Illusionist to bring unique interactive performance to Hancher

Next week, illusionist and mentalist Scott Silven will perform in an exclusive virtual experience that combines both Silven’s own experiences and audience interaction.


Parker Jones, Arts Reporter

In early 2020, illusionist Scott Silven was just beginning his worldwide tour when it was cut short by the spread of COVID-19. He returned to his childhood home in rural Scotland and began to remember the themes of imagination, home, and magic that inspired him to pursue illusion in the first place.

Now, Silven is bringing those themes to an audience. From May 12-15, Hancher Auditorium will present The Journey, an intimate virtual storytelling-based performance that draws from not only Silven’s own memories, but also those of his audience.

Silven is a magician and an illusionist, but specifically performs as a mentalist — a magician who draws from internal mental abilities rather than solely physical illusions.

Silven described The Journey as a very personal show, but also one that resonates with his audience and strongly focuses on themes of home, place, and connection. So much so, in fact, that he requires each audience member to bring a meaningful personal item to the event for him to work with.

“It really excited me that you could take these everyday items and create impossible experiences from them,” Silven said. “The Journey is basically an adventure where I take people into my home in Scotland and encourage people to use their minds and imagination, and guide them on that journey.”

Silven noted that when examining the virtual technology available — with platforms like Zoom — that he and his team realized it would not allow the experience to be as engaging as it would at an in-person performance.

In order to create more opportunities for Silven and the audience to interact, Silven’s team built custom technology and software that allows the audience to be projected into the space directly with the illusionist, to mimic the liveness of a real-life event.

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There are only 30 available virtual seats for each performance, which Hancher Programming Director Paul Brohan said was necessary due to the interactive nature of The Journey. He also made sure to mention the theatricality and storytelling emphasized within the performance, and that while it is live and improvised based on the specific audience members that are included, it is not that distant from what Hancher usually presents.

“The Journey has a story from beginning to end, that [Silven] has crafted, but the audience participating and the particular performance is created in real time with him,” Brohan said. “It’s a fascinating piece and project that I think is well tailored to its time, in this world of virtual performing arts.”

Brohan added that because this performance was engineered specifically to make it virtually engaging, it has encouraged Hancher to look for more similar events to present in the future.

The interactive nature of the performance was also highlighted by Rob Cline, the director of marketing and communications at Hancher. Cline wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan that though each audience member will be in their own home, and Silven in Scotland, the real-time interaction will still be shared, achieving Hancher’s goal of creating a connection between artists and audiences.

“They experience the storytelling and the magic together in a performance that will never again be exactly the same,” Cline wrote. “That sense of being able to connect with one another is so important — and so hard to recreate online. Silven, to his credit, has found a way to do that.”