When you buy a ticket to a theater production, you’re hoping you’ll encounter some sort of magic. You wish to be swept away, to believe in a new or different reality, to believe in the impossible. With John Carney, you get just that and a little more. It’s more than a magic show, it’s more than a theatre show — it’s theatre magic.
Now what makes Carney so adept at marrying these two art forms? He’s certainly not new to either scene. As an accomplished actor, he’s participated in a multitude of sketch comedy shows, plays, and even landed roles on TV shows such as Spin City and Two and a Half Men. As a magician, he’s acknowledged by his peers as one of the finest sleight of hand performers in the world with many awards to go along with that. He’s no stranger to Hollywood’s The Magic Castle where he performs often and has been given more awards there than anyone in their history. He’s even shown off his magic tricks on the Late Show with David Letterman!
What makes John Carney so special is his passion for creating original material. He dazzles us with his ability to make us laugh during an illusion. Maybe it’s so magical because he’s done the prep work — but every time it feels brand new.
Our operations assistant, Lottie Frick, sat down with John to get some insight on his art, life, magic and everything in between.
LF: How did you first get interested in magic?
JC: I started when I was a teenager. I think it helped a lot that I had the benefit of a few mentors who were willing to take me beyond the initial infatuation. Close-up magic was a way for me to perform for small groups without stepping foot on a stage. I would perform for friends after dinner or at parties.
LF: Who or what is your biggest inspiration for the art that you create?
JC: My greatest influence in magic was a man named Dai Vernon, probably the greatest sleight-of-hand master of the last century. He was a real artist, in the truest sense of the word. He taught me that good sleight-of-hand is more than just fast hands. Ideally, it’s more intellectual in nature. It’s about psychology, problem solving, choreography of movement…and it has elegant simplicity. Dai Vernon taught me so much. There were never any formal lessons, and no money ever changed hands. We would just sit and talk about magic for hours. We were kindred spirits, even if we were generations apart.
LF: What’s your favorite part of performing for a live audience?
JC: I like the challenge of making a theater of wonder out of simple everyday things. The audience is focused, and I can manipulate the environment with lights and sound. I can create the kind of atmosphere where I can do almost anything, from the silly to the sentimental.
LF: How do you go about creating characters?
JC: Most are based on someone I have known, but exaggerated for effect. Others are amalgams of famous people from real life, movies, and my imagination. A script will get me started, along with a point of view, attitude, voice and speech pattern. From there, I take it on stage and improvise in that frame work, then just keep rewriting, and tweaking it technically. Generally it takes at least 100 performances of a new piece before I feel it has really taken shape. Even then, I can find new touches to add after hundreds of shows.
LF: Incredible that it can still be new after 100 performances. Now, do you have any lucky charms or pre-show rituals you always do before going on stage?
JC: Hopefully, it all looks spontaneous, but my only ritual is checking and rechecking the hundreds of small details that make it look effortless. Most of the real work comes long before, planning out tiny details that no one would ever notice, unless they were neglected. There are countless technical things that could go wrong in the show, and part of my job is making sure that if they do happen, I figure out a way to fix them so they never happen again. I’m more a believer in preparation than superstition.
LF: If your show was an animal, what animal would it be?
JC: A chimpanzee: Silly, playful, and charming, but underneath it all, more clever than you think.
LF: What do you hope we walk away from the show feeling?
JC: I want to affect people and give them a unique experience. I want it to be fun, with people walking away happy, perhaps with a new perspective on their own beliefs and perceptions – and what is possible.
Carney Magic runs Saturday, November 12, 2016 at 4PM and 8PM at the Curtis Theatre. Tickets range from $16-$32. For tickets, call the Box Office at 714-990-7722 or purchase 24/7 on our website http://www.curtistheatre.com. Use code “HalfOffCarney” for 50% off tickets.