Draíocht: High Hopes
It’s safe to say that this week has been an absolute whirlwind. You’re probably sick of me at this stage…in fact, even I’M sick of me. In the past 2 or 3 days I’ve been everywhere it seems! A real highlight was being on the radio with the legendary Ryan Tubridy. He’s such a nice, welcoming guy. I’ve done a lot of radio interviews over the last year, and a lot of the time the hosts aren’t fully engaged with you because they have a producer in their ears guiding the segments, and they have to keep an eye on a computer monitor as well. Sometimes, when you walk in, they just stay where they are and say a quick hello before you go live. They’re just doing their jobs I guess! However, the minute I walked into Ryan’s studio, he stood up walked around from behind his desk, shook my hand and thanked me for coming in. Which helped with the aul nerves, because it’s not every day that you meet such a prolific figure in Irish media, let alone get interviewed by one on the top Radio station in Ireland! We had a quick chat before going live, just shooting the breeze really. It turns out he was sat next to my Dad and Al Pacino at a dinner in Trinity College a few years ago, so we made that little connection. With that in mind he offered me a little bit of wisdom – ‘ It’s usually the biggest stars that have the smallest egos, and the smallest stars that have the biggest ‘. As well as that, he told me that he used to be a ‘Runner’ for Midas Productions years and years ago (Midas Productions are the team behind my series!). Another coincidence! The interview was really well received, and it even got featured in The Herald’s ‘Radio Week in Review’ section! I was just happy that my prediction was correct, and that I was able to get inside Ryan’s head!
I was featured in a massive 2 page spread in ‘FIT Magazine’, written by a great journalist named Andrea Smith. I was really happy with this, because as you’ll all know, I’m very into my fitness and I worked really hard to get ready for the show.
Finally, I was talking to the crew in Radió na Life, I’m about to chat to RTE Radió na Gaeilge, and I’m just in from doing a Mass Persuasion experiment live on air for Spin 103.8, which seemed to work for about 90% of the listeners – a great success!
Expectations for the show:
So, the most common question I’m being asked is: What can people expect from the show?. Because of time restraints, I rarely get to say exactly what I’d like to say in the interviews – because let’s face it, I tend to waffle on some times, and ain’t nobody got no time for that! But the scope of the show is genuinely quite big, and it encompasses a wide variety of Magic styles, it would almost take 30 minutes to really tell you everything about it!
So the purpose of this blog post is basically to tell you about some of my favourite things about the show, which will hopefully give you an idea as to what to expect.
What’s a magic show without street magic? This style of filming was popularised by one of my all time heroes, David Blaine, over a decade ago, and has since soared to unimaginable heights on Television through different formats. That said, a number of TV magicians have taken things a bit far in my opinion, and I hate to say that some have even resorted to the use of actors / plants and stooges. So for this reason, TV magicians have kind of lost the trust of their audience members now, and I’ve taken it upon myself to hopefully bring some of that trust back. So you’ll see me do some really cool tricks on the streets of Dublin, and places like Shop Street on Galway, as well as different schools around the country, and I can promise you that everything you’ll see is real and at no point are any actors or stooges used. I’ve also made sure that for the majority of the tricks you’ll see, you can approach me in public and I’ll be able to recreate it for you then and there – proving that it’s all real, and that what you see is what you get. There’s stuff with cards, coins, mind reading and a load more to boot! One of my favourite effects from the show can be seen by clicking this link here, and here.
Whenever anybody sees magic on TV, I bet a part of them always thinks ‘Yeah, but he’d never get away with that if I was sitting in front of him!’ (and then they probably think, ‘Ginger arsehole ‘, or something like that). So, we invited a number of well known Irish speakers into a really cool studio area that we built, and let them sit right in front of me to try and catch me out. This was some of the more nerve-wracking stuff to film, because I only got one shot at it, and it can be quite tricky to perform for somebody when they’re literally burning your hands with their eyes, watching for anything out of the ordinary. In each episode, you’ll see two scenes from our studio, in which I’ll read minds, bend metal, make lightbulbs explode, cause unexplainable coincidences, make my pulse stop, make impossible predictions, and show off a little bit of sleight of hand with cards.
One of the hardest things I did was with an author who had just finished writing a book – it hadn’t even been sent to the printers yet, and she herself was instructed to have a draft / sample copy sent to her in a sealed envelope so that we could open it on camera, and really prove to you that there’s no possible way I could have pre-arranged anything or accessed it before hand. You’ll even hear her say on camera that she hasn’t even seen the cover of the book yet! She gave me a time limit to memorise the book, before asking me specific questions about it, and having me name words on certain lines of certain pages. I think out of 5 questions, I got one wrong, which you’ll also see (we haven’t edited it to make me look perfect!). So that’s what you can expect from the Studio segments in each episode. There’s a few ‘taster’ clips here:
Large scale mentalism demonstrations
I’m a huge fan of Mentalism, and would regard guys like Derren Brown, David Berglas, and Keith Barry as heroes of mine, so being on TV offered me this amazing opportunity to present my own types of mentalism demonstrations, which I’ve been dreaming up for quite a long time. These range from the extremely dangerous, to stomach churning to downright weird. To give you an example: one of my favourite pieces involved a Wexford Hurler named Diarmuid Lyng. He’s so used to firing high powered shots across the pitch, I wanted to take him out of his comfort zone and put him in an industrial yard for a bit of ‘target practice’. In front of him stood 6 large frames covered with paper. I instructed him to fire the sliotar through 5 of them, as hard as he could and leave one til the end. What Diarmuid didn’t know is that we hid one of his best friends behind one of the frames, a Wexford All-Star Camogie player named Claire O’Connell. This paper was thin, so she would have taken a sliotar at full speed, straight to the face, neck or body. That was one of the most nerve wrecking experiences for me, because it was all riding on my ability to control his choices, and if I failed, she would get very badly hurt.
So that’s just a taster of what to expect from the Mentalism side of things. A lot of these segments will be based around a kind of ‘Prediction’ of sorts, so you’ll see a good bit of that. Can somebody accurately predict the outcome of a Snooker game for example? The first episode features a really fun routine with Irish group, Kíla! Which you can see some of here.
It’s not all about me showing off though! I’m fascinated with memory techniques, and increasing the power of your brain. These skills are all available to us, we just don’t exercise them as much as we should. We put an ad out for somebody with terrible memory to take part in the show, and got contacted by a lovely, older lady, named Brónagh. When I first met her, I gave her a simple memory test. After 1 minute, she could only remember 4 things out of a list of 10, and not in the correct order. Here’s the cool part – after just 5 minutes or so with me, she could memorise a list of 25 things, and instantly recall everything on the list and what position in the list it’s in. We then took this a step further, and tried something much more complicated – which you’ll see in the series. It was such a great experience going on this little journey with her, meeting up with her and showing her these memory techniques etc. In person, it was brilliant. My one fear is that these things might not translate properly on TV, but, the editors did a smashing job of it (complicated as it was), and I’m confident that you’ll all ‘get it’!
Following in the footsteps of my hero, Harry Houdini, has been a long time dream of mine, and to have the opportunity to do this on TV is just unbelievable! I used to dream up these escapes, and I never thought they’d become a reality, but before I knew it I was having this moment of realisation on set that it was actually happening! It also allows for some select episodes to have a lovely narrative arc to follow along with, because we take you from the conception of the idea, to the realisation and the actual attempt at the feat itself. I like to think that escapology confronts common fears that a lot of people would have. Fear of heights, fear of drowning, Claustrophobia and so on. So I took those as a basis for what I wanted to do and hopefully that will translate across as you watch each the stunts in every second episode. Fear of heights is approached by the risk of being flung off the edge of a building…Claustrophobia (the irrational fear of Santa Claus) is approached by locking me into the boot of a car, which is lowered into a car crusher, and so on.
To let you in on a little secret – my absolute fear is / are Snakes. I shiver when I see them on TV, and the idea of being anywhere near one FREAKS ME OUT! In hindsight, I suppose I should have confronted my OWN fear by doing something involving a snake pit or similar. The Production team were all for it and tried to twist my arm, but I genuinely believe I would have either cried, or cursed so much that segment would be unusable! Maybe next time!
Now, I’m fortunately pretty good at what I do with locks, so to make things interesting I decided to involve somebody else in an escape stunt, so my success actually depended on her. So we took a lovely TV presenter from RTE2 and asked her to be involved in the show, without giving her any details whatsoever. Myself and the trainers I work with put her through a few rigorous workouts to test her metal and strength. I taught her how to pick a simple padlock, and then a week or two later we blindfolded her and brought her to a secret location, where she was chained very very tightly to me, back to back, with another chain wrapped around our necks. With a looming threat on its way, we had 2 minutes to escape. I really can’t wait for you to see this one! It has to be said that she was an unbelievable sport, and managed to keep her cool throughout, which is the key thing.
All the stunts were planned between myself and Ireland’s top stunt co-ordinator, Dónal O’Farrell.
At first, I think he thought I was a bit reckless, and quite fool-hardy (he’s not far wrong), but when he saw that I was able to do what I said I could do, he seemed to trust me a lot more and let me go for bigger risks. He really took great care of me, even though I frustrated the hell out of him. When I was walking through the different stunts, Dónal would point out the problems and say ‘ But how are you going to handle that bit? ‘, and always without fail, my response was ‘ Ah, I’ll just wing it ‘, which drove him up the wall! But he really is a legend of man! I used to really look forward to lunch breaks, as he’d regale us with great stories about the actors he’s worked with like Christian Bale, Mel Gibson, Matthew McConnaughey and Tom Hanks! He almost pulled the stunt that you’ll see in the first episode, because he was testing the catapult out and it badly hurt his back. This made me a bit more nervous than I already was, but I convinced him to let me do it. You can see some footage of that here.
So, did anything go wrong? It sure did. Car Crusher, Episode 8.
The hands-down strangest feature in the series is a sort of endurance stunt, with an added challenge. There was a study published by a Canadian University in 1972, that stated that nobody could last longer than 3 hours in underwater Sensory Deprivation. Test subjects found it to be psychologically unbearable. One subject stated that ‘it was the deepest darkness I’ve ever known’. So….challenge accepted. But I figured that no audience would enjoy watching me sit in a pool of water for 3 hours on TV, right? So we added a challenge in. I did it in a Shark Tank, in Bray, Co. Wicklow.
The real test though, was seeing whether or not I could memorise the contents of a book I had never seen before, whilst underwater. I’ll explain more about this in a separate post, and hopefully you’ll understand where the idea came from then. This was such a thrill for me, because I got trained in Scuba Diving – something I never had the opportunity to try before! I was up at the crack of dawn, and into the water at Greystones Harbour at 6am every morning for a week. Good job I’m a morning person!
So, hopefully after reading that, you’ll have some idea of what to expect from the show when it airs on Thursdays, at 6.25pm (I think I mentioned that before, right?!). Oh, one last thing – Yes, it is all in Irish, and I promise you that this won’t detract from your enjoyment of it if you don’t speak great Irish, and even if you haven’t got a word! So please don’t let that dissuade you from tuning in. We’ve taken everything into account from that point of view, and have tried our upmost to make the series accessible for all the family, young or old.
It was a whirlwind of a year making the show, and it was the most incredible experience of my life. Equal parts fun, exhausting, frustrating, exciting and educational. Your continued support over the years has been the icing on the cake for me, and even if I never film another second of magic for TV after this, I really hope that you’ll feel as though I’ve left my mark on the Magic industry in Ireland, for the better.
Go mbéimíd beo, a chairde!
Ps. If you have any questions or comments as you’re watching the show, please Tweet or Facebook them to me, and I’ll try my best to answer. Play nice though kids…it’s my first time!