The history of stage magic goes back centuries, and some version of the art form can be traced back to the earliest human civilizations. People have always been entertained by performers who seemed able to create miracles onstage, as seeing the impossible appear to occur right in front of their eyes is still effective at creating a sense of wonder in modern audiences. Robby Bennett is one of a new breed of magicians bringing renewed life to an old art form, and entertaining crowds with his mesmerizing performances.
Bennett has deep roots in the Houston area, originally growing up in Clear Lake, joking that he "Went to school with a bunch of astronaut's kids", and discovered his love of magic early on.
"I got my first magic kit on my fifth birthday, around the time most kids did, and I was disappointed because I'd brought it home from Disney World and was upset I couldn't wave my wand and clean my room like in Mary Poppins. Initially it was a short lived interest and it sat in my closet for a number of years."
The magic kit was ignored for a long while, until an unfortunate turn of events led to Bennett exploring its charm with a renewed interest.
"When I was about nine I got sick with several different stomach illnesses, so that's what I did when I was home from school for the better part of two years. I brought that magic kit back out, and it sort of provided a foundation that I built upon. I started reading other books and learning new effects, and when I got back in school I got such a positive reaction from the other kids and my teachers that it became something I just kept pursuing."
Bennett's enthusiasm for performing magic continued to grow, and he was hooked by the reactions he got from others. Within a short period of time, he was busy performing for larger audiences.
"I started doing shows professionally around the age of 12, which looking back I'm really surprised I was able to do that, but it was just blind ambition. I did my first corporate show when I was 13 for General Electric at the George R. Brown Convention Center, and just kept going from there."
Bennett cites a handful of other magicians as major influences on his own work, and unsurprisingly, they are some of the heavy weights who brought major changes to modern magical performances.
"I think David Copperfield has probably done more for the art of magic than any one single person, and I think Penn and Teller's approach is by far the most creative and well thought out I've ever seen, and those are three performers I really admire."
Stage magic has gone through many changes over its modern history, and Bennett is well aware that audiences have become accustomed to a different experience than those of earlier generations. What may have worked well decades ago, could bore today's more savvy and demanding spectators.
"Magic has definitely evolved. You can use the comparison of music. We've gone from record players to abstract files that can be played on an MP3 player. So it's really about getting rid of the visible technology. The key to entertaining people is using your personality, getting the audience involved, and creating effects without the use of large props. Audiences nowadays seem to be almost conditioned to expect the impossible, so bringing something amazing to them is what I'm aiming for."
This approach helps to restore a sense of mystery to the proceedings, since modern audiences demand more than they might have in the past.
"Magic has gone through this revolution and it's at a point now where if there's a big box on stage, everybody knows that the effect is done by the box. The key is to get rid of all unnecessary components, which is what I try to do. When the sawing a person in half illusion debuted in the 1920s, it caused such a huge uproar because it was so amazing to the public. However an illusion like that probably wouldn't fool an audience today."
Bennett has played nationally as well as at Ceasar's Palace and The Golden Nugget in Las Vegas, which is the center of the stage magic universe in America. Those are huge accomplishments for a magician in his late 20s, and he describes the experience of performing there as being an intense one.
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"I describe playing Vegas as being like getting beaten over the head with a rainbow. You're surrounded by fun, you're job is fun, but the level of professionalism that's expected is high. Your schedule gets completely thrown off, waking up at three or four, running down to the theater, doing the show, getting out afterwards, and then repeating that cycle the next day."
Back in Houston, Bennett has an upcoming show at Frenetic Theater on June 6, that he expects to be exciting for both the audience and himself. It will be the forth time for him to play the venue, and Bennett feels that it's a great place for his modern style of performance.
"I kept getting corporate shows for companies like Apple and Microsoft, and while I love doing corporate shows, that's not really what I got into magic intending to do, so during these shows I'll be honing new material and bringing a new creative element into a theater. The audience is really my costar in this one, there's a lot of interaction back and forth, and it's a stage show where people won't be wondering if there's a bunch of mechanical things going on behind the scenes running everything."
Robby Bennett is a young performer breathing new vitality into an old art form and engaging audiences with a renewed sense of wonder. The young Texan is pushing the boundaries of peoples' expectations of a stage magic show, and is someone worth seeing live while he performs locally.