If you think of a vaudeville inspired parlor roadshow with a sprinkling of magic and you’re ready to have fun and travel around the world in 80 minutes, think of Carnival of Illusion, a fully interactive adventure laced with magical effects, a lot humor and international music. Created and performed by Roland Sarlot and Susan Eyed, Carnival of Illusion is an experience like no other.
It was almost nine years ago, when the show was in its early stages of development that I first had the opportunity of talking with both Roland and Susan. Since then, the show has gone from strength to strength. Meeting up with them again a few days ago gave me the chance to find out what they’ve been up to.
In the early days, what were you both doing that lead you to this unusual line of work professionally?
Roland: You know, Susan and I always loved magic, even before we were doing it. As kids, I had a passion. Susan was watching anything she could on television, so at very early ages we were absorbing everything we could around us. I think Susan watched more magic on television than I ever did. I was living near the Magic Castle in Los Angeles. It’s a famous membership-only club for magicians, and you have to be invited to attend or be a member. So, it was just great to be able to see magic as we were growing up.
Susan: Roland got to see magic live growing up while I had to wait and watch it on TV.
Roland: Right, so before we had our careers, we already had the magic bug bite us. We were getting indirectly educated.
How long ago did the idea for ‘Carnival of Illusion’ come to you and what was its inspiration?
Susan: Roland and I had a large stage show and we would tour all over the United States. We would go to fairs, festivals, museums, corporate events, and what happened was the recession hit and we lost a huge corporate show for a New Year’s Eve party. The people felt so badly when they called us and said we couldn’t do this. And we felt so badly for them, so we gave the deposit back. Ironically, a week later we were having dinner at a great little historic hotel called the Hotel Congress in Tucson and the owner came up and said that they had this group ready to go, it was all planned, it was called The Greatest Show on Earth, and the lead act fell through; they couldn’t do it. And we said, hey, we’re available on New Year’s Eve. That’s how we stepped up. And we thought, well, we’re from Tucson, this is where our base is, so why don’t we scale everything back and create an intimate show for people here in Arizona. Roland had already done a small Parlor show even before we had our big stage show. And so it kind of morphed from there.
How difficult was it to come up with the title and who thought of it?
Susan: It was not that hard, because our large stage show was called Dance of Illusion. It combined my dance with Roland’s magic.
Roland: And we were traveling, so since that’s what we were doing and we needed to change the name, we called it Carnival of Illusion.
Did you find you had to adopt a new on-stage persona in order to present the show or are the characters we see really extensions of yourselves?
Roland: A little of both. When you’re on a bigger stage you have to play the show very differently than on a smaller stage. Going from a thousand people to fifty or a hundred and twenty-five, you have to perform differently. But our characters are true to life. Sometimes they’re heightened or exaggerated, but they are true to us. I mean, we’re not being somebody completely different.
The first time you ever performed a parlor show, did it click from the beginning or did you find yourselves thinking, we need to do some work here?
Susan: You know, it really did click from the beginning. First of all, we had people driving down from the greater Phoenix area just to see our show, because, remember, that was the recession, and people were not taking vacations, they were scaling back, so they loved having this smaller vacation in Tucson. And they came to the show and loved being so close to the action and to see what’s going on; they loved that.
Roland: Most people see magic on television, or once in a while they might see something in Vegas and they’re a football field away, but when it sits close, audiences react immediately; they’re stunned. Especially the front row seats; they’d say, I can’t believe I was inches away.
Susan: And remember, this was the recession and people were going through a hard time, and the magic aspect of the show gave people a break of what was going on in their lives, whether it was financial or whether it was health related, and we still see that today.
When audiences enter your parlor, explain how different your performance is to a regular show of illusion and what they can expect.
Roland: We have four different venues, three in the Phoenix area and one in Tucson. The three Phoenix venues are very different; two are in large theatre complexes and we’re also at the Arizona Biltmore resort. At the large theatres when audiences come in to a beautiful experience, especially in Tempe, we actually walk them on stage with us. We’re on the Main Stage of the Tempe Center for the Arts.
Susan: Roland’s telling secrets right now.
Roland: What makes our show special is that all the seats are close. It’s about traveling around the world. It’s not a traditional magic show with rabbits and assistants; the show has a theme about traveling around the world in eighty minutes, and there are two performers who are both equal magicians.
Susan: And Roland doesn’t wear a tuxedo.
Is the line between being an illusionist and being a magician a thin one or are there notable differences?
Susan: I think we’re magical entertainers. It’s more entertainment than saying, look, I can do this or I can do that. It’s about the audience experience, and I think that’s the most important thing for us. When people come out of our show they feel a sense of wonder. They’re bringing friends and relatives back because they want to share in that magical experience.
Roland: I understand the question, but for us we don’t really think of it that way. From our perspective it’s the entire experience that’s important.
How about location? Do audiences differ from region to region or are reactions pretty much the same wherever you perform?
Roland: You know, it’s not about regions. If I could separate the world into hamburgers and steaks…
Susan: Engineers and cheerleaders.
Roland: Yes, they all react differently in different situations, so it’s really that there are different types of people, it’s not regional so much.
Susan: Sometimes during a certain hour, maybe the 5pm show, sometimes the audience is more vocal. Then maybe a week later, it’s just the opposite; the 8pm audience is more vocal. It’s a roller coaster. You never know. It’s like, you have a big package to open and you never know what’s inside.
Roland: It’s also chemistry. We see differences that are odd when the weather changes. We know that the audience will be different that night. It’s not really about region.
Intimacy is clearly a key factor. Some of those parlors you work in must differ in size. Do you adapt the show to accommodate a different sized forum?
Susan: We really want to maintain that level of intimacy, so rather than making the chairs for the audience straight across like a classroom or a meeting room, we make it so that everyone is in that magical cluster of wonder.
Roland: Yes. Not friends but comrades as they share an experience together. And they talk. It’s really fun before the show because your neighbors are talking in an intimate situation.
Susan: We see people together when they’re really strangers. We see people come in as small groups, but then they all leave as one because they now have a common bond, a common experience.
I know from speaking to you before that you’re occasionally hired for private functions. What was the most unusual and perhaps unexpected private function you had to deal with?
Roland: I don’t know if this was the most unusual. We did this casino in Albuquerque…
Susan: Oh, yeah.
Roland: And it must have had a few thousand people. It was like a boxing stadium. It was huge.
Susan: It was a seventy-two foot stage.
Roland: There was something like seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars of light above us. They had a half a million dollar lighting board, so it was huge. This was by invitation only for the high-rollers and there were so many people, and it was all black, and they were so far away, out there, in the dark.
Roland: And I remember Susan was doing a particular piece that had a big surprise ending, and she was dancing with two swords. And when the magic happened it was dead silence, everyone was concentrating on what they were watching, and suddenly one person out there in the sea of black screamed out an expletive.
Susan: Let’s say he dropped the f-bomb.
Roland: And he said what everyone was thinking. It was hilarious. The whole audience erupted into laughter, then Susan completed the trick, she just made it happen, and everyone exploded into this huge applause.
Susan: We still wanted to create this feeling of intimacy, and at the end we shook everyone’s hand and it was a blast.
The first time we spoke, which was almost 8 or 9 years ago, you were both in Tucson getting ready to expand into Phoenix. Since then you’ve taken ‘Carnival of Illusion’ to other countries. Do you have any down time or are you both constantly on the move?
Roland: We’re constantly on the move; we have no down time. But even when we’re not working we’re really constantly working.
Susan: Let’s put it this way, we don’t have children, but magic is our baby and it has Colic. We think about it twenty-four hours. We’re up in the middle of the night thinking about that. It’s always there; it’s a constant in our lives.
Roland: We’re always prepping for the future.
Pictures courtesy of AZFOTO and S&E
To find out more regarding scheduled performances, locations and tickets, CLICK HERE for the official Carnival of Illusion website.