by LIZA MITCHELL
As a master illusionist, Kevin Spencer understands the value of presentation. But even more important than focusing on the art of entertaining, Spencer is developing ways to use magic to help promote healing and improve the quality of life for the developmentally disabled in our community.
The Spencer Illusionists will bring their masterful showcase to the Florida Theatre January 17. In addition to the live show, Kevin Spencer will be working January 15 at Wolfson Children’s Hospital and January 16 at Alden Road School as part of their Healing of Magic and Hocus Focus programs.
Spencer takes great care in selecting the pieces to include in the family’s performances whether on the stage or in a clinical setting. The show offers a bit of everything from rock n roll to theatre to interactive tricks that wow audiences. During his rehabilitation programs, Spencer is able to witness the impact of his work firsthand as patients make great strides in such areas as cognitive thinking, planning, sequencing and gross motor development.
No matter the venue, one thing is for certain. Spencer is not a birthday party magician with a rabbit in his hat. “Magic can take on really different forms. We try to give you exactly what you want. It brings magic to a whole different level in a really tasteful way,” he says. “We tried to tie together a really different combination of live theatre and magic using lighting, scenery, music, movement and the high energy of a rock concert. If you have taken the time to buy a ticket and come to see our show, we want you to have a positive experience.”
The Spencer Illusionists are the largest touring illusion show in the country, taking the top position following David Copperfield’s departure from his longtime Las Vegas show. Kevin and Cindy Spencer continue to redefine the art of illusion and are shattering the stereotype of the traditional magician and assistant. The Spencers are the only artists in history to be named Performing Arts Entertainers of the Year for a record-breaking six consecutive years and have twice been named America’s Best Entertainers.
Spencer is thrilled for the opportunity to recreate an illusion last performed on Broadway in 1914 by Harry Houdini. In the trick, Spencer will demonstrate his magical prowess by walking through a solid brick wall. Houdini never performed the trick again and no other magician has attempted it live on stage in the last century.
“He just stopped,” Spencer says of the legendary magician’s abrupt departure from the thought-provoking illusion. “It may have been believed to have undermined all of his other tricks.”
Prior to the show’s start, audience members will have the chance to touch the concrete blocks that are stacked on two steel bars to build the solid wall structure. The wall will remain in place throughout the show until Spencer performs the infamous trick. “It is a really great piece of magic and a beautiful piece of theatre,” he says.
One of the elements of the show that Spencer looks most forward to is the opportunity to interact with audience members in a way that makes them feel as if they were part of something special. “Magic is most satisfying with audience participation,” he says. “It’s always an entirely different thing. You never know what an audience is going to do. For me, as a performer, it is always a privilege.”
Spencer is most proud of the opportunity to utilize his skills to benefit those living with developmental delays and other limiting conditions. In 1984, the Spencers created a special program called Healing of Magic that uses magic as a tool in rehabilitation medicine. Through their efforts, new treatment modalities are being explored and used to effectively improve the everyday skills of people who have experienced strokes, accidents, spinal cord or head injuries, learning or developmental disabilities, visual deficits, psycho-social disorders, those who have problems with alcohol or other drug abuse, and many other diagnoses.
“Very early in my career I was involved in a very bad car accident. I worked hard to regain the skills I lost in the wreck. When I finished I thought ‘isn’t there a better way to do this?’” Spencer says. “I sat down with occupational and physical therapists that accomplish all of the goals of traditional therapy. That was my motivation.”
For someone who has been labeled “disabled” by society, learning to do something that “able-bodied” people cannot do, such as a magic trick, provides them the opportunity to feel special and offers a tremendous boost to their self-esteem.
Recently, the program has expanded again into the area of special education. Hocus Focus is a comprehensive curriculum available to teachers to provide them with a visual, exciting, and motivating way to allow students to safely explore skills levels, improve existing skills, and develop new ones. Spencer recalls a session he experienced with a 9-year-old boy on the autism spectrum. The child, who was non-verbal, attended therapy with his father the day Spencer showed him “a little trick” that made them both believe in the healing power of magic.
“I showed him this trick, and he looked at me and leaned in really close,” Spencer says. “He said ‘what do I do next, and where do I put my hands?’ When we were done, his dad stood up and gave me an enormous hug. That was the first time in over nine years that he had ever heard his son speak. The applause of a full house of people in the theaters where we perform our show is nowhere close to the embrace of that dad. Magic gives these people the motivation to practice the tricks when they are really doing therapy in a more engaging way and do things that make their able-bodied peers say, wait a minute. How did you do that?”
How'd You Do That?
by LIZA MITCHELL