MagicFest Interview: Juan Esteban Varela

All this week, we’ve been counting down to the opening of MagicFest 2017.

The popular festival returns to Edinburgh tonight, kicking off over a week of spellbinding performances from some of the world’s most fascinating magicians. Earlier this week, we caught up with Juan Esteban Varela to find out more about his show, From the Dark, which takes place at the Assembly Rooms on Sunday and is the only magic show in the world to be performed in complete darkness.

Your show is the only magic show in the world to be performed in darkness, blindfolded. Where did this innovative idea come from?

I was trying to understand what magic was and what defined it. Sometimes people would say to most magicians (to me as well): “you are very quick” or “you are very skillful” or “you made me look the other way” – I always felt that this was a defense mechanism against the uncertainty of astonishment and an attempt to explain the impossible they just witnessed. How could I eliminate this? This show was therefore very fun research and, in a very concrete way, an answer that required ten years of development.

How does the show being performed in the dark aid the audience’s experience?

The moment one tries to understand the world in a new and unusual way, the mind and all the senses activate.

Something else that I have discover by doing this show is that the things that we imagine are almost always better than the things that we actually see. Because of this, I truly believe that each person that completes the show in his or her mind creates a more personal, intense and unique experience.

This is the first time you have performed this show in the UK. What made you decide to debut it at MagicFest?

A very important aspect of magic is context – the exact same illusion is perceived very differently if you experience it while dancing in a disco or if celtic ruins surround you, so I cannot think of a better place than the city of Edinburgh for the magic to happen.

Also, I really felt a connection with the people behind MagicFest, I deeply agree with their view of magic being present in our lives and their passion is very contagious. I have no doubt that is going to be an unforgettable week.

What is the most rewarding thing about being a professional magician/illusionist?

From a very selfish point of view, the fact that every day I get to do something that I have loved my whole life. I enjoy the process of researching, creating and performing magic. Since everything we do is an illusion, there is no limit in the things you can explore or try to transform into a moment of wonder.

From a more social perspective, I am convinced that a single perfect magic moment questions, at least for an instant, many certainties that a person previously had. So maybe after that the same person is a little bit more tolerant. Maybe something that seemed impossible before, now has a small window of hope.

Where did your initial interest in magic come from?

I have no memories of myself in which magic is not a part of my life. I actually started learning when I was six-years old. My mother gave me the classic magic box for my birthday but only because I would watch every single magician that I could catch on TV. Soon I knew every single trick in the box and no one that entered my home would escape the fate of witnessing “something amazing”.

I am sure that most of the time they thought: “OK, let’s watch this kid’s silly trick” but when I saw how that turned into a long pause followed by a: “how on earth did you do that” I knew I was hooked for life. That was more than 40 years ago.

What are you most looking forward to about MagicFest?

It is definitely a long list: to meet the organizers, to have a walk around the city, to try the food, to drink a proper scotch, to be part of all the other activities that are in the program and to share ideas with my fellow magicians. If I had to choose one, that would be the moment in which I have a blindfold on my eyes and I can hear the people in the room talking, trying to guess what is going to happen. Suddenly, a small music curtain creates a moment of silence and the show is about to start. We are about to laugh together, to tell stories, to discover each other – literally in the dark. I really “look” forward to that.

MagicFest, Friday 30 – Saturday 8 July, 0131 226 0006,

Words: Amy Anderson

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