In November, L.A. Weekly ran a cover story on Helder Guimarães and Derek DelGaudio, two L.A. magicians who created the most popular show at the Magic Castle in years, and then transferred it to the Geffen Playhouse. Along the way they got help from Magic Castle President Neil Patrick Harris, who directed the Geffen show.
Now that the four-month Geffen run has ended, we sat down with the pair to debrief the experience. (And in case you missed the show, you might not have to worry — they're currently in negotiations to bring it to New York.)
After closing night in March, the pair felt a bit of withdrawal. “The first day I was supposed to do the show, but didn't, at the time of the show I started to feel an adrenaline rush, some anxiety,” DelGaudio says.
It affected Guimarães's body, too — he started only sleeping four hours a night. “This is my logic: When you go on stage, there is this kind of energy that you consume doing the show,” Guimarães says. “Your body needs to rest more.” That means that “after this show closes, I only needed four hours of rest to be okay.”
While the show was a success, extending many times and running for four months and 144 performances, it was not without its hiccups when it began in November. The main challenge in taking it to the Geffen, Guimarães says, was: “How can you do the same thing in a bigger space and still make it feel intimate and small and approachable?”
One problem was that they received a shipment of corks to cap the dozens of bottles (each one housing a deck of cards) that served as the backdrop of the stage, but they were too small, and fell through the hole in the bottle. They had to re-order more with just a couple days before the first dress rehearsal. And between their last rehearsal before opening, on a Tuesday afternoon, and their first performance that night, they rewrote a whole section of the script.
In addition, between the final tech rehearsal and the first dress rehearsal for an audience, they re-did the entire lighting design. When they first saw designer Adam Blumenthal's lighting, they thought it was gorgeous — but eventually realized it didn't really work.
“For the type of show we do, it was overworked,” Guimarães says.
“He really painted every vignette a different feel,” washing the set in reds and blues, DelGaudio says. “And it became too much.
“We went home at like 2 a.m. or something,” DelGaudio adds, “and we're like calling Adam: 'You gotta be on set tomorrow, we gotta change everything.' And he was like, 'What?'”
The end result was simpler, more raw. “Everyone was — not nervous for us, but was suspicious or had a little anxiety about the simplicity of the set and the staging,” says DelGaudio. “Everyone was a little like, 'Is this enough?'” But he and Guimarães were convinced that everything “about the show, from the way we are, to what we say to the set has to be raw.” Especially since the title of the show — and the main theme — was Nothing to Hide. “It has to be a show about honesty — we want to be as honest as possible.”
During the run, they had to learn how to play to a larger crowd, as the audience numbered over 100, as compared to the few dozen at the Magic Castle. The difficulties in translation had to do with clarity — they couldn't talk over each other during their banter, and if you ask something of a volunteer in a theater setting like the Geffen, you're not just talking to the volunteer.
“The back rows may not know what you said, and now you just handed someone a deck of cards and said something, and now they're like, 'What did you just tell them?' When really you just said, 'Shuffle the cards,'” DelGaudio says.
Picking volunteers was especially important. “The one that I saw destroy the energy the most was the dude with the box,” says DelGaudio, referring to the trick that involved asking a volunteer to hide a box somewhere in the theater.
Unlike in most tricks, where the audience can see the result, in this trick the volunteer is the one who has to look inside the box and verify that the illusion actually happened.
“You pick the guy who's a believer. And not necessarily in magic, but just in experiences,” DelGaudio says. “Sometimes everybody has a poker face and it's very, very difficult.”
At the end of the trick, when the moment of recognition is supposed to come, he adds, “We had a couple nights where the dude was like, 'Okay.' … And we had one night, where I go, 'Is that Helder there, holding all three cards?' And the guy was like, 'I guess.' … And I went, 'Sit down, fucktard,' and I pushed him back to his seat and I go up to another person and I go, 'Sir, is that Helder?' And he'd say, 'Yes,' and I'd go, 'You get to keep that as a souvenir.'”
He adds, “Note to self: Do not call audience member a fucktard.”
Managing the performer-volunteer relationship is trickier than you'd think — especially the first volunteer, who sets the tone. “If you pick someone who is wiling to confront you directly, then more people feel entitled,” Guimarães says.
“It's like an uprising,” adds DelGaudio. “They get emboldened.”
For instance, on one occasion, the first volunteer was asked to shuffle the cards until he was ready. But as he was shuffling, the volunteer said, “'How long you gonna wait?”
“And I said, 'How long do you want to be a dick?'” Guimarães recalls. “That audience realized, 'Fuck, this guy knows what he's doing.' It makes the audience, in a certain sense, respect me.”
“People know it's not personal. They know it's part of the show,” he adds. “I'm not saying 'You're a dick' to show everyone else you're a dick, I'm saying 'You're a dick' to make the show go forward, if that makes sense. … People that we said lines like that [to] will say things like, 'Oh, you guys are awesome.' ”
The main thing, however, is making sure everyone knows what's going on. Says DelGaudio, “If we're gonna bust a guy's chops, they need to realize that guy's being difficult.”