We managed to spend some time during rehearsals with Illusion Consultant Darren Lang to ask him those questions you've always wanted to know about magic. Don't worry, there's no spoilers here!
What is an Illusion Consultant?
In the simplest terms, it's the job of an illusion consultant to help the director realise the impossible. What that impossibility is varies from show to show; it could be as subtle as making an object move by its own accord or as grand as making someone vanish in the middle of the stage!
An illusion consultant falls under the 'design' bracket of a creative team, but also works alongside the director and choreographer. It is my job to make the illusions fit seamlessly into the set and action without standing out as being an obvious 'trick', and flowing within the action so as to not draw attention to them.
What can you tell us about the illusions in And Then The Dark?
Very little! Just like in a film, if you were to know what to look out for then there would be no element of surprise. AND THEN THE DARK is a brilliant thriller set in the living room of an old Georgian house where previously a great tragedy has occured, so the setting is already perfect for suspense. With great foresight Richard Foxton, the designer, had designed the set with illusion in mind and so we are able to put things into the space that don't stand out as being a 'trick'. As with any thriller you can expect a number of surprises. As for what they are, you'll just have to wait and see!
How does one become an illusionist?
Anyone with a keen interest in magic and the right personality can make the leap into performing illusions, but in terms of designing illusions and helping stage them I believe it is important to have a background in theatre, a knowledge of the process actors go though, and an eye for detail as well as a wealth of knowledge of magic techniques & it's history.
One thing that sets an illusion consultant apart from an illusionist is an understand of how a show is out together in the theatre. Integrating illusion into a play or musical is very different to staging your own illusion show where the only person responsible for the content is you. You have to take into account the performers needs as well as any restrictions within the set and the overall vision of the director. In an illusion show, the illusions are what they are. In a play or musical, every illusion has to be individually tailored to that show.
Tell us about some of the other interesting ‘illusion' projects you have worked on?
Every project is interesting in it's own way and each poses it's own challenges.
One of the most challenging but rewarding show's I have worked on was Doctor Faustus at the Royal Exchange. The play itself is overflowing with illusion and so on that show I went back to the start, dipping in to one of the earliest books on magic 'the Discoverie of Witchcraft', written in 1584. The ideas in the book would certainly have been used in Marlowes day when staging Faustus.
In this version, the director Toby Frow wanted each illusion to look and feel completely real to the audience and at the final count, there were 17 moments of illusion in the show! With the Royal Exchange being in the round this posed lots of complex problems when tackling certain illusions, such as the moment that Faustus has one of his legs ripped off, or the gruesome moment where he is beheaded only to grow a new head moments later!
Lots of sleepless nights and close collaboration with the designer meant we were able to realise these moments only a few feet away from the audience! Every night, the gasps at the beheading made all the sleep deprivation worth it!
In early 2012 I was cast in a footlocker commercial where I would have to create & perform an illusion using a shoe box. Creating magic for television is vastly different to live magic. On camera, you can direct the action to allow an audience to only see what you want them to see whereas in a theatre, the audience are free to look where ever and at whatever they want. This doesn't mean that it becomes easier to create magic for tv at all, in fact with the ability to rewind it, pause it, watch it on YouTube and study it in detail, suddenly what you are trying so hard to conceal can be dissected in a way that live theatre can't be.
What's the difference between magic and illusion?
This is a very good question which has numerous answers.
Firstly, in society we are used to the difference being the scale of the effect. Plucking a coin from behind someone's ear is perceived as being a magic trick and turning an assistant into a tiger, an illusion. Essentially both things have the same intentions: to deceive the mind and to entertain. Magic tricks and illusions in this sense are the same thing, just with a different sized audience...and budget!
However, the way I see it, there is a much larger difference. Illusions give a deceptive impression of a real event. Deceiving someone based on a pre-conceived idea of their perception of reality. We know the girl hasn't REALLY turned into a tiger but it is the illusionists job to present it in such a way that we ACCEPT it as being real.
The thing that sets an illusion like the one detailed above apart from magic, is emotion. What we get is a sense of awe but we are disconnected with it. The over sized props and use of exotic animals means that we cannot associate with them.
Magic is an emotion that we feel when we are shown something that we can relate with. A coin is an everyday object and so having it materialise in an empty hand from behind your ear makes it personal. We know there was no coin there but because of the way we are personally engaged with it, we BELIEVE it to be real.
Magic, or Magik, has long been associated with witches and the belief that what they were doing was real. If a Judge in Salem hadn't believed it was real and thought he was being deceived then there would have been no witch trials.
Both illusion and magic are there to deceive the mind, but some are used for the purposes of entertainment, and some are used to convince us that another power is in play.
In AND THEN THE DARK, the illusions are ultimately designed to entertain but the audience will be able to emotionally relate to everything that occurs; maybe another power is in play??! Believe me, these are designed to make you feel something!!
Do you play tricks on your friends?
Haha! I used to try and play tricks on my brother when we were younger but they always backfired due to him being a few years older! One April Fools day I poured salt in his squash. He didn't trust me and made me drink it first to prove I hadn't tampered with it. I was very ill!
During college and university I dabbled with various elements of illusion. One of which being hypnosis and another being spoon bending. To this day I have only ever hypnotised one person. I have been hypnotised many times and although while under hypnosis you cannot be made to step off of your moral compass, I didn't like being the person in charge. As for the spoon bending; the better I got at it, the more it angered my housemates. I still have a few twisted forks as a reminder not to do it again!
Where is illusion used to most effect - is it used in movie making?
Illusion is becoming more fashionable in film. Much like in theatre there's is an increasing desire to use illusion to realise some of the trickier elements of a show rather than favouring alternative theatrical techniques. For a while magic fell out of fashion but in the last decade or so it has started making a come back and people seem more excited to see live magic than they have in a long time.
On screen there has been a rise in the number of films that have magic as a core theme. Of course the natural assumption for an audience to make is that what they are seeing involves camera trickery and CGI. Whilst, certain elements can be heightened using computer editing, for the most part illusion consultants are now being brought in to help teach actors sleight of hand and devise ways of allowing the director to film live with little need for any post-production work.
As for where illusion is used to most effect; I believe there is nothing quite like witnessing the impossible live in front of you. Using an illusion consultant for a film or television show allows the audience to, almost, see magic in the same way as if they were actually seeing it live.
What's next for you?
At the moment I am working on two new plays that unfortunately I can't go into too much detail about yet. One of the plays is an adaptation of an old ghost story and the other deals with time travel, an area I haven't dabbled in before(!). I live in hope there are hover boards!
When I'm not in a theatre or designing props for a show I am performing magic.
Details of what I am up to can be found on my website www.darrenlang.co.uk