LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Scott Silven is a mentalist. He's toured the world, delighting audiences with seemingly impossible illusions. Now, confined by the pandemic to his home in Scotland, he's hatched a new interactive online show called "The Journey," and reporter Jeff Lunden tried it out.
JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: You log in. You give permission to the producers to use your video and audio as part of the show. And then you see images of a slender, dark-haired young man walking along the windblown Scottish coast, picking up stones and discovering the ruins of a cottage. The young man is illusionist Scott Silven.
SCOTT SILVEN: I invite 30 people from across the world to travel virtually to my childhood home in Scotland, and we go on a journey together that explores the power of home and place and connection. And we use their thoughts and memories as the guide on that journey.
LUNDEN: And from his house in Glasgow, which has been turned into a studio with projections and elaborate sound design, Silven talks about his own personal journey as a magician, weaving Scottish myth into the narrative. In a preshow email, he asks audience members to bring an object that is meaningful to them. And, using a custom web interface, he can interact with them, pulling people on-screen to participate in gasp-inducing tricks.
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SILVEN: If you have an object with you today, take it out for me now. Hold it up close to your camera so I can see it. And let's have a look at some of these objects. I have a beautiful little doll that Diana's holding onto. We have...
LUNDEN: Of course, Silven won't explain how he can, say, take the letters GG, which I wrote down in my apartment in Brooklyn, onto a piece of paper inside a locked box in Scotland. But he does say that part of his craft is to create an environment where people are willing to be open. He's surprised by how well it works online.
SILVEN: To create mentalism out of an experience while people sit in their own home is something I thought I'd never be able to experience before.
ROB BAILIS: Audiences are reacting to it, especially those who are seeing him for the first time, with absolute amazement.
LUNDEN: Rob Bailis is artistic and executive director of The Broad Stage in Santa Monica, Calif., one of the co-presenters of "The Journey."
BAILIS: It's just a wonder - all the ways that he's just kept this from being a Zoom call.
LUNDEN: Scott Silven says most effects involve at least five or 10 audience members.
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SILVEN: In a moment, Sophie, you are going to join me on a journey into space, and you are going to choose one person and one object, just like I chose you a few moments ago. Now, for this to work, it's really important you trust your instincts.
LUNDEN: The show is going on a virtual tour, where it's available on each theater's website for a limited time. The first stop was at The Momentary, a new art and performance space in Bentonville, Ark., which had just opened when the pandemic hit. Lieven Bertels is its director.
LIEVEN BERTELS: I think it's very important for us to find these new ways of engaging with an audience. And we cannot just sit here and wait until the pandemic is over, even more so for a young institution like ours that only existed in the real world for three weeks.
LUNDEN: For Scott Silven, who's performing the show in the middle of the night given the different time zones of the theaters, that momentary sense of community is what it's all about.
SILVEN: I realize just how lucky I am to connect with people across the world and share something positive from this moment in time and to take a moment to step back and reflect and realize that, even in fragmented times, we can still find new forms of connection.
LUNDEN: "The Journey" certainly connected with me.
For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.
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