by Justine Tenzer
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“People will always need art and always need entertainment because it makes life bearable”
The extended Ontario lockdown has only increased the anticipation for Illusionarium, Lighthouse Immersive’s latest project. While waiting for the opportunity to open doors to visitors, Jamie Allan and his team have been working up more magic in the meantime. “There is magic every day, everywhere. People need to know that”, says Sean Watson, one of Illusionarium’s resident magicians, describing how this art form helped him through some dark moments in his life. Indeed, Illusionarium is arriving at a time where excitement, wonder and joy are desperately needed.
The longing to get together and experience something exciting is coupled with the need to feel safe and the creators of Illusionarium know the need for this balance intimately. “One of the biggest challenges we’ve faced due to COVID is the lack of that natural buzz and atmosphere that’s usually created by a tightly-packed audience. We’ve noticed this gap and filled it with a variety of well-designed techniques to make sure that the whole experience feels exciting and immersive from start to finish,” explains Cameron Gibson, who moved from Scotland to be a part of Illusionarium as a magician.
This reveals an important, but often forgotten correlation between magic and creating an image. Yes, magic shows are primarily about the tricks and entertainment offered by the magicians, but it also involves a carefully crafted image that markets the show and supports the magician’s acts. Harry Houdini knew this. He was an entertainer who was also an efficient marketer and image-creator, which led to his infamy and worldwide success. The creators of Illusionarium essentially took Houdini’s ideas and gave it a modern, pandemic-friendly twist. Visitors will not only be able to enjoy the exceptional talents of the magicians and their assistants, you will also be able to immerse themselves in an interactive environment. You will not only see the magic, they will become a part of the magic. “Illusionarium is reiterating entertainment through a powerful portal and a fully curated live experience of what magic is,” says Watson.
Not only does the exhibition innovate and reinvent how magic is represented, it is also breaking barriers. Frankly, the illusionists and magicians most loved and well-known throughout history are men. However, the world of magic is so much more diverse and nuanced than one might think. “A misconception of magic that I would like to correct are the heteronormative expectations that come along with a magic show. We definitely break out of that with this show by having a female magician and a female assistant”, says Emma Bartolomucci. She will participate in Illusionarium as a magician with her assistant, allowing for a variety of talents to show off their skills in an inclusive atmosphere.
Similar to its sister exhibition, Immersive Van Gogh, Illusionarium prides itself in giving many creative workers, ranging from magicians to the hosts, an opportunity to work within an industry that has been heavily impacted by the pandemic. It is no secret that the performative arts, exhibitions and museums alike have not been able to operate as businesses for close to a year. The success of Immersive Van Gogh allowed Lighthouse Immersive to ensure Illusionarium is just as successful, entertaining and safe.
What this proves is that art is able to reinvent itself. “When the pandemic first hit I was absolutely amazed and incredibly impressed with the resilience shown by many of my friends and colleagues in the performing world. Many are taking their shows online and adapting it for the new stage the rest of us call Zoom,” says Gibson, speaking to how a variety of technologies have been hugely beneficial in making sure artists are able to continue their craft.
Once Illusionarium is able to welcome visitors, it will contribute to a burgeoning sense of normalcy and allow people to safely experience the wonders of magic together. After a long and locked-down winter, this is more than necessary. “People will always need art and always need entertainment because it makes life bearable,” says Watson. “Being able to bring magic—which blends art and entertainment—is a powerful skill and creates pathways of connecting that is even more important now.”