Illusionist Cosentino a shy child who underwent magical transformation

Australian illusionist Paul Cosentino performs two tricks with the help of Straits Times reporter Benson Ang.
Australian magician Cosentino was set on the path to success after he stumbled on a book about magic in a library.
Australian magician Cosentino was set on the path to success after he stumbled on a book about magic in a library.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Pursuing his love for magic has changed the life of Cosentino, who had learning difficulties as a child

8Q

Dressed in black from head to toe, with lip piercings and dreadlocks, Cosentino is shrouded in an air of danger and mystery.

There is an edgy "rock" vibe to the 34-year-old escapologist and magician, whose full name is Paul Cosentino. His illusions are so convincing, they are a little scary because the audience is unsure of what he is capable of.

The Australian will perform here next week and his high-energy shows are known for their death- defying escapes and electrifying Michael Jackson-style dance moves.

As a child, Cosentino was a far cry from the confident cool cat he is today. Back then, he was shy, awkward and had learning difficulties, he says. It was only after he stumbled on an illustrated magic book in a library that he was set on the path leading to his current success.

After pursuing magic as a hobby, his big break came in 2011 when he became the runner-up on reality television talent show Australia's Got Talent. Since then, he has been performing and touring internationally.

His father is a structural engineer and his mother, a school principal.

  • BOOK IT / COSENTINO: ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE

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

    WHEN: Aug 17 to 27; 8pm (Thursday and Fridays), 2 and 8pm (Saturdays), 1 and 6.30pm (Sundays)

    ADMISSION: $45 to $145 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

He has two brothers: John, 41, a structural engineer, helps with sets and props; while Adam, 36, is his tour and stage manager. His girlfriend Priscilla Stavrou, 28, is a professional dancer and singer.

Last year, Cosentino released his autobiography titled Anything Is Possible.

1 Why did you choose to be known as Cosentino instead of your full name Paul Cosentino?

Because Paul is not very dramatic. Cosentino is my surname and I dropped my first name. Actually, a newspaper called me Cosentino first and my friends at school would call me "Cos". I thought this was interesting and that is how it came about.

2 Seven years ago, you were largely unknown. How has fame and success changed you?

What really changed was the Australian people's perception of my craft. I haven't changed that much. If anything, it is that I now get to travel and present my style, my branch of magic, to the world. But personally, I'm still the same little boy, playing with magic tricks.

3 The title of your show and book - Anything Is Possible - sounds like the title of a Disney movie. Can you elaborate on this?

I take that as a compliment. Walt Disney is one of my heroes. He took cartooning to a whole new level and a wider audience.

As a magician, nothing is impossible. And the title, especially for my book, is a metaphor. It is about a kid who was struggling, who couldn't read or write, who now writes a book. The message is: You can do anything and you can achieve the impossible if you are dedicated and set your mind to it.

4 What kind of commitment does magic demand?

It is a very lonely discipline. As a kid, I was in my bedroom practising card tricks and illusions for hours and hours.

And to put a 90-minute show together, it takes a huge amount of rehearsal and commitment. We sometimes work six days a week, literally 12-hour days, rehearsing. I am jumping in and out of a water tank, hanging upside-down from a burning rope.

It is all about that split-second timing. If anything is thrown off, the magic doesn't work.

5 What role do you think magic plays in people's lives?

I think it is to let people believe in the impossible, even if just for a moment. It allows them to explore a little with their minds, to question things.

And magic allows people to escape their everyday life, to let their worries go for 90 minutes and just enjoy the show. Like when you watch a film, you know the dinosaurs and the action is not real, but you suspend your disbelief and enjoy it.

6 YouTube seems to have been a double-edged sword for magicians - helping them learn magic, but also allowing amateurs to expose their secrets. What do you think about this?

It's true. I learnt magic from books, dissecting each trick and working out how it was executed. It was very challenging, but it meant I had to be dedicated to the craft and project my personality into the trick.

With YouTube, learning tricks is easier because you watch it on video, but you don't get to develop your way of performing the trick. And for amateurs who expose magic, I think it is from a lack of understanding of what the essence of magic is.

Magicians don't keep the secrets for selfish purposes. We do so because we want to keep that sense of wonder, that innocence you had when you were a child. The way you viewed Christmas when you were a kid. That is what makes magic beautiful. A real magician is okay with the trick being wrapped in mystery.

7 Magic is thrilling and often comes with a sense of danger. Are you a thrill- seeker?

Yes. For me, I keep pushing my threshold. For example, I have practised holding my breath for seven minutes underwater. I keep going deeper into the water and holding my breath for longer. I want to get better. But I won't call it a death wish.

8 How would you like to be remembered?

From an Australian perspective, a pioneer in the industry, someone who revolutionised magic in Australia. On an international level, someone who has brought a unique flavour and flair to magic and who modernised it.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 07, 2017, with the headline 'Nothing is impossible with magic'. Print Edition | Subscribe