By: Rahne Pistor
It took husband and wife magic duo Steve Spill and Bozena Wrobel years of planning and hard work to materialize their dream of opening a live theater devoted strictly to magic performance. And since Magicopolis opened its doors to Santa Monica in 1998, the two have struggled to find enough time to run the business of a theater and also keep true to their primary roles, as performers.
But finally the two are back on stage together again, ready to open a new one-hour 45-minute live magical feature show called Escape Reality. Opening night is Saturday, March 29th, on the Magicopolis main stage.
“It’s like quicksand,” Spill says. “We didn’t realize just how much energy and effort it would take. Sometimes we’ll literally find ourselves handling a business thing out front and then running backstage to finish up practicing a trick.”
The couple also researches, designs and builds the elaborate contraptions and gimmicks utilized in their stage show.
Their performance combines drama, comedy and magical illusion, of course, in the form of a series of skits, says Spill.
“It’s like reading a mystery novel where the last page is missing,” he says. “It’s meant to bring out that sense of wonder we all had as a kid. our magic is built around ideas and observations.”
The two contort real-life scenarios in a tongue-in-cheek manner. In one magic skit, a woman is distraught because her boyfriend is locked up in prison. As a last-ditch effort to save him, she attempts a seance to contact the late legendary Harry Houdini, who was a master at escape tricks around the turn of the 20th century. An escape trick ensues onstage.
Aside from the drama, the two don’t slight the traditional stage magic tomfoolery in the show. Spill plans on levitating Wrobel. For another trick, Spill says he will saw two women in half and swap their legs. He’d better hope their parts fit.
And what is a magic show without the suspense of danger, or at least the illusion of it?
One escape trick has Spill fastened to a metal table with chains, locks and leg irons. A cluster of metal spikes looms ominously about 20 feet above him. The spikes are secured only by a rope, which is then ignited, leaving Spill only until the rope burns through to escape being impaled.
Spill contends that the trick is truly death-defying and that there are no safety devices protecting him from harm.
Throughout history, magicians have been seriously hurt or killed performing similar tricks.
Spill cites a dangerous trick popular in the late 1800s where a gun would be fired and the magician would purportedly catch a bullet with his teeth.
But for some mysterious reason, Spill doesn’t seem worried about his fate.
Perhaps it’s because he is staunch in letting people know that the magic is pure illusion, an art form rather than any sort of special power.
The metal spiker contraption took ten to 12 weeks to build and a year and a half of research to create, Spill says. Hopefully for Spill, this was enough time to perfect the escape trick and design the contraption safely.
One of Spill’s pet peeves in the world of magic today is people who claim to have special powers, or fool people into believing in necromancy, or contacting spirits of the dead.
“This is pure exploitation and taking advantage of people, making them think they can contact dead relatives and such,” says Spill.
He calls these people “embarassing.”
His list of hucksters and charlatans includes all from popular television psychics to Venice boardwalk palm readers.
“Magic is an art form,” says Spill. “There’s no such thing as real magic. It is the perception of defying natural law that makes magic amazing.”
“But people still fall for it. It’s taking advantage of people’s suffering and making money off of it,” he says about purported mediums.
“Magic tricks are a vehicle of expression that are interpreted differently by individual magicians, just as musicians make their own unique arrangements of the same songs, he explains.
Magical theaters had their heyday during the vaudeville epoch and truly waned in popularity in the 1960s and ’70s, according to Spill.
But Spill believes firmly that the experience of seeing magic performed live cannot be equaled, especially by modern media.
“With TV, everything can look magical, because of special effects. In person, it’s a much more potent experience,” he says.
The sparsness of magic theaters adds to the novelty of Magicopolis and distinguishes it from crowded entertainment markets such as nightclubs.
Spill’s magical roots run in his family. His father managed the Magic Castle, a private club for magicians in Los Angeles. Steve would sneak in as a child, he says, and in the ’60s, he made acquaintance with older vaudeville magicians and tried to pick up the tricks of the trade.
Escape Reality is scheduled for 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays at Magicopolis, 1418 Fourth St., Santa Monica.
Information, (310) 451-2241.