Magic's in the Air: Immersive Denver Hosts Joshua Jay at Enigma Bazaar

Joshua Jay will put on a magic act and sign copies of his latest book at Immersive Denver's event at Enigma Bazaar on February 6.
Joshua Jay will put on a magic act and sign copies of his latest book at Immersive Denver's event at Enigma Bazaar on February 6. Courtesy Immersive Denver
Immersive Denver, an arts group that usually hypes events organized by others, has a trick up its sleeve: It's hosting a book-signing and magic show with famed magician Joshua Jay.

It may not occur to most people that magic is an immersive art form, says Immersive Denver co-founder David Thomas, and the goal of this event is to change that. "I'm a huge magic nerd myself, and I've always recognized that magic had a natural seat at the immersive table," he says.

"One popular way of describing immersive theater is that it is audience-centric theater," Thomas continues. "That's a pretty broad thing to say, but when you look at magic, magic is one of the few performing arts that really can only happen with an audience there. Magicians have always been working with this notion of how to build this completely foreign sense of the world in a very brief period of time in a conventional place like a theater."

Thomas had read Jay's recent book, How Magicians Think and Why Magic Matters, and saw that the magician wasn't coming through Denver on a book tour — so he reached out to Jay and convinced him to come to town. Immersive Denver then partnered with Enigma Bazaar and BookBar to pull together a February 6 date at Enigma where Jay will offer a magic show, talk about magic and conduct a Q&A; guests will receive a copy of the book with their ticket.

The event builds off Immersive Denver's three goals of "education, community-building and advocacy" by teaching guests about magic, providing an opportunity for those from different creative disciplines to network, and advocating for magic as an immersive art. "This immersive thing is bigger than just Meow Wolf," Thomas explains.

"Josh is a great guy to talk about because he's really at the front-end of contemporary magic, he's well-respected and has written a lot of books about it," he continues. "His current book is a great book for a person who doesn't know a lot about magic."
click to enlarge IMMERSIVE DENVER
Immersive Denver
Jay discovered that he wanted to be a magician at a young age when his father wouldn't tell him how a card trick worked; Jay locked himself in his room and four hours later, he'd figured it out. He set out to learn more tricks and create his own, and at the age of seventeen became the youngest person to win the World Magic Seminar, in 1998. Twenty years later, he performed at President Barack Obama's inaugural ball.

"I have read minds with Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show, and I hold the Guinness World Record for most selected cards found from a shuffled deck in less than a minute," Jay writes. "Still, more often than not when I tell someone I'm a professional magician, their response is, 'You can make a living doing that?'"

Jay certainly has. He's spent his life immersed in the craft, and co-founded one of largest magic shops in the world, Vanishing Inc. He has helped design illusions for film and television, including Game of Thrones, and published multiple essays and books on the subject of magic. His latest covers magician basics, recollections from touring and his early days in magic — he sawed off a senator's head when he was a kid — and interviews with a variety of famous magicians.

How Magicians Think and Why Magic Matters is a quick and interesting read, and most of Jay's essays are charming enough to grab even those who have never given magic a thought. But it's also as great a read for seasoned magic theory students as it is for newbies.

"I read a ton of magic theory, so a lot of stuff Josh wrote I already knew," Thomas says. "But for me, it got really interesting when he was talking about his favorite magicians and why. I love hearing about what inspires other magicians. It's a fun book and it's really right on target."

Thomas says that Jay was immediately interested in coming to Denver and putting on a magic show. When you read his book, you see why: Magicians perform constantly to keep perfecting and transforming their craft, he writes; the power that is felt when performing a smooth illusion for audiences is a constant high worth chasing. Jay notes that while David Copperfield is now a household name and near-billionaire with a private island and jet to get there, he performs over fifteen shows a week and 500 shows a year in Vegas, and rarely takes vacations.

Although all of the magicians Jay interviews have different explanations for how they came into the craft and why they stick to it, they all share passion, artistry and innovation.

"It's this crazy performing art that's thousands of years old and has a strong, deep, 150-year contemporary history, but has always struggled for credibility," Thomas says.

He recalls how he was at an Immersive Denver event several months ago, sitting with "some theater people, some musical theater people and a magician," and posed a hypothetical question: If he asked people at the next table whether they would want to see a magic trick or a monologue from a play or a musical number, how would they respond? They'd go for the magic trick, he predicted.

"People love magic, but they're so reluctant to see it because it's perceived as cheesy," Thomas explains. "I don't understand the disconnect."

According to Jay, magic has some key components, but the most salient is the suspension of wonder. That's why magicians never perform a trick twice (other than simple, amateur crowd-pleasers like pulling a coin from an ear or a card trick): You only get one chance for true, pure wonder. When you re-watch a movie with a surprise ending, for example, the effect is less potent the second time around.

"Magic is this funny performing art that really brings you into a state of wonder very masterfully," Thomas says. "I think that contemporary immersive-art entertainment professionals have a lot to learn from magic, so I hope they come." And he hopes that Jay's performance will lead to more magic shows hosted by Immersive Denver, because immersive artists could learn a lot from magicians, including audience control.

"If nothing else, the show is a shot over the bow to immersive arts and entertainment people that says, 'Magic belongs,'" Thomas concludes.

How Magicians Think: A Lecture, Magic Show and Book Signing With Joshua Jay; 7 p.m. Sunday, February 6, Enigma Bazaar, 4923 West 38th Avenue. Tickets are $29.84 and include a copy of How Magicians Think and Why Magic Matters, which can also be purchased online and at major bookstores.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Emily Ferguson is Westword's Culture Editor, covering Denver's flourishing arts and music scene. Before landing this position, she worked as an editor at local and national political publications and held some odd jobs suited to her odd personality, including selling grilled cheese sandwiches at music festivals and performing with fire. Emily also writes on the arts for the Wall Street Journal and is an oil painter in her free time.
Contact: Emily Ferguson