Do you still believe in magic? When was the last time you were fascinated by a magic trick? Ever miss the feeling of being mystified by something unexplainable happening right before your very eyes?
Then enter the world of Singapore’s youngest magic duo Darren and Jerryl, a captivating pair of magicians committed to the craft of illusion and fantasy.
Both of them were fascinated by the thrill of street performance early on in life, and eventually became hooked on the high of bewildered reactions from the unknowing passing stranger.
Jerryl Tan’s story begins in the streets — or as he terms, “void deck magic”. At the age of 12, Mr Tan would head to the playgrounds at his void deck where he lives and wow parents and children alike with the many tricks he had self-taught from Youtube tutorials and the likes of David Blaine.
Unlike his partner in illusion, Darren Tien’s first encounter with magic was on a cruise ship when he was 10. After the show, he was mesmerised and begged his parents to get him the practice magic kits on sale, a move, he says, they did not regret.
Today, the pair has a combined staging experience of more than 15 years. Since performing together in 2018, Darren, 27, and Jerryl, 25, have enthralled audiences across time, space, and media, dabbling in the likes of online mentalism, live optical anamorphic illusions, interactive magic, and more.
TheHomeGround Asia tries to break the code behind their apparitions and how they have successfully transported their illusions online during the Covid-19 pandemic.
TheHomeGround Asia (THG): Where is the appeal of performing as a magic duo?
Darren Tien (DT): Jerryl brought the idea to me that there is a certain unique selling point (USP) to performing together as a duo. We knew that we could hit it off very well together, especially when the kind of magic that we are both interested in is very similar.
Jerryl Tan (JT): That would be storytelling magic; magic with a purpose, with stories tied to them. Stories have the power to really draw someone into your narrative and have them really pay attention. And if you use magic, it just amplifies that effect.
DT: We script a lot of comedy lines into our show, because in general, the type of mood that we want to bring across to people is a fun and lively show — by two dudes who just love to have fun!
THG: Do you two ever experience any creative differences?
JT: Nowadays, our ideas do defer a little. Darren leans more towards the serious kinds of magic with deeper meanings behind them. I like the more crazy and fun stuff, things that people can relate to.
So we’ve got to think of how to merge those two styles together. In the end, it’s not always very serious, and it’s not always really funny either. This takes our audience on a sort of roller coaster ride.
DT: That’s true! Which makes the show a lot more interesting.
THG: What happens when you make a mistake on stage?
JT: The audience will not know that we had failed in that particular magic act. It’s the same for any art form. If a dancer were dancing, you wouldn’t know what his next move is, right? So even if he forgets one move, he can just do something else which you wouldn’t know isn’t part of the routine. It’s the same in magic. We really have to think on our feet.
THG: How did you adapt your art to the Covid-19 restrictions?
DT: Right now, we are vying with a lot of other forms of entertainment. Ten to 20 years ago, magic was quite hot among corporate bookings. But now, you have a lot of other variety acts including social media entertainment, and magic is no longer top of mind.
We had a lot of our live bookings cancelled, so we no longer perform at restaurants regularly, and we had to quickly adapt to doing virtual performances. I think initially, we both had the idea that Covid would pass within a few months, but it dragged on so much that we knew we had to adapt [or die]. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to continue our identity as a magic duo.
Earlier, when we were deciding on how to perform using the virtual medium, we knew that we were not going to carry out our usual stage routines because it’s a different medium altogether. We had to reinvent the performance style and the effects, and so we brought in different ideas like optical, anamorphic and perspective illusions, to really make use of the screen so that people continue to watch it until the end. We also wanted to retain the element of physical interaction.
So before the show starts, the audience would receive a mailed box that has props inside that they can use throughout the show itself.
THG: Which do you prefer, virtual or physical shows?
JT: I really miss performing in person and seeing people’s live reactions. I hardly do that nowadays, but I recently performed for my friends in person and I got super good reactions, and the feeling was like, “wah, shiok”.
DT: I think one good thing about doing virtual shows is that although we do miss the live reactions, we are able to perform for people all around the world. We get bookings from Malaysia, the US, and many other countries.
THG: Would you say there is a place for magic in Singapore’s arts scene right now?
DT: If you think of the arts industry in Singapore, magic isn’t the first thing that people think of. We’ve been rejected before by arts organisations in Singapore when we put in proposals to perform magic because people think that magic is just for entertainment or for kids. We are still trying to take small steps to change that mindset and help people see that we can make a story more vivid when we tell it with magic.
THG: How then do you deal with sceptics of magic who think magic is fake?
JT: Magic is fake! I have never ever told someone that magic is real.
DT: This is a very interesting philosophical question. For the longest time, I wouldn’t know how to answer such a question. There are magicians like Penn and Teller who would just straight up say that magic is fake, and to never indulge in that. But there are also very good magicians who, in that moment, create a fantasy that makes magic very real.
In some way, when I’m performing, I put on a persona … like an actor playing the role of a magician. So I have to convince everybody in the room that what I’m doing is real. Just like the way special effects work.