“I don’t have to reinvent my material,” Cagigal clarifies as we chat over Zoom. “I just have to re-choreograph it.” Fellow magicians have been a good source of information on video-conferencing basics, home lighting, and tweaking certain tricks to fit their screens. Ultimately, though, it’s the audiences themselves who have been the best barometers of a particular bit’s success. And according to Cagigal, they’ve been pretty accommodating of his limitations.
“People allow us a little bit of extra leeway… and not be suspicious of every single thing,” he explains. “Because they know we’re all trapped in our space, and this is not the situation we are trying to create.”
Everybody’s Zooming Into the Act
For Magical Nathaniel—currently located in Oakland—adapting to the moment has been challenging and inspiring in equal measure. A predominantly local performer with a penchant for family gatherings and birthday parties, the 25 year-old performed his first full magic show in third grade (“a disaster!”), and developed his chops over the years as a resident magician at El Cerrito’s Playland-not-at-the-Beach, where he estimates he performed over 1,000 shows before it closed in 2018.
Thanks to shelter-in-place and the internet, he’s been able to broaden his audience base to previously unimagined levels. Recently he performed for an after-school group of almost 200, including members as far away as China. He’s also performed custom shows and taught magic lessons for folks all around the country. In the spirit of embracing the unknown, he’s been adapting his performances to a variety of platforms, such as Instagram Live—where as many as 500 people might be watching at any given moment, and up to 23,000 for an entire set.
“Nobody knows what the future holds…but I think it’s going to be a very long time before we transition back,” Nathaniel muses. “And I don’t know that virtual shows will be transitioning out. I think they’re here to stay.”
Seated at a low table in front of a glittery curtain backdrop that used to travel with him to his live performances, Nathaniel matches his shirt and bowtie to his decor, and his patter to his mutable audience. Like Cagigal, he relies in part on the willingness of his virtual clients to trust him not to use camera manipulation. He gives off a wholesome, camp-counselor vibe, and even from a digital distance, there is a feeling of personal care in his routine.
Growing up without a lot of extra money for the usual beginner props and gags, Nathaniel began building his own tricks at a young age. He demonstrates some of his favorites: one camera-friendly moment in which he makes money “fly,” and another using a series of sealed envelopes, which he opens one at a time with practiced aplomb. “I love envelopes,” he grins. When he finally pulls the card I’d been thinking of from the final envelope, I’m relieved—for myself and for him. Even from afar, this confident magic-maker has “read” my mind, and I’m appropriately impressed.
“We all need something, a sense of hope, a sense of wonder,” he emphasizes. “And that’s, I think, what will help get us through this—whatever we’re going through.”