Keith Barry is a big hit oversees but he brings magic to his home town at the weekend says Marjorie Brennan
ILLUSIONIST, magician, mentalist, hypnotist — Keith Barry has been described as all of these.
However, above all, he says he is an entertainer. But he certainly has a magical way with audiences, whether on TV or the stage.
This year, Barry will perform to his home city of Waterford for its annual Christmas festival, Winterval. The illusion will be staged on the city’s Mall on Saturday.
Its top-secret details have been written down and will be stored in a tamper-proof exhibition case at the Waterford Museum of Treasures, at Bishop’s Palace. Members of the public are being invited to guess the illusion in advance, to win a family VIP package for the festival.
Barry was happy to take time out of his hectic schedule for the festival. “They approached me a while back and asked me to get involved, and, of course, I’m delighted to help with anything positive for Waterford. I was born and bred down there, so it’s a no-brainer for me, it’s a great festival for families and kids.
“I’ve come up with an illusion with a festival theme, which I’ve never performed before, and I will be doing it in front of more people than I’ve performed for before, 10,000 to 15,000 people,” he says.
Barry has been an illusionist full-time for 15 years, although he started performing magic tricks as a child.
In a world where people have increasingly short attention spans, is it difficult to come up with new ideas?
“Not at all, I love it. I have so many projects on the go at the moment that inspiration comes from all different areas.
“For a live show, I sit in my office and do a ton of research on the things that inspire me, that I enjoy, and it all follows on from there. The last show was all about the brain, the power of the unconscious mind. One of the shows before that was about the occult, ouija and witchcraft. I don’t find it difficult to be inspired, if you love what you do.
“I give audiences what they want, which is to escape their problems and the everyday world for a while, and remember what it is like to be a kid again.”
Barry is taking a break from touring to concentrate on his latest television project, Back in the Room, presented by Phillip Schofield, which will air early next year on ITV in the prestigious Saturday evening slot.
“It’s a hypnosis game-show. We’re in pre-production on that now, getting all the contestants, and so on. We’ll film that in January and it will air in February-March,” Barry says. RISKY BUSINESS At least with hypnosis, Barry is unlikely to be involved in any dangerous stunts. Does his family worry about him getting hurt, or worse?
“Not really, I don’t really tell them anything until afterwards. It’s not like I sit down with my wife and discuss it. I suppose I’m not the best husband like that. I don’t say, ‘Tomorrow I’ll be wrapped in one hundred foot of rope by two strangers in a shed full of explosives, so I might actually die’.
That’s not exactly dinner-time conversation in our house. These are dangerous stunts, there’s massive risk, and my job is to minimise the risk to make it as safe as possible, but anything can happen.”
As it did live on stage at Dublin’s Olympia Theatre in 2012, when Barry collapsed during an escapology routine. Was he scared?
“No, I was tied in a hundred foot of rope by two audience members, but my head was in cling film and I couldn’t get my hands out. It turned out one of the guys was a sailor who’d tied a lot of sailing knots in the rope. I wasn’t panicking, but I fell over on the chair and got winded, so I took a deep breath in — sucked in cling film and I blacked out on the spot, so there was no panic involved.
I came-to and started puking everywhere.” Like a true showbiz trouper, Barry went home to bed and was back on stage the following night.
Barry’s talents must be handy at home, with his children, who are aged two and six. “Yeah, I put on magic shows here every couple of nights, they love it.
A friend of mine said I was in a privileged position, being able to do that, and I hadn’t thought of it like that. All kids love magic and I do magic for them and the six-year-old does some magic as well. It’s great.”
He must be in big demand for birthday parties. “I used to do them, but I haven’t succumbed to doing the six-year-old’s parties yet. I get a magician friend of mine to do it, but the pressure will be on next year, for the seventh birthday.
I did some tricks this year at her party, though not a full show,” Barry says. PEER PRESSURE Barry is also active on social media. “It’s just good to get the word out there for projects like Winterval.
Facebook and Twitter are very useful tools for everything I do, including my TV projects. Guys like David Blaine, Dynamo and Phillip Schofield follow me, so when they retweet something to all their followers it’s great.”
Previously, Barry had spoken of getting the cold shoulder from illusionists in the US, who perceived him as a threat to their status.
Overall, however, he gets on well with his peers. “I’m not competitive. I think there’s room for everybody. You’d have to ask them how competitive they are, but I get on well with David Copperfield, David Blaine. We all sit down and have a laugh and a drink when we meet,” he says.
The veteran Copperfield, one of the first to bring the art of magic and illusion to television audiences, is a hero of Barry’s.
“I’ve been looking at him for as long as I can remember, since I was six or seven, watching his specials, him walking through the Great Wall of China, or making the Statue of Liberty disappear.”
Barry is also consultant for the sequel to the film Now You See Me, on which he instructed Woody Harrelson in hypnotism and mentalism.
Having also worked on several shows on American television, would Barry be interested in a permanent move Stateside?
“I want to get back on American television again, but it’s just prioritising things. I have to do the second series of Brainhacker here for TV3, I’ve got the movie, which I’m contracted to for three months, and the ITV show films in the middle of the movie, so the first six months of next year are block-booked.
“The second six months I’d have the eyes firmly set on the States. I’d love to do more stuff out there.”
Barry is determined to make the most of whatever opportunities come his way. “It can be hard, sometimes, but, as the saying goes, you can sleep when you’re dead.”
Winterval takes place from Nov 21 to Dec 23. Winterval’s ‘Magic on the Mall’ with Keith Barry on Nov 29, is a free ticketed event. Tickets via www.winterval.ie.
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