A Magical Night Out at Luminato
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A Magical Night Out at Luminato

Sleight-of-hand magician Eric Mead last night at David Pecaut Square, Luminato’s festival hub. Photo by Corbin Smith/Torontoist.

Eric Mead
David Pecaut Square, formerly Metro Square (55 John Street)
June 10, 5 p.m.; June 11–12, 7 p.m.; FREE

Natural Magick
Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgman Avenue)
June 10–16, 8 p.m., $36.50–$41.50

As we embarked on Luminato’s opening night with two magic shows on our agenda, we admit to being filled with child-like glee, but also prepared with a full deck of skepticism, should it be necessary. Which, fortunately, it wasn’t.

The game-changer for the multimedia performance by Natural Magick‘s David Ben, for instance, came towards the end, in a jaw-dropping illusion (or talent, maybe?) where he swallowed 20 sewing needles and a string of thread, only to regurgitate them a minute later—evenly threaded, straight out of his mouth. We are dying to see that one up close.

We won’t give away the rest of his tricks (Goldfish! Snowflakes! Ripped paper!), but Ben’s show at the Tarragon Theatre, co-written by Canadian broadcasting icon Patrick Watson, certainly had the visual advantage, with video projections of legendary magicians that inspired some of history’s greatest illusions. From L’Homme Masqué to the great Houdini, Ben paid tribute to his most memorable predecessors by reminding his audience of how these impossible feats came to be—even if he didn’t actually try the bullet-swallowing trick himself.

However, it was another magician’s more low-key, practically spontaneous performance that offered the most satisfying experience of the evening, despite a rocky start: sleight-of-hand performer Eric Mead’s first trick was to disappear before his act had even begun.

Luminato volunteers didn’t seem to know Mead was even performing last night at David Pecaut Square, and festival staff were equally unsure about where, exactly, his show was supposed to take place But despite this initial confusion, Mead eventually found himself surrounded by an intimate, ardent crowd near the bar, consisting of friendly amateur magicians and curious laypeople.

David Ben of Natural Magick. Photo courtesy of Luminato.

Sure, you may have seen variations of Mead’s tricks before. (Seriously though, where did those silver dollars come from? And those playing cards can’t be rigged, we wrote our name on that five of diamonds ourselves!) And yet somehow, he pulled the card out of his pants pocket after we watched him put it back in the deck. There’s something about watching a magician who’s been performing for more than 20 years put on a show three feet in front of you that engenders a true appreciation of the art.

The fact that Mead has enough charm to go around the whole crowd doesn’t hurt, either, and his easy-going humour is nearly as crucial as the illusions themselves. While the Natural Magick show dutifully included a number of audience participants itself, that much larger crowd left a faint, conspiratorial suspicion that these “random volunteers” were somehow part of the act. And even if that suspicion is completely off base, it’s still comforting to be able to see every minute detail of what’s happening—and if something seems fishy, to call the performer on it.

When Mead’s show was over the aspiring magicians in the crowd, who we assumed would be the most discerning of the bunch, gave it the official thumbs up. “This was right up there,” said Adam, an amateur magician from Ottawa who practices card tricks and mentalism. Gordon, an octogenarian who has been practicing magic since he was seven years old, offered similar sentiments, and showed us a trick of his own. (You can tell he still loves the art of illusion, because he had this one ready in his wallet.) It was simple: five pieces of magazine paper, pre-cut to size, turned into $20 bills with the flick of the wrist. Who says tricks are for kids? No wonder he’s retired, with a trick like that.