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Marveling at an Amazing Meal with a Modern Mentalist


Jessica Wu | January 10, 2018
Illusionist Scott Silven’s “theater for the mind” combines an elaborate three-course dinner with hypnosis, sleight of hand, and other awe-inspiring magic.

At the Illusionist’s Table is many things at once. It’s fine dining, it’s a whisky tasting, it’s theater, it’s storytelling, it’s hypnosis, it’s a cathartic experience with strangers, and it’s a magic show with baffling sleight of hand tricks and incredible mentalist feats — all rolled into a very memorable evening.

To hear Scott Silven, the titular illusionist and creator of the show, explain it, his ambitions for the evening are even loftier: “I aim to orchestrate an awe-inspiring experience,” he told Per La Mente, “to reveal the mysterious side of human nature, and, ultimately, lead my audiences to a place that suggests untold possibilities … a place that allows them to look at the world and themselves in an extraordinary way.”

To achieve all this, Silven relies on remarkably low-tech tools. He dispenses with the usual tricks of the trade and the bombastic trappings of a typical magic show, stripping the experience down to its essence: a sustained emotional connection between audience and illusionist. “My work is driven not by technology but the power of story, by memory and the mind,” he says. “It’s theater for the mind in the truest sense.”

Scott Silven

The journey begins as audience members step into a dimly lit room and take their seats at a long dinner table with 28 place settings. Silven introduces himself and, throughout the night, makes his way around the table a few times, being sure to speak to each and every guest. “My audience are always the driving force [behind] the show,” he says. “I rely implicitly on them, and I believe that being a mentalist grants you one of the closest connections possible between performer and audience.”

From his very first trick, he demonstrates how critical audience engagement is to his act. A clipboard and notepad is passed around and guests are asked to write down a number. Not only is he able to guess all the numbers, but the resultant sum just happens to coincide with the origins of a particular whisky — which is then served as the first tasting of the night.

All told, a three-course dinner and two whisky tastings are served throughout the show, and each dish and drink is integrated seamlessly into the narrative. This interplay, too, Silven designed with a specific purpose in mind: stimulating all the senses. “Good food and drink should provide a unique sensory encounter and perhaps spark an emotional memory,” he says. “The ability of food and drink to shape our memories is an acutely powerful experience. It’s something I strive to achieve when developing all my work.”

The power of memory and nostalgia is a major theme of the show, and throughout the evening, audience members are asked, under hypnosis, to conjure up images from their pasts. To ease us into this process, Silven shares a story from his own childhood in rural Scotland, where he learned his first magic tricks from his grandfather at the age of four or five. Scotland is also where this show was developed, making its debut at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2013, and it’s a place that continues to resonate with Silven. “I now live between London and New York, but Scotland still holds such allure for me,” he says. “It’s a country with mystery woven into the very fabric of its identity.”

At the Illusionist’s Table comes to New York amid a wave of modern illusionists and mentalists who are putting a new spin on the classic magic show. It’s a trend that Silven welcomes. “In times of unrest, I think we all instinctively seek out experiences that project positivity and allow us to feel true wonder — surely one of the most profound emotional responses,” he says. “I believe the future of magic will continue to do more than merely entertain, but hopefully philosophically inspire, allowing us to harness our potential and make positive change in our own and each other’s lives.”

For another unique experience, head to Fernet-Branca

Photos by Giafrese for At the Illusionist’s Table

Jessica Wu 's essays and reporting on theater, travel, and food have appeared in Refinery29, Time Out New York, and Time Out London, among others. A NYC native, she also writes fiction, plays, and screenplays.


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