In 2017, Shawn Farquhar performed in 51 countries over 235 days. He’s a two-time World Champion of Magic, was the first magician to fool Penn & Teller twice, and has done close-up card tricks on Ellen. But can he get a gig in his hometown? Hell, it’s hard enough for him just to be recognized.
About a week ago, he’s sitting in his car in the Downtown Eastside, reading emails and waiting to do a show at Co-op Radio. He gets a knock on his window. A homeless man is asking for money and offers to show him a card trick. That gets Farquhar’s attention. The man has no idea who he’s performing for.
He has a finger that doesn’t bend, but manages to get through the trick and Farquhar is so impressed, he gives the guy 10 bucks, then proceeds to give him a brief lesson on a move called the tilt. Impressed, the man asks how he knows it. “I’m kind of a world-famous magician,” Farquhar says. “Right,” the man says, and walks off attempting to do the tilt as he goes.
So it goes for Canadian celebrities. Farquhar, who lives in Maple Ridge now, has come a long way since his days performing at birthday parties around Vancouver. With an ad in the Georgia Straight reading “That special something for your something special,” Farquhar was earning $30,000 to $40,000 a year in the mid-’80s doing magic for screaming kids.
“If you didn’t have me at your party, you weren’t having a good party, is what it became,” he says over breakfast at a Kits diner. “I would drive into a cul-de-sac and go, ‘Hey, I’ve done every house in this cul-de-sac.’ Soon, it was pretty much the Lower Mainland that was my little oyster.”
At least then he was working his hometown. These days, he’s too in demand on every continent (save Antarctica), and not in demand enough here. He longs for the chance to put on real shows in B.C. More than that, he’d love not hopping on a plane every week.
And he’s getting his wish with two different offerings, starting with a very intimate affair at the Shangri-La Hotel on Georgia, and a bigger, longer-run show high atop Queen Elizabeth Park.
On October 5 and 6, Farquhar is putting on four shows in a 36-seat theatre at the hotel. He was inspired by a trip to Spain.
“I saw all these little, tiny, tucked-away theatres of 50 and 80 people,” he says. “Then I went to Germany and there were all these little salons. Every city had one salon of magic someplace. I went, ‘Why isn’t that a thing here?’ And then I started looking.”
After filling 1,200-seat theatres all over the world, how hard is it to fill such a small room? Especially when it’s a chance to see a world-class card master up close. (He’ll also use a Rubik’s cube, a handful of coins, and a cellphone in the 75-minute show.)
“I just want to make it so that I learn every single person’s name and they all participate in some way, even if it’s just naming a number or picking a card,” he says. “I want everybody to feel like they actually connected in the show. For 36 people, it’s an experience that you’re not going to get anywhere. This will allow you to see a concert of intimate illusion.”
If it’s successful, Farquhar wants to book next fall and winter off and make it a regular weekend event.
And then there’s Bacio Rosso, billed as Canada’s first gourmet cabaret cirque. Farquhar is the magical element of a night that also features jugglers, contortionists, a live band, trapeze artists, singers, and clowns, all under a wooden Belgian spiegeltent built specially for the run.
Farquhar is excited—even more than usual for one of the most positive people in show business.
“Imagine you walk into a restaurant for the evening and realize that something special is happening that night,” he says. “Well, every night is that special night. It’s this live theatre taking place around you. It’s immersive. It’s 360 degrees. My job is to create wonder and I’ll be going in the centre ring, but I’ll also be going table to table freaking you out for an audience of four people. Even the wait staff come out dancing to put your food down. Everything is this giant production. Three hours of a five-star meal and international entertainment, all immersed in this wonderful jewel-box theatre.”
The added bonus for him is that he gets to sleep in his own bed for two-and-a-half months.
“I’ll get some stuff done at home!” he says. “That will be really weird, because I usually come home and I’m here for 48 hours. Now I have to do those jobs that I’ve been procrastinating on forever!”