Over the last handful of years, magic has seen a huge increase in popularity. Maybe it’s thanks to the fame of people like Criss Angel, or maybe it’s just that people want to be a part of something with “secrets” in a world where information is so easily attainable and disposable. Regardless, it seems that there are many more magicians and magic fans now than there were five or 10 years ago.
But none of them has ever put together an immersive magical experience quite like Helder Guimaraes’ Borrowed Time, a show he's currently performing at a classified location in L.A.
On paper, Borrowed Time is one of the best sleight-of-hand magicians in the world doing what he does best: card tricks and other parlour-style acts. But it's a combination of Guimaraes' performing skills and the whimsical yet urban (almost steampunk) surroundings and atmosphere that truly make the event stand out. Without revealing too much about the show, the entertainment value from the moment you realize you're there is second to none, regardless of your opinions on magic. At the same time, watching someone with the sleight-of-hand skills to deceive you time and time again from mere inches in front of your face (and taking part in it yourself) is just as mystifying and impressive.
Much like the performance itself, the top-secret venue provides just the right amount of humor, bewilderment and timelessness to make you forget where you actually are. Which is part of Guimaraes' plot to make his show as memorable as possible.
“There is a feeling that I wanted people to get that are going through the context of the performance,” Guimaraes says. “It’s about memories, time, and how secrets can be used for something else. What I really want people to get is the feeling that they’ve witnessed something truly impossible. I don’t see this as a show, I see this as a performance inside of an overall experience.”
Guimaraes — the Academy of Magical Arts’ Parlour Magician of the Year for 2011 and 2012 — knows what it’s like to put on a big show; his most recent two-man project ran in large theaters and was directed by Neil Patrick Harris. That’s exactly why the Portuguese magician chose to make Borrowed Time more of a personal experience than a spectacle. While card tricks and making small objects disappear might seem run-of-the-mill, the closeness of the performance makes every moment mind-blowing.
“I’ve done bigger shows and I’m going to do bigger shows in the future, but I like the proximity of this experience,” Guimaraes says. “I can look everyone in the eyes and everyone can participate. I think the further we go in the world, the less these personal experiences exist. We are all becoming disconnected with the Internet and all that.”
The second-generation magician compares his magic show to actually talking with someone in person rather than texting them. In a venue as small as Borrowed Time’s, it’s impossible to not feel like a part of the performance. While many magicians may prefer a lecture hall–style room for their acts, Guimaraes brings back memories of old-school living-room performances with his smaller setup.
“There’s this feeling of sitting in a room with people and actually experiencing something that doesn’t happen very much anymore,” Guimaraes says. “Television doesn’t do that. Cinemas come close to that, but you know that the projection will always be the same. Here, you know that what you see will never be repeated. I like that every day is a unique moment.”
From his first performance at the age of 4 in his kindergarten classroom, Guimaraes has been keen on doing magic. Three decades later, he’s one of the best in the world. Of course, it didn’t all come easily. Guimaraes spent time in theater school to work on the performance and storytelling aspects of his magic, and his sly brand of humor makes the talkative moments of his act just as entertaining as the tricks themselves. It’s a blend that has worked wonders for the L.A.-based magician who never goes anywhere without a deck of cards or one valuable lesson from a mentor.
“When I was young, one of my mentors came up to me and he said, ‘You suck,’” Guimaraes recalls. “I didn’t know why he thought I sucked, but I never forgot that. A few years later, I asked him if I still sucked anymore or if I got better. He said, ‘Oh, you never sucked. I had to tell you that for you to want to go further.’”
Decades later, Guimaraes still spends most of his time focused on what he could improve in each performance. When he’s not performing, he’s studying and rehearsing magic, and it’s this drive and passion that have helped him win the accolades and recognition he holds today. Guimaraes says the key to becoming a great magician is to read books rather than watching tutorials. It’s an obvious difference to the performer, as books force young magicians to use their creativity as opposed to just mirroring hand movements. His other “secret” tip for an up-and-comer? Be passionate about magic.
“Intellectually, I know that magic is my career,” Guimaraes says. “Emotionally, it is much more than that. Magic is a part of who I am as a person. It’s not like I come in and think, ‘Oh, I’m coming to work.’ I think the only way to be inside of magic as an art form is if magic ceases to be something you do and becomes something you are.”
As a devoted fan and student of magic both throughout history and all over the globe, the 30-year magic veteran has seen the magical side of his fair share of cities. Considering that most Angelenos have at least heard of the Magic Castle, Guimaraes believes that cities with some sort of magical background tend to have a slight advantage over other areas.
“Every place in the world is slightly different but also the same at the same time,” Guimaraes says. “I’ve never gone to a place in the world where people don’t like magic. But I have gone to places where people didn’t know about magic, and places like the Magic Castle help make people more aware that there are magic shows going on. I think L.A. is also a very good crowd for the type of magic I do, because the crowd is more interested in the humor and the deeper philosophical meanings instead of just the visual magic.”
The award-winning sleight-of-hand magician extended his Thursday-through-Sunday dates
into the first week through the end of March due to popular demand, but many performances are already sold out. Check Borrowed Time’s website to buy tickets and for more information.