David Copperfield and the Disappearing Audience

Posted on May 5, 2010
Filed Under: entertainment

So Annie and I went and saw David Copperfield tonight at the Washington Pavilion. It was a good show. I honestly couldn't figure out a lot of the tricks.

As with many magicians, a lot of the show revolves around random people in the audience. He had some neat methods to pick these people. You always worry that he's going to pick a confederate, but he had a couple methods that were pretty foolproof to be random.

At one point, he needed three random people, so he tossed a foam Frisbee out into the audience. He used the person who caught it, then had them throw it somewhere else, and used the next person that caught it, and then had them do the same thing again. I can't see how he could manipulate that process. These people were not precision Frisbee throwers or anything, and a lot people lunged to catch it.

At the end of the show, he needed 13 volunteers for the finale. So he threw 13 beach balls out in the audience, and started playing music. If you were holding a ball when the music ended, you were one of the 13.

As luck would have it, I was one of the 13. I assure you I was a purely random participant – no one talked to me beforehand, coached me, or anything else.

When I walked to the front, a production assistant asked me a series of quick questions:

  • Do you speak English?

  • Do you have unattended children in the audience?

  • Are you a magician?

  • Are you a member of the press?

There were a couple other questions I don't remember, but all of them took less than 10 seconds, and there was no other communication prior to the illusion.

We went up on stage and sat in a cage-type thing. The core of the trick involved this thing rising up in the air, then the curtain dropped, and we were gone. We re-appeared on the balcony behind the audience a few seconds later.

I was sworn to secrecy about what actually happened, so I won't ruin anything here. But, interestingly, having a first-hand perspective of how he did it makes me even more impressed with it. I'm looking back on what happened, understanding the nuances of what he did, and I'm really impressed with the skill and showmanship of it. It was deceptively intricate...or intricately deceptive, depending on how you look at it.

In fact, in the end, I obviously know how it worked…but I really don't. I can clearly remember what happened, and it makes logical sense in my head. However, not seeing it from the audience perspective, I have no idea how a couple aspects of it actually played out. I think I would have to see it multiple times from in the audience to actually understand it fully.

In a lot of ways, I'm just as in the dark about it as the audience is, just from the opposite side. They don't know how it worked from my perspective, but I don't know how it worked from their perspective. He essentially compartmentalized us from the audience, and fooled us just as effectively.

I'm amazed by this. it's like...well, magic.

I'll admit that – before tonight – I thought Copperfield was pretty cheesy. But as I sit here and write this, I've come to understand that he's an enormously gifted entertainer who is phenomenally skilled at what he does.

Call me a fan.