Nominations are open for the 2019
"Readers' Choice Inspirational Canadian Magician of the Year" award

12 December 2018

A peek behind the curtain with Young and Strange

I was delighted to receive an invitation to interview Richard Young and Sam Strange earlier this month, as part of a Champions of Magic promotional event.  You may have seen Young and Strange on The Next Great Magician, Penn & Teller: Fool Us (2014 and 2017), or “photobombing” the Live News Report.




Although I was unable to attend, they kindly agreed to answer a few questions by email.  Which of course meant that I wasn’t able to witness any of their magic up close and personal.  And so my first question …


What wondrous and extraordinary magical effect would you have shown me had I been there to interview you in person?
As I’m sure all your readers can empathise with, when asked about your profession/hobby, it’s quickly followed up with “show us a trick mate.” That can be repetitive at times and more often than not the environment in which you’re asked to perform isn’t favourable, meaning a cobbled together performance.
What is your first memory of magic?
 

My first experience of the magic we know and love was probably seeing Lance Burton performing his dove act on a TV special. What an incredible piece of magic that was/is.
The beauty of being stage illusionists is that it immediately takes you out of the “performing on demand” predicament and we often say “unfortunately, all of the magic we do is simply too big to do for you right now!” Having said all of that,
we would have definitely made the effort for you and would have probably set up our full illusion show complete with lighting, music and pyro.


Aww, shucks.  I am gutted that I wasn’t able to make the live interview!



Where do you find non-magical inspiration?
 

The reality is that we take inspiration from all sorts of things outside of magic. There has always been a comedic thread in our performances so we are interested in all forms of comedy. Young has had a lifelong passion for WWE wrestling which draws many parallels with stage magic (the production, characters, humour).
Who inspires you magically?

We have always absolutely loved David Copperfield and seeing his TV specials as children was probably the biggest inspiration to our act today.  We have a passion for stage illusions and no-one does it better than him. We recently saw his show in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand and he’s still at the very top of his game. Lance Burton, along with Siegfried and Roy were also hugely inspirational. We have always loved the magic of 1980’s and 90’s.


Why do you think people are still fascinated by magic, especially live magic? 
Despite having all of this magic at our fingertips in the age of smartphones, we think that people are still looking for that momentary escapism where they can feel like a kid again, even if only for a few seconds. Magic and certainly stage illusion can absolutely do that.


What’s is it about Champions of Magic that has allowed you to draw large audiences on 6 UK tours and 2 North American tours over the past five years?
I think there are a number of reasons why it’s been successful. There’s no doubt about it, live magic is popular at the moment.. Talking specifically about the show, we think the name is brilliant. Champions of Magic; it’s about as clear a show title as it can be. It feels like a safe, solid bet for an evening’s entertainment. 
It has a multi-magician line-up with different styles of magic-- if you don’t like one performer or style, you’ll like one of the others. 
The varied line up also allows for much more flexibility within the show, therefore broadening its appeal. The show is constantly evolving both on and off stage. The branding and marketing changes as the producer (an incredibly hardworking, dynamic man called Alex Jarrett) learns from each run of the shows we do.  


What surprised you most about performing in different countries?  Have you experienced anything specific about Canadian audiences in particular?
I think if you chat to most magicians who have developed their acts for British audiences and then transitioned to North America, they will say the same thing: audiences over your side of the Atlantic are SO much better. They are less cynical and more vocal in their praise. Why that is we're not sure, it could be because magic has a great reputation or they are more conditioned to ‘join in’ with sports games being such a huge feature of the culture. We’ve only done a handful of shows in Canada probably not enough to distinguish between American and Canadian audiences. Maybe you can give us some pointers?! The shows we are doing in Toronto are over the holiday season so it should be a fantastic run of shows with everyone in good spirits.

Life on the road isn’t all glory and glamour.  There are tight schedules, never-ending bus rides, questionable accommodations, missed connections, and broken or disappearing props.
I’m glad you recognise that. It’s all too easy to look at the touring life (especially through the lens of magician’s social media) and think “that looks like the absolute dream lifestyle.”  It is amazing but does have a equal amounts of highs and lows.


Tell us about your most memorable touring misadventure.
One of the biggest benefits of being in a large scale touring show is that you end up with a lot of interesting stories, so to pin it on a single anecdote is difficult. However we did a show recently at a casino near Seattle and flew out the night before. When we landed, we had a message from the trucking company saying the truck had been caught in heavy weather and simply wouldn’t make it to the event. I should say that if you have seen any of the advertisements for Champions of Magic or seen the show itself you’ll understand that it is a large scale show. In our set alone there are nine illusions framed with top level production. So to have no truck is an absolute disaster.

No truck?  No props?  Oh no!
Fortunately, the event we had been booked for was a little unusual with a theatre at one end of the room and dining tables tightly packed into the floor space. It allowed for the guests to enjoy a three course meal followed by the evening show. We took a taxi to the local magic shop in Seattle, while the rest of the cast and crew brainstormed what they could do in order to make the show happen. It’s amazing how resourceful five magicians can be when the chips are down. We also gave extra value by performing close up magic around the tables prior to the show, which kicked the whole thing off on the right foot.
One of the things we did was have a crew member dress and [Editor's note: The content that followed contained super secret secrets and has been redacted.  Hey.  I said it was super secret.  Did you think I was just going to leave it here for you in plain text?] Of course a little rehearsal before, the use of a devil’s handkerchief (courtesy of the Seattle Magic Shop) and an audio track that is as well known to the magic community as David Copperfield himself, created one of the best reactions of the night.
Alex McAleer the Mind Reader did an extended performance, along with Kayla Drescher (the specialist close up magician in the show). Young and I were forced to resurrect a card production/manipulation act we used to do, along with a comedy routine we had for silk in Egg. Fernando Velasco (the escapologist in the show) did a variation on Smash and Stab and by the time the show had finished the audience went crazy.
It seems no level of production can compete with confusing a bandana for a banana.


So as to not scare off any aspiring performers, please share with us your favourite touring experience and / or strategies you use to maintain your sanity on tour.
Without sounding like PR spin, we are like a big family off stage. We all get on well and look after each other. We go to the gym together, share apartments together and spend most of our time hanging out. We are fortunate to have an excellent producer, Alex Jarrett, who is laid back, very funny and incredibly hard working. He strikes the perfect balance as a boss and allowing us to have fun. He’s been incredibly selective in which magicians are in the show, not only for their acts but also for their attitudes off stage. Magicians are well known for their ballooned ego’s and ensuring everyone gets on with each other is just as important as the show itself. We joke around all the time and every show has something that makes us laugh.
 

Had your families not been friends (meaning that you wouldn’t have met each other in childhood and become friends), what kind of magic do you think each of you would be doing today?  (Or would you be back to filling jam donuts?)
We often talk about what we would all be doing if we hadn’t have discovered our early passion for magic. There is no doubt about it that Young and I have always loved large scale stage illusions. Although we have been close up magicians for many years, our passion has always been rooted in stage magic. I suspect that passion would have come through regardless of whether we knew each other. Whether that would have translated into us both being stage performers is another matter and probably unlikely. The beauty of a double act is that you both bring different things to the table, pooling the little talents we did have together. Obviously learning magic together was a great catalyst and our friendship is what makes performing our act so much fun. Some double acts are known for not getting along well, but we are very fortunate that’s not the case for us, and our deep rooted friendship is the biggest asset to our act.

What's your connection to Canadian magic?

How can you not be absolutely in love with Doug Henning's vibrancy and positivity? His shows were incredible. We also love Darcy Oake, a great performer and an incredible stage magician. He is one of the very few magicians who is genuinely cool, rather than most illusionists who try, but can’t quite pull it off.

How have your numerous television appearances, including Penn & Teller: Fool Us, The Next Great Magician, and NBC’s Access Hollywood (USA) impacted your career?
Penn and Teller: Fool Us has always been a fantastic show with nothing but good intentions to showcase magic at it’s best. That’s been really helpful in getting our name out there, along with a viral video we created of us photobombing a Live News Report.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
We’ve been in the show Champions of Magic for a number of years and the show is the best it’s ever been. By the time it reaches the St. Lawrence Centre in Toronto we will have been out in North America for nearly eight weeks performing in venues all over the US. The theatre in Toronto has a capacity of about 900 so it’ll feel like an intimate venue for such a large scale show. With all this in mind it’s worth making the effort to come and see the show and the four acts in it, as everything is pointed to it being the best run of shows we have ever done.

Thank you Sam Strange of Young and Strange for making the time to answer our questions!

Catch the Champions of Magic at The Bluma Appel Theatre December 19 to January 6, 2019.  Tickets through Ticketmaster or enter our contest!



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