Before COVID-19 closed theatres around the world, Ben Hart had been touring the UK with Wonder, his debut solo tour, with all dates sold out, but with the rest of the run having to be put on hold due to the pandemic, it has now been rescheduled for the start of 2022. Ben has returned to live performances with his 2 Metre Magic shows and recently performed numerous dates at Brighton Fringe, and he had previously been a contestant on Britain’s Got Talent in 2019 having reached the finals. In theatre, Ben has worked in the West End with Impossible and he is the Magic Consultant on Magic Goes Wrong with Mischief Theatre and Penn and Teller. Chatting to Ben, he tells us about his Wonder tour, getting back to live performances and being the Magic Consultant on Magic Goes Wrong.
How has it been getting back to live performances for 2 Metre Magic and what has the response been like to the shows so far?
It’s been magical. Audiences have been the most responsive they’ve ever been and are keen to leave their troubles at the door. It feels like everyone is ready to be transported to a fantasy world now more than ever and a magic show is the perfect way for that to happen. I’ve waited so long to be able to do live shows again, I’ve made sure to put my all into every night.
You’ve recently performed at Brighton Fringe, how did this go?
The theatre was constructed of shipping containers and is a bit like a COVID-safe modern version of Shakespeare’s Globe. It’s really fun doing magic outdoors, by natural light where the audience knows that I can’t be using smoke and mirrors or theatrical lighting trickery. It’s my work stripped back to its very essence. It’s been great to be at the Brighton Fringe and to reconnect with other artists and audiences in an environment of bars, venues and what feels almost like normality…
Your Wonder tour has been rescheduled for 2022, how will you be preparing for the tour?
I think I’ll need to re-rehearse the whole show and train some of my magic-muscles to be able to deliver that show at full-pelt. Touring a magic show is totally exhausting so I think I’d better start going to the gym… I love that show and can’t wait to get back to it!
How had the run been going before the pandemic closed theatres and what are you looking forward to for heading back out on tour?
The show was in brilliant shape. The entire tour was sold-out and the touring atmosphere with my team was really exciting. It was like being on a road trip, full of laughs and adventures. I’m looking forward to getting back to that atmosphere. I love seeing new places and I get a real thrill from arriving in new places and exploring areas I might not otherwise visit. It is fascinating that audiences vary so much from city to city and it’s always fun to learn what each specific audience “needs” from me.
What were you enjoying most about your debut solo tour and how did you find the experience putting the show together?
I must admit that I enjoy every aspect of the show. I even enjoy the late nights and early starts. I enjoy the process of continual improvement and I’m always adding and adjusting to the material to make it leaner and more powerful. I find these incremental improvements are what keeps the show exciting for me night after night. I really enjoyed putting this show together because I drew from my previous shows to pull the most powerful magic I have together for this tour. I got to choose the bits that bring me the most joy and that I know are the most exciting for the audience. In that way, this show was easy to make because I was working with good ingredients!
You are the Magic Consultant on Magic Goes Wrong, what’s it like working on the show?
It’s been a dream working with Mischief Theatre and Penn and Teller on such an exciting show. Magic and comedy are a perfect match – they both rely on good timing and unexpected surprises. I wake up every day like an excited child when I go into rehearsals to work with the actors. I still laugh every time I see the show.
What do you find most rewarding about working as a consultant on theatre productions?
It’s always nice to see your work from the view of an audience member. When I design a magic trick or a special effect for a play, I get to sit in the theatre and actually watch it unfold. Sometimes it even shocks or fools or thrills me, even if I know what’s happening, because the story of a play or the performance of a great actor can still catch you off guard…
Can you tell us how you found your time touring with Impossible and performing in the West End?
I love being able to do my show night after night and to work on tiny improvements. A run in the West End means that you get to be in the same dressing room every night and the same theatre, which helps to make small marginal improvements with immediate feedback, because you don’t have to worry so much about moving to new theatres etc.
What encouraged you to be part of Britain’s Got Talent and how was your experience as a finalist?
I had considered doing it for years but it just felt like the time was right to do it. I was very confident in my acts and felt that I had proven the value of the material over time to the point where I didn’t even mind what the judges might say!
You’ve previously worked on Now You See It and Killer Magic, do you have any plans to work on more TV shows?
Recently my focus has been on live work. Magic is at its best when it’s totally live and I still find it thrilling to adapt with the audience and change my energy to suit them.
Where does your love of magic and performing come from and how did you start?
I started when I was a little kid. I was seriously into magic by the age of about six or seven. I can’t really remember life before then, so I don’t even know how I started! I was so interested in it all the way through school, I never considered another job. I was a teacher’s nightmare and pretty much refused to live in the “real world” and instead spent all my time dreaming up magical ideas.
How do you decide what tricks to include in your shows and how long do you tend to work on new tricks?
A new trick can take anywhere between three months and ten years to finish. I just put a new trick into the show that I started working on ten years ago. As hard as that might be to believe, magic is about trying to tease the impossible out of ordinary objects and that’s a difficult battle. I have to conceive of the idea, then design a secret, then design and prototype the equipment and work slowly through building the props and re-building them until the trick works with total certainty. I don’t think I’ve ever put anything into the show after less than three months work. In practical terms, this means that I am constantly working on ideas and constantly scheduling time to rehearse ideas in the hope that eventually they might be ready to go onstage. 90% of ideas don’t make it past the final hurdle and I see the process like planting seeds and waiting for them to grow. It’s hugely time-consuming, impossibly expensive, and largely thankless because a great trick should look effortless and the work should look unseen. Not everyone works in this way, but I find it allows me to work with a level of detail that the audience appreciates.
Were there any magicians that inspired you when growing up and what advice would you give someone starting out in magic?
I would advise someone starting out in magic to study one trick until they do it better than anyone else. It’s easy to get lost on trying to learn everything, but the truth is that one trick performed perfectly can make your reputation! The simplest tricks are always the best and it’s good to keep them that way – simple. I’d also like to remind beginner magicians that magic is not about proving who is cleverer than who, but instead it’s about revealing a feeling of astonishment that is inane and within all of us. The magician isn’t a show off, they are a tour-guide who reveals wonder already existing inside the minds of the audience!
Do you have any other performances planned yet for this year?
For information about upcoming performances, visit my website: benhartmagic.com.
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