It was seeing David Copperfield perform on stage that first inspired then-eight-year-old Adam Trent to be an entertainer. Ten years later he reached out to Lou Pearlman, famous for managing the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC, about putting together a boy band of magic. Flash forward to the present: While The Illusionists isn’t a boy band of magic, it is a band of magicians. The show, which has played all over the world including two Broadway productions, opens at the Pantages Theatre on Tuesday.
“I don’t remember him doing magic,” Trent says of the Copperfield performance. “I wanted to be like David Copperfield without even knowing he was a magician. I was sitting with my family, and we were all just laughing. I don’t know what it was. It was the first time the whole family was loving something. When I later saw him on television, I realized he was doing these impossible things that shouldn’t be happening. I would look at Copperfield as arguably the greatest magician that ever lived, but I would say he’s a performer first. Are there better magicians than David Copperfield? I’m sure there are. There are guys with flashier illusions or better with sleight-of-hand, but what makes him work is he is a perfectionist and an amazing live performer.”
In Trent’s early days, he practiced not only magic but a few things that made BSB and NSYNC famous. “If I showed you videos from when I was 15 or 16, I would sing and dance,” he says, siting the reason he reached out to Pearlman. “I thought I’d be a pop star with a magic trick or two involved. Starting out as a young kid in Colorado, you do whatever sticks. When I’d sing and dance the kids would go crazy. When I did magic, they would be quiet.”
Whether it was because of their reaction to his magic or in spite of it, Trent followed the path of magic that has ultimately lead to his role as “The Futurist” in The Illusionists. “When each of us was asked to do The Illusionists, we presented our favorite material,” he says. “The producers said, ‘yes, this is different.’ It was important for each person to have his own act. I do comedy, I do classic effects, but with seven magicians, you have to do something different.”
To separate himself from the other performers, Trent utilizes technology. “I’m not using the technology to fool people,” he offers. “I’m using it as the premise of my illusions. One of the acts I do is with someone’s iPhone—I put it in a blender. I do an interactive dance piece in front of these giant LED walls. I do something else with a GoPro. It doesn’t explain the magic. I’m saying, ‘How can we use it?’ ”
With those very iPhones recording every moment of our lives and YouTube and other sites serving as the platform for that media, how can magic move with the times and not be a museum piece? It’s a subject Trent has considered as he moves forward with his career. “I think there are true innovations and brand new routines that are being created,” he says. “I’m not worried people won’t be able to come up with new effects; I’m more interested to see how it gets performed for the masses. I’d be willing to bet most people see magic online now. I just hope that the love and beauty and amazingness of seeing magic live stays. Any trick can be done with CGI, but in person you’d believe it can be done live. That belief is crucial to magic surviving.”
Trent, who starts his own tour two weeks after finishing with The Illusionists in Los Angeles, looks to another magician for inspiration. “I did cruise ships and never thought I would,” he says. “Then I did colleges and never thought that would happen. Then The Illusionists came up. I never thought I’d end up on Broadway. As a magician, you don’t consider that as an option. I’d like to be able to do magic when I want to and not have to do magic all the time. The perfect person to point to is Penn from Penn & Taller. He’s invited on talk shows as Penn. Once in a while he and Teller will do something, but that’s not to say every time he’s going to do magic. That’s a really cool thing that shows he’s reached a level of respect, not just as a magician, but as a personality and a performer. That’s something I hope to do.”