A night of illusion and suspended disbelief with Beyond Words

Novelists are said to be magicians of words, but what happens when a novelist meets a magician? The upcoming Beyond Words series presented by the Chan Centre will answer that question on Thursday night. Inspired by The Confabulist, the show presents celebrated Canadian author Steven Galloway and master magician David Gifford.

The Beyond Words series takes on the challenge of exploring the power of words using other methods, hoping to ignite more possibility and passion amongst the audience.

“It’s very rare for me to be excited about an event featuring me,” said Galloway. Like the audience, he has no idea what tricks David Gifford will perform. The event is not simply a show and tell but a display of the theories and principles of the novel in the form of illusions.

The event surrounds Galloway's The Confabulist which tells the story of the world’s most well-known magician, Harry Houdini. The story is told through the lens of everyday man Martin Strauss, who claims to have killed Houdini (twice).

“Because he’s so ridiculously famous … it’s really useful when the reader is asking himself self-consciously: is that actually something Houdini did or the author made up. There’s something I can do when that’s part of the question in a reader’s mind that I couldn’t do with a made-up magician. If I make up a fictional magician, no one’s ever wondering whether he did it or not,” said Galloway on why he chose to focus on Houdini.

The Confabulist, he believes, is also the most structurally interesting and technically challenging book he has written. The magic tricks were especially difficult because they rely on visual effects. So the task lies on the author to make the readers picture the magic tricks through description alone.

Swinging between reality and illusion, Galloway wants to challenge the assumption people have about memory.

“I was interested in the ways in which the brain remembers things and how we like to think of brains as computers. In fact, it’s not even a little bit like a computer. If you look at the way memories are formed, catalogued and kept. The brain is a story telling device. It’s a dynamic device. Magicians use the way the brain forms memories to make magic tricks work.”

But we are not always being tricked unconsciously -- instead, we often consent to the deception.

“When people read a novel, they’re agreeing to pretend that something that isn’t real is, right? You don’t read a novel and say the whole time, ‘well, that never happened,’" said Galloway. This suspension of disbelief also enables us to enjoy a magic show. The Telus Studio Theatre provides the audience the best possible position to watch the show. With only 150 seats, the round arena allows the audience to observe the magician from a close distance.

“It’s going to be tough on [Gifford]. That’s his problem. I can read anywhere,” said Galloway.

If you haven’t read the book, it’s not a reason to miss the show. “I’m going to operate under the premise that people haven’t read the book. I’ll pick parts that stand by themselves,” said Galloway.

As the audience renders themselves into suspended disbelief, they might find another way to see reality.

Beyond Words with Steven Galloway and David Gifford will be on February 26 at the Telus Studio Theatre. Tickets are available online.