He bills himself as a "practitioner of the art of astonishment" and currently hosts the one-man theatrical show Séance at Theatre Passe Muraille, but the trick-player Nicholas Wallace is under no illusion that ghosts actually exist. We spoke to the spirit-summoning skeptic about supernatural scares small, large and definitely medium.
I went to a preview performance of Séance, and I must say I left the theatre a little confused. Was I supposed to be scared? Amused?
It's a very tricky balance. You want people to take it sort of seriously in the moment, but you don't want them to think you're trying to convince people that this is a real thing. I like to think of it as a roller coaster. I hope people jump or are creeped out, but I want them to have a good time.
So, the sensation of danger, without the risk?
Yes, exactly. You're safe.
Most of the people at the show I attended were women, and the medium selected from the audience was a woman too. Why are they more interested in spirits than men?
It's a very good question. I don't have an answer for you, though. You're right, if I billed myself as a psychic, there would definitely be a lot more women than men. I don't know why, though. Huh.
Maybe empathy, or open-mindedness has something to do with it. What about you? You're a skeptic, right?
I would never say that there's nothing to it. But I would have to be convinced. I've seen what's possible to do not only with trickery, but also with fooling yourself.
To be hypnotized, you have to want to be put under the spell. Is it possible that, to truly witness something supernatural, you have to be open to it?
I think that's true to a certain degree. But I would also say the opposite. That people who are more inclined to believe would look for and find reasons to believe, even if there isn't really anything there.
It's all theatre, but you actually do hold a seance during your show, with the lights out and audience members in a circle holding hands. Has anything unexplained ever happened, off script?
There was one moment. It was early on, during our rehearsals at the Studio Theatre of Theatre Aquarius in Hamilton. Late one night the show's director, Luke Brown, was up in the booth trying to turn some lights on. All of a sudden they all started turning off, one by one. He said he hadn't touched a thing, but we thought he was joking.
Maybe the lights all turned off because the hydro bill wasn't paid up. Did you find out why it happened?
No. We were told later that it could only have been done manually, and that it had never happened before. Luke, the director, is a believer. And he was really scared.
Séance continues to Oct. 11, various times. $35. Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson Ave., 416-504-7529 or artsboxoffice.ca.