A more modern bag of tricks

Kevin and Cindy Spencer bring the art of magic into the 21st century with tricks and props not usual
PHOTOGRAPHER:

Kevin and Cindy Spencer travel with 12 tons of equipment for their elaborate displays of illusion.

There’s room for walls, fans, boxes and a water tank; there’s no space for top hats, snap canes, capes or rabbits.

“Unfortunately, there are a lot of people in our profession who are doing very little to break that stereotype,” Kevin Spencer says of the old-fashioned wardrobe and props. “What we’ve tried to do is bring the art of magic into the 21st century and let people see that it is a legitimate, sophisticated art form. Music, dance, theater can move people. Why not magic?”

Kevin and Cindy — they’re both stage and marriage partners — bring their “Theatre of Illusion” show to Proctors in Schenectady on Sunday at 2 p.m. Kevin Spencer wants people to bring appetites for imagination to the theater’s red-cushioned seats. And keep their eyes wide open.

“A lot of the things in our program no one else in the world is performing,” said Spencer, who will say only that he’s in his 40s. “It really is a theatrical production. It’s all of the really great elements of Broadway — the lighting, scenery, music and movement. We kind of wrap that around some pretty impressive feats.”

Young fan of magic

Spencer has been practicing the now-you-see-it arts since he was 8 years old, and a Christmas Day recipient of a magic kit. He grew up in Rensselaer, Ind., a small farming community between Gary and Lafayette, and used stage magic to work his way through the University of Tennessee. Spencer saw live performances by Harry Blackstone Jr. and Doug Henning during his collegiate days, and although he graduated from Tennessee with a degree in clinical psychology, he decided to pursue a career in illusion.

’The Spencers: Theatre of Illusion’

WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady

WHEN: 2 p.m. Sunday

HOW MUCH: $35, $28, $24, $20

MORE INFO: 346-6204 or proctors.org.

Spencer met Cindy along the way. She was actually engaged to his roommate at the time, and the two guys and the gal performed shows together around Dallas.

“After a mutual parting of the way — the three of us are still very good friends — Kevin and I continued to work together,” Cindy Spencer said. “I became involved in magic because I married a magician.”

That magician will walk through a wall Sunday afternoon. It’s a legendary trick, from a legendary performer.

“In 1914,” Kevin said, “Harry Houdini walked through a solid brick wall live on stage. He only did it for a few months, on a run in New York, and after that he never, ever performed it again.”

Spencer said the illusion was such an amazing sight, it might have undermined other parts of a Houdini show.

“You know, once you see somebody walk through a wall, is it really that hard to get out of a pair of handcuffs?” Spencer asked. “Nobody has attempted this since 1914.”

The wall dramatics have been updated a bit, tweaked for a more contemporary stage. Spencer also will walk through a spinning fan during the two-hour show, which includes an intermission. An underwater escape adventure will also be part of the proceedings.

In the spotlight

Spencer likes where the art of illusion is today. There have been boosts from other media: Recent films such as “The Prestige” and “The Illusionist” have put old-fashioned magic shows on the cinematic stage. Criss Angel’s “Mindfreak” episodes on cable television’s “A&E” network have also attracted fans.

“I think both of the movies have raised the level of awareness in people’s minds about magic in general,” Spencer said. “I think what Criss has done very well is elevated the art of magic in the minds of a generation that hasn’t been familiar with it before.”

People sit and watch movies and TV shows. Spencer said they will be asked to do more during the “Theatre of Illusion.” Some audience members will be on stage, and those bits are among Spencer’s favorites.

“It is the one element of the show that is unpredictable and has the highest level of spontaneity to it,” he said. “You never know what’s going to happen when you get people from the audience on the stage.”

Illusionists know what’s going to happen when they perform a bit. But that doesn’t mean there’s not a little danger involved. Spencer compares his feats to those of a concert pianist. Mistakes can occur, but both musician and magician have practiced, practiced and practiced all parts of their respective routines.

“In order for it to be an illusion, in order for the audience to really look at it and think it really happened, there are literally hundreds of hours of rehearsal that go into one magical effect,” Spencer said. “So you work through all those elements of danger, and that’s one of the things that my wife is so brilliant at doing, coming up with a plan B, plan C, plan D should anything ever go wrong in the process of an illusion live. She’s the one that has those back-up plans in her mind . . . so the audience is never aware that anything could have gone wrong.”

Spencer will not be wearing a tuxedo on stage — that was Mandrake’s bag. He prefers blacks, blues and reds.

Give ’em what they want

But the man said even new-school illusionists must play one familiar gag for the paying customers.

“Everybody expects to see you cut someone in half,” Spencer said. “For the longest time, we didn’t do a ‘cutting a lady in half’ because we thought, ‘Well, they’ve all seen it before; this is not something they’re going to be interested in.’ And then we would hear after every show, ‘Gosh, why didn’t you cut somebody in half?’ ”

A different twist could be a woman cutting a man into two pieces. Seems like a natural gag for male and female magicians who have been working together for the past 20 years.

But Kevin Spencer makes that idea disappear. When the Spencers run that scene, Cindy Spencer is the one who climbs into the wood.

“I think as guys, we just have this basic fear of getting in boxes with knives in the hands of a woman,” Kevin Spencer said.

For more on the Spencers, see Jeff Wilkin’s blog, Type A to Z, by clicking here.

Categories: Life and Arts

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