Pop Underground
By: Corey Susan Stevens

Steve Spill is not a “pop,” magician as in the widely recognized popularity and visibility of a Criss Angel or David Blaine. But neither is he “underground” , as in “unknown” – either, although he once was, as were Angel and Blaine, I presume. For now, Spill exists between these categories: He has a growing audience, while creating work independent of the slick veneer required of a commercial television artist.

Last Saturday night I witnessed Spill’s show, Escape Reality, at Santa Monica’s Magicopolis. I became a fan. I wanted to meet him and this article gave me the perfect excuse. Mr. Spill’s work entertained me, as well as stimulated me intellectually, thus pulling off what is known as “edutainment,” which for me is a quality of good art.

A great deal of what magicians do is making things apparently appear and disappear, and magically move from place to place. Spill did plenty ofthat and more, but everything was presented in a way that expressed, insymbolic form, the concerns of life, death, and rebirth, of the rotationof the seasons, and of dealing with the constraints of natural law that have held man since earliest times. And he did it with a keen sense of humor.

Audience members were invited onstage to view a metal table, hanging overhead was a bed of spikes held in place by a piece of rope. To prove that the spikes were indeed sharp and heavy, Spill allowed the spikes to fall onto the metal table. Due to the tremendous weight of this bed of spikes the sound made when they crashed was deafening.

Spill’s feet, hands and waist were chained to the top of the table. The rope which held the spikes in place ten feet above the table was lit on fire. The flame began to burn through the rope. A small curtain was pulled in front of Spill leaving everything above and below in plain sight. Spill told the audience it would take approximately 60 seconds to make his escape. Suddenly after only 40 seconds had elapsed, the rope snapped, and the spikes crashed down on the table.

Most of the audience screamed, since it did not appear that Spill had successfully completed his escape. Others sat stunned until the small curtain was dropped. Instead of being crushed to death, Spill was lying on top of the spikes reading a magazine. With a sigh of relief, the audience burst into applause.

When I asked why a person would attempt such a dangerous stunt, Spill said, “Ever since I was a kid and I was locked in my basement with rats, I wanted to be an escape artist. That isn’t true, of course, actually, the Table of Terror only looks dangerous, the odds of me being killed doing the trick are slim. Um, the idea is to add some drama into our evening performance.”

If one were to imagine a trick universally identified with magic certainly it would be floating a lady in the air. Here again is a classic trick with its roots strongly in myth and legend. The element of flying or levitating is a common one in most people’s dreams. To be able to defy gravity, one of the great constants of the real world, has a strong wish fulfillment appeal. Spill performs this feat in the context of a dramatic scene featuring a woman and her psychiatrist. To see the lady float in person is stunning, and it is presented with the metaphor of making one’s heart soar and lifting one’s spirits.

Along with a half dozen other audience members, I participated in a demonstration of mind reading. We were each instructed to think of a card and to concentrate intently upon it. Spill named each of the cards we had mentally chosen. The cards weren’t physically selected and shuffled back into the deck by Spill, we just thought of them. To the question as to the feasibility of mind reading itself as fact, Spill said, “Well, I prefer to leave you as a critical thinker than a gullible believer. In other words, I, um, do tricks.” Yes he does, go see for yourself.

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