Conjuring under Covid
- Credit: Chiswell Studios: www.chiswellstudios.co.uk
How do you perform magic during lockdown? That was the challenge faced by St Albans entertainer Tony Middleton, known professionally as Sonic, after his career ground to a halt in the wake of the pandemic.
Tony makes his living performing magic shows for the public. In the last 10 years he has been featured on the hit TV series Penn & Teller: Fool Us, and now produces several of the most successful ‘parlour’ magic shows in London.
These are a mix of stage and close-up magic, taking place in an intimate setting with an audience of around 50 people, with Tony dressed in classic white tie and tails.
His biggest success, The Magic Hour, has been running for over seven years to five star reviews and complete sell-outs, first at St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, and then the Sheraton Grand London Park Lane in Mayfair.
But like so many in the theatre and hospitality industries, Covid had a massive impact on his work.
"I feel so much for all artists, musicians and performers. Before March last year, I was incredibly busy performing almost every night of the week, either in my own shows or private events.
"I reached a point where I would turn away work to make sure I had family time. Then overnight with the pandemic everything changed."
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So how does a magician conjure his way out of the Covid disaster, when there are no theatres, hotels or events to perform at?
"Like many people, I had to look at the possibilities of online. For years I wanted to make an online magic school, but I didn’t have the time or enough of a reason to do it.
"So I gradually started to put my attention to all the years of performance experience I have, and built a school that can help anyone to learn to be a magician from the ground up.
"It’s been a really interesting thing to do, and now I have students from all over the world, who I wouldn’t have reached before. I can engage with each of them personally through one-to-one lessons and Zoom classes.
"Right now there’s over 100 training videos on the website, and over 16 hours worth of Zoom class footage that students can watch on demand. So it doesn’t matter whether you live in St Albans or South America, you can tune in and watch whenever you like.
"I can help individuals in the same way as if you went to your music teacher for a lesson. That’s really the best way to learn magic – from someone who’s been there and done it, because it can save you so much time and frustration."
But don't worry, Tony isn't breaking the code of the Magic Circle by revealing his secrets.
"When you pass your entrance exam for the Magic Circle, you sign up to their code of conduct – which is not to give secrets away. However, there are certain exemptions – one of which is a pupil under magical instruction. Of course, I don’t give everything away immediately – you have to earn your way to the bigger secrets. There are certain tricks that we professionals keep very close to our chest.
"Why not do something different and learn a new skill during the new lockdown?"
Tony has also created immersive online magic show Virtually Impossible, streamed live from the Oak Room at the Sheraton Grand London Park Lane.
‘I wanted to create a good online magic show and evoke the darker world of magic full of secrets. It has just the right feel for that and really helps the audience to journey into the world of the Victorian masters of deception.
"I also wanted to make it mobile – where the camera follows me – and bring magic as close as possible to the audience at home."
There are no camera cut-aways to avoid trickery, and with only Tony performing, there are no stooges either.
"You might not think it's possible to do magic over the internet, but certain tricks are done in your own hands and that makes it really exciting. In fact, there are some small tricks that you can’t really do anywhere other than in a television or live stream format – so it actually opens up options considerably for what I can share with people.
"What connects with an audience at home isn’t just the flashy stuff. Feedback has been great and we’ve had companies like Facebook and YouTube book us to give online private shows as well."
You can find out more about Tony's lockdown activities at www.magichourshow.com