During a performance by stage magician Nate Staniforth I got a glimpse behind the curtain and experienced something even more magical than the rest of the stunned audience.
Over the past weekend I worked an event selling books at a magic show, as the magician is also an author. Before the event I took a look at his book Here Is Real Magic and was impressed by the first 40 pages I made it through by that time. In it Nate Staniforth discusses his path to stage magic from the age of nine, which has taken him around the world where he continues to learn and perform. His belief that we all need much more uncertainty in our lives resonates deeply with my own ideas and convictions. As is often the case as a bookseller at events, you get to check out part of the show (for free!) and I was excited to see Nate perform.
When I arrived at the Englert Theatre to set up before the doors officially opened, I was glad to hear the show had sold out. My co-worker was also interested in the show, so we took turns watching while the other kept an eye on the book table. It was when I made my second visit to the auditorium that I experienced something I would never have expected and am still amazed to have witnessed.
As I walked in Nate was in the middle of a trick he was building up. I quickly ascertained that the audience and himself had randomly selected a two digit number. This number was to be transferred from a member of the audience, who was already on the stage, to another participant who had been sent out of the main auditorium and was wearing soundproof earphones. Before going in, I had actually seen this participant in the lobby donning the earphones, and seemingly out of the loop. Nate continued to reassure everyone that they had all witnessed the random and/or group-generated selections being made, so as not to imply any conspiracy.
Once everyone had been assured that everything was on the up and up and there were ‘no strings’ Nate told the audience he planned to implant their number in the mind of the participant who had been standing in the lobby with soundproof headphones on. This was going to be accomplished via a visualization exercise in which the participant who had been privy would imagine herself telling the one who hadn’t what the number was, while the second person imagined being told the number. Nate then asked the latter to reveal what number he had imagined hearing.
When the number was said aloud it made me perk up right away because it was one I had on my mind earlier in the day and then had used in a writing just hours before I left to work the event. It was the number 47. Synchronicity!
However, this was not the big reveal of his setup. This act just got the two participants on stage for the shows real crowd stopper, in which he would make one of the two people still seated on the stage disappear right before the audiences eyes.
I watched carefully, while thinking about how futile it is to try and see the trick being pulled and all the good reasons not to. I got caught up in a loop of metacognition about what I was watching when suddenly I saw the trick being pulled from the magicians perspective. I saw what was ‘really happening’ while also witnessing the audience experience something completely different than I had observed, as well as their amazed response to it. As their minds were being blown by the impossible, mine was being blown from how impossible it was that this had actually worked; though this is not to say that I was not thoroughly impressed and delighted by what I had and/or had not seen.
I do not want to reveal the details of what I saw and spoil Nate’s trick, which he claims to have borrowed from a 19th century magician. It was not spoiled for me. In fact it was the most magic thing possible, because the last thing you expect to see at a magic show is right through the trick. Especially with a magician as talented as Nate is. Seeing it from that perspective allowed me to experience what it is that Staniforth claims he does magic for – to endear the audience with a profound sense of wonder.
I now have a far greater amount of respect for stage magic than ever before, as well as an even more assured belief that what we experience everyday is about what we expect and believe rather than what ‘really is’ and that we can hack ourselves towards the possibility of any experience imaginable if we find the trick that works. I am deeply grateful for such an undeniable demonstration of my contention that reality itself is a magical enterprise.
Thank you, Nate!
Just before I packed everything up for the night a nine year old boy visited the book table. He put up a charade in which he pretended that he was going to steal one of the four books I had left to sell. He was obviously joking and it was clear that he is an exceptionally witty and clever kid. At the end of our exchange, during which he told me that everyone between 18 & 30 years of age is an idiot, I bade him well and told him to stay clever. As he walked out the door he turned briefly and replied…
“You’re slightly clever. I look up to you.”
That might be the most genuine compliment I have ever received.