A&E

On the Record with Sam Strange

DeKALB – Sam Strange is a magician, but instead of pulling rabbits out of hats, he performs illusions on a grand scale.

Sam Strange and Richard Young form Young & Strange, a British comedy magic act that performs worldwide with Champions of Magic.

Champions of Magic’s Worldwide Wonders Tour will make its debut in DeKalb at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 28, at the Egyptian Theatre, 135 S. Second St. The tour will continue with stops in Detroit, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Charlotte, Seattle and many more cities across the U.S., before taking in the rest of North America and four more continents.

Reserved tickets for the show at the Egyptian cost $40 for the main floor and $35 for the balcony. Tickets can be purchased online at https://egyptiantheatre.org, by phone at 815-758-1225 or in person at the box office from 3 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Described by the press as “The Avengers of magic,” the illusionists will present incredible feats including a daring escape from Houdini’s water torture cell, stunning close-up magic, levitation high above the stage and many other spectacular illusions that can’t be seen anywhere else.

Originally beginning production in the United Kingdom in 2013 and first touring the United States in 2017, Champions of Magic has broken venue records for ticket sales and has received critical acclaim. In 2020, a 90-minute TV special was released.

Sam Strange spoke to MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton about his act, Young & Strange, and the Champions of Magic show in DeKalb.

Milton: Tell me about Champions of Magic.

Strange: We are currently the world’s largest touring and illusion show. There are five different performers doing different styles of performance. There’s something for everybody in the show, from 8 years old to 80 years old: slight of hand, mind reading, escapes and grand illusions.

Milton: Is the magic performed on stage?

Strange: We perform on a stage, but there are lots of moments with magic performed in the audience. There’s also a camera that is projected on a big screen. We very much break the fourth wall and interact with the audience. Magic, by its definition and in its nature, is interactive.

Milton: What is your role in the show?

Strange: I am part of a double act called Young & Strange. We perform illusions on a grand scale, pyrotechnics, all with a high level of production and a comedy thread between the two of us.

Milton: How has magic changed through the years?

Strange: Magic has evolved a lot, especially now when you can make use of modern technology: lighting, pyrotechnics, the methods of the magic. I love the ′80s style of magic. If you look at magic through the years, the ′80s is a golden period, Siegfried & Roy, David Copperfield, Lance Burton. There’s big scale production pieces without having to compete with the Instagram and YouTube of today.

Milton: How is magic different in 2021?

Strange: It’s a challenge in 2021 to keep an audience entertained when they’re looking at their iPhones every day. Trying to compete with that is a challenge … because you have a phone on you that can have a global reach. Before, it was about who you know, your showbiz contact, your agent. Now, even if you’re in a house in the middle of nowhere, you can produce content. There’s more content, so competition is fierce. It’s very easy to have a viral sensation.

Milton: How is in-person magic different?

Strange: It’s very easy when you watch content online [to doubt]. Is that person in on the trick? Is what I’m seeing the correct version? Is it edited or are they stooges? All those questions are answered because it’s live. Magic is best watched live. You also get to watch expressions on people’s faces to see what’s really what’s happening.

Milton: What is it like being part of a world-traveling show?

Strange: One of the great things about being involved in a touring production in theaters and arenas is that there’s a budget outside of the magic trick. You can create a real spectacle, which broadens the appeal of magic. If you get dragged along [to the show] by someone, even if you don’t like the tricks, there’s other things: music and the rest of the production.

Milton: How can someone become a world-famous magician?

Strange: Many magicians got a magic set when they were kids and they progress from there. Once you start performing magic, even some of the basic tricks, affirmation is the greatest catalyst. It spurs you on to learn something new. Then you build up a repertoire and get known as someone who does magic and people are interested. It’s a cliché, but seeing expressions on people’s faces, the disbelief, is a great thing.

Milton: What do you say to doubters and naysayers?

Strange: First – with this show – good luck. The performers have thought of every aspect of what they’re doing and have mastered what they do. Secondly, what are you doing that for? You’re only depriving yourself of that that feeling. [Being a magician] is a very honest deception: you say you’re going to deceive them and you deceive them. The audience enjoys that and likes being bamboozled and momentarily dispelling disbelief.

Milton: How is magic different around the world?

Strange: We’ve performed all over the world: all over Canada, Mexico, Europe and northern America. Depending on where you come from in the world and the culture, there’s a different attitude toward magic. The British are skeptical and sit with their arms folded. Americans love it, they enter into the nonsense and magic of it all. It’s like going to a sports game; they want to be entertained and amazed.

Milton: Where are you from?

Strange: I’m from Oxford, England, [Richard Young and I] both grew up there. We grew up learning magic together and developed an act in our teenage years. Richard Young and Sam Strange are our genuine names, so we of course went with Young & Strange.

Milton: What would you say to aspiring magicians?

Strange: Don’t do it because we don’t need any more competition. All joking aside, you’ve got to follow your passion. You have to have a lot of time, effort, blood sweat and tears, and you need passion for that.

Milton: Is every show different?

Strange: Because there’s audience interaction, it’s always a variable. Things do and can go wrong along the way. We have a mind reader, who pulls up people on stage, there’s variable in that.

Milton: What is it like to be on the stage again after the pandemic?

Strange: Audiences are electric, everyone is so keen to be there and they know how hard it’s been for a lot of shows. … Personally, I desperately want people to come. The past 18 months to two years for performing arts has been very staggering. We’re desperate to get on the stage again. You’d do performers a world of justice if you came. We’ve never been more appreciative to stand on a stage. Go and see a show.