forms of connection.”