Master illusionist Vitaly Beckman mystifies even the most jaded audiences.
Vitaly Beckman easily remembers his first attempt at creating magical illusion.
Seven years old and living in the Soviet Union, he tried to imitate a magician he saw on television. The entertainer made a card castle appear under a handkerchief.
In a friend’s house at the time, Beckman noticed alphabet cubes and asked for a handkerchief. He put the cubes on his hand, assembled them like a castle and covered the pieces with a handkerchief just before his friend’s grandmother came into the room.
As soon as the woman appeared, Beckman pretended he didn’t see her and removed the handkerchief as if he made the cubes appear.
“She asked me how I did that,” Beckman recalls. “In reality, she probably played along, and I said that I created magic. I didn’t know why I said that, but many years later, I turned it into a career. For some reason, it seems like a prophesy.”
Seven more years went by before Beckman decided to take magic more seriously. Having moved to Israel, he simply started developing illusions by trial and error, inventing and improving.
“Nobody ever taught me,” Beckman says. “I simply started performing for family and friends and moved on to performing at events, including weddings.”
Now 36, living in Canada and giving up an engineering career that began after studying at Technion (Israel Institute of Technology), Beckman tours to showcase his approach to staged illusions. He will appear Sunday afternoon, Feb. 18, at the Berman Center for the Performing Arts in West Bloomfield, where he will mark his premiere appearance in Michigan.
Although Beckman’s brother has also moved to Canada to pursue a computer science career, his parents remain in Israel, where his father is an engineer and teacher and his mother is an economist. The magician returns to Israel for family visits and will schedule shows as well.
“I look at what I do as noticing wonder in the world and turning it into a [wonder-filled] and magical experience for the stage,” he says. “I get inspiration from the real world and remind people that wonder is everywhere around us. What I do cannot be seen anywhere else.”
Beckman describes one part of his act as making art come to life.
“That involves pictures, photographs and drawings,” he explains. “I draw objects, and the drawings come off the page into reality. I make a paintbrush come to life and draw all by itself, and it’s what an audience member thinks the paintbrush will paint.
“It’s not really happening. It’s about feelings and emotions and making the audience feel something is happening. If you watch a painting, you feel like you see images and people, but it’s just paint. What I do is similar to that.”
The famous magic duo Penn & Teller freely admitted they were stumped by Beckman as he appeared on their TV show Fool Us. The team is among the magicians Beckman saw and loved while he was getting started. Other favorites have been David Copperfield, Siegfried & Roy, Matt King and Derren Brown.
“The turning point in making this a full-time career was when I moved to Canada about 10 years ago,” says Beckman, a single Vancouver resident who defines himself as secularly Jewish. “I went into magic because I thought I could create a whole new world through magic and wanted to share it with an audience. It’s an artistic expression for me.
“I always wanted to live in North America and travel the world. I got a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and worked as an engineer for almost two years. Engineering helped a little bit with my illusions, but it did not help as much as I was hoping.
“A lot of people think magic is about a certain type of science. It’s certainly a combination of many different sciences and art, but magic is also very much psychological and a branch of theater. It’s really about understanding human nature. Illusions have to be painted in the minds of audiences.”
To come up with his illusions, Beckman thinks about what he would like to see onstage or what he would like to happen in the world that would be amazing. Sometimes, it takes years before the ideas are worked out to the point where he can bring them before audiences. A home studio provides the environment for experimentation.
“It’s an interactive show, and I think that’s what makes it fun,” he says.
“My shows span all age groups, but I usually recommend 7 years and up [the year his interest was realized] simply because it’s a two-hour show including intermission,” he says. Under that age group, he says, it’s hard for kids to sit that long.
“Kids do the funniest things when something disappears. I have an illusion where something disappears in a person’s own hand, and a lot of times, I have kids on stage with that. They search their pockets, and they look inside their sleeves. The reactions are very funny.”
Vitaly Beckman will perform at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 18, at the Berman Center for the Performing Arts in the Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield. $23-$33. (248) 661-1900; theberman.org.