Singapore's youngest magician duo conjures joy amidst the pandemic

PHOTO: Instagram/darrenandjerryl
Did you know that Singapore has its very own magic duo? BFFs Darren Tien, 27, and Jerryl Tan, 25, may be Singapore’s youngest illusionists, but with a combined experience of over 15 years, they are by no means rookies in the field.

On top of performing magic at restaurants, at small events, and on stage (prior to Covid-19), Darren and Jerryl also stage theatrical magic. Their latest show, Playing the Hand (directed by Dwayne Lau), streamed in August as part of Flipside, presented by Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay.

As enthralled as we are by their tricks, we’re even more intrigued by how they managed to make a career of out magic. It doesn’t help that live performances were affected by Covid-19, meaning that Darren and Jerryl have had to focus on virtual performances. Still, nothing could stop them from bringing magic into people's homes amidst all the heartache of 2020 and 2021.

In an email interview with Wonderwall, Darren and Jerryl recounted the challenges they faced trying to convince prospective clients to work with them. In the United States, it’s common to see magicians perform at F&B venues. But in Singapore, Darren and Jerryl struggled to book regular gigs. They even spent three years pitching a theatrical magic show to Esplanade before they agreed to stage Playing The Hand.

 

“Being a magician has always been one of my 5 childhood ambitions. I have always admired professional illusionists like David Copperfield and Lu Chen. But of course, growing up in Singapore means that such career options are often stigmatized,” Darren told us, adding that the ‘ultimate joy’ he experiences while performing magic, as well as his hustle mentality, have helped him push through the struggle of freelancing.

Meanwhile, Jerryl initially pursued teaching as a career, but changed his mind after a teacher told him that he would have to give up performing on stage for public events.

“That was when I knew I probably loved magic more than teaching and I wasn’t ready to let it go just yet,” Jerryl said.

But we still had so many questions. How did they start getting gigs? Is there a difference between a magic show and theatrical magic?

While a magician never reveals his secrets, Darren and Jerryl were more than happy to share more about how they turned their passion into a profession:

Congratulations on Playing The Hand! How did this show come about?

Darren: We knew very early on that we don’t want to present the typical magic show that we are so used to performing at corporate events and D&Ds — all about the fanfare, the Vaudeville type of variety act.

We want to challenge ourselves and establish ourselves as performers more than magicians. We want to tell stories that have the abilities to affect our audience in more ways than just amazement. And so begun our first foray into theatrical magic — something that we have aspired to do for the longest time.

We spoke for hours on topics not related to magic, and reflected on our lives and what we live for, before finding the voice and identity for our show Playing the Hand.  The title of the show was derived from this quote “life isn’t determined by the cards that you are dealt, but how you play the hand.” This idea of shifting perspective and embracing challenges is one that our show encapsulates.

 

What was it like having to do this over live stream in your living room vs. having a live theatre audience?

Darren: Having to do this over livestream definitely posed a series of technical challenges. We are super grateful for our show’s technical producer, Rafi, for being involved and helping us through this process….But beyond all of these, the nature of livestream performance is still very different from live performance.

We are still very much anticipating our return to live performance, because you can never beat the raw emotion present in a live setting amidst strangers and performance art lovers. We certainly do miss the rowdy laughter and gasp of our live audience, and the attentive and captivating looks when we are telling a serious and honest story. Flipside 2022 perhaps!

Jerryl: This pandemic really taught us how to maximise the virtual medium and how we can make use of this medium to really push boundaries. That being said, some of our materials in the show rely on the very fact that you are watching through a computer screen, like optical or perspective illusions.

Watching through your screens, as odd as it seems, makes it feel more intimate as well because we seem closer to you and no one feels like they are left out, unlike in a live theatre where you feel further away from the performer on stage.

What were some of the challenges you faced along the way in your careers, and how did you overcome them?

Darren: Being new players in the field, the biggest challenge was to get our name out there and get booked. We literally did whatever that we could think of, with a steely “nothing to lose” attitude.

I recall spending many days walking around Ann Siang Hill area, Clarke Quay area, Sentosa and the like, to go door to door to every restaurant/bar that we walked past just to ask to speak to their manager and pitch our restaurant table hopping magic.

I even did some street busking in the early days to get some performance practice, pocket money and potential leads. We even tried our luck and emailed celebrities like Nathan Hartono, Nas Daily, Kurt Hugo Schneider, and the like, to do collaboration videos together.

Jerryl: I guess one would be the fear of uncertainty from my parents because of how this wouldn’t be considered as a stable source of income. I had to convince them that I was really going to go for it and to be honest even till today they still have doubts but I guess I can only hustle as much as I can and let the results do the talking.

Another challenge I faced along the way was rejection and I must say that that was one of the greatest lessons I have learnt in this journey.

What are some myths you’ve come across about being an illusionist/magician in Singapore?

Darren: One of the biggest misconceptions that I would like to correct is that magic is just for kids and is just for entertainment. In Singapore, whenever we mention magic, the immediate association is one of kid’s entertainment. Parents would scramble to get their kids attention to watch us “clown around”. And some adults would politely decline.

But I refuse to reduce magic down to mere kids’ entertainment. I think there is so much more to magic and so much more facades to it.

Magic can be theatrical; magic can be a compelling art; magic can incorporate storytelling and leave behind more impactful messages. There are certainly artists in magic, and these artists create moments and pieces of art.

Also, just to add on, I think one other misconception is in treating magicians as just “trick monkey”. I believe, just like any other artists, there is a lot more stories behind a magician to unpack; and it is sad to see people only asking for tricks after tricks when interacting with a magician.

Given that it’s such an unconventional career, what are some of your funniest or most interesting memories in your careers as an illusionist duo?

Darren: Looking back, there are tons of really interesting and funny moments. I remember back when we were, as friends, performing street magic together along Orchard Road.

We would challenge each other with outrageous dares, including testing the stereotypes to see if magic can really impress and “pick up” the opposite sex. It ended up being a bunch of awkward and hilarious encounters, with a few successful attempts, I must add.

Jerryl: One of my favourites would be one of our experiences with a restaurant manager. We walked in and spoke to a man at the bar asking if we could speak to the manager. He asked us what it was regarding and when we said “entertainment” he said okay he will get the manager.

He walked into the kitchen , took off his jacket and came out again and said “Hi, I am the manager”. We were both confused because we were 100Nper cent sure it was the same guy. Nothing really magic-related in this experience but it was definitely hilarious and it made the tiring day a whole lot more enjoyable.

Read more about Darren and Jerryl here.

This article was first published in Wonderwall.sg.