Friday, September 19, 2014

Interview with Nelson Lugo of "Gathering the Magic"

By Byrne Harrison

After a couple of years of seeing him perform, I finally had a chance to chat with award-winning actor and magician Nelson Lugo.  The 11-year-old kid inside me was thrilled at the thought of getting to talk to a real live magician.

I'll be seeing his show, "Gathering the Magic," Saturday, Sept. 19th at The Tank, where it will have three performances through November 15th.

I've seen you perform several times now; both magic and monologue, and have been impressed by both.  But I have to admit, it's watching you do your magic that makes me feel like an awestruck kid.  How long have you been doing magic?

I’ve been performing/practicing magic – on and off – for the better part of 30 years. I got my very first magic kit when I was nine years old and it’s been downhill ever since (wocka-wocka). Seriously though, a lot of my love of magic comes from watching Harry Blackstone and Doug Henning as a kid - which then got cemented in my brain when I watched Harry Anderson perform. But it was that kit that started me on a path - and that path has been filled with twists and turns but it’s where my heart lives.

So it was the kit that got you hooked.

After getting that first kit I was pretty much a kid obsessed with magic. My family did not have a lot of money when I was growing up so that kit was a major purchase for a gift-giving holiday. After I learned everything in that box, my library card became my greatest resource. At first it was just curiosity, I was the kind of kid that hated not knowing things. It then exploded pretty quickly into something I that always had to do.

Are you mostly self-taught?

For the most part, yes. Growing up, I was always aware of the various magic clubs, but I’ve never been much of a joiner. I’m pretty much an introvert off stage so I tend to learn magic on my own. I did have a mentor for a very short time when I was eighteen. He was an older magician – one of the first to ever play Vegas actually. He taught me magic – but more than that he taught me how to be an artist who happens to use magic as his medium. As a result, I tend to approach magic differently than my peers so it’s just easier to create on my own. It’s both a liberating and completely frustrating creative process. Magic, like writing, is such a solitary and lonely art form – but the payoff for me is creating that “awestruck kid” feeling that you love so much. That’s what makes it worthwhile for me.

So the first time I saw you perform, it was at Hotsy Totsy Burlesque.  How did you get involved with the NY burlesque scene?

I was kind of discovered actually. I was doing magic acts for the Floating Kabarette at the Galapagos Art Space when it was in its original location. This was about ten years ago. One night the host didn’t show up and I was given an opportunity to MC the night. A burlesque performer named Veronica Sweet asked me to host a show she co-produced called Red Hots Burlesque and the rest… as they say… is history.

And you ran Epic Win Burlesque for several years, correct?

Correct, five years ago I got a bunch of my nerdy burlesque friends to put on a one-off show that I never intended to take any further. It was so well received that we did it again… and again… and again. Until basically I created a thing, that unbeknownst to me, was at the forefront of a whole burlesque movement called Nerdlesque. We were just having fun putting on goofy shows about Batman and Ghostbusters.

So you have a new show, "Gathering the Magic," which will be at The Tank in midtown.  Tell me a little about it.

It’s basically a show in two parts. There’s slice-of-life storytelling along with sophisticated stage magic. I tend to describe it like this: I like to imagine that if NPR’s “This American Life” where to put on a magic show… “Gathering The Magic” would be the result. The show is a collection of true stories from my life that are paired up with magic acts that I’ve been working on for over 15 years. The show is in its essence a love story which attempts to ask if there can be truth in deception, because to me it’s not always so important HOW a trick is done, but WHY.

How did it come about?

THIS is a very loaded question and probably way too complicated and too long of an answer for an interview like this. But, here are the bullet points: I wrote a show back in 2006 that wasn’t very good but not entirely bad either – I vowed never to write a show again – I got married – I started a burlesque show – I got divorced – I got testicular cancer – I beat testicular cancer – I retired the burlesque show – then I wanted to create something that was mine - something that, success or fail, was my sole responsibility. "Gathering The Magic" is essentially a culmination of my ten years on burlesque stages while being influenced by New York vaudeville and The Moth storytelling shows. I didn't want to do another boring magic show that was just a display of skill - I wanted to say something meaningful with my magic.

If you could say anything to your potential audience to encourage them to see this show, what would it be?

If you love magic, then there is a little bit of everything in this show. There's sleight-of-hand, mentalism, and even a card trick from a slightly different point-of-view. If you don't like magic, then there's something for you too. There are stories packed with drama, pathos, humor, and more than enough to make you think about the world and your place in it. If you hate magic and stories... Then there's a Dave and Busters down the street that is open pretty late.

Finally, what else is coming up for you this year?

Mostly, I'm focused on getting my show in front of as many people as possible. I'm looking into touring it and submitting it to festivals here and overseas. But beyond that, I started the tentative process of writing a new show. I found that after Gathering The Magic was done I had a whole lot of material left over. So I've decided to create a new show that is much darker in tone and far more vulernalble that I've ever been before. Right now it's just a bunch of ideas but be on the look out for announcements in late 2015.

"Gathering the Magic" runs September 19th, October 18th, and November 15th at 9:30 PM at The Tank151 w. 46th St. (b/t 6th and 7th Ave), 8th Floor.  For tickets, visit The Tank's website.

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