On a whim I signed up for a magic class! I love magic! I think there’s a comedy routine that I saw once that talks about how black people are completely blown away when we see magic. I don’t think it was a comedy routine by a black person so maybe it was problematic; it was at least five years ago and we were all so young then. But, in any case, I am black and I am telling you that when I see stage magic I lose my entire mind every single time. One time I got tickets to a touring show that was like “Gods of Magic!” or something—a bunch of Las Vegas magicians making things disappear and shooting fireworks out of their fingers—and I screamed the entire time like I was on Oprah’s Favorite Things show. I love magic! And I couldn’t believe a single thing I was seeing. I walked in there a grown-ass adult who was totally aware that what I was paying money to see was in no way supernatural and was all the result of technical precision. Nevertheless, the first time some guy with long hair and a pirate shirt pulled a dove out of a Pringles can I burst into tears and gave him a standing ovation.
It is completely out of character for me to love magic as much as I do. Most things that verge on the supernatural are a huge no for me. I get antsy when a horoscope knows too much. People are like “download the Co-Star app!” and I’m like “Oh, shall I also give the devil my PIN number while we’re at it?” (I don’t really think that the Co-Star app is the devil; it actually more closely aligns with my other unsourced conspiracy theory—that it’s an information collection tool run by the government. Either way, they’re going to have to work harder if they want to get inside my head! If the government wants information about what’s going on in my life and what my weaknesses are and what products I’m planning on buying, they need to subscribe to my newsletter just like everybody else. No shortcuts! Bootstraps, et cetera!)
I suppose I don’t really think of stage magic as the supernatural, though. I think I go in knowing that it’s all technical skill and performance (which, in my book, are more impressive than the supernatural). And I think when it works, when it’s seamless and the strings aren’t visible, it has the same awe-inspiring effect of any other piece of live theater done right—it shocks you and delights you and makes you feel like you’ve had an experience rather than just watched something occur. I love that. I love the magic of the stage, be it Audra McDonald belting on Broadway or Tina Canady delivering a monologue in a Baltimore basement or anything else that has transported a live audience. That’s my kind of supernatural. It’s soul-lifting and astonishing. So, of course, I love stage magic—sawing people in half as spiritual praxis.
That said, as much as I’m not here for ghosts and goblins and horoscopes that get too specific, I’m definitely somebody who is very interested in the places where magic crosses over into the every day. I’ve been watching HBO’s The Leftovers, which I’d heard great things about but I’d never seen. It’s a series about the aftermath of a mysterious event in which 2% of the world’s population suddenly disappears. It’s like a Rapture but not really the Rapture because what follows isn’t tribulation like they talk about in the Bible, but rather people doing what people do in any crisis—pushing forward, finding bravery, going mad, devolving to their basest instincts or rising to a new form of humanness. I don’t feel like it’s a spoiler to say that God, in a formal sense, doesn’t show up on The Leftovers. Instead, it’s a show about the uneasy coexistence of the ordinary and the extraordinary. As such, it treats things that are supernatural and magical like they’re commonplace sometimes and sometimes it treats them like they’re weird as hell. I love that. That’s what life feels like. And, of course, growing up evangelical Christian definitely helps with this kind of read on life. Like, it is totally within my conceptual wheelhouse to talk about an angel in casual conversation. (My mother tells this story about a car accident we were in once where we barely missed a pole because “there must have been three big old angels sitting in the way.” And I know she’s being mostly hyperbolic, but every time I drive by the pole on the way to therapy I think “that’s where the three big old angels live.”) On the other hand, I also believe that the people going to megachurches right now and telling the news that coronavirus can’t get to them because of the blood of Jesus are delusional. And they may believe I’m delusional. I’m right though and me and my blood of Jesus are staying our butts in the house.
In any case, I’m not sure the government agents reading this newsletter to spy on me aren’t trying to parse the differences between religion and magic. So, suffice it to say, I think a childhood devoted to a practice that taught that the miraculous was always moments away from occurring really primed me for an adulthood being gobsmacked by card tricks.
I’ve followed this magician duo called The Encounter for a while but I’ve never gotten to see one of their shows. They perform plays that involve magic, which I think is a really cool idea. The story comes first and the stage magic is all in service of the narrative. I love magic and I love narrative so I imagine the first time I get to see an Encounter show I’ll come racing down the aisle, sobbing like Shug Avery in the “Maybe God is Trying to Tell You Something” scene in The Color Purple. Until them, however, I’ll have to make do with learning magic from them over Google Meet. It’s not quite the same, but I do have the option to turn off my camera when I get overwhelmed and emotional.
I am so excited about this four-week class. It’s called Magic for Theater Makers and the minute I saw it I knew I had to take it, despite not really having the capacity for anything else, extraordinary or otherwise, at the moment. I wanted something that would be a respite from my quarquar life but I also wanted something that would be an easy companion to life, quarantined and otherwise. Magic is both of those things. We’ve only had one class so far, so I can’t yet tell if I will be pivoting to including stage magic in every play I write. Though, that said, everything I’ve written already has some sort of magic in-laid in it: the idea of queer magic that runs through Time is on Our Side, a faucet that goes from microaggressive to magical in Mrs. Hamilton, a Cinderella dress in Crying on Television (which will be read on Zoom in two weeks! More below!), the karaoke booth that bridges time and space in Backing Track. So, maybe this class is a continuation of an interest that I’ve had for a long time. Maybe ever since those three big old angels saved our lives.
All I know is that on Thursday they told us to bring two rubber bands to class, so I grabbed 20 rubber bands of different sizes to make sure that I got an A in prestidigitation. They talked about the ways of building a magic trick and the kinds of acts. And then they taught us how to do a trick with the two rubber bands. Brian, one of the instructors, did the trick for us first. I screamed, unmuted. Then he told us how to do the trick, broke down the steps, which I did at the same time. I watched myself do the magic. I was impressed and also I was on the inside. And yet when he sped the whole thing up and did the trick again all in one shot, I gasped and applauded, flinging my own rubber band from my hands. I was blown away; I lost my entire mind; the extraordinary shot through the screen and everything was possible suddenly. The magic worked.
I am not mad at Stanley Tucci for being so hot he should wear a sign that reads Stanley Don't Touch-i. I am just generally angry on account of overwhelming hotness. I'm like Jean Grey turning into the Phoenix: supernatural thirst is not something one can predict; it is a power that the universe bestows upon you. As a treat! And what better treat than a short bit of kitchen seduction from your best friend's very hot dad, Stanley Tucci? I would categorize the following video as Not Safe For Work but you're sitting in your own house right now so get freaky with it on a weekday. (Also, it's actually very safe for work. There's no nudity or profanity. Send it to your boss with a winky face. Embrace chaos!)
Yes, that's right, the person who refuses to wear a protective face mask has an opinion about how you should stay healthy. President Donald Trump, world's loudest Facebook comment, piggybacked on research that showed exposure to sunlight and to disinfectant would kill coronavirus by saying the very first thing that came into his mind. And that thing just happened to be, "Why don't we just put sunlight into our bodies? Problem solved!" Trump seems unaware that injecting massive amounts of UV rays into the blood is not how you kill a virus; it's how you make an Avenger.
Netflix's newest reality dating show Too Hot to Handle has a premise that can best be described as "what if a chastity belt was also an ATM?" It's a question that precious few of us have asked but, thankfully, a deranged visionary at the streaming service decided to live out loud. A group of avowedly horny singles from some of the corners of the world get treated to a month in an island paradise which they plan to colonize as Pound Town. In a dystopian twist, however, they discover they are not the first to arrive—Lana, an omniscient robot, has lured them there under false pretenses. The contestants stand to win $100,000 if they can spend a month working on themselves instead of putting in work on each other. But an infraction—kissing, sex, even masturbation—will cost the group money. It plays like an activity designed by a civics teacher who suddenly has to cover sex ed because of budget cuts or an episode of Glee where Santana and Quinn teach the gang about socialism.
Let’s Hang Out!
I am so excited that Play-PerView, a new Zoom play reading series that has raised over $20,000 for non-profits since quarantine started, is doing a one-night-only reading of Crying on Television, featuring some of New York’s hottest performers including Charlie Barnett from Russian Doll, You, and Tales of the City! It all goes down Monday May 4 at 7 pm EST and tickets start at $5. (Proceeds go to Nashville Rep, which developed the play as part of their amazing Ingram New Works Fellowship, and SAG-AFTRA.)
Random Thing on the Internet
I tried to incorporate the Stevie Wonder song “If It’s Magic” into this week’s newsletter but I couldn’t make it work. So here it is by itself. I love this song.
Sawing people in half as spiritual praxis,