“We live in a magical world, surrounded by magic. You just have to open your eyes and choose to see it.”
– Keith Brown
When you take your seat at a Keith Brown show, do not expect a magician in a top hat and wand, asking “is this your card?”. In fact, forget everything you know about traditional magic and card tricks. Box up all those stereotypes about what you may have learned from TV magicians or at birthday parties, seal it with packing tape, and leave the box outside the theater… because Keith Brown’s show at this year’s Ottawa Fringe Festival will leave you speechless. When he performs magic, it seems as effortless and natural as an Olympic sprinter or a prima ballerina. Keith Brown beckons his audience to experience the world as he sees it: a magical place of mystery and wonder where anything is possible.
In anticipation of his show Hotter than Potter, at the Fringe Festival, I asked Keith to share his journey with magic for us muggles who can’t get enough of the seemingly impossible magic tricks that boggle our minds. Our discussion has been condensed for length and clarity.
Claire: How did you first become interested in magic?
Keith: I first became interested in magic when I was a kid. I believe that one of my older brothers showed me a trick when I was about 6 or 7. It was when the David Blane specials started coming out and magic was cool again. I had absolutely no idea how he did it, and it made me wonder. It made me curious. Not only did I want to know, I needed to know. One question led to the next, and he showed me the book he’d learned from, so we’d practice and learn more. But it was sort of a phase growing up. A few years later though, someone sent me an online clip, it was this magic trick and it was so amazing that I felt like I had when my brother first showed me a magic trick. I wanted to know. I needed to know. I was so curious, motivated and enthralled with the world that I started asking all these questions and I started learning magic. Eventually someone hired me and it sort of snowballed from there.
Claire: Can you tell us how you want your audience to feel when they experience your show?
Keith: First and foremost, I want them to feel welcome. I want them to feel safe, and that we’re all in this together, because we are. I want them to have a good time, and experience mystery and wonder in a safe environment. I also want them to start thinking about the world, because magic presents a reality that you didn’t know existed, or didn’t know could exist. In fact, it makes you start thinking about the world that you know, and ideally, you’ll ask yourself “do I really know what I know? Because I just saw something that I know couldn’t exist.
I want my show to lead them down the garden path to this place where they don’t understand, where magic goes beyond comprehension. I think not knowing is a beautiful thing. When you have a mystery, the possibilities, the answers, are endless, and to me that’s a great metaphor for life. Because we can be anything at any time. It’s never too late to go back to school, or get a new job, or tell that person that you like them. You just need the courage to go do it. So you know what, what’s the life that you want to create. Because to me, that life includes magic.
I grew up in a family where my parents told me that anything is possible, and that I could be anything that I wanted to be. So for me, I got to have magical powers. I was slightly beyond human. That idea empowered me and made me feel safe, and I want to give that feeling to other people. You are only limited by your imagination. I think magic is a safe way to explore mystery and the unknown. As such, in my show we’re going to explore mystery, we’re gonna have fun, laugh, have a great time, and start wondering about the world.
Claire: What inspires you to push beyond the traditional boundaries of magic and card tricks?
Keith: I get inspiration from all over. I used to read a ton of magic book, watch DVDs, and attend instructional workshops. I get inspired by magic itself and the things that are already out there. Kind of like painting when you learn the different brush strokes and stuff. As I got older, once I had the techniques down and a general understanding, I asked myself “What’s the story that only I can tell? How can I express myself in this show?”
Normally, magic is done backwards, in the sense that you learn the tricks and then see in what way you can apply them. Whereas now, I’m looking at it from the opposite direction, in which I ask myself “What’s the story that only I can tell and how do I do that?” I’m hoping that the story will inspire a new method. It’s kind of like building a house. If I want to build a house, how am I going to build it? Instead of starting with a brick, I start with how I want my house to look, then I brainstorm the materials.
Personal things have happened in my life and I’ve started weaving those experiences into my tricks. I have my stamp on them more than anything. Above all though, I ask myself what I would want to see at a magic show. Given the world that we have today and the technology, what could still be impressive? What’s something that people aren’t going to attribute to technology or the click of a button? What’s something that will amaze people? What’s something that people have never seen before, or something that they could never possibly imagine that could exist? That approach is a lot more open ended, a lot more creative, and gives a lot more room for possibilities.
Claire: What’s your favorite part about performing magic?
Keith: To be honest, my favorite part is making a connection with the audience. At the end of the day, the magic tricks are an excuse to have a conversation, have a good time, and get to know one another. I could have chosen music, but I happened to chose magic as my medium. For me, it’s about the people. My show is interactive; I can’t do my show by myself. It’s not like watching TV where you can press pause at any time or just listen. You are actively participating. You might shuffle a deck of cards, you might answer a question, you might lend me an object, you might come up on stage with me and make a decision. So the audience does give me a lot of different input that I can’t predict every night. The show is always different. To me, magic is about making a connection with another human. Because I love magic. I think it’s incredible, and if you like magic half as much, hopefully you’ll see the incredibleness that I do. That’s what I want to give my audience.
Claire: Anything else you’d like to share about what magic means to you?
Keith: I think we have the power to chose the world as we see it. It’s always our perspective. You can choose to always see the bad stuff, or you can choose to see the amazing, wonderful stuff. And there’s going to be both, don’t get me wrong, but I choose to see the good. We live in a magical world, surrounded by magic, you just have to open your eyes and choose to see it. If you’ve forgotten what that’s like, come to my show and hopefully I can remind you.
To experience the magic, don’t miss out on Keith Brown’s show. Click here for a link to show times and tickets.