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OMG! Did you see that?

Young illusionist's slick, stunt-based show is magic for the Jackass generation

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Your grandparents' magician pulled a rabbit out of a hat.

Darcy Oake is about to pull flames out of his butt.

The award-winning Winnipeg illusionist, just 22 years old, has been earning a living with a 10-minute signature act in which he makes doves and other birds appear and disappear.

But when your hero is David Copperfield, you dream bigger. The ambitious kid from Linden Woods says he's ready to make his mark with a completely original one-man production -- inspired by dumb stunts broadcast on YouTube -- that he hopes will "go viral" and turn him into a headliner.

"This is my big move, here. It's kind of a revolutionary approach to an old-school art form," says the fun-loving illusionist, the younger of two sons of sportscaster Scott Oake and his wife Anne, a nurse.

Oake's 21st-century spin on magic incorporates a giant screen, slick lighting, and music that ranges from hip hop to suspenseful theatrical themes.

Each of his illusions will be preceded by a montage of YouTube clips. For instance, the audience will see clips of "stupid kids" shooting each other at close range with paintball guns. Then Oake will recruit someone from the crowd to shoot him in the face, with an unexpected, mind-blowing result.

"I kind of re-enact it, but with a magical twist," he says.

The production has three shows at the Gas Station Theatre on Feb. 5 and 6. After a musical warm-up act, Oake's performance will run just over an hour.

It's titled WTF? -- text-shorthand for a question often blurted by YouTube viewers who can't believe the ridiculous, risky stunts some people (typically young males) attempt and then post on the Internet.

"If you don't know what WTF stands for, it might not be the show for those people," Oake says, though he hastens to add that the show is not obscene or offensive.

YouTubers' idiotic shenanigans with stun guns and sophomoric attempts to ignite farts are among the antics that inspire the show's increasingly outrageous illusions. "The content is very much college humour," says Oake, who hopes to see the show booked for a tour of American colleges.

Oake and stage manager Terry Williams, a friend since both were boys in the Society of Young Magicians, have spent several years developing the concept and "months upon months" perfecting the illusions.

They're currently rehearsing in a cluttered warehouse space rented from illusionist Brian Glow. He's one of many magicians bred in Winnipeg, from Doug Henning and James Cielen (currently working on cruise ships) to escape artist Dean Gunnarson.

Winnipegger Sean Fields, a magic-effects creator who has worked on the TV series Criss Angel Mindfreak, has served as a consultant on Oake's production.

It will take a four-man technical team to pull off the shows. An acquaintance who stage-manages the New York production of Blue Man Group is flying in to join the crew.

Oake is self-financing the venture, including paying the crew and renting the theatre. His goal is to film all three shows in HD, then create an impressive video that can be shopped around to agents and promoters.

The video of each illusion will also be uploaded to YouTube in the hope that it will go viral and bring him international attention.

WTF? incorporates the 10-minute disappearing-bird act that Oake has done at countless corporate gigs and in variety shows. It's introduced by a montage that tells Oake's story, complete with photos of him as a 10-year-old performing in a clown suit.

He's well aware that magic shows have a "cheesy and lame" reputation. He avoids anything that smacks of cliché, such as having a scantily clad "lovely assistant."

"Right now magicians, realistically, are a step above clowns and mimes," he says. "When you tell somebody you're a magician, they instantly assume you're a kids' party performer or you make balloon animals....

"Magic shows, you've seen one, you've seen them all. Magicians seem to be influenced by other magicians. They just change little stuff they saw another magician do.

"This (YouTube material) is stuff we find funny, and we've turned it into a theatrical show that has a strong magic element."

Oake, a St. Paul's High School grad, says his parents have been enormously supportive of his magic aspirations. It's possible, he says, that he inherited his performing instincts from his dad Scott, a veteran hockey commentator who has covered major sporting events such as the Olympics.

"He understands working a room," says the younger Oake.

alison.mayes@freepress.mb.ca

 

Darcy data

Oake was about 10 years old when he started performing magic shows. At age 15, he was one of six young magicians chosen from across the continent to compete at a magic convention in Las Vegas. He won the award for most promising magician. 

At 16, he became the youngest person ever to win the Pacific Rim Professional Stage Challenge in Seattle, beating out a field of professional magicians.

Two years later, Oake was invited to do a 21-show run at Hollywood's famous Magic Castle. At age 20, he performed in 30 Canadian cities as part of the Magic 'n' Miracles charity tour.

For his signature act, which involves disappearing birds, Oake hand-raises and trains his feathered co-stars. His current menagerie consists of eight doves, two king pigeons and four parakeets.

Oake says onstage mishaps are part of the magic business. His "epic mistakes" have included setting his jacket on fire and having one of his birds lay an egg in mid-performance.

Winnipeggers who have seen Oake conjure up a large white Pekin duck -- just like the cute one on TV's Friends -- may be dismayed to hear that the two ducks he raised to be performers got to be too much of a handful. They had to retire to a petting zoo. "Those animals are so messy, it's outrageous," says the illusionist with a laugh.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 28, 2010 D1

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