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PREVIEW | Meet Illusionarium Toronto’s New Magical Immersive Exhibit

By Paula Citron on July 28, 2021

Illusionairum

Lighthouse Immersive/Illusionarium, opens July 29, Toronto Star Building, 1 Yonge St. Tickets here

It’s almost a shaggy dog story. Production company Lighthouse Immersive has kept running into the juggernaut of COVID-19. Throughout Toronto’s gazillion lockdowns, opening dates were set for their extravaganza productions that then had to be cancelled. While their first show, Immersive Van Gogh, finally got a chance to run for a little while between lockdowns, the new show Illusionarium never had the chance. It was slated to open several times in 2020, but then languished during 2021. Now, however, Illusionarium’s day is finally at hand.

Lighthouse Immersive shows aren’t just any shows. They are gigantic epic adventures with the emphasis on the word immersive. They are experiential theatre where the audience is consumed by jaw-dropping effects using 3D projections, 3D mapping, laser beams, LED walls and interactive social media. In the case of Immersive Van Gogh, the watcher is peppered with floor to ceiling, highly imaginatively placed images of the artist’s work that convey Van Gogh’s enormous creative talent overlaid with deep psychological and emotional overtones. For its part, Illusionarium is a magic show like no other.

What Is Illusionarium?

British master magician Jamie Allan is known for blending state-of-the-art technology with traditional magic to create mind-boggling digital illusions. For example, there is his famous trick of making audience cell phones carry the same message. For Illusionarium, Allan and co-creator Tommy Bond, have imagined an immersive spectacle that takes audiences on a tour of the history and evolution of magic,

The show is spread over four rooms, each from a different age and featuring different high-tech effects. Palais Royale, hosted by Harry Houdini, includes dual layer 3D volumetric hologram technologies (whew!) and mind-reading sequences. The Egyptian Hall transports audiences back in time with immersive room effects involving levitations and vanishings. On-Air Studios features beloved magicians who appeared on television in the Golden Age. Finally, Evo-lusion Theatre gives a glimpse into the future of magic and technology. Whichever the room, however, the heart of the hour-long show remains anchored in cutting-edge digital illusions.

Illusionarium Toronto
Illusionarium/Toronto. (Photo handout)

How Did Illusionarium Come About?

Corey Ross (Starvox Exhibits) and Svetlana Dvoretskaia (Show One Productions) are the Toronto producing team that gave us the mega-hit Immersive Van Gogh. Jointly called Lighthouse Immersive, their follow-up spectacle is Illusionarium.

As a company, Starvox presents big shows, and Ross is always on the lookout for talent. His attention was caught by magician Jamie Allan who was, in Ross’ words, a very big deal in Britain. In particular, Allan was known for his forward-thinking high-tech magic. For the last several years, Ross has presented Allan’s one-man extravaganza iMagician in American cities, with Toronto being the next stop. Then the pandemic hit.

Says Ross, “With his theatre show out of commission, Jamie and I were wondering what could we present with social distancing. Jamie has an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of magic. His house is filled with magician artifacts, so the idea began to emerge, why not create an immersive historical show? I showed him the effects used by Immersive Van Goh, and Jamie and his creative partner, Tommy Bond, took it from there.”

Surprisingly, Dvoretskaia had initial doubts, but warmed up to the project when she found out that legendary magicians Penn & Teller wanted to be involved. “My husband was very impressed by this,” she says. The turning point for her was Allans’s creative presentation of the projected show. “Jamie envisioned for me the fabulous journey that the audience would undertake. His presentation showed images of the burning of witches and that really got to me. I saw the history and evolution of magic as a fantastic idea,” Dvoretskaia continues.

Where Is Illusionarium Staged?

Ross and Dvoretskaia have breathed new life into the cavernous printing press rooms behind the Toronto Star building. They already transformed two of the spaces into galleries for the presentation of Immersive Van Gogh and Gogh by Car. Illusionarium occupies the last empty part of the press rooms, and is as large as the two other galleries combined (23,000 sq. ft.)

This third space, with its observation gallery, includes the old Toronto Star gym. They also found elevators, stairs and walled-up windows. In the transformation, the former gym contains the lobby and gift shop, while the warehouse is where Illusionarium is staged.

End Thoughts And Trivia

  • The casting directors had to audition the necessary live magicians on Zoom.
  • The technology, props and personnel involved in Illusionarium requires a huge backstage area.
  • Illusionarium is a more regimented show than Immersive Van Gogh, as groups of 48 are led by guides through each room. You also have an assigned pod.
  • When it was briefly opened between lockdowns, Immersive Van Gogh saw 200,000 people safely pass through the exhibit.
  • The producers were prepared to reschedule the premiere of Illusionarium as many times as they had to.

My last question to Ross and Dvoretskaia was, “With two gigantic immersive shows running, are you guys building an empire?”

To which, they replied, “Of course.”

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Paula Citron
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