Champions Of Magic Visit America

Five world-class illusionists from the U.K., collectively known as Champions of Magic, are coming to the U.S. for the first time, kicking off the tour in Pennsylvania Oct. 3. The group – grand illusionists Young & Strange, “queen of close-up” Fay Presto, mentalist Alex McAleer and International Stage Magician of the Year Edward Hilsum, have more than 20 million online views between them and have been featured on “Penn & Teller: Fool Us,” CNN’s “A Quest For Magic” and NBC’s “Caught On Camera With Nick Cannon.” We asked a few questions to tour producer Alex Jarrett about Champions of Magic, which has been to 24 markets worldwide and spent four years in the U.K. including a run in London’s West End.

How did this come about?

Originally I was running a network of comedy clubs where the format would be four acts on the bill each night, and we’d try and program comics together who’d have different styles to complement each other. We had a couple of comedy magicians and I started wondering if there was business in the idea of putting four different magicians on a bill together.

Champions Of Magic
– Champions Of Magic

The idea sat there for a year or two and our comedy business moved up from clubs above bars and restaurants to running in proper theatres. Being in the larger spaces gave us an opportunity to try the mixed bill magic concept – we programmed four shows across a month and put a different lineup on each to see what worked. We booked illusionists, close-up magicians, mind readers, comedy magicians, card magicians and dove magicians. We chopped and changed the lineups to see what worked best, and would film each show to review.

Audience reception was great so we booked seven shows the following spring and kept testing. From there we found the five performers who became our core cast and launched them with a full U.K. tour in fall 2014. They’ve been with us ever since, spending weeks on a tour bus together and performing for thousands. It’s rare to find five magicians who can all get along so we’ve been really lucky.

We’ve seen the success of The Illusionists first hand, and through our box office reports. This is definitely a great time for live magic. Any take on that?

I think a lot of it stems from some of the brilliant TV magic we’ve had recently which certainly reignites the interest. YouTube has also made it easier than ever to learn magic and also easier for magic as an art to develop – anyone can now share a new sleight-of-hand move to the whole world. Previously, it’d be passed from person to person, or in a lecture of maybe 50 people at a magic club, or published in a book.

I think enough time has passed since the ‘90s when magic got to be considered a bit hackneyed. People are willing to try it again and realize that, when done right, it’s actually incredible entertainment for the whole family. Coupled with modern production elements – lighting, video, special effects – it’s a real spectacle. We often see three generations of the same family in the audience. I don’t think there’s many genres which can entertain across the ages like that.

What are promoters or venues surprised about when the show comes to town?

Usually the sheer quantity of pyrotechnics that one theatre show can use.

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Do you have a personal favorite part of the show?

I love the finale trick because it involves the entire team working together – all the performers and all the crew have a role to play in making that last illusion happen. It’s great to see because the way all the parts move around the stage is like a choreographed dance, and if one element is off the effect won’t work.

There’s also favorite parts from each of the performers. Edward Hilsum’s dove magic is honed. Fay Presto starts the second half just sitting on the edge of the stage with a kid from the audience and captivates the entire room. Alex McAleer has a gambling game with the audience where he stands to lose a significant amount of money and illusionists Young & Strange have an incredible routine where they produce any mode of transport requested by the audience right there on stage. There’s no fat on the show so everything is there because it’s incredible, funny, interesting or all three.

Champions Of Magic
– Champions Of Magic
Alex Jarrett (L) snaps one alongside the Champions of Magic.

I also like the fact there are no card tricks in the show – at no point is anyone asked to “pick a card, any card.” It’s the one type of magic trick most people have seen so we avoid it.

It’s not part of the show in the traditional sense but after every performance the cast goes to the lobby for a meet and greet with anyone who wants to ask a question or get a photo. That’s always enjoyable as we can get immediate feedback on the show as well as allowing the cast to engage with fans one-on-one.

As a tour producer, is there anything about the show, tour, travel or business that is especially impressive?

I think the work ethic of the cast and crew is incredible – we do a lot of shows packed together when we’re on the road, and we often have to crowbar a big show into some tight venues, particularly some of the U.K.’s Victorian theatres. Seeing them thrive in that situation each day is really impressive.

It’s an obvious one but the magic in this show is really strong, too. A lot of the tricks are original to our performers; it’s not something you can buy off the shelf so not only have they learned the skills needed, they’ve created the concept in the first place.

Tell us about the past history and success in the U.K.

We’ve done six U.K. tours now so we have played a lot of venues more than once. It’s always a huge credit when people return to see the show again. I think the most I’ve come across so far is someone who was there on their 10th visit to see us back in April.

The show has grown considerably in the four years since we started, both in terms of audience size and the scale of the production itself. We just launched our first arena show in the U.K. so we’re looking forward to seeing where that takes us.

Champions Of Magic
– Champions Of Magic

Any other tours planned for the U.S. based on your current advance tickets success?

Yes, we’re currently booking fall 2018 with an expectation at this stage to hit around 70 dates in the September to November window. Stephen Brush and Kelly Miller at Patriot Artists Agency are taking care of this and have made great progress with new venues coming on board as the advance sales for the 2017 tour have rolled in. As a new brand to the North American market it was a risk for any venue to book the show on this first tour, but now the venues who declined then are clamoring to get a spot on the 2018 routing.

Would you like to give a shout out to anyone? Any particular thank yous?

All the cast and crew of the show obviously, but particularly our production manager Gareth Risdale. He’s invariably the first one into the venue and the last one out. Huge parts of the show are a direct result of his effort, knowledge and imagination.

Piff the Magic Dragon for introducing me to magic properly, and to most of the people that went on to become the show’s cast (check his show out in Vegas or on tour – – he’s the hardest working performer I’ve ever known.

And my Mum and Dad for taking me to every show going when I was a kid – I don’t think any of this would’ve happened if it wasn’t for that.

Do you, yourself, do magic? Will you keep a sworn vow of secrecy to the grave?

Champions Of Magic
– Champions Of Magic

Working on the show requires a certain working knowledge of magic but I don’t think the cast needs to be worried for their jobs, as good as my double lift might be. I’ll keep the secrets but only because The Magic Circle will come after me otherwise. They’re like a Mexican drug cartel, but wearing velvet.