Interview: David London and Francis Menotti Discuss ‘Cerebral Sorcery’

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Magic shows are often full of tricks and spectacle, “smoke and mirrors.” Going to a David London show though tends to take more of a psychological turn. There are still plenty feats of magic but, not content to just amaze his audience, David brings us along on his train of thought and discovery. David is teaming up with fellow magician Francis Menotti to bring (back) Cerebral Sorcery to Baltimore, Bethesda and Richmond starting this Friday at The Theatre Project in Baltimore.

Lucrezia: So — since I have interviewed David before I’ll start with Francis – tagline if you got one and when and why did you get into magic?

David London and Francis Menotti. Photo by Theresa Khell

David London and Francis Menotti. Photo by Theresa Khell

Francis: I don’t specifically have a tag line, actually. But I believe I got into magic to challenge people’s assumptions about, well, everything. I look at magic as a performance art that is metaphor for the impossible- if I can do this impossible thing, maybe that thing you think is impossible isn’t so.

And when did you do that?

Francis: Five years old. Full time since 2000.

And you fooled Penn and Teller on their TV show, Fool Us. How’d you do that?

Francis: Ha! I confused them, and everyone, by talking a lot, with crazy big words. I had Jonathan Ross choose a word from a dictionary, and a bunch of Scrabble tiles chosen at random. I rearranged said tiles and revealed/discovered the word.

What was the word?

Francis: It was lobster, which is quite magical as that is a loose theme I play with a lot, roughly relating to Dali’s Lobster Phone.

What’s the story behind Cerebral Sorcery?

David: Francis and I met at an experimental retreat for magicians called The Phoenix Gathering, which was a gathering designed to get performance magicians to take a deeper look at their magic. We were both young and enthusiastic, and saw a potential for magic beyond just tricks.

When was this?

Francis on Lobster Phone. Courtesy of Francis Menotti.

Francis on Lobster Phone. Courtesy of Francis Menotti.

Francis: I remember lying on my bed chatting on the phone with David, from my shitty West Philly apartment. One of us said, “What if we walked out on stage entirely connected by slinkies?”. Maybe 2001? 2002?

David: We met in either 1999 or 2000. I went to Chicago for film school in 2001, and we decided to make a show– both of our first theatrical magic show– which premiered at Chicago’s Live Bait Theater on December 7, 2002. We collaborated over the phone.

Francis: I hated Chicago. That was my first experience: the freezing cold winter. Since learned to love it.

The show was fun but quite weird and perhaps a tad pretentious at the time. We’re redoing it now from different, hopefully more evolved perspectives. Certainly better chops/experience.

That’s great to get to redo an old work with “what you know now”! Is there a storyline to it?

David: I also feel that we have some actual wisdom now, whereas then we just had many questions. The storyline revolves around two eccentric magicians being taunted by a locked box. The magicians are on a quest to open it an learn its secrets.

Francis: We try to solve the puzzles that the box throws at us through exploring life by performing theatrical magic routines.

Hellraiser!

David: Fewer nails…

Francis: Dave has a prettier face, too. And a unicorn horn.

David: But no leather jacket…

Besides your skill levels how has the show changed? Lots of stuff happened in the last 15 years – is that reflected in the show and how?

David: The challenges the box delivers entice us to present vignettes in response. With each idea we explore, we get closer to opening the box. I am presenting all new material, though the show will continue to evolve.

Francis: I have some new material, some old revamped. I don’t know that societal changes have influenced (it) directly, but certainly indirectly.

David: Our concepts are more developed, we have a deeper understanding of the plot, the magic is stronger, and we are far better entertainers!

How is it “magic for your brain”?

David: It’s a show designed to make you think – not just about how the tricks are done (you don’t REALLY want to know anyway…), but also about life, consciousness, society, and the magical world around us.

Francis: The show encourages the viewer to actively engage and think, rather than just entertain. There is a definite through line and present, if sometimes vague, plot points.

Right now you are doing three cities – any plans to expand the tour?

David: We will be adding more tour dates in the coming months.

You both seem to be interested in the concept of magic beyond trickery. Do you have a “magical philosophy”?

Francis: I look at the role of the magician as the role of the mythological trickster. The job is to, through allegory, ask the protagonist “are you sure?” And “why?” Not to change anyone’s minds, per se, just to stir up the questions of certainty and to encourage exploration of self and presumed understanding of the world.

David: I look at magic as a tool for expansion of possibilities. Magic pushes both the imagination to new limits, but also bends the rules of everyday reality and introduces new concepts into the mix. It reflects the human mind, but is also capable of throwing it into chaos. Ultimately, I see magic as a tool that allows those who experience it to view themselves and the world in new ways. That said, I think my magical philosophy is always evolving. I used to really believe that one day I would be able to crystallize it into a final form, but have since come to believe that the pursuit of a magical philosophy and the quest for a magical life, is, at least for me, the very definition of being a magician. I think that the magic I create is in many ways self-aware of the power that illusions generate, and intentionally tries to take the power and direct its energy to other ideas, concepts and points of self-reflection.

When I was a young teenager, the most critical turning point for me as a magician was two clear and concise realizations about the performance of illusion: 1) That magic is a great tool for telling stories and exploring ideas, and 2) That magic is only limited by the imagination of the magician. These ideas have given me the freedom to create and present original and personal magic throughout my career. Just as I did 15 years ago, I feel like Cerebral Sorcery is a rare opportunity to experience the mind of not just one, but two magicians who have spent their careers pushing the limits of magic. Our collaborative pieces also give a glimpse into a different mind, a Third Mind, that emerges when two minds come together, and the magic that emerges from there.

David is offering DC Metro Theater Arts readers a special discount of 50% off all General Admission and VIP tickets using code DCMTA!

Cerebral Sorcery plays November 18 – 20, 2016 at The Theatre Project – 45 West Preston Street in Baltimore, MD. Tickets available at the door or online.

The show moves to The Writers’ Center – 4508 Walsh Street in Bethesda, MD for performances on  Friday, December 2 and Saturday, December 3, 2016. Tickets available at the door or online.

On January 6th and 7, 2017, there will be performances at The Firehouse Theatre – 1609 West Broad Street, in Richmond, VA. Tickets available at the door or online. Showtimes vary, please check on the Cerebral Sorcery website for exact times.

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