After 17 years building her career and just squeaking by, Canadian magician Carisa Hendrix was set to finally pull a financial payoff out of her hat.
Lucy Darling, Hendrix’s stylish, witty and slightly oblivious alter-ego inspired by old Hollywood figures such as Mae West and Zsa Zsa Gabor, had major momentum behind her after making a high-profile appearance on the television show Penn & Teller: Fool Us and being named stage magician of the year by the Academy of Magical Arts in 2019.
By the start of 2020, Hendrix had given up her rented house in Calgary and hit the road full time, Lucy Darling booked up 11 months in advance with solo shows and as part of a not-yet-announced North American tour in which she would perform alongside some of the biggest names in magic.
It doesn’t take a mentalist to guess what happened next.
When the pandemic first started to upend live, in-person performance in North America in March, Hendrix was spending a few days in Las Vegas coaching Miranda Allen, an Edmonton-based escape artist and actor who had her own impending appearance on Penn & Teller: Fool Us.
At first, with just a few immediately looming shows cancelled, she thought she might just ride things out in Sin City for a couple weeks with a showbiz pal named Bizarro who lives in an abandoned dinosaur-themed theme park. “I was in denial,” she says now.
As reality sunk in, and Canada started to close its borders, Hendrix received an invitation from Allen to return home with her and bunker down in her spare room in Edmonton for a couple of months.
Flash-forward half a year, Hendrix is still bubbling with Allen and her partner, the actor and contemporary dancer, Richard Lee Hsi – and the three are starring together in a live interactive Zoom magic and variety show called An Exceptional Night In with Lucy Darling.
In its first week of performances, the ticketed show has attracted an impressive international online audience that has included the comedian Gilbert Gottfried and the novelist Neil Gaiman, who raved about it on Instagram this past weekend.
An Exceptional Night In with Lucy Darling is being presented for the next two weekends by Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre – which also makes an appearance in a few short pre-filmed segments as Lucy Darling’s “autumnal home.”
Though she lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in income from stage shows this year, Hendrix seems pretty upbeat about her new mode of performing – which, she says, has already paid back an investment in $6,000 of lighting and audiovisual equipment. She thinks interactive livestreams will be a part of the future of magic now even after the pandemic.
“Magicians have always been fairly technologically savvy because it’s essential to our work,” says Hendrix, who invents many of her own tricks, and has trained in comedy and theatre with Loose Moose and One Yellow Rabbit in Calgary. “It was so much easier for the magic community to pivot.”
I tuned into An Exceptional Night In on Friday night. Lucy Darling’s scripted banter with her butlers (Allen and Hsi) left me a little cold at first; I’m kind of allergic to phoney old-timey dialogue.
But I warmed up to her persona during her very funny improvised interactions with and light roasting of the Zoom audience.
While Lucy Darling has a quick wit, her hands are even quicker: her legerdemain surprised and startled me time and time again. Table magic doesn’t have quite the same impact over livestream that it does in person (I kept wondering what was happening outside the visual frame), but a card trick she performed at the end wowed me and is still enjoyably tying my brain up in knots.
On the whole, An Exceptional Night In was one of the most polished and professional Zoom performances that I’ve tuned into to date – which is not a huge surprise, given that it is directed by Jim Millan, the former Crow’s Theatre artistic director who works with comedy and magic supergroups The Kids in the Hall and The Illusionists.
Want to brush up on the original Civil Rights Movement in the United States? A timely revival of The Meeting, a 1987 American play by Jeff Stetson that imagines an encounter between Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcom X, is on stage in Studio 203 in the Tett Centre for Creativity and Learning in Kingston until Oct. 18.
Cassel Miles plays MLK and Paul Smith plays Malcolm X in this Theatre Kingston production directed by Rosemary Doyle – which is being performed in front of limited audiences of 38 under physical distancing protocols that have been vetted by the local public health department.
Meanwhile, in Victoria, James Baldwin is set to take the stage later this month.
Blue Bridge Rep has announced a new fall season that includes something they’re calling The Great Debate Series – live recreations of significant debates from this and the last century. First up, on Oct. 22, is Baldwin’s famous faceoff with William F. Buckley in 1965 on the resolution “The American dream has been achieved at the expense of the American negro.” There are options to watch in person and online.
Blue Bridge’s full lineup of “COVID-safe events” between now and the end of the year – including a one-man Christmas Carol starring the Shaw Festival’s Sanjay Talwar – is now up on their website.
A lesser-known figure in Black North American history is Maurice Ruddick, an African Canadian who saved the lives of fellow workers after a mining disaster in Springhill, N.S. in 1958.
Beneath Springhill: The Maurice Ruddick Story is Dora-winning performer Beau Dixon’s 2015 one-man chamber musical that tells that true tale – and there are a couple of opportunities to see Dixon perform it online or in person this month.
Neptune Theatre, Atlantic Canada’s largest theatre company, is offering it up through its newly launched on-demand digital platform Neptune At Home from Oct. 13 to 20. And the Burlington Performing Arts Centre in Burlington, Ont., is presenting Beneath Springhill live to in-person physically distanced audiences on Oct. 17 and 18.
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