Murray Hatfield’s career trajectory was set back at his childhood home in Calgary, when he saw a 13-year-old magician perform at his younger brother’s birthday party.
“Well, I’m in my 50s now, and I still haven’t had a real job,” the Victoria-based magician tells the Straight over the phone.
Starting this week, Hatfield is producing and performing in Unbelievable! A Magical Experience, with nightly shows at the PNE’s Pacific Coliseum. He’ll be joined on-stage by colleagues Chipper Lowell, Shawn Farquhar, and Danny Cole—as well as his wife, Teresa, Hatfield’s on-stage partner and creative collaborator.
Producing a magic show in a 10,000-seat venue isn’t new for Hatfield—in fact, he was asked to bring the show back for a second year, after receiving strong audience reaction in 2016. He may have been inspired to take up the craft after seeing a small-scale performance, but Hatfield knows from experience that large audiences are equally enthralled by seeing skilled illusions play out on a big stage.
“There is a feeling that magic is a kids’ show. Everyone has an Uncle Bob who pulls a coin [from] behind a kid’s ear, or you see it at a birthday party,” says Hatfield. “When you go to the PNE, the curtain opens up and it’s wham, in your face. All of a sudden these people sitting back with their arms crossed forget their inhibitions.”
For this year’s show, Hatfield is going even bigger with technical elements—incorporating large screens and introducing new illusions that he says may challenge the laws of physics.
“We had to take a magic show, put it in an arena, and make it feel personal to an audience of 10,000 people. Obviously, you need to have screens to make people in the nosebleeds feel like they’re involved,” he says. “Last year, it kind of felt like you were in a live television studio.”
While the Hatfields’ act is known for classic physical illusions with boxes and swords, their supporting acts can be counted on for a diversity of material, ranging from chatty comedy magician Lowell to L.A.–based Cole, whose act employs minimal language because of his years performing internationally.
“I do very visual magic, just one effect after another, with stories that are relatable,” Cole tells the Straight over the phone. “For example, I try to pick a tie and the hanger breaks, these kinds of struggles. I would say it’s magical and lighthearted.”
Cole is also joined on-stage by his wife, Stacey. And although his act is cheerful, his tours of the globe have offered him some real perspective on magic’s universal appeal. He was especially impacted by a once-in-a-lifetime trip to North Korea with a group of American magicians.
“They were so excited to see North American magicians perform,” says Cole. “Magic is about enjoying life and smiling. It showed me that people are the same.”
Cole’s delegation was set to visit a North Korean magic school, only to have the meeting cancelled as they arrived. Walking past one room, Cole saw a group of teenage magicians practising a trick they had seen in his earlier performance—an image he says he’ll never forget. That trick—involving a record player and CDs—is one that audiences can expect to see at the PNE.
Unbelievable! promises world-class illusions from magicians who have inspired audiences around the globe. Hatfield says he’s most looking forward to seeing the nightly responses from audience members of all ages, as they’re caught up in the show’s spell.
“It’s why performers love performing.”
Unbelievable! A Magical Experience runs nightly at the Pacific Coliseum from Saturday (August 19) to September 4.