Avengers of magic, assemble

The Clairvoyants Thommy Ten and Amelie van Tass (both far left) and Kim Hyun Joon "The Manipulator" (left).
The Clairvoyants Thommy Ten and Amelie van Tass (above) and Kim Hyun Joon "The Manipulator". PHOTOS: COURTESY OF THE CLAIRVOYANTS AND KIM HYUN JOON
The Clairvoyants Thommy Ten and Amelie van Tass and Kim Hyun Joon "The Manipulator" (above).
The Clairvoyants Thommy Ten and Amelie van Tass and Kim Hyun Joon "The Manipulator" (above).

Producers Tim Lawson and Simon Painter had little knowledge of magic when they conceptualised The Illusionists in 2011.

Rather than let that be their weakness, the duo, having worked together on circus shows such as international production Le Grand Cirque, capitalised on their show production background and focused on showmanship instead.

Thus began the process of assembling what Mr Lawson dubs "the Avengers of magic", referring to the assemblage of Marvel Comics superheroes such as Iron Man, Thor and Captain America.

The Australian, 46, says: "We wanted to get the best artists in the field and showcase the very best of their repertoire."

The Illusionists comprise different teams of magicians which are sent to tour and perform in various parts of the world. In one year, up to three teams could be on tour.

  • BOOK IT / THE ILLUSIONISTS

  • WHERE: Sands Theatre, MasterCard Theatres at Marina Bay Sands, 10 Bayfront Avenue

    WHEN: Tomorrow to Sunday, 7.30pm (Wednesday to Friday), 2pm (Saturday), 1 and 6pm (Sunday)

    ADMISSION: $55 to $165 from Sistic (go to www.sistic.com.sg or call 6348-5555); or the MBS Box Offices (call 6688-8826 or buy in person )

The Singapore leg started last week.

Indeed, the bright lights, accompanying electronic music and flashy dancers would lead one to think of The Illusionists as a stage production more than a conventional magic show.

"Each of the performers has his own show," says Mr Painter, 37, on how they stylise each magician's "character" - from his superhero- style name to his outfits.

He adds: "What we're doing here is collaborating to caricature each magician's greatest 10 minutes."

The standard for selection of performers is set high. On how he handpicks the cast, the Briton says: "Not only do they have to be good at what they do, but they also have to have good showmanship."

A pair of such artists are Austrian couple Thommy Ten and Amelie van Tass, both 29, also known as The Clairvoyants.

During their act, Ten looks for volunteers among the audience, typically women with handbags, while van Tass is blindfolded onstage.

When he touches an object handed to him by a volunteer, van Tass will describe it - all the way down to details such as the serial number on a dollar bill or the expiry date of a box of medicine - through what they claim to be intuition.

"With The Clairvoyants, we really don't know how it works," says Mr Painter. "There was once we were in a restaurant, they weren't in their outfits, weren't prepared and when I asked them to do it, they still pulled the act off."

Audience engagement also keeps things fresh at every performance.

Van Tass says: "Australian audiences are a little more sceptical. The audience in Singapore concentrates, you can see them watching with wide eyes, open mouths. It's really encouraging when we see them enjoy it."

The producers also pay special attention to group dynamics when assembling teams for different tours.

They have a board with 300 post-its representing their pool of magicians, whom they team up based on where they are touring.

Language is important too, says Mr Painter. "When we have a show in Mexico, we have to find cast members who speak Spanish and have easily translatable acts."

He adds: "The team in Singapore is balanced because we've got big illusions by Sam Powers 'The Enigma', funny stuff by Charlie Frye 'The Eccentric' and brilliant audience participation by Luis de Matos 'The Master Magician'."

In the same way the Avengers clashed when they first met, the producers had expected some tension between acts within The Illusionists.

But there was none.

The youngest in the team performing here, Kim Hyun Joon "The Manipulator", 25, says: "We get together on our days off and hang out, have drinks. There's really no tension."

Mr Painter recalls how if someone wanted to do a new trick, they would meet the other performers to talk it through.

He says: "They'll learn from the experience of the other illusionists. Someone will say, 'I did that 10 years ago, it didn't work. Let's try it another way.' It's a real collaborative effort."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 12, 2016, with the headline 'Avengers of magic, assemble'. Print Edition | Subscribe