Creator of the Impossible: Q & A with Illusionist Scott Silven
Illusionist, mentalist, and performance artist Scott Silven performed at Stanford Live in 2019 with At the Illusionist's Table. He returns, this time with a virtual show live from his home in rural Scotland. We spoke with him about this latest project, The Journey, which comes to Stanford Live April 27 – May 2.
How would you describe the term illusionist to those who are unfamiliar with it?
For me, an illusionist is a creator of the impossible. While traditional magicians often focus on tricks or elaborate props, my work as an illusionist and mentalist is not driven by any of this but instead by the power of story, by memory, and by the mind. I weave together a variety of psychological and theatrical techniques to create powerful illusions that are personal for the audience. My goal is never to convince an audiences that magic is real but to lead them to a place of wonder.
Where did you first learn about illusionist performance, and how did you get involved?
Surprisingly, my inspiration never came from watching other illusionists but from growing up in Scotland. The Scottish landscape is a place where myth and mystery are woven into the fabric of its identity, so being connected to those stories and surroundings as a kid really instilled a sense of wonder in me and a love for magic. We live in a time when everything is often easily explainable and it’s inspiring to see the myths of this landscape still alive today. My grandfather was also a big influence on my work. He taught me some simple tricks when I was very young and set me on the initial journey of becoming an illusionist. I remember doing lots of vanishes and reappearances as a little kid, which usually involved asking family members to close their eyes while I ran behind the sofa. I promise my skills have improved since then!
How did the concept for your show The Journey originate?
This show came out of a desire to create an immersive experience that explored the power of home, place, and connection in fragmented times. Memory and nostalgia form a big part of my work. Serendipitously, returning back to Scotland and my childhood home last year made me recognize the power of place and our connection to the past, and that ignited the concept of the show being based on the Scottish landscapes and myths from my childhood. I discovered that I wanted to craft an experience that would take my audiences on a virtual adventure across the world from their home to mine and have them use their imaginations and memories as the guide on this transportive journey.
The Journey is performed virtually, which for many artists has become the norm over the past year. What have been the biggest challenges in moving your shows, especially those that require frequent interaction with the audience, from the stage to the screen?
From the outset, I knew I wanted The Journey to feel as close to my live shows as possible and to truly subvert what we expect from a virtual experience. What we have created is something that not only feels like a live experience but is deeply interactive and immersive, as the audience’s input directly affects key moments of the show. To achieve this, we had to design custom technology that allows the audience to be projected into the room with me and to develop intricate sound design that envelops them in the story. I was able to bring together an incredible creative team of Broadway and West End veterans, including designer Jeff Sugg and sound designer Gareth Fry, to help realize this vision.
The challenges of the online format have allowed for unique opportunities to engage with the audience on a deeper level than what is ordinarily possible in a traditional theatrical environment. I send audience members exclusive advance content, including cinematic vignettes and a binaural sound experience, that they can interact with before the experience. Along with this, I wanted to tap into the unique power of participants being in their own homes as they watch and engage with the show. I ask audience members to bring specific objects from their home as well as images and memories of meaning to them, which I hope makes for a uniquely personal and immersive experience that you may not get sitting in the usual darkened space of a theater. By weaving together these interactive elements with breakthrough technology, stunning visuals, and breathtaking illusions to help tell my story, we have hopefully created something audiences will have never experienced in the online realm before.
What type of experience do you hope patrons walk away with after The Journey?
For me, illusion has the power to be so much more than simple escapism. My hope is that the The Journey asks participants to consider what makes them who they are. We’re all driven by memories, decisions, relationships, and dreams, and The Journey should make you look closely at your own path through life and consider what motivates you and what you’re capable of when you open yourself to new forms of connection. I’m truly excited for Stanford Live audiences to take the first step on what will hopefully be an unforgettable adventure.
Virtual performances of Scott Silven's The Journey are scheduled from April 27 – May 2. Tickets are on sale now.