On a small notepad, illusionist Vitaly Beckman draws a leaf. With a simple motion, he slides his hand down the page and the leaf turns green and comes to life. Literally. He lifts it off the page and hands it to an audience member.
He can also make your driver’s license picture disappear (don’t we all wish that could happen) and make it appear on someone else’s. He makes pictures in a photo album move; brings a winter-bare tree spring into life with leaves, which he throws into the audience. He teleports and levitates objects, including a paintbrush that paints by itself.
Vitaly, who performs under his first name, is hailed as a master of illusion by critics and audiences alike around the world. He designs and invents every one of his illusions. At 31, he is among the youngest well-known illusionists, and is making a name for himself, including performances on Broadway. He makes his first performances in Atlanta on Feb. 9 and 10 at the Marcus Jewish Community Center Atlanta in Dunwoody.
Born in Belarus, his family emigrated to Israel, where he grew up in Haifa. The magic bug bit him at an early age and he was performing at age 14. His parents urged him to pursue an education that would result in a real-world job, and he earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering . He left that field, however, after only a few years to pursue his passion for magic and illusion.
The Reporter caught up with Vitaly from his home in Vancouver between stops on his “Evening of Wonders” tour.
Q: What took you from Israel to Canada?
A: I wanted to live in North America and my brother lived in Vancouver. There seemed to be so many possibilities and venues to perform in Canada and the United States. My big dream was to make it to Broadway.
Q: When did you first get interested in magic and illusion?
A: I played around with card tricks when I was 8 or so, but from a very early age, I drew and painted. I always had a small notepad with me and would draw whatever caught my eye. In fact, my parents thought I would be a painter. When I was 8, they gave me a magic kit. It intrigued me, but mostly I pursued art. I love all the arts: visual, music, theater, everything.
Q: It seems the seed had been planted. When did you get serious about magic?
A: I saw David Copperfield on TV several times and was so amazed at what he could do. So, I started practicing, figuring things out as I went along. I started performing for family, friends when I was 14.
Q: Did you have a friend or mentor who helped you?
A: No. And there was no internet or YouTube. I did it by trial and error. It’s a long way to learn. I invented my own method. It opened my creativity. I never did or do anything by the book. For me, magic is an artform and it brings art to life.
Q: How do you come up with a constant stream of material?
A: The trick is to never stop thinking. I think about new illusions all the time: at a movie, in the shower, walking – anytime and anywhere. I think about it, too, while I am performing.
Q: You always involve your audience members, often one-on-one. Why do you make that part of your performances?
A: I love the audiences. On stage, I feel that I bring art to life in that moment with the audience. I want to encourage and rebuild their childhood sense of wonder and bridge the gap between dreams and reality. In a way, I want to show them that there are no limitations to their dreams or imaginations. I love that magic brings joy to people.
Q: Did your education as a mechanical engineer help you devise your illusions?
A: In one sense it did. The most important thing it taught me was how to think well.
Q: There is a code of honor among magicians that they do not reveal to non-magicians how the magic is done. Do you follow that code?
A: I do. The real reason for it is that it preserves the enjoyment and sense of wonder for audiences. Magic of various kinds has been around since ancient days.
Q: Your journey took you to the superstar magicians’ Penn & Teller show “Fool Us” in the summer of 2016. You succeeded in fooling them. Were you surprised?
A: I thought I had a chance, but, yes, I was surprised. I won the “Fool Us” trophy and a spot in their Las Vegas show in the fall of 2016. It’s been great exposure for my career.
Q: You said you dreamed of taking your illusions to Broadway, and you made it. Tell us about that experience.
A: In 2018, I performed in the Off-Broadway Westside Theatre, the same one where Penn & Teller launched their career in the 1980s. The show ran from mid-June to the end of September. It was a dream come true. It was an honor and a privilege. I had heard that it takes a lot to astonish New Yorkers, but the audiences were amazing.
Q: Do you have favorite illusions that you perform?
A: I have several, but making people’s photo disappear from their driver’s license and reappear on someone else’s is fun and I enjoy how it amazes them.