Every Monday night, inside the Players Theatre, tucked between Minetta Lane and bustling MacDougal Street, magic arrives in Greenwich Village. Dubbed the longest-running off-Broadway magic show in New York City, every show has been different at Monday Night Magic since 1996. While the theater’s humble and almost claustrophobic lobby and auditorium might evoke a feeling of amateurism, Monday Night Magic is anything but amateur. Magicians from local places and faraway states come to perform for crowds of eager and skeptical attendees alike, leaving the establishment roaring with applause.
These shows don’t just contain the typical top hat-wearing magician cutting a woman in half. Monday Night Magic offers performers whose modus operandi exceeds standard magic tricks. In one show, the headlining performer was Jason Suran, a mentalist whose specialty is reading the minds of audience members. Suran explained how eager both audience members and the magicians were to see a live magic show after performing many over Zoom during the pandemic. While Zoom shows granted Suran a greater level of awe in being able to read the mind of someone miles away, he had missed the atmosphere and “in the moment” shock and awe of a live audience.
Stage and Close-up Magic
Another magician and producer of the show, Michael Chaut, performed a mentalist trick on me over the phone by correctly guessing a number I was thinking. Chaut explained the intricacies of magic tricks performed on stage, typically viewed from only a single angle, compared to those performed close up, which can be seen from multiple angles.
Performing stage magic or close-up magic can dramatically change how a magician interacts with an audience. With stage magic, usually the performer only has to worry about what the audience is seeing in front of them, so certain tricks tend to be easier or more complicated than others. Performing close-up magic means that magicians must be aware of people looking at them from multiple angles.
Chaut also admitted that magicians “can’t really do magic, [magicians] can help people experience magic and that’s really what our job is, to help them experience that magic moment.” Chaut, who was performing close-up magic during the show’s intermission, explained that “close-up magic hits the audience harder, and it allows a greater sense of disbelief to sweep the audience.”
More Magic Makers
Bobby Torkova is another star of the show. Unlike most magicians, who rely on commentary to grab the attention of the audience members, Torkova includes elements of miming in his performance. In an entirely silent act, Torkova relies on props during his performances, such as a rope to lasso people on stage to join him. He also emphasizes facial expressions as a form of communication with the audience. Torkova splits the rope into smaller pieces before miraculously combining them back together to grand applause.
In another trick, Torkova links multiple large rings together without fail, while an audience member struggles to follow along. When asked why he performs in silence, Torkova explained that including elements of mime in his performances stem from his childhood stutter. Torkova also described how the material he performed initially came from his street performances in the 70s. Back then, he struggled to attract a crowd until he realized the importance of including the audience in his acts. “I learned that many times you can better engage an audience’s interest if you interact with a volunteer first,” said Torkova.
TJ Tana broke tradition at the Monday Night Magic Show. He began his act by turning a handkerchief into an egg, dubbed the “silk-to-egg” illusion. Tana performs the trick again but shows the audience how the illusion is done by stuffing the handkerchief into a hole on the back of the fake plastic egg hidden from the audience behind the performer’s hand.
I was curious if this practice of revealing a trick’s secret on stage was common for magicians, to which Tana said, “absolutely not!” Unless the technique is a ruse to set up a completely different trick: Tana ended his act by somehow turning the fake egg into a real one –cracking it open on stage, egg yolk and all. To Tana, the silk-to-egg illusion is a “perfect trick.” He added: “People come to a magic show wanting to be fooled and entertained. Some people come wanting to figure everything out, because they hate being fooled and want to know the secret.” The reveal of the real egg, in Tana’s own words, finishes his act with a “kicker ending,” comparing it to a thriller movie.
As much attention as NYC gets for its extravangant shows, Monday Night Magic is different. An unassuming theater in a NYC residential area; a magic show with a smooth beginning and a kicker ending. It’s sometimes the shows without the billboards and flare that generate the most enthusiasm.