Letters to West 113th at the Edmonton Fringe Festival

Letters to West 113th

The Yardbird Suite (11 Tommy Banks Way) August 13, 15, 18, 20, 21, 23
More information: newmanmentalism.com

Letters to West 113th. Photo used with permission from Jeff Newman.

Letters to West 113th. Photo used with permission from Jeff Newman.

An interview with Jeff Newman. 

Describe your show in five words. 

Love, Connection; Comfort or Truth

Okay, now that we’re intrigued… what’s the longer description?

Letters to West 113th tells the story of Thomas Whitford, a magician who resurfaced after years of reclusion following the death of his wife and stage partner, Tessa. His new act mystified his audiences, and created rumors of supernatural phenomena, including the idea that Tessa was helping Thomas Whitford from beyond the grave. While he made no claims of his own, Whitford’s new show attracted the attention of the great Harry Houdini himself, who spent the later years of his life investigating those who claimed paranormal powers. I explore this story while creating a show that would be what audiences would’ve seen had they been witness to Whitford’s act.

It seems like Letters to West 113th blends both magic and theatre – why did you want to create a show that was beyond magic and involved this story?

After my debut with Mind Games last year, one of my (and my audience’s) favorite parts of the show were the pieces where stories were woven into the magic I performed. Stories are what audiences can connect with and relate to, and experience a spectrum of emotions. So with Letters, I wanted to challenge myself and create a show where the storytelling and the magic worked hand-in-hand, and not only amaze and mystify, but tell a story that audiences can connect with. The story gives purpose to the magic. With this show, you can’t have one without the other.

Is Letters to West 113th based on an actual interaction Houdini had with another magician, or where did you get the inspiration for the show?

This show is based on history and anecdotes surrounding Houdini. During the later years of his life, Houdini did investigate mediums, psychics, and séance sitters that all claimed they could manifest paranormal phenomena, psychic abilities, and other supernatural powers. While he did come across a menagerie of people that claimed special abilities (Mina Crandon or “Margery The Medium” was the most well-known, but there were many others), Houdini managed to expose them all. I wondered what it would be like if a character existed that could defy Houdini’s explanations and expectations, and crafted the show to explore those possibilities. What came out was the story of Thomas Whitford.

What does the title of your show signify?

Letters to West 113th is a nod to Houdini. In the show, two letters are sent to Houdini’s home address: 278 West 113th Street in New York City. The first is from Houdini’s brother Theodore “Dash” Hardeen telling Houdini about Whitford, and the other…is something you’ll have to see the show to find out.

Anything else you want audiences to know about the show?

Magic is more than “the big reveal.” If it doesn’t make you feel anything, there is no magic. Whitford’s story is something we can all connect to. Letters bring magic and storytelling together to create an experience like no other.

Bonus question: Any names you want to drop who have been involved in your show (Edmonton arts people or otherwise)?

This show absolutely could not be what it is without the help of some incredible people.

  • Hannah Rud has been an exceptional creative partner, lending her talents to helping conceive the ideas for the show, writing the script, and working out all the kinks along the way.
  • David Gabert has also been a huge asset as a mentalism guinea pig. He’s been the subject to many nights of trial-and-error magic and mentalism, acting as my stand-in spectator while I conceived my methods for the effects in the show.
  • Benton Neufeld and Pad Alexander have been my magical co-conspirators all summer long. Both are accomplished magicians in their own right, and we’ve had numerous nights talking magic over beer and pizza.
  • Gord Rogers has done an amazing job with our graphic design. He’s been able to take my ideas and put them on paper (literally, which is not an easy task) and has gone the extra mile to do so.
  • My family and friends, who have yet to try and talk me out of this crazy thing that I keep doing. They’ve been great supporters, and they keep me motivated.

The 34th Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival is August 13 – 23. Get your tickets at tickets.fringetheatre.ca starting August 4.

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