by Ryan Meehan
Shawn Farquhar has been entertaining audiences around the globe for over two decades. His magic has been seen on Television shows like the X-Files and Highlander, in motion pictures like Spooky House and the Fly II, for corporate clients like IBM and Konica, and on the most luxurious cruise vessels such as Norwegian Star and Radiance of the Seas. Recently Shawn has been a key note speaker/lecturer for the world’s best magic events including London’s famed Magic Circle, Siegfried and Roy’s World Magic Seminar and the world’s largest magic convention in Blackpool, England. Shawn’s unique look, flashy suits and infectious smile are all signs that you booked a professional. Shawn’s show is filled with incredible magic, gut busting humor and his dynamic personality which has earned him over 500 standing ovations over the course of the last five years. The Canadian Association of Magicians awarded Shawn the Magician of the Year Award in 2003 and 2010, the Pacific Coast Association of Magicians awarded him the Grand Prix D’Honneur, the International Brotherhood of Magicians awarded him both Stage Magician and Sleight of Hand Magician of the Year, making him the only magician in history to win both world championships and the Olympics of Magic in Beijing, China awarded him the highest award in magic, the Grand Prix World Championship of Magic in 2009! We are honored to have Shawn Farquhar as our guest today in 10 questions.
RM: How would you best describe growing up in a family comprised of entertainers? Did you feel a lot of pressure to constantly be a showman in front of your immediate relatives, or were your parents satisfied with you exploring all of your options before deciding on a career in their preferred industry?
SF: I don’t believe I felt any pressure while living in my family’s home. In fact, I don’t think my mother or my father ever wanted me to be a full-time magician. My mother and father exposed me to music, acting and even sports…I was a lousy hockey player! My drumming wasn’t much better. I did however love being in front of people, and my father encouraged it by helping me make props while my mother sewed costumes. During my high school years my parents stressed the importance of good education and saved their funds so that I could go to college. I’d like to say it was money well spent, but it wasn’t. I tried many jobs but knew in my heart I would always be a magician.
RM: What was the first trick you saw another magician perform which really stumped you to the point where you had to know how it was done? How long did it take you to eventually learn that trick yourself so that you could perform it in front of others with confidence?
SF: The first magic trick that really surprised me was the vanishing of a banana. It really wasn’t that great of trick, but the idea that it was a banana was amazing to me. I was used to seeing handkerchiefs, coins and cards disappear, but a banana was unusual. The first trick that really fooled me was Card Warp. I recall a magician named Bob Buie doing it at my local IBM Ring meeting. It was completely puzzling. He offered no solution and so on my 5 mile walk home I slowly dissected the effect and by the time I reach my front door I had a solution. A month later, at the next meeting, I showed my solution to Bob and he was kind enough to explain the entire routine. It took me weeks to get comfortable with the presentation, but now it’s still in my show to this very day!
RM: For those who might not be familiar with the terminology associated with close up magic, how would you best explain “sleight of hand” and the many different styles of how it can be used to create mind blowing card tricks?
SF: This is most definitely a difficult question. Even today magicians debate the term close-up magic. I believe any magic that can be presented in an intimate way can be defined as close up. Usually the magic uses ordinary objects like money, cards, keys or anything else that one might find in their pockets. Instead of using a elaborate props the magician relies on the technical skills or as we call it sleight-of-hand to make the magic. Many magicians like to show their skill while presenting magic while others endeavor to hide their skill. Dai Vernon – one of the finest magicians to ever live – taught magicians that it was better to hide ones skill if they wished the audience to believe it was magic. I am in agreement with him.
RM: Have you found that there is any difference in the way people respond to magic in Canada as opposed to here in the states?
SF: As a performer who travels extensively around the world I can tell you that almost all audiences respond to magic in the same way. Yes you will see on some television specials spectators in the United States running and screaming while clutching their head after seeing an effect, but I truly believe they are doing this as a result of the cameras. I will however say that people do respond differently to magic depending on the magician that’s performing it. Many magicians use magic in a challenging way, and the reactions that they get are completely different from the reactions I receive by doing magic in a non-threatening and fun way.
RM: How did you go about handling the most uncooperative audience member you’ve ever dealt with, either as someone who is assisting you on stage or someone in the crowd who is being disruptive or unruly? If that same scenario played out in front of you tonight, would you handle it any differently; and if so, how?
SF: As a young man I had a completely different style of character that was combative and arrogant and I had many hecklers in my audiences. It didn’t help that I was playing rough comedy clubs, blue collar pubs and biker bars. Many times I was the first live entertainment to be featured in the bar. On occasion the owner would even turn off the television screens showing big sporting events and then introduce me. These were not ideal conditions! These terrible conditions combined with my caustic character often resulted in hecklers. At that time I had dozens of comedic replies that insulted the heckler and usually put them in their place. I had drunk people, show-offs, and even a convicted hitman as volunteers and all of them were uncooperative to some degree. I am happy to report that in the past 28 years I have not had a single heckler. By changing my character to be more like myself, making my magic non-challenging and choosing better venues in which to work I no longer have this issue. If however I would have a heckler I would most likely allow them to take the stage and attempt to make them a star rather than to embarrass them. I think in most cases the heckler is not really trying to ruin your show, but in some way feels they are contributing.
RM: Is the element of distraction one of your intentions with regards to your brightly colored stage attire, or is that primarily done for the entertainment of the audience you are performing for? What would you say has been the most outrageous thing you’ve ever worn on stage?
SF: My choice wardrobe has nothing to do with misdirection. Many years ago, while in the magic competition, I noticed something. A friend of mine took a photograph of the final 12 competitors and all of them we’re dressed in black, me included. I realize at that point that I just blended in. In fact after the contest I asked one of the judges to give me a critique. He looked at me and asked which one I was in the show and I replied the guy in the black suit with the red handkerchiefs. He looked back at me again and said “Which one of the guys in black with the red handkerchiefs were you”? It was at that point I realized that I could actually standout from the rest of the crowd simply by wearing a different costume. I love the color purple and it looks great on the stage and so I made the change. In my office I have a photograph of the finalists for the 2008 North American FISM competition and it is shows a row of magicians all dressed in black and me sticking out in my purple! I’m reminded of that old Sesame Street expression, one of these things is not like the others!
As for the outrageous things I’ve worn onstage, I’d have to say it was the time I dressed as an elf for a Christmas magic spectacular. I had pointy little shoes, red striped knee high socks, green shorts and elf like ears. I was a sight to behold!
RM: I noticed on YouTube that you actually post tutorials of your tricks as opposed to waiting for others to break the trick down and see how it’s done. Do you do that primarily because you want to people to be able to see how the trick is done correctly; and what is your take on amateur users posting “reveals” when they may not know the exact ins and outs of the trick itself?
SF: I don’t often include an index or as you would say tutorial on my effects, but on occasion I have done this specifically in attempt to prevent amateurs from posting their guesses/reveals. When I do post references to an effect, I do it in a way that will allow a student of magic to research and learn. I also try hard to disguise the reference enough to prevent the average viewer from understanding. We are in an interesting time in magic where social media can in fact help and hurt our art. I understand the excitement of an amateur wanting to share with others the fact that they have just discovered how an effect works, but magicians are keepers of secrets and this is paramount if our art is to survive.
RM: When you’re trying to develop new material for one of your shows, do you tend to focus on one particular trick until you’re sure it’s in perfect working order for presentation, or do you like to run through all of your new stuff in succession so the flow of the performance is well rehearsed as well?
SF: I am a classic case of ADHD. I have no way to focus on one particular trick. At any given time I have more than a dozen projects going, and all of them are important. I tried for the longest time to focus on a single effect and develop it, but I often hit a stumbling block and then the project failed. By working on multiple projects at the same time, I keep my interest high, my attention span doesn’t drift and when I do hit a stumbling block I generally move onto another project and when I return I can approach the problem from a different angle. I have some projects I’ve been working on for more than a decade and all I am waiting for is an increase in knowledge to overcome a stumbling block.
RM: I saw an interview you did for The Society of American Magicians where you stated that “Magic flourishes when society is failing”…Are you suggesting that one reason magic might be seeing such a resurgence in popularity is due to the fact that there are so many sad and dark corners of the world that have come to our attention because of social media and the 24 hour news cycle? Do you pay much attention to things like that or are you for the most part pretty focused on entertaining people who are looking for the escapism associated with what you do?
SF: In my recent interview I was suggesting that society is failing here at home. Not in the many sad and dark corners of the world, but right here at home. I don’t have to look at social media or the 24 hour news cycle to see that we as a society are failing. Hubert H. Humphrey, in his last speech said “…the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped.” These days, we in North America, have a “me attitude” and are faced with a focus on fear. At times like this everyone needs an escape from reality and as a magician I have just the right tools to make you forget for just a minute about the turmoil just outside your door. I think you will agree that sporting events have that same effect. It can be easily compared to the Gladiators of Rome, just before the fall…
RM: Which common stereotype regarding the artistry of magic and those who practice it bothers you the most? Why do you think you find that particular misconception to be so troubling?
SF: I’m not really bothered by all the common stereotypes that are given to magicians, because I’m not like most magicians! I laugh when people ask me if I’m allowed to go to Las Vegas and if I can cheat at cards. Most often I reply that I am allowed to go to Vegas, as they only ban those people that they catch! I think if anything did bother me it would be the fact that most people perceive magic to be an entertainment for children. I can perform in a two thousand seat theater where the majority of the audience are adults and at the conclusion of the show some adult will undoubtedly approach me and say “I wish my son could’ve seen this, as he would’ve really loved it”. It’s as if he was saying that he didn’t, but his kid would. It has taken me years to realize that is not what they are saying. What they were really trying to express is that they enjoyed it so much, they knew their child would too. Magic is not just for kids as it can be elegant and artistic too.
RM: What do you think might end up becoming the next big phenomena in magic and illusionism over the next ten years? As someone who primarily works with cards, could you ever see yourself incorporating a great deal of technology into your stage show at some point?
SF: I’m not sure what the future holds for magic. Twenty years ago everyone was performing large-scale illusions and dreaming of performing on huge stages. These days most magicians performer with common ordinary objects and do so on the streets. I’m old school, but recognize that to be relevant and commercial I must adapt. I love performing in large cheaters, yet I still want to perform card effects. To make this possible I have already incorporated a great deal of technology into my stage show. By using HD cameras, servo driven heads and high lumen projectors I can offer sleight-of-hand effects in large theaters around the world. Currently in my show I have four routines that depend I’m what I refer to as “bleeding edge” technology. On any given night these effects can fail, but I find it thrilling to include them in the program. Yes, as a professional, I have developed “outs” to each of these effects in case of failure.
RM: What’s up next for you in 2016 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
SF: This year I hope to slow down a bit! Last year I traveled to over 44 countries and presented my show in six different languages. It has always been my dream to build a small intimate theater in Canada. I have a lot to learn about how to run a theater, promote the show and sell tickets. Lately I have been producing a small show called the Cabaret of Wonders, and I am happy to say that the first four editions of the cabaret have completely sold out! I am also actively creating a magic festival and after two successful years I am now looking for a new home city in which to presented it in 2016. Finally, for the past five years I have been working hard with IBM on the growth the organization. This year I am the Talent Director for their 88th annual convention in San Antonio, Texas. Since it’s my last year, I have been having a grand time searching out and securing amazing magicians I too want to watch. I have no idea what’s in store for me, but I’m always up for a challenge.
Official Website: http://www.magichampion.com/
Shawn on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/shawnfarquhar
Shawn on Twitter: http://twitter.com/magichampion
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