Meet the illusionist and 'mentalist' stuck in Scotland taking audiences on a global journey from his living room
It is well after midnight in the early hours of the morning in the west end of Glasgow when magician, illusionist, theatre-maker and “mentalist” Scott Silven welcomes his audience into his home.
Minutes earlier, they have been watching dramatic footage of Silven striding around a host of barren but spectacular landscapes in the Outer Hebrides.
Now he is about to take them on The Journey – a virtual reality mind-reading experience created by Silven after he was forced to relocate back to Scotland from New York when the pandemic struck in the spring.
Within days, Lanarkshire-born Silven had decided to call off more than 500 performances booked into his diary as far ahead as the autumn of 2021, including performances at Sydney Opera House this year.
But rather than put his career on ice, he has brought together some of Scotland’s leading theatre-makers veterans of Broadway and the West End to create an intimate new online show which he performs for audiences of up to 30 at a time, each of whom is asked to bring along a treasured object.
In recent weeks, Silven has been getting up and going to bed in US-time in Glasgow to allow him to stage the show, which features a mix of froundbreaking digital technology, cinema-style film footage and optical illusions, for his vast American fanbase. The response so far is expected to see him work with theatres around the world to sell tickets to their own audiences well into next year.
This month, theatre audiences in Scotland will get the chance to see how Silven’s illusions and mind-reading have evolved since he launched an intimate dining experience show in a Georgian townhouse as a complete unknown during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
The Illusionist’s Table, a show in a “secret room” at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, led to Silven, a theatre studies graduate from Edinburgh University, securing a semi-permanent residency in New York, as well as a rolling series of world tours.
His homecoming will be complete next week when The Journey is staged for audiences in Scotland by the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, a key collaborator in Silven’s new show, along with Scottish theatre-maker Rob Drummond, who trained as a magician for a previous Fringe show, Bullet Catch.
He said: “I’d just graduated when I did my first Fringe show. I remember walking past that amazing building thinking it would be a great place to do exploring the senses and the human mind. That was really the catalyst for that first Fringe show.
“Looking back I realise how lucky I was to have the Fringe on the doorstep. It’s the world’s biggest arts festival, with more than 3500 shows and every international producer in the city. It really helped me to map out what I wanted to do as a performer and to really focus on my work.
“That Fringe show catapulted my whole career and led to me signing up with my first manager and moving to London for a couple of years.
“I then signed up with American management and within two months I’d pretty much moved to New York. The Illusionist’s Tale was meant to run there for three or four weeks and ended up running for nine months. I was doing 14 per performances a week and every single show was a sell-out. It was an amazingly fast transition.
“New York was an incredible training ground as a performer. The audiences there don’t suffer fools gladly as they’ve seen everything and everyone before. It was incredible to see them connect with the show and with me as a performer.”
Silven had been on tour in Australia at the start of 2021 and had returned to do shows in Alaska and Seattle when the pandemic began to close down the entertainment industry in the United States.
He added: "I decided to come back to Scotland for visit some family for a couple of weeks and all these months later I’m still here.
"I was on tour with two shows and planning to develop a new one to launch in 2021. My schedule was pretty booked up until the autumn of next year.
“My manager and I had to make a pretty brave decision to either quickly pull all those shows and start working on something else, or hold out for longer.
“I think we realised before a lot of people that this wasn’t going to go away, but it was just devastating to have to cancel everything.
“But when I came back here, it felt like a really powerful time where everyone across the world was either trapped at home or had headed home in some way. I knew I had to create something that I’d want my audiences to see but also wanted the technology to feel as invisible as possible.”
Among those involved in The Journey are Broadway designers Jeff Sugg and Gareth Fry, whose previous shows include Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Silven added: “One of the good things about the pandemic is that I was able to assemble a dream creative team very quickly, when most people’s schedules are booked out months in advance.
“A lot of people who’ve seen the show think we’re in a studio but we’ve built it in a real living room.
“The Journey is basically an all-new immersive and interactive experience where 30 people travel from heir homes to mine. The audience think they’re logging into a Zoom call, but the space transforms pretty quickly into something a little more magical. We go on an adventure together exploring the power of home, place and connection, using their imaginations and memories as a guide.
“Mentalism is an authentic connection between a performer and an audience using their thoughts and memories. To me, it’s the purest form of magic. There’s nothing to hide behind. I call it theatre for the mind.”
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