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This Jaw-Dropping Production Requires a Special Skill Set

The Magic Play is a theatrical hybrid that pairs a stunning magic show with a tender story of love and loss. To tackle the leading role, the star of the show has to have acting chops as well as a mastery of all things magic.

Presented by Portland Center Stage February 21, 2018

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Brett Schneider is a real-life professional magician who creates all of the awe-inspiring magic in The Magic Play. He first performed the role in Chicago for the world premiere production at Goodman Theatre. During the Chicago run, he shared a little about his background and the unique experience of bringing magic and theater together for The Magic Play.

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Brett Schneider as The Magician in The Magic Play

When did you first become interested in magic?

I received a magic kit as a gift as a child, but was too young to understand it, so it sat on a shelf until I was probably 11 or 12 years old. Once I was able to teach myself, I pulled it down and was hooked. A lot of kids go through a magic phase but then lose interest. I stuck with it because, in addition to my magic kit, I found a local magic shop in San Francisco called Misdirections that just blew my mind and opened up a whole new world of possibilities.

Is that when you decided to incorporate elements of traditional theater into your magic shows?

I didn’t really think of combining the two until I was at Northwestern University. I had a writing partner who was into performance art and we started picking apart magic as a craft and why it’s valuable and what we found interesting about it. In my mind, magic is a subcategory of theater. I don’t see them as separate anymore. Theater is an umbrella term that covers so many different things. If you’re an illusionist or a mind reader, you’re a theater artist. Your magic and craft is simply the medium you choose.

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Brett Schneider (The Magician) performs a card trick for Sean Parris (The Diver) in The Magic Play. During the show, the video feed of The Magician’s table is an unaltered live feed.

Due to the audience participation in The Magic Play, each performance is different. Do you enjoy that as a performer?

It’s incredible. I can’t say enough about how much of a gift this project has been for me over the last few years. It’s pushed me in so many ways as a magician, an actor, an illusion designer, a storyteller and has really helped me hone my craft. Andrew Hinderaker wrote this piece in such a manner that the performances literally can’t happen the same way twice and the show will always be different depending on the audience that night.

Yet for all the eye-popping magic, audiences will hopefully be moved by the play’s emotional love story.

This piece exists in the theater because it is a love story, not a magic show. It’s a story about relationships, and magic just happens to be used as a storytelling device because the central character is a magician. At first it feels like a magic show, but soon his performance starts to break down due to the personal circumstances in his life. The show then becomes an exploration of his troubles with his former lover and family and of his own psychology.

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Brett Schneider as The Magician in The Magic Play; scenic design by Lizzie Bracken

Audience members may be inspired to learn some magic after seeing The Magic Play. Do you believe magicians should ever reveal the secrets behind their tricks?

It’s a case by case situation. I have no qualms about sharing secrets with those who are ready to learn because that’s how I learned. For those who are willing to work hard, the answers are there. There’s a saying: “The door to magic may be closed, but it isn’t locked.”

Interview by Michael Mellini, Goodman Theatre’s OnStage Editor

The Magic Play Performance Information

When:                     March 3 – April 1, 2018

Where:                   On the U.S. Bank Main Stage at The Armory.

     128 NW Eleventh Ave., Portland, Ore., 97209

More Info:            www.pcs.org/magic

To Purchase:       Tickets start at $25 for all performances.

Online:                   www.pcs.org

By Phone:              503.445.3700, 12–6 p.m.

In Person:             The Armory box office is at 128 NW Eleventh Avenue

                                    12 p.m. to 8 p.m. on performance days

                                    12 p.m. to 6 p.m. on non-performance days

Groups:                  Discounts available for groups of 10+ by calling 503.445.3794.