3/18/2024 | Tyler Simons

The tale of how playwrights Jahnna Beecham, Malcolm Hillgartner, and magician Steve Marshall embarked on a journey to intertwine magic with theater is as enchanting as the play they created. Their collaboration is a vivid illustration of what happens when disparate worlds collide to produce something truly magical. This story began, quite unexpectedly, in a Michigan backyard, leading to an innovative blend of storytelling and illusion that has since captivated audiences.

“It’s been amazingly collegial, and it all started in a backyard in Michigan,” Malcolm Hillgartner recalls, setting the scene for a meeting that would redefine the boundaries between magic and theater. This wasn’t just any meeting. It was a prelude to an extraordinary collaboration, sparked over coffee and missed flights, as Jahnna and Malcolm became engrossed in Steve’s stories of clowning and magic.

Steve’s personal journey with magic, beginning with a childhood Christmas gift and evolving into a form of solace and self-expression, resonated deeply with the playwrights. “And now I have had this amazing life because of a deck of cards— which are always in reach for me,” Steve shares, highlighting the profound impact of magic on his life.

The initial concept for the play, inspired by Steve’s narratives, soon found its direction when the team was approached with the opportunity to work with the Charlotte Children’s Theater. “Oh, do we have the project for you!” Jahnna exclaimed to Adam Burke, the artistic director who was eager for a new collaboration.

However, the journey of bringing Steve’s story to the stage was not without its challenges and revelations. The transition from a male protagonist, Finn, to Allie, a female lead, marked a significant pivot, addressing the underrepresentation of women in magic. “It honestly was hard when this change to Allie instead of Finn happened,” Steve admits, but the shift proved to be a powerful one, illuminating the importance of diversity and representation in storytelling and magic alike.

Throughout the process, the collaborators lived and breathed the essence of magic and storytelling, with Steve’s impromptu magic performances sparking wonder and curiosity. “They spent the days asking, ‘How did you do that?’” This immersive experience not only deepened their understanding of magic but also enriched their creative synergy.

The play’s evolution from its first production to subsequent ones saw significant innovations, especially in the seamless integration of magic. “So basically everything in terms of costumes, tricks, and scenic elements changed from the first production in Charlotte,” Malcolm explains. Steve’s philosophy of “low skill, high impact” magic tricks ensured that the illusions were both accessible and mesmerizing, enhancing the narrative without overwhelming it.

This collaborative endeavor has underscored the value of interdisciplinary synergy in the arts. “Everybody is going to learn something from everyone,” Steve enthuses, highlighting the mutual growth and learning that has been a cornerstone of this partnership. The blending of Jahnna and Malcolm’s narrative expertise with Steve’s magical knowledge has not only led to a groundbreaking theatrical experience but also set a precedent for the integration of magic and storytelling on stage.

As this project continues to evolve, it remains a testament to the power of collaboration, the beauty of merging distinct artistic disciplines, and the magic that can emerge from the most unexpected encounters. In the confluence of playwriting and magic, Jahnna, Malcolm, and Steve have crafted a narrative that transcends the ordinary, inviting audiences into a world where magic is not just an act, but a way of life.

Allie Kazan and the Magic Mansion

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