While traditional magicians and illusionists focus on tricks and elaborate props, Scott Silven’s work is driven by the power of story, memory and the mind.
The Scottish mentalist and performance artist will make his Australian debut with two shows at this year’s Melbourne International Arts Festival: the intimate dinner event, At The Illusionist’s Table, and the larger-scale Wonders, which takes place in The Famous Spiegeltent.
“I often call it theatre for the mind,” says Silven. “For me, mentalism is the purest form of magic. It happens inside the audiences’ own heads, and as it directly involves their memories and emotions, it can affect them in the most remarkable of ways.”
Silven’s job frequently takes him around the world, focusing in particular on North America and Europe. Given the nature of his practice, he has to maintain a high level of mental agility.
“I just completed a seven-month run in NYC in April and headed straight into my second world tour, which will be running until next summer. So it’s definitely an intense but fulfilling schedule,” he says. “To be asked to make my Australian premiere at the Melbourne Festival with two of my shows is an honour.”
The audience is always the driving force of one of Silven’s shows and he relies on their participation. So, although he’s one of the leading practitioners in the field, he’s not able to dial it in or have an off night, as each experience is so personal to that particular audience.
“I believe that being a mentalist grants you one of the closest connections possible between performer and audience,” he says. “I want them to leave knowing that they have not only experienced, but were a direct part of something remarkable. I also open both shows with effects that involve the entire room to immediately immerse both them and myself into the experience.”
Silven’s act is rooted in being able to intuit or predict what people are thinking. It’s done in such a way that people aren’t so inclined to interrogate his mysterious powers, because the outcomes are far more compelling.
“My goal is to get the audience to move away from how it’s done. It’s often the least interesting part of any illusion,” Silven says. “I think that’s true of most art – you often won’t look at a painting and consider what paintbrush was used or the canvas that displays it, but how it makes you feel, the emotions that are expressed in the work, and what the artist is trying to say.”
At its best, Silven’s work creates a sense of unity between audience members and illustrates the manifold connections we all share. One of his driving aims is to transcend the medium of a magic show.
“There’s real power in using illusion as a metaphor for something greater,” he says. “I think magic and mentalism has existed for as long as it has because it has consistently found a way to resonate with the times. Whether we realise it or not, in a time of unrest or fragmentation, I think we all instinctively seek out experiences that project positivity and allow us to feel true wonder – surely one of the most profound emotional responses.”
Silven’s understanding of prevailing thought patterns continues to grow the longer he exercises his mentalism, but that doesn’t mean the mystery of consciousness has faded.
“I’ve been surprised by the illusion of individuality and freewill and discovering actually how alike we all are, but there is a definite mystery to both the definition and existence of consciousness that I constantly find fascinating.
“I think there is an inherent beauty in the mystery of life that should be embraced. It’s always important to be present in the moment and appreciate just how miraculous it is that you exist. Wonder exists all around you and that should inspire you to be open to opportunities and discover experiences that allow you to grow as a person.”
Catch Wonders at The Famous Spiegeltent on Saturdays and Sundays from October 5 – 20 as part of Melbourne International Arts Festival. At The Illusionist’s Table (sold out) is happening at Alpha60 Chapter House from Tuesday October 3 – Sunday October 20 (excluding Mondays).