Adam Trent is not your father's magician.
He may not even be your slightly older sister's magician.
Trent, 32, has been called "The Futurist" for incorporating cutting-edge technology into his act, including LED screens, holograms — even a 3D printer. But what may be more revolutionary about his style of magic is the way he incorporates live music, dancing and comedy into his shows, determined to make, as he calls it, "a magic show for people who don't normally like magic."
Trent is one of the few magicians to have performed on Broadway and is currently headlining a national tour produced by the team behind the popular touring magic show, "The Illusionists." He talked with the Cap Times about being a young magician in Colorado developing his style, how pop music shows inspire his act, and that time he put Matt Lauer's iPhone in a blender.
Did growing up in Colorado help in the sense that you got to develop your own style in isolation?
Absolutely. It was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I just went off on my own as a young kid, I used to dance and sing throughout my show. I would do this at middle schools and high schools and kids would go nuts like it was a Justin Bieber concert. Then I went to a magic group, and they told me to take all that stuff out, the singing and the dancing. I was like, “That’s the only thing that IS working for me right now!”
Is that the challenge facing magic right now? You have this old guard working within an established tradition, and then this new generation of magicians trying to find different, more personal ways to do magic.
It’s in a state of growth. I think this next generation of magicians is really redefining magic. I’m really trying to get it away from what people are used to seeing — the top hat and tails — and make it this fresh cool thing again.
Pop music is a big influence on you. If you see one of the big pop music acts, they’re already incorporating illusions into their arena shows. “How did Katy Perry change outfits so fast?” “How did Bono get from one end of the stadium to the other?”
So much of where my ideas come from is going to concerts and seeing something really cool that they’re doing with LED screens or the Tupac hologram. They’ll go for something really crazy and make it really cool and interesting, but they don’t flesh it out all the way. I’m looking at something that’s interesting by default, so let’s apply magic to it and make something really spectacular.
Do you start with that big moment and work backward to think, "How can I get there?" Or do you start with an illusion and then see how big and crazy you can make it?
Now I start with the ideal effect and work backward. With this show, it’s produced by the producers of the hit Broadway show, "The Illusionists." But I’ve been doing solo magic my whole life, (and) it used to be me and a rental car and a briefcase. So it was, “What can I do that fits inside this briefcase?” That was how my whole show was put together.
Now, I’m able to work from the top down and think about what would be the perfect effect. I want to 3D print myself at the top show or teleport across the stage or put on a virtual reality helmet and let the audience see what I see as I do a trick.
It seems like you have a real grasp on live performance. “Fun” is the operative word, which isn’t always the case when magic gets a little self-serious.
Absolutely. I think that on paper what separates me are these technological illusions. But once people actually come see the show, the biggest comment we get as people leave the show is, “I didn’t want to come here. I’m not a fan of magic shows. But I’m so glad we came because we laughed so hard.” It really is a magic show for people who don’t normally like magic shows.
That probably appeals to an audience that’s more your generation.
It’s been an interesting thing. I spent the last two months opening the show in a casino. We had people who came back and watched the show five or six times. They came back because of the comedy and having fun. The first time they might bring their kids, and the next five times they came back on a date night. It’s certainly a family-friendly show, but it’s not a kiddie show that the parents have to stomach through.
A lot of kids now experience magic tricks through YouTube videos, and a lot of young magicians are putting their tricks out there on YouTube. Do you think that’s de-emphasizing the importance of performance?
I’ve always felt that magic is best experienced live. If you’re watching it on a screen, you can go watch "Avatar" and see way better tricks than what the guy on the street is doing with a pack of cards. You go in a theater and you know that there are no camera tricks, it’s so much more powerful. And audience participation is so popular in live shows. I borrow someone’s iPhone and put it in a blender, and you’ll get a hundred different reactions when you turn the blender on.
As a performer, that adds an element of unpredictability. Is that something that excites you, or is it like, “Boy, I hope I picked the right person this time.”
It used to make me nervous. Now it excites me. I know there’s only like five main ways to react. One person’s angry, one person’s nervous, one person’s excited. I’ve done it enough now so I know how to handle almost anything and let it become it’s own thing.
But, yeah, the first time I did the blender trick it was for Matt Lauer on “The Today Show.” I was like, “I don’t how he’s going to react.” He specifically told me the phone had all these celebrity contacts in it, so I didn’t know how it was going to go. You have to trust yourself as a performer to loosen the reins and let it take on a life of its own.