Laura Christopher, Online Arts Editor, interviews acclaimed magician Luke Jermay
If you’re like me when you think of magic you’ll think of two things, the likes of Derren Brown passing off magic tricks as psychology and that annoying cousin that plagues family gatherings insisting you pick a card. However, chatting to Luke Jermay, acclaimed magician, made me realise how little I know about the art of magic and how traditional magic tricks, mentalism and divination, can blend to produce some of the world’s most absorbing entertainment. Having written over forty books on the subject, Jermay has worked his magic with the likes of David Blaine, Derren Brown and Dynamo, and was even involved in hit US TV show The Mentalist. Bringing his unique show Sixth Sense to Exeter Phoenix this Wednesday, I asked Jermay what audiences can expect. “The show is exclusively about mind-reading and telepathy, but also about divination and prediction and how we can use information we have in the present to predict the future.”
Still figuring out the differences between traditional magic and mentalism, I asked Jermay what inspired him to move away from traditional magic and more towards divination in his work. “I started in an atypical fashion, I grew up in a house of believers when I was a kid, people who believed in tarot cards or palm reading and those sorts of things. In my teenage years, as everybody does, you rebel against the belief systems you grew up with. So that made me very sceptical of things like tarot cards, so I went and looked for information that debunked what these things were, and in the process I discovered the world of people like James Randi, the big voices in the world of scepticism. It was through that that I came to the traditional world of magic. Which is a world that I became instantly intensely interested in and I’m still deeply involved in it now. The story kind of comes full circle, as in my early 20s I began to think, well perhaps there is something in all of these things I chucked aside, such as tarot cards, palm reading and divination. I decided to believe in real magic in the forms of intuition and telepathy. So nowadays, I mix it all together on stage and never really tell anyone which bits are which. So sometimes, when you see the show, some parts will be real, some a trick, but I won’t tell anyone which is which.”
The mystery that surrounds Jermay’s work, he argues, has fascinated audiences for generations. Who, after all, hasn’t desperately wished they could predict the future or simply wished they could read their date’s mind. People, it seems, are at the centre of Jermay’s show and I ask him how he connects with his audience. “The core principle of the show that I do, I ask people to think about personal experiences from their life, and then I try and tell them in as much detail as I can about those experiences. So really, what my show is about is connecting people through shared experience. Looking at the things that we all have in common on that night, using those personal experiences to connect to each other. It’s really all about connecting people and story-telling. It’s a really exciting thing for me to do as it produces a show that changes every single time. I have the basics, or the outline of the show, but because we’re dealing so heavily with the personal experiences of the audience, I have to improvise it each night.”
Naturally, mind-reading and divination must result in some interesting experiences, I ask Jermay if any in particular stand out in his memory. “There are a few instances that stand out in my life. One of them, I had a couple on stage with me, and I looked at the woman and she was very attractive and slim, and I looked at her and I said ‘I think you’re pregnant’. It turned out that she was pregnant and she hadn’t even told her boyfriend who was on the stage with us. Thankfully, he was very happy! In another instance, I had a man stand up in the audience and I said to him, ‘I think you have a question to ask and it’s not a question you want to ask me, it’s a question you want to ask her’, and I pointed to the woman next to him. Interestingly, he had an engagement ring in his pocket and he proposed then and there. Those sort of stories stick out in your mind because they’re so emotional and you think what an amazing thing to happen.”
Luke Jermay’s work takes him all over the world, lecturing in places like Denmark and Italy, even working his own show in Vegas for four years. Interested in how magic translates worldwide, I asked him about audiences. “I spent a lot of time in America, and I enjoyed working in Las Vegas, but I do prefer working for European audiences. The reason is that Vegas is its own weird cultural bubble, in the middle of the desert with nothing else for miles and miles, so consequently you have a melting pot of people from all over the world coming to Vegas, you try to please the common denominator, you don’t have the opportunity to do things that collectively stimulating. I feel that European audiences, especially English audiences are much sharper, more intelligent and fast than an atypical American audience. British audiences are far harder to please. You have to do a really great job before a British audience will give you a standing ovation.”
Jermay’s work in the US has extended to screen, so I asked him about his involvement in TV shows like The Mentalist and his work with famous English magician Dynamo. “For the mentalist they asked me to come and perform some real life demonstrations of mind-reading, to the cast and crew, which I did and also to advise in a loose way on the scripts and the stories, looking at how mentalism could be incorporated into a particular script. With Dynamo I’ll create a trick that you will see him do on television. One of the things about my show is that I’ll only use demonstrations, tricks or stunts that I invent myself, which is actually quite rare, as most magicians will have a team of writers that will very frequently invent the majority of the tricks they will then perform.”
Following his UK tour, I asked what was next for Luke Jermay. “Well 2015 is very busy, we have the UK tour and then we’re going to Italy. I love Italy its one of my favourite places. So I’ll be doing shows in Italy, but also speeches and lectures. And then we’ll be back in England for the second part of the tour. Those dates aren’t announced yet. So it’s quite nice, we’ll do this tour, take a month off, go to Italy and then come back to finish the tour.”
Finally, I asked for all you aspiring student magicians out there, how to get involved in the world of magic professionally. “The honest answer on whether people should pursue it professionally is that they shouldn’t. It’s not an easy life, or easy job, it’s very difficult. It’s certainly not very glamorous, and it takes years and years and years and years to get anywhere in this industry. The only reason to do it professionally is because you have a calling to do it. So when people ask me that question, to be honest the answer I give is don’t. You’ll have a much better time if you don’t do it professionally. You have to have a deep calling to this craft to do it professionally, but also you have to roll with fate, you need to let destiny unroll. In terms of just recreationally, then the answer is just to read as many books on the topic that you’re interested in as possible, I’m sure there are plenty in your student library. And if you’re interested in traditional magic, like pick a card and other tricks, then the answer is to find a local magic club. The minute you can connect with other like-minded magicians who are also learning the craft and the art of magic, really the better it is.”
Luke Jermay will be performing his show Sixth Sense Wednesday 11 February at the Exeter Phoenix. Book tickets here.
Laura Christopher, Online Arts Editor
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