'Theatre of Illusion' offers cutting-edge spectacle in Fairfield
Restoring a "sense of wonder" to the world is what Kevin and Cindy Spencer do for a living.
They're illusionists who say they believe in the power of magic to bring delight, joy and comfort to young and old alike.
And perhaps this commitment to their art is what makes them among the top performers in the field, having won the Merlin Award as International Magicians of the Year in 2009 from the International Magicians Society, as have such celebrated masters as Doug Henning, Penn & Teller, Criss Angel and David Copperfield.
"Theatre of Illusion" has "all the great theatrical elements of a Broadway production, combined with the high energy of a rock concert. And magic is the vehicle that moves the production along," said Kevin Spencer during a recent telephone interview from the couple's touring bus "somewhere in rural Pennsylvania."
The couple became an act soon after they married about 20 years ago -- and they've been on the road ever since, performing 10 months each year here and abroad. (They leave for their fourth international tour in mid-November, with 11 performances now slated through Dec. 11 in Spain, Italy, Romania and Turkey.)
Illusion is an art form, as powerful as concerts of "great music" or productions of "inspirational dance or powerful theater," Spencer said. "And we attempt to evoke the same type of emotion" as do the other arts.
Spencer said that "Theatre of Illusion" has a presentation style different from most other magic shows, thanks in part to their friend Jim Steinmeyer, a renowned designer and inventor of illusions and special effects for magicians and Broadway shows, such as "Beauty and the Beast" and "Mary Poppins."
"It was Jim who called us a while back and wanted to know if I was interested in walking through a wall," he recalled, laughing. No one had attempted the illusion of passing through a solid brick/cement wall since 1914, when Harry Houdini accomplished the feat, but then dropped it from his repertoire, he said.
"But Jim came up . . . with a hip version of that illusion. And we love it, especially since we involve the audience" in the illusion, "which adds spontaneity to the performance. Visually it appears that I pass from one side of the wall to the other. It's a beautiful piece of theater, from the illusion, to the music, to the prose, to the lighting."
Born in Indiana, Spencer said that he got hooked on magic at about age 8, when his parents bought him a magic kit. Magic and playing the piano -- for a time he contemplated becoming a concert pianist -- soon became his passions. While in college (he is a graduate of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a bachelor's degree in clinical psychology), Spencer caught a Doug Henning performance, and sent the famous magician a backstage note asking for a one-on-one meeting. "Amazingly" Henning agreed -- "I never asked him why; perhaps he sensed my sincerity about becoming a professional."
That meeting and subsequent get-togethers with Henning, he said, served as good lessons in being generous with ones gifts. (Spencer has used his background in psychology to develop a "Hocus Focus" curriculum for special education students and is the co-founder of the Healing of Magic program, which helps the ill, challenged and disabled to learn illusions with the goal of improving motor and cognitive skills and building self-worth and confidence.)
Another event that caused him to evaluate his life happened soon after he and Cindy were married. As the couple was traveling to the Carolinas for performances, the truck that Kevin was driving was struck by a speeding tractor-trailer, he related. He was seriously injured, but after several months in physical and occupational therapy, the Spencers decided to hit the road again with an altered show, with Cindy becoming a key player in the act. They changed their choice of illusions, studied stagecraft and sought guidance from others. The Magic of Kevin Spencer then evolved into The Spencers: Theatre of Illusion.
After the accident "we learned to never take things for granted; I love every minute of this job," he said.
The Spencers: Theatre of Illusion, Fairfield University's Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts, 200 Barlow Road. Sunday, Oct. 30, 3 p.m. $35, $30, $25, $15 students under age 12. 1-877-ARTS-396; www.fairfield.edu/newseason.