By May S. Ruiz
Wouldn’t it be great to travel 5,000 miles and see the breathtaking beauty of Scotland during lockdown? With some modern technology and illusion techniques, we can take in all the magic this land has to offer from our very own living room.
The Broad Stage has co-commissioned the West Coast premiere of a virtual event called ‘The Journey’, created and performed by illusionist and mentalist Scott Silven. From Oct. 20 through Nov. 15, Silven will take us along with him when he goes back to his beloved country. This immersive and intimate show promises to be quite a different experience where 30 participants per show will feel transported to a different place and time.
According to The Broad’s publicity material, Silven tells a long-forgotten story that reveals mysteries of the mind and unlocks the secrets of his glorious Scottish homeland. Through incredible illusions and feats of imagination, ‘The Journey’ explores the sense of home and the transformative power of place. We’ll then discover the path that connects us to Silven’s past, our own present, and a collective future.
It all sounds quite intriguing so I interview Silven by email to find out more about him and the show. I ask him when and how he got interested in illusion and magic, and he says, “I have a couple of defining moments from my childhood that stand out to me. The first echoes back to my grandfather: he took a piece of candy that I’d signed my name on, vanished it, and made it appear in a sealed matchbox on the table. He then immediately shared the secret with me — it was embarrassingly simple, but I was instantly captivated by him taking something ordinary and creating something extraordinary from it.
“The second is a little less specific: the experience of growing up in Scotland — which is a place where myth and mystery is woven into the fabric of its identity. So being connected to those stories and surroundings as a kid really instilled a sense of wonder and imagination in me. Thankfully, my parents were incredibly supportive in allowing me to follow my creative pursuits.”
As anyone who has read Harry Potter knows, there is a school for wizards. There is, however, none for mere mortals wanting to learn magic. As Silven confirms, “I’m afraid there’s nothing as exciting as a general school of magic, but I wish there was! It’s a very solitary craft which I started at a really young age. There are books that you can read, skills you can source, but the world of illusion is a meritocracy in that the more you learn and show an interest in it, the more you’re able to engage with mentors who will teach you esoteric secrets.”
I inquire how he became a professional illusionist and Silven answers, “I think the focus for me has always been to create my own work. I studied theatre in Edinburgh, Scotland, and while I was there I took part in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival — the biggest arts festival in the world — which allowed me to put my work in front of lots of international producers and was lucky enough to sign with an agent and move to London. From there I worked on establishing my craft and then signed with American management before making the move to the U.S.A. My focus was never becoming an illusionist in particular, but to create interesting and impossible experiences that audiences can relate with. I think that helped my work stand out in some way and is probably the reason why it’s connected with audiences across the world.”
“I have a core production team that I collaborate with, but then I like to engage with additional crew from local venues depending on the state or country I’m performing in,” continues Silven. “It’s really wonderful to connect with creatives across the world and share my work with them.”
Unlike his previous shows, ‘The Journey’ uses Scotland as the backdrop in an immersive experience. Silven says, “Memory and nostalgia form a big part of my work, and Scotland was such a formative part of my childhood and what I do today — as I mentioned, the mythical landscape provides constant inspiration for me. Serendipitously, returning back to Scotland made me recognize the power of home and place and how that stays with us, and I knew I wanted to create an experience that would ask an audience the same questions. I began creating the experience based around the landscape and myths of my childhood and discovered that I wanted to take my audience on a virtual adventure from their home to mine in rural Scotland, and to use their imaginations and memories as the guide on ‘The Journey.’
“It’s an entirely live experience, as well as being interactive and immersive, with the audience’s input directly affecting elements of the show. By combining breakthrough technology, projection mapping, high definition visuals, and stereo sound to help tell my story, we have hopefully created something audiences will have never experienced in the online realm before. The challenges of the online format have allowed unique opportunities to connect with the audience on a deeper level that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to do in a live environment. We send the audience exclusive advance content that they can interact with before they engage with the experience. As well as this, there’s something very powerful about audience members sitting in the comfort of their own homes. They are asked to bring objects of meaning and purpose to them to the performance itself, which I hope makes it a far more personal and powerful experience than sitting in the usual darkened space of a theatre.”
‘The Journey’ is Silven’s debut performance on the West Coast. It’s unfortunate that we have been deprived of his physical presence, but he quickly assures, “I’ve been privileged enough to complete three world tours and I adore the West Coast — it’s one of my favorite places to visit. I’m looking forward to returning in the near future and already have plans to perform live as soon as we are able to.”
Finally, I inquire how many shows he does each year and if there has been one particularly significant or memorable place or event for him. Silven responds, “I usually have a pretty packed schedule where I perform on stage and screen; I typically do around 500 shows a year across the world. That’s what is particularly interesting about this format, in that I’m able to perform a ‘digital world tour,’ where anyone in the world can come and engage with my work. It’s one of the unique elements of moving from a live setting to an entirely online format.”
“I have so many wonderful moments from all my shows. Some that stand out to me are my first shows in New York. It was meant to be a four-week run but was extended and ran for many months. It really helped connect my work with American audiences and facilitated the step to move to New York City permanently — a childhood dream. Since then the opportunity to travel, where one week you’re doing shows in Seattle and the next you’re doing shows in Sydney, is perhaps the most memorable and important luxury my work has given me. I’m hugely excited to be bringing ‘The Journey’ to the Broad Stage for its West Coast premiere — I’ve hopefully crafted an experience that audiences will never have seen in the online realm before, and I can’t wait for them to experience it,” concludes Silven.
Maybe the lockdown isn’t an altogether unfortunate circumstance after all. Because of it, we have this fantastic opportunity to go on a virtual journey with a master illusionist to one of the most hauntingly beautiful places on earth.