Magician Travis Bernhardt didn't hone his award-winning live show under the bright lights of the stage, but rather the streets of Vancouver, experience he credits for turning him into the seasoned performer he is today.
“It's like lifting weights, street performing, it toughens you up in a way,” said Bernhardt. “There's not much that somebody could do inside a theatre that would rival any of the kind of horrible things that could happen on the street. And by horrible things I don't necessarily mean drunks or violent people — although that can happen rarely — I mean more the crushing sense of failure and being ignored and not being able to stop a crowd … Those are challenges you don't have when people pay in advance to come see you.”
The 35-year-old has been making a name for himself over the past year, touring his one-man show Lies! on the festival circuit this summer, even earning the audience award for best act at the Victoria Fringe Festival.
Bernhardt relished the opportunity this year to perform alongside some of the best the theatre world had to offer, and he thinks the award validated his show in the often-insular magic community.
“It's great to bring magic to a theatre festival, for one, and to have your show in the same listing as some other amazing theatre artists from around the world is great,” he said. “Too often magic happens in a vacuum and we compare ourselves to each other as magicians, and I think magic suffers a bit from that by not wanting to go up against quote-unquote real artists.”
Bernhardt's live show —which combines tricks with storytelling and a few humorous turns — certainly borrows from the world of theatre, something that he says most magicians find extremely difficult to do.
“Doing good magic theatrically is really hard just because magic has less scope in terms of the themes it can easily address. A play can be about anything, but magic you have to focus on the tricks, so that limits the amount of things you can talk about without it being strange,” he said. “If you're doing a card trick it's hard to leverage that into some sort of grand statement about the human condition, but that doesn't mean it's easy. Magic uses all the tools of theatre, and it's extremely hard to make it work.”
Bernhardt says he approaches magic differently than a lot of performers because he doesn't pretend like the audience isn't in on the act, which harkens back to his early days as a street performer when he had to work hard to captivate an audience of passers-by.
“The thing that might be a little bit different (with my show) is there's a certain amount of treating the audience with respect for their intelligence,” he said. “A lot of magicians will push the idea of 'This is about wonder, or this is meaningful or important.' It's not that I disagree with that, but I don't harp on it. What I do is tricks and what I do ought to be fun and entertaining and people know it's not real magic, so I don't act like it is.”
Travis the Magician performs Friday (Feb. 8) as part of the bi-weekly Creative 5 Eclectic showcase at Dusty's Bar. Doors open at 8 p.m. with the show beginning at 9 p.m. Admission is by donation.
Visit www.travisthemagician.blogspot.com for more information on Bernhardt and his magic performances.