Joe, how are you involved with Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group?  

I am a post-doctoral fellow here at Cirque du Soleil and Concordia University. I’ve been working for a few months now with Cirque’s innovation lab Nextasy on three different projects that explore the integration of magic and circus. I’m helping to build a “performance vocabulary” that artists could use to play more with illusions. I’m also developing illusion prototypes that could eventually be integrated into the Cirque du Soleil performances. There’s of course the research work, but also a lot of discussions with the production teams so that the illusion propositions are not only adapted to the show environment, but that they also provide added value to the performances.

Let’s talk about your journey. Why did a postdoctoral fellow at Concordia want to become a Cirque du Soleil resident?  

Magic and live entertainment are human experiences that are… irreplaceable. Kafka said that “Written kisses never arrive at their destination”. They need to be encountered in the present and face-to-face. I understood this at 14 when my friend Nathan Livni showed me one of his magic tricks. My jaw dropped. I was so amazed that I just had to go to the magic shop, study and learn until I could do the tricks myself. Ever since, magic has never stopped fascinating me. During my studies, I did a lot of research on illusions. By working with Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group, it’s giving life and tangible shape to my research. But, especially, it’s proving that magic is potent, it’s everywhere and deserves to be part of live entertainment.   

“Seeing my friend’s magic trick at 14 was the first experience where it was clear to me that there’s always two facets to life:

What’s visible and what’s behind the scenes.  ”

– Joe Culpepper, Post-doctoral magician resident

When you start conceiving something, like a new trick, what sparks that desire to create? When do you decide, ‘ok, I want to try that, I want to make this into a performance’?

It can be unexpected and come from anywhere. Often, I am inspired by watching another performance, but it does not have to be a magic performance. It can be a circus show, a film, or some other kind of live performance. You can find magic everywhere.   

Let’s jump ahead 15 years from now. How do you see illusions being combined and evolving  with the world of live entertainment? 

As humans we have invented all these different kinds of communication tools – telephone, texting, social media, and so on. We have so many ways to connect remotely with each other, and now to participate in entertainment. But nothing will ever replace experiencing live entertainment in-person. I feel that will remain. Every time I perform a trick for somebody who has never seen a magic effect in person, which is very often, it’s a unique experience.  

For the last thousand years, the heart of magic (its core effects, technique and principles) has pretty much stayed the same. What has changed is the historical context, and how a particular magic effect adapted to the moment becomes meaningful to a culture at a specific time. Fifteen years from, it will be the same. 

“In 15 years, I hope there will be a better gender balance in magic, with more female performers, and greater diversity.”

– Joe Culpepper, post-doctoral magician resident

In live entertainment, illusions can transport audiences to new dimensions. One of the projects to come out of Joe’s residency was the creation of an optical illusion wheel that was introduced this year at the one and only Burning Man creative festival. Stay tuned for all the details in a future article. 

So, what about you? In what ways can the creative field you play in or the artistic discipline you love impact live entertainment? Contact-us below.

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