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Inside the Secret Magic Show Held on a Mission Patio

Behind the curtain with a master illusionist.

 

Just before taking the stage at his first speakeasy-style show, magician Andrew Evans caught sight of red and blue lights flashing through his living room window. Crap, he thought. Cops.

Evans, an Ideo product designer by day, is the host of the Magic Patio, a series of secret magic shows he puts on at his Mission residence. He spent two years transforming the concrete patio outside his apartment, equipping it with a stage (a proscenium of wood), seating for 45, lighting and sound systems, and even a small bar where his sister serves spiked cider and a mezcal cocktail called Smoke & Mirrors.

The shows are not, in the strictest sense, legal, but neither are they strictly illegal. (It helps that Evans’s landlord is a fan of magic.) The city doesn’t require permits for temporary film and theater stage sets, so Evans built his collapsible stage on hinges. The shows are technically parties with a suggested donation, and the only way to get in is through word of mouth. Guests are told to arrive within a 15-minute window— no earlier, no later—at an address that doesn’t exist. It’s the approximate location of an unmarked door on Mission Street that leads down a damp alley, up a steep staircase, and into a box office. You’d never guess that the faux-brick office—dimly lit and subtly scented with a fragrance that Evans spent months perfecting at a local perfumery—is actually the magician’s bedroom. His hand-built Murphy bed is tucked behind the ticket counter. 

Evans’s initial fascination with the pre-vaudeville era was sparked during his undergrad years at Brown, where the library houses one of the world’s best collections on the history of magic. He went on to study product design at Stanford and began building illusions and tools from old descriptions and blueprints.

With the Magic Patio, Evans aims to re-create the bygone era from 1890 to 1910, when the mecca for magic was a tiny London theater called the Egyptian Hall. “This was the place where magicians were doing the best work in the world—better than Vegas-quality magic, designed by inventors who were pushing all the boundaries—and the audience was only about 100 people,” Evans says. “It’s all about the craft of magic.”

Though he’s scientific in his preparations and design, in person Evans is boyish and openly silly. The show riffs on magic clichés (there’s a coquettish assistant and a bumbling stagehand), while reviving the power of 100-year-old tricks. Evans does an act with linking, chiming rings—a magician standby—but for a recent show, his routine was choreographed to Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love.” He cuts a rope into bits and makes it whole again, makes a goldfish appear in a glass of water, and levitates a table. He pours the favorite drinks of audience members—chocolate milk, a margarita, single-malt scotch—one after another from the same cocktail shaker. In an illusion that he built in collaboration with Ideo engineers, he saws his lovely assistant in half. Throughout, Evans makes classic tricks personal, telling stories about his family members and his college years. Though the audience sits so close that they can see his breath in the cold air, each illusion elicits gasps.

The night of that first show, however, someone had called the cops. Ever the showman, Evans gave the awed officers a tour of his secret theater. As a magician, after all, his skill lies in disarming people and altering their perception of reality. The cops gazed at the stage, chatted with audience members, signed off on one attendee’s parking ticket, and shuffled out the back. With that, Evans straightened his tie, and the show went on.

 

Originally published in the February issue of San Francisco

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