By: Mariah Thomas
“Engaging the audience is the number one, most critical thing I have to do immediately,” said magician Brian Miller. “Once they like me, they’ll enjoy anything I do.”
With a little over 20 students in attendance, Miller took his place in the front of the Red Room in early September. His brown hair was slicked back into a loose ponytail; his purple blouse tucked neatly into his jeans, secured by a brown leather belt to compliment his plain brown toe shoes.
His first act: A single white rope. His hands lifted to show the audience (a majority of them freshman) that the rope was singular before encasing the rope in his hands. When pulled apart, the rope turned into two. When repeating the cycle, the rope became three. The crowd murmured their words of awe.
Deemed an underappreciated technique, Miller believes that “magic is the only art form that produces wonder on demand.” Though he currently notices the growing recognition magicians are gaining in the arts, historically, their work has been overlooked by our society.
The Society of American Magicians has been campaigning for Congress to recognize magic as an art form since the 1960s. It wasn’t until 2015-2016, that Congress introduced the H.Res.642 bill that would recognize magic — supernatural forces and magic tricks — as a “rare and valuable art form and national treasure.”
Introduced by Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, the resolution contains 33 arguments on magic’s relevance, including that it “is an art form with the unique power and potential to impact the lives of all people," and “fulfills some of the highest ideals and aspirations of our country.”
“In a culture where we have such trust issues with the way information is gathered, magic is an important reminder that not only can you be fooled, but you can be fooled easily,” said Miller. “If you can be fooled with the silly nonsense in a magic show, imagine what the corporations are doing— people that are trying to fool you for a reason, not just for entertainment.”
The bill also notes that the work of magicians directly influenced technological advances. According to Kieron Kirkland, a professional magician and technologist, magic and technology have a “rich history.”
“The whole point behind doing a magic trick is you're trying to shape and control people's behavior,” Kirkland told the Australian website RN. “And, at the heart of technology, that's what it's about as well.”
Alejandro Torres, a Purchase graduate of 2016 and previous arts management major, became interested in magic at a young age. At 15, he dived into the profession. When asked about the impact magic has on his life, Torres described it as “a feeling like nothing else in the world.”
Compared to the “magic” that comes with technology and the never-ending use of smart-phones, Torres believes modern technology lacks “the human element.”
Torres quotes science fiction writer and futurist, Arthur C. Clarke, who declared: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
“As people we’re always craving connection,” said Torres. “What I try to do with people in my shows is give them the experience of connecting with somebody that’s like them and other people.”
Torres’ shows focus on theatrics. In 2016, he wrote, produced and starred in his Purchase show, “Extraordinary.” The hour-long spectacle combined his love of theatre and magic. Torres describes it as, “immersive theatre meets a magic show,” where he created a narrative and an interactive experience for his audience.
“I don’t like when magic is overly commoditized,” said Torres. “In theory, the perfect magic show is one that you see only once in life, but you remember it as one of the best nights of your life.”
Miller’s show was part of Purchase’s Welcome Week, a week full of social activities to engage new students and situate them within the community. Compared to other shows done in the past — hypnosis, mentalists and game shows — having a magician was something new brought to campus.
“I thought students would enjoy having a magician,” said Anastasia Knapp, the coordinator of student involvement. “It’s something they could do on a Friday night — so if they didn’t want to go to the Stood, they could come here.”
Before closing his show, Miller performed his last trick: pulling freshman student Alec Martin’s card out of a shuffled deck. Martin wrote his name on one of the cards and watched as another student shuffled the pack. He was amazed when Miller picked his card from the top of the deck. Not once —but twice.
“I didn’t expect this event to be as good as it was,” said Martin. “I considered all of the other events to be moderate, but this was something I enjoyed.”
For those interested in exploring the world of magic, Torres can be booked for stage shows and strolling magic — where he walks around entertaining groups close-up. Miller can be booked for private events, organizations, colleges, and speaking engagements.