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From Vegas to Victoria: Illusionist Vitaly is living the dream

Vitaly: An Evening of Wonders has enjoyed a successful international run and will stop Saturday at the University of Victoria’s Farquhar Auditorium.
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Vancouver illusionist Vitaly SUMANEEVA GALINA

VITALY: AN EVENING OF WONDERS

When: Saturday, Dec. 9, 7 p.m.
Where: Farquhar Auditorium, University of Victoria
Tickets: $45 from tickets.uvic.ca

Vitaly Beckman vividly remembers the first time he saw David Copperfield, deemed the best illusionist in history, performing on TV.

Copperfield, the 11-time Guinness World Record holder who once floated over the Grand Canyon and made the Statue of Liberty disappear, captivated the teenaged Beckman, watching on TV at the time, and the youngster quickly went about learning more about Copperfield’s profession. He’s been a magician and illusionist ever since.

Beckman, who was born in Gomel, Belarus, close to the borders of Ukraine and Russia, and raised in Haifa, Israel, near the Mediterranean Sea, wasn’t sure he could manage a career in the field, so he devised a back-up plan — mostly to appease his parents. He followed his brother, who was in the tech industry, to Vancouver in 2008 with a half-hearted plan to put his engineering degree to good use.

“I went to two or three job interviews, but I think they saw I wasn’t passionate about it,” Beckman said with a laugh. “[Magic] is something I always saw as a profession. From the very beginning, I really felt it was always my destiny, that this is what I needed to do in life, even when I was not making money from it. Engineering was more like an obstacle in the way. It wasn’t something I was planning to ever do, despite studying it for four years.”

Beckman said his dream of performing in Las Vegas, where magicians are often elevated to rock star status, took hold when he was growing up in Israel, and the push to become a professional was never far from his mind. “I wanted the American Dream,” he said. “I wanted to make it big.”

He got there eventually. Vitaly: An Evening of Wonders has enjoyed a successful international run, and will stop Saturday at the University of Victoria’s Farquhar Auditorium. The show, which features levitation, sleight of hand, and comedy, had a four-month stretch at Manhattan’s Westside Theatre in 2018, under the stewardship of esteemed theatre producer Daryl Roth.

The historic venue once served as the launching pad for Penn & Teller, the magicians who were fooled by Beckman — twice — on TV during their reality competition show on the CW network, Penn & Teller: Fool Us. The appearance gained Beckman considerable clout in the profession.

As a child, he would perform in the living room of his family home. He would do tricks at family functions, honing his skillset along the way. “It has been many, many years of trial and error,” Beckman said. “I always take something out and add stronger things. That’s the goal. You always want to improve.”

Some of the routines he used on Penn & Teller, and worked on as a teenager, are still in his act today, including the bit where he draws a leaf on a piece of paper and makes the leaf come off the page. Another crowd favourite is when he changes the driver’s license photo of an audience member to that of someone famous.

For these routines, he likes to bring ticketholders up on stage during his performances. Even those standing inches away from him cannot decipher his trickery, he said. “I blur the lines between reality and illusion. The audience is inside the creation, so they can’t tell it apart from reality.”

He likes to incorporate sketching, one of his first passions, into his act. “I approach magic as an artform, and a branch of other arts. It’s a mix between science, theatre, and art, and also deception. But [the term] deception can be misleading. We’re not tricking anybody in a bad way. We’re using the tools of deception to create an illusion.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com