Sunday, November 10, 2013

2013 Interview with Albie Selznick

Actor/magician Albie Selznick's autobiographical play Smoke and Mirrors has been a phenomenal success first in Santa Monica and now at the Road in NoHo where it has extended and extended. Selznick tells us what he thinks is special about the show.

Tell me briefly how Smoke and Mirrors originated.

The kernel of Smoke and Mirrors actually started in Larry Moss’s acting class 15 years ago. One night Larry said, “Turn to the person next to you and tell them a story-- something profound that happened to you.” I told my neighbor about an event that happened to me when my juggling and magic act The Mums toured New Zealand. Then Larry Said, “Okay, next week, I want you to bring it on stage in some way and physicalize it.”  That story “Nigel” changed my life and it is now the final act of Smoke and Mirrors.

Also I was a magician as a kid and later became an actor, but I’ve always thought it would be interesting to combine the two disciplines, specifically by exploring why someone would get into magic as a child. I think it usually develops from a psychological reason. For me it was the death of my dad when I was 9. He had given me a magic set a year earlier and I toyed with it but really threw myself into it after he died. I guess I used magic to escape the sadness of my life. I think for me, magic symbolized hope and fantasy in an era that felt like my life was covered in a cloud, or more accurately a shroud.

Are the audiences different at the Road from those who attended in Santa Monica a year ago? I am referring to numbers, yes, but also to the type of people attending.... Has the move helped?

The North Hollywood theatre-going crowd isn’t so much different people-wise, but the theatre is– The Road is such a beautiful space, and fits our show perfectly. It’s also such a comfortable space for the audience-- which for me is very important.  And since I was a member of the Road’s theater company, it was a natural fit to move the show there. Also we had originally started by performing parts of it on the off-night series at the Road a couple of years ago, so it was a homecoming of sorts. Taylor, Sam, Bettina, and everyone else could not have been more welcoming. We did a special show for just Road company members for Cinco de Mayo and the love and encouragement I felt from the company was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. It still moves me to think about that night and how embraced I felt while performing. (Of course it could have been because we got everyone drunk on “cervezas” … mmmmmm maybe I’m on to something here.) 

Changing venues can be difficult if people start associating the show with a certain space. When we moved to the Road, we’d already been reviewed by the LA Times at the previous theatre, but apparently Philip Brandes (the reviewer) came into the Times Building and suggested they do a profile piece on me… right around the time we moved… so that helped us tremendously.

It appeals to all ages - kids of all ages. Do you think that is why so many people like it - apart from the fact that you are so damn good in it...?

There is something for everyone in our show I guess. Kids… and the kid at heart. It’s funny, wacky, emotional, serious and magical enough that it seems almost everyone can find some point to suspend their disbelief . Everyone “wants to believe” somewhere in the back of their minds and our show hopefully lets them, if only for a moment. Even Houdini, the foremost medium buster and debunker of his time-- he ruined many a career by exposing and humiliating fake “spiritualists” every night in his show-- still made a pact with his wife that if there was any way possible he would return from the dead. We all want to believe.

Without giving too much away, tell me how you have reshaped the show over the last year. You have reduced it from two acts to one act, correct? What about changes in content?

We didn’t condense the show… it’s always meant to be 90 minutes…. but it gives or takes depending on the audience since there is a lot of improvisation with them during the show. And I’m always constantly working on it… adding new tricks (we just added our own unique take on Houdini’s famous Metamorphosis: The Trunk Escape) as well as trying to find new ways of connecting all the dots. There are a lot of strands that concurrently run through the show: my semi-autobiographical life story; Houdini’s search for an after-life; mine and the audience’s fears-- how we can face and overcome them; my journey of finding peace with my father’s death, and what really matters in life…. And these themes are all linked through magic and illusion. I’m always working on how to connect everything but also keep it somewhat abstract and open to everyone’s individual interpretation. I want to make this show a wild rollercoaster ride… something that has never been done before.

What plans do you have for the show?

We are planning to take this version down Dec 31 (my birthday is New Year’s Day… so it’ll be a big party night for us). And I’m also currently in the process of rewriting and developing a “Smoke and Mirrors Version 2.0” with Robert Egan (Mark Taper Forum, Ojai Playwrights conference) in hopes of taking it to other theatres, across the country... my end game, of course, being New York.

Anything else you care to add?

I also want to say how lucky I have been to work with such amazing partners in this show… all first-rate performers and people,  who help me on and off stage… and we have a lot of fun in the process. This is and has continued to be a great journey for me. One of my favorite shows is Sunday in the Park with George. And After George does this painting of a hat; he sings that he made a hat where there wasn’t a hat. I think I’m trying to make a hat where there wasn’t a hat… and then pull a rather large rabbit out of it.

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