I recently went to the show “In & Of Itself” performed and written by award-winning magician and performing artist Derek Delgaudio, and directed by Frank Oz. The show was highly acclaimed by numbers of reviewers including Time Out, which rated it four stars. The show was a hybrid of an illusion and a performing art, maybe a little more toward a performing art. I was impressed by the effective uses of foreshadowing and unpredictable interaction with the audience; Although the show was slow throughout, the audience was completely engaged at the end. These methods for managing expectations can be applied to the general experience of design, and I wanted to take some of my findings in notes.
SPOILER ALERT: If you are interested in the show and have not watched yet, PLEASE DO NOT READ THE REST.
As the audience entered the theater, they encountered a wall with hundreds of cards, which were each stating “I AM” followed by either an adjective or a profession. Each member was guided to pick one that describes them the most. Facing hundreds of cards on the huge wall, the room was filled with commotion with uncertainties. Especially, because it was the last moment when they could take photos, many audience members were in a rush skimming through cards, making decisions, and taking photos.
After all the audience took their seats, the show began with Derek’s memorable story-telling about “Roulettista”, who played Russian Roulette with an inescapable twist. In the story, “Roulettista” added a bullet every time he won the game, and played again. By the time he added a total of 6 bullets and the gun was fully-loaded, an earthquake happened as he pointed the gun to his head, and he managed to escape death miraculously.
The Solo Show on the Stage Slowly Evolves to Take Place Among The Audience
The show was composed with 6 main tricks and/or stories; Each story correlated to 6 objects displayed in the back-wall of the stage. The pace might have been a bit slow and tantalizing comparing to generic magic shows, but the show kept the audience engaged by gradually involving them as parts of it. For example, Derek asked for a volunteer who could promise to come back to the show next day. The volunteer was told that one would be asked to leave before the ending of the show with a book that was just handed to them. Their mission is to write their own version of the ending before tomorrow’s show. The book was very thick and already filled with tons of endings written by other volunteers from past shows. Derek then looked around the audience seats, asking for the volunteer from yesterday to stand up and share her version of the ending. The boundary between the stage and the audience started to break with these dialogues.
The “I AM” cards were also used as tools to interact with the audience. Throughout the show, Derek used words on the “I AM” cards to call out the specific audience members. They were either asked questions or requested to carry dialogue to participate in the show. Unlike having the audience asked to participate voluntarily, the cards were used wisely to keep the tense atmosphere among everyone; They didn’t know whether they would be called or not and when that might be.
At one time, one man was called to come to the stage in the same manner. A letter was handed from Derek, who claimed that the letter was prepared by the man’s friend. He read and reacted as if it came out of nowhere. Other members might have thought that the ones who participated were prepared by the show, otherwise they were too good to be true. However, they might have started to get confused since so many participants had interacted by then, and it was hard to justify that the show prepared all of them.
At some point, the member who volunteered to attend the next day, was called and asked to leave the theater with the book.
Effective Realization of Foreshadowing Elements
The most illusionistic nature of the show was not about flashy tricks but how foreshadowing mysteries became uncovered gradually. The most mysterious “I AM” card from the beginning came back and took a significant role at the climax. Derek asked the audience if they had picked an “I AM” card truly based on their deep observations of themselves and if their cards truly described themselves. He asked those members who believed so to stand up, and about half of them stood up. Derek gazed into their eyes from the front row and stated a word. The first person giggled and sat, which suggested that the word matched with the one on her card. Derek continued and as more members looked shocked and sat down, more commotion embraced the entire theatre. The “I AM” card might have disappeared from their minds before this point, since Derek used the cards to identify the audience members here and there during the show as if it was the only purpose. This unexpected use of the cards which interacted with the entire theater as a whole was a total surprise.
The review from the HuffPost pointed out a very interesting observation on how the six bullets from the Russian Roulette were relating to 6 main stories he performed. As a magician, showing more illusions could increase odds for his death or for discovering the secrets of his magic. After the climax with the “I AM” cards, Derek made a shape of a gun with his hand and pointed at his head. As he made a sound of a firing gun, props on the wall behind, which were physical objects during the show, fell onto the floor, but now they were paintings on paper. This ending was also the moment when all mysterious foreshadowing came together and made sense.