Hard work worth it when audience is in awe, says world-renowned magician
Over the Zoom video call, Paul Cosentino asks me to choose from various categories of playing cards - between red or black, numbers or pictures, clubs, spades, hearts or diamonds, and jack, queen or king.
Step by step, I end up choosing the red queen of hearts.
He then takes a stack of cards out of its box, untouched, and skilfully splays them out to show me that the card I chose was not only the card facing up but the only card in the deck at all, as every other card is completely blank.
“How did you know which card was in here?” he asks me with a glint in his eye.
This trick, while impressive, is one of the simpler tricks in the magician's repertoire.
His acts involve outrageous illusions, and escaping from all sorts of enclosures with the threat of sharks and knives.
Growing up as a shy child in Melbourne, Australia, Cosentino discovered his passion for magic at the age of 12 when his mother, a school principal who valued education, brought him to a nearby library with goals of teaching him to read.
He picked out a book on magic tricks. His takeaway from it was not only how to read, but the art of magic.
Since then, Cosentino has gone on to become one of Australia’s most successful magicians.
He was the runner-up on Australia’s Got Talent season 5, the winner of Dancing With The Stars Australia season 13 and had a starring role in the Jackie Chan film Bleeding Steel, which debuted number one at the Chinese box office.
He was also the first Australian magician to have his own TV shows. He has written, produced and starred in nine highly successful prime-time specials, which have now been broadcast in over 40 countries and seen by over 750 million people.
The card trick he performed for me was one he came up with during the COVID-19 pandemic. He developed tricks like this in order to be able to reach audiences through screens as it does not require them to be physically present with him.
This is not the only type of adjustment he has had to make to adapt to circumstances.
For a singular magic act, to get from original conception to the final performance is a lengthy and debilitating process, requiring sketching or modelling the trick, taking it back and forth to professionals like builders and engineers, blocking and choreographing the act, and deciding costumes and lighting.
The process is repeated over and over in front of audiences to reach a desired effect, as it sometimes works and sometimes does not.
“Sometimes, you don’t get the result you’re after. They’re not applauding where you want them to applaud, or gasping where you want them to.
“Maybe they don’t quite understand it, maybe it’s too complicated,” Cosentino explains.
In total, an escape act takes six months, while an illusion takes three.
Not only does Cosentino need to adapt to audience reactions, but the type of audience differs widely all over the world.
As a magician in the business for over a decade, he has performed in countries and regions all over North America, Asia and Australia.
Cosentino notices what impresses audiences varies greatly. For example, Indonesian audiences love death-defying escapes, Singapore audiences are drawn to close-up magic, and Americans have a preference for performances to be more “speccy" (Australian slang for “spectacular").
But at the end of the day, Cosentino knows the importance of staying true to himself and his style of work.
“The thing about these shows is that everyone becomes a critic. Everyone has an opinion,” he points out.
When asked about his main motivation behind all this hard work to get to a final performance, Cosentino gushes about the “feeling" he gets when audience members are awestruck by an act.
“It’s a feeling you can’t get in any other art form,” he says.
Cosentino: Decennium - The Greatest LiveMagic Show is presented by Base Entertainment Asia.
BOOK IT: Cosentino: Decennium – The Greatest Live Magic Show
Where: Sands Theatre, Marina Bay Sands
When: Aug 24 to Sept 3 (duration 90 minutes, including a 20-minute intermission)
Admission: $58 - S$168. Tickets can be purchased from Marina Bay Sands Ticketing (https://www.marinabaysands.com/entertainment/shows/cosentino-decennium.html)