FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
"The psychology of magic is more powerful than the technology," says Franz Harary. He'll perform his magic at Hawaii Theatre this month.
Illusionist Franz Harary surfs "that wave billowing between belief and technology"
When you've made the Battleship Missouri disappear, live on TV, the motto "More is More" comes to mind. But illusionist Franz Harary is on a "Less is More" diet these days.
Tom Moffatt presents Franz Harary's Mega Magic
» Place: Hawaii Theatre
» Times: 7:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday and July 20, 21 and 22; 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and July 22 and 23.
» Admission: $20, $25, $35, discounts for seniors, military and children
» Family matinees: 11 a.m. Saturday and July 22, with admission for children under 12 at $5.
» Tickets: 528-0506 or www.hawaiitheatre.com
"One really cool thing about the Hawaii Theatre is that the audience is so close," said Harary. "At this point in my career, that doesn't happen very often. I'm looking forward to doing my best stuff right in their laps!
"For years I've made a name for myself in the industry for big effects, for massive illusions and technology, every possible toy and trick thrown on stage. But I've come to realize that the most effective magic is done with nothing. I learned that in India -- the magic that the Indian street magicians are doing literally eclipses everything we're doing in the West. And they're doing it with rocks and stones and dirt! I saw magic on the streets of Bangladesh that just fried me. I had no clue how they did it. Not the slimmest idea.
"It also made me realize that the psychology of magic is more powerful than the technology. These street magicians changed the way I look at my own stuff. The idea is that I simply become a conduit for ordinary people to do magic with each other. Audiences empowered to do impossible things!"
The last actual show Harary performed here was nine years ago, when he made Mayor Jeremy Harris disappear, and an enterprising Star-Bulletin photographer revealed that, alas, it was all an illusion. But he's been back several times, once to blink out a battleship and on other occasions to film TV specials. Harary says he really likes Hawaii, with our East-West ambiance. Magic exists in all cultures.
"Wherever you do magic, you have to understand the culture of where you are, and Hawaii has an amazing cross-culture going on. So I came a little early to see what's happening here, what's going on -- what's with that giant tube in the middle of the Ala Wai? -- and find out what's on people's minds, and translate that in magic that will mean something to a local audience."
Not that the show will be limited to levitating a musubi or something. Expect a kind of greatest hits package -- he calls it "Franz's Favorites" -- of large-scale illusionry.
"I've been traveling globally with this show, 'Mega Magic.' I'm proud to say that it is the largest touring illusion show in the world. In Asia, we primarily played arenas. Basically, everything I've learned from the music industry in concerts, I've applied it to a magic show."
You see, magic is just Harary's day job. He moonlights as a musical illusionist, helping pop artists put on shows that can compare to their sophisticated music videos.
"About half my work is designing for pop concerts, for people like Michael and Janet Jackson, Usher, Missy Elliott. ... I just did a thing for Missy Elliott where she beams down, like 'Star Trek,' to open her concert. Or a thing where she levitates a foot in the air. I'm using illusions and magic principles to create special effects on stage that would otherwise be impossible."
N'Sync wanted to suddenly appear in the middle of an arena, he said. "So the challenge wasn't how does it look, it was how do you get them into the middle of the stadium undetected? And once they're there, how do they magically appear to an audience around them 360 degrees?"
Sleight of hand? Misdirection? Getting Karl Rove to spin it?
"If you've ever seen a magician at a birthday party, they're always pretty careful about angles. Visual geometry plays a big part in all this. So what I've done over the years is figure out how to create this stuff in 360 degrees. Take levitation. To make someone float in the air, you have to create what is called a zone of invisibility. SOMETHING is obviously picking them up or holding them up, so what I'm doing is making that something invisible. It's a total brainscrew to figure it out!"
What is it about magic that survives in a disbelieving world?
"You go to Asia, you go to the Far East, magic is real. Indonesia, Malaysia, magic is an absolute part of the culture. Gravity is real, and accepted, and so is magic. ... In the Middle East, the Arab Emirates, nothing happens unless the magic is taken care of first. ...
"We now know, if you look at history, that everything we now know will be proven wrong. Even the most elementary theories of physics, over the last hundred years, have been proven wrong. What we believe to be magic now will one day be as accepted as superconductivity is today.
"(Science fiction author) Arthur C. Clarke said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. I'm a total science-fiction geek. And magic, by it's very nature, promotes wonder, and it is wonder that drives scientists to push forward to the next thing. Magic needs to be slightly ahead of technology, so, as technology moves ahead, magic is continually surfing that wave billowing between belief and technology. A cool little cycle, and I'm riding it!"