In The Illusionists – Live From Broadway, Colin Cloud is billed as “The Deductionist.” A fitting handle given his unique brand of “forensic” mentalism. 

Cloud started his life-long career in deduction at the tender age of 16, when he started studying forensic investigation at Glasgow Caledonian University. Learning how to analyse grisly murder scenes quickly led him to the similarly grim field of stand-up comedy. 

“I realized very quickly that stand-up comedians are great at observing the world and their attention to detail is incredible,” he told Broadway World. “So that led to me getting into stand-up comedy, performing stand-up comedy, and mixing the weird psychological tricks and techniques that I was developing and creating, and before I knew it forensics led to me performing.”

Like a lot of mentalists, Cloud is quick to distance himself from those who claim to be genuinely “psychic.”

“I think I use the skills that fake psychics use but in a very different way, I use it to be very entertaining and reveal things in a fun way rather than trying to deceive people to get them to make life changing decisions,” he explained. “I’m very much aware of how psychics perform and the skills that they use, I like to think that I am just more honest about how I’m using them.”

Cloud is currently writing a show for a European tour starting next year, but admits he enjoys performing for Americans because they’re so emotionally unrestrained.

“I think Americans are much better at showing their emotions,” he explained. “I think here (The U.S) it’s always easier, and when I say easier, I don’t mean that disrespectfully, I mean that it’s more fun, more high energy off the bat rather than in Europe, where people still make you kind of prove yourself.”  

I would be offended by that, but I haven’t felt a genuine emotion since 1995.  

There is a man suspended upside down in a glass box filled with water. His hands and feet are bound. The man holds his breath. The audience does the same. That’s the popular image of the escape artist right there.

Over a hundred years after it was first performed, the “Water Torture Cell” is still the most iconic trick in the arsenal of escapology. Paul Krendl’s variation of the escape, performed without a curtain, earned him a spot on The Illusionists.

But what is it about the escape that seems to resonate so well with audiences, aside from it being the signature of the most famous escapologist of all time? According to Krendl, it’s the audience’s ability to empathize with the performer. Everyone knows how hard it is to hold their breath, and it’s that understanding that gives the performance its nervous energy.

“Anyone can hold their breath and within 30 to 40 seconds get a glimpse of the pain and struggle your body will feel,” he explained to Magic Africa. “Being in the tank for three minutes makes people become uncomfortable. They want to believe it will be fine but part of them can’t believe it’s happening. This is where it gets interesting. You see for me I am going through my own personal struggle every time I go into that tank. The struggle is real; there is no faking it.”   

And in his estimation, it’s the struggle that connects Krendl to his audience. His escape becomes a metaphor for their own.

“This leads to the biggest element… both the audience and I can feel connected yet we are each experiencing our own truth,” he said. “I have had people relate the struggle of me escaping the tank to their difficult divorce they are going through, others telling me it gave them strength to believe in the passion or project they are trying to accomplish, and many others that I would never have thought could connect like this.” 

So thus far it’s all very grand and mystical, as befits a masterful stage performer, but holding one’s breath for over three minutes while held upside down underwater? That’s just down and dirty practice, baby. In fact, it’s that physical challenge that drew Krendl to the trick in the first place.  

“I started my breath hold time for approximately 30 seconds,” he explained. “From there I had to figure out if it is possible to hold your breath longer and how. I did lots of research reading books, internet searches, talking with others in the know, etc. I learned that it is not only possible but it is something you can train for.”

You may be wondering how much training is involved in that feat. Krendly claims it took him three months of training to get past the two minute mark, but not quite as long to hit three. Unfortunately outside forces, like changing altitudes, time zones food and environments, can make the physical aspect of the escape much harder. The only thing that’ll stop him, however? Not being able to justify using the water to fill up the tank because the city you’re performing in is on the verge of a water shortage. 

How is it that we sometimes only realize the value of our most prized resources when we lose them? Water is so critical for any type of life, and parts of the world are painfully feeling its absence. Cape Town, South Africa, for instance, is experiencing a severe drought that has recently been designated a “national disaster.”

Escapologist Krendl has been performing his version of the Houdini water torture escape on tour with The Illusionists, which is currently in South Africa. The team considered options for how to execute the water trick under those extreme conditions, such as shipping in water or using ocean water, but have decided that the most respectful path is to avoid the trick entirely for the Cape Town performance. Krendl explained the rationale in a video, above.

“It wouldn’t matter where the water came from, it’s still something that exists symbolically on stage,” he said. “By my not doing this stunt here in Cape Town, it represents over 45 days of water for one person here.”

Respect to Krendl for the decision.

World-famous stage show The Illusionists just wrapped up its two-week-long engagement at The Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. Don’t worry if you missed it, though; the venue has since posted two specially-produced videos featuring inventor Kevin James, offering tricks and insight aplenty.  

The first, posted above, is an interview with the man who devised the Floating Rose effect, where he talks about the difference between deceiving young children and grown adults, and how magicians are the most trustworthy people on the planet.

The second video, posted below, is a four-minute video where James proceeds to repeatedly fool a poor spectator with a coin and a magic glass bottle.

With this run in North America finished, The Illusionists begins its tour across Europe and Africa. For more information on where the show will end up next, check The Illusionists‘ official website.

Audience interactions in magic shows can wind up being the source of unexpected entertainment. In the case of Jeff Hobson, a performer with the Broadway stage show The Illusionists, may have thought he was lifting the watch off any old magic fan during a performance last week in Toronto. Turns out that the subject of his classic pickpocketing trick was in fact the city’s police chief.

Mark Saunders, Toronto’s police chief, was the first randomly chosen participant in Hobson’s performance. He wasn’t obviously dressed as a cop and didn’t make any mention of his profession during the trick, so Hobson had no idea who his victim really was.

“What happened is I got duped; buddy removed my watch, but he was kind enough to return it,” Saunders told the Toronto Star. “It’s shocking how good he is, he did it without anyone knowing. It was very funny.”

Let that be a reminder, magicians. You never know just who might be in that front row seat, so be sure to brush up those improv skills.