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Undated handout of Scott Silven to promote his new show The Journey.

Handout

One form of live performance that is not only surviving but thriving amid the pandemic is magic.

Up-close magicians, in particular, have found it relatively easy to adapt and even embellish routines for video-conferencing platforms – and make a decent living from it. Just Google “Zoom room magic” and you’ll see that a brand-new genre has emerged.

Scott Silven, the Scottish illusionist and mentalist, is one pivoting prestidigitator with a hit on his hand.

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Silven’s The Journey starts a run “in” Toronto today (until Feb. 21, then again March 16-28), presented by the city agency TO Live.

Last month he performed it “at” the Chicago Shakespeare Theater – and I “flew” down through my laptop to join one of the intimate online performances, which are limited to 30 audience members at a time.

Silven, who reminds me a bit of English actor Ben Whishaw, performs the show (ostensibly) from his childhood home in Scotland, with the live, interactive portion preceded by moody prerecorded shots of him roaming a stone-strewn seaside.

He weaves autobiography together with a New Age parable in the framing monologues for this show about “home, place and the power of connection in these fragmented times.” But really it is all about the tricks, well-honed illusions involving elements of mind reading and telepathy.

Silven selects members of the virtual audience to talk about a beloved object, draw a picture and arrange cards in a specific order. Then, moments later, he highlights something somewhere on his Scottish set that seemingly demonstrates he knew in advance what was going to be said or shown on screen by his spectators.

The Journey’s digital presentation (directed by Allie Winton Butler, designed by Jeff Sugg) is very polished and uses Zoom-like technology in a unique way. Whenever Silven gets an audience member involved, he summons their floating head onto the wall next to him.

Mentalists are renowned for being able to seemingly read people’s thoughts – but, in this show, it almost seems as if the audience actually lives inside Silven’s thoughts.

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His flat, fast-paced delivery of his speeches and routines is no doubt designed to lull you into a kind of hypnotic state. But on a screen I found that his mesmerism patter has a perhaps unintended Brechtian alienation effect too. And so, watching from home, my eyes wandered to explore the four corners of the frame he inhabits, and half my mental energy was spent trying to figure out exactly how his tricks work.

I think I figured out, mostly, how sleight of hand combined with unseen assistants helped him pull his magic off, but I nevertheless had a very enjoyable time following him on The Journey.

The last time Silven was in Toronto was at the Luminato Festival in 2018. Brad Wheeler interviewed him ahead of an intimate, up-close magic show at Casa Loma, where the ticket price was $225 (including a three-course dinner). The Journey is much more affordable: $45, and you can watch from anywhere in Canada.

Oh boy, I’ve got a lot of digital theatre to catch up with this month.

The first seven plays in 21 Black Futures are now available to watch for free (with ads) on CBC Gem.

This major project from Toronto’s Obsidian Theatre, a celebration of the company’s 21st anniversary, involved commissioning Black playwrights from coast to coast to coast to write monodramas in response to the question “What is the future of Blackness?”

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Amanda Parris, Cheryl Fogo, Kaie Kellough, Shauntay Grant, Peace Akintade, Donna-Michelle St. Bernard and Lawrence Hill are the playwrights behind the first batch of sci-fi solo shows. Another set of seven will be released this Friday, and another seven next Friday.

Tara Beagan, the playwright and latest winner of the Siminovitch Prize for Theatre, has toured “a solo-warrior-woman story of righteous vengeance” called Deer Woman for the past number of years to places such as Edinburgh with her company, Article 11.

Starring Cherish Violet Blood and directed by Andy Moro, the show concerns the ex-military daughter of a hunter named Lila who “finds the perfect opportunity to avenge her baby sister’s murder while exercising the skills taught by the Canadian government.”

This fall, a made-for-streaming video version was shot and broadcast by Calgary’s Downstage theatre company, and the National Arts Centre’s Indigenous Theatre is making it available to watch for free until Feb. 21.

On Valentine’s Day, the Sudden Spark Collective released a film called February: A Love Story, starring the two charismatic young stage actors Emilio Vieira (Stratford Festival’s Tartuffe) and Ellen Denny (Musical Stage Company’s Life After) as “mismatched millennials” trying to date during the pandemic.

Directed by Mairi Babb, this rom-com was originally supposed to take the form of an in-person, outdoor performance, but Toronto’s and Ontario’s lockdown restrictions are some of the tightest in the country, so the project had to pivot online. It’s available to stream – pay-what-you-can – until March 7.

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