Currently touring the country with his latest show, magician Keith Barry speaks to Seán Hayes about his love of performing live, how hypnotism can be used in everyday life and hacking into Morgan Freeman’s brain.
IRELAND has long been associated with producing some of the World’s biggest and brightest names across the artistic fields of music, literature and drama. Magic, on the other hand, has often been reserved for the blazing, bright lights of metropolises such as Las Vegas and New York. Waterford City is not often considered a hub for magic, but it is in exactly this city that a fledging magician, Keith Barry, began tentatively practicing his first tricks and routines before becoming a household name, both in Ireland and across the world.
Barry is currently on his national tour HypnoMagick, the latest in a long series of almost annual, critically acclaimed and regularly sold-out tours. Having just finished up the first two nights of a sold-out, four night stint at Dublin’s Olympia Theatre, Barry is enjoying being back on stage, and interacting with a live studio audience after some time away working on various other projects.
“I do a lot of different things,” he enthuses, “like working on movie sets, my own television shows, and hypnotherapy, but by far my favourite part of what I do is being on tour.”
This year, HypnoMagick focuses heavily on the art of hypnosis. Explaining the programme of the show, Barry reveals that, “With this show, I decided that, under hypnosis, I would give people their first ever magic show. So with the hypnotised volunteers on stage, I transform them into three year-olds and make them believe that they’re seeing their first ever magic show. I do the most basic tricks for them, but they’re freaking out because, in their heads, they’re only three years of age. The audience is just laughing their heads off.”
The show has been well received by critics and audience members alike, and has been particularly praised for its inclusiveness with the entire audience. One particular highlight comes towards the end of the show, as Barry explains, “I create a mass hallucination in the minds of the people in the audience. All 1,200 people this weekend will actually experience an illusion, but only inside their minds. It happens when two people appear to dematerialise off the stage. It looks like CGI graphics, but the audience knows that it’s just happening in their brain. That tends to drive them temporarily insane.”
“I was once sitting with Morgan Freeman and he challenged me to hack into his brain.”
Barry’s beginnings in magic, however, were rather more humble. His interest was sparked at an early stage, when he received a magic set for his fifth birthday. “After that,” he laughs, “I used to get a magic set every year for Christmas and birthdays.”
When he was 14, he received a book, Magic for the Complete Klutz. It was this book that marked the beginning of his performing career, and he began to perform for friends, family and members of his local community. Reflecting on this time, he almost sounds surprised when he admits that, “My parents were very supportive of what I was doing as a magician. In the back of my mind, I knew that I was destined to become a full-time entertainer.”
Barry’s shows are regularly noted for their original material. In the same way that a writer or musician needs to create new material to keep an audience’s interest, Barry similarly feels a pressure to keep his shows fresh and interesting. His creative process, however, might strike some as slightly odd, as he seems to almost work backwards from the finished product.
“I always start with the name of the show first,” he explains. “It helps me devise the material. So for this show, I came up with the name, HypnoMagick, and then I decide, ‘What is HypnoMagick?’ It’s obviously a mixture of hypnosis and magic, and from there I have to figure out the material from that.”
The inspiration for his material, he admits himself, can strike at any time, as if (excuse the pun) by magic. “I’m always on the lookout,” he reveals. “Even now I’m on the lookout for the next tour! I can sometimes get inspiration from just watching movies. I watched a documentary the other day about a bodybuilder, CT Fletcher, and one of the routines in the next show comes out of watching that. When I was working on the movie franchise, Now You See Me, I was once sitting with Morgan Freeman and he challenged me to hack into his brain, so one of the routines in the current show came out of that scenario.”
Barry stays coy about just exactly what happens when you attempt to hack the mind of one of the most famous faces and voices in the world. His involvement with the successful franchise, however, isn’t as well known as his other work. Barry took on the role of Chief Magic Consultant for the 2013 film, Now You See Me, and its 2016 sequel, Now You See Me 2. The films brought in over $680 million between them at the box office, and a third installment is now in the works, which Barry has also signed on for.
“It always ends up in a bit of mayhem. I obviously have to control the mayhem, but with those people, under hypnosis, it’s their imaginations that take over.”
Describing his involvement, Barry reveals, “I got to work with everyone: Morgan Freeman, Woody Harrelson, Michael Caine, and Jesse Eisenberg. It’s a different part to what I do. I was going from the design department, to the props guys, the builders, and then running over to the actors. The illusion where Lizzy Caplan gets her head chopped off took about two months of design and tweaking to get that to a stage where it could be done with no CGI. Then I might have to teach Dave Franco card-throwing at some stage. It was very exciting; I really enjoyed it.”
While working on the golden screen may have taken him out of his comfort zone, Barry is very comfortable with appearing on the silver screen. His television credits include, Deception with Keith Barry, Close Encounters with Keith Barry, and You’re Back in the Room. Given its format, working on television is inherently different to working with a live audience.
Magic performances on television have sometimes struggled to fully captivate audiences, as members can feel somewhat removed or disconnected. Barry acknowledges this challenge, admitting that, “You’re always wondering, naturally, is that a plant, is it a stooge? Obviously they’re questions people have in their minds. For me, though, television is still live, because I still have to extract a reaction from whoever, through magic, mentalism or hypnosis.”
While speaking on his television work, Barry reveals a highly controlling side to himself. It seems natural, however, that he should have a controlling personality, given the fact that his skills involve controlling the minds of willing participants. He admits that a lack of control can sometimes make working on television difficult.
“I’m under a lot of constraints,” he reveals. “There’s directors involved, there’s TV executives involved and everybody involved has an opinion. At the end of the day, with a live show, I’m in charge. I’m not really responsible to anybody except myself. The creative process for the show all comes down to my brain, as opposed to somebody on television. Sometimes, for whatever reason, the network doesn’t want me to do certain things, which can be very frustrating at times. Performing live is much more enjoyable.”
One particular aspect that Barry enjoys about performing live is the fact that anything can happen. While Barry is in control of his volunteers on stage, each person will naturally react differently to each situation. “I think it would be very boring for me if the show was structured to an extent that I knew what was going to happen. I like not knowing what’s going to happen. It always ends up in a bit of mayhem. I obviously have to control the mayhem, but with those people, under hypnosis, it’s their imaginations that take over.”
“I used hypnosis on my wife during the birth of our second child because she didn’t want any painkillers.”
The control associated with hypnotism becomes, perhaps, even more interesting when taken out of the entertainment realm and applied to everyday life. In December of last year, Barry hosted a seminar, Stop Smoking Now, where he revealed the useful benefits of using hypnosis everyday.
Describing the process, Barry explains, “We all fall in and out of trances everyday; we’re just not aware of it. When people are driving to work, they don’t think about it. It becomes a subconscious action. It’s a fantastic tool that people can use if they learn how to use it. I used hypnosis on my wife during the birth of our second child because she didn’t want any painkillers. I’ve treated thousands of people at this stage for different issues: anxiety, stress, smoking, fear of heights, fear of aeroplanes, eczema – all these different things that are affected on a neurological level can be assisted using hypnosis.
Barry himself admits to hypnotising himself on a daily basis. “I use it on myself every night to go to sleep,” he reveals. “I use it on planes, on long journeys. I use it in pain management. I was in a massive car accident ten years ago, I was nearly killed. Now I’ve got a seven inch plate and 13 screws in my ankle and full arthritis. I use self-hypnosis to overcome the pain of that.”
While Barry does not claim to be able to read the future, the opportunities that hypnosis could make possible now appear to be endless. Indeed, what he has lined up for the next year seems similarly as endless. HypnoMagick, his current tour, was originally intended to end in March, but has now been extended up until June due to popular demand.
His new television show, Hypnotise Me, has been recorded and is ready to be aired this summer across America. He is also waiting to begin working again on the third installment of Now You See Me, while also developing another TV show, which he is currently pitching to executives both in Ireland and Australia.
Whether kept purely for entertainment purposes, or used more wildly in everyday life, Barry is a strong advocate of the art of hypnosis and magic, an art which should receive just as much attention and recognition as the other, more traditional, artistic pursuits.