Updated: Jul 16
Vincenzo Ravina is an international artist famed for his TV appearance on Penn & Teller: Fool Us, and a regular performer on Zoom, with his current show "Magic from the Twilight Lodge".
Having previously reviewed Vincenzo's Zoom show "Savour The Sea From A Distance" last year, it felt about time that we caught up again to find out what he has been up to.
For those who have not seen Vincenzo perform, his magic is surreal, mystifying, and absurd. At his show, you may end up wearing Mind-Reading Glasses, engaged in an experiment in teleportation, or cowering in fear at the might of the Ancient and Mystical Balloon of Ultimate Power. No matter what, you'll end up laughing and be amazed.
When I had the opportunity to chat with Vincenzo, I had many questions that I wanted to ask. As well as a magician, Vincenzo is also an artist and author to name just some of his talents.
Thank you Vincenzo for your time today.
Magic Seats - Thanks again Vincenzo for taking the time to chat with us today.
You are a regular performing on Zoom, performing private and public shows. I am aware you have enhanced your show over time as you have gained experience and feedback using this medium. Your latest Zoom show is "Magic from the Twilight Lodge". What can you tell us about your latest show; how would you describe it to anyone interested in booking?
Vincenzo Ravina - I've been continually tweaking and evolving my virtual show over the course of the past year and I'm quite pleased with the latest incarnation, "Magic From the Twilight Lodge". I just keep trying to make a magic show that I would like to see. Something unique, something unlike what I've seen other magicians do, something surprising and joyful, but also weird and absurd and dark.
"Magic From the Twilight Lodge" is broadcast from a pocket universe in an alternate dimension. I'm a collector of weird stuff, and the Twilight Lodge is where I keep my collection. When you visit me in the Twilight Lodge via Zoom, I take you on an interactive tour of the unique artefacts and magical objects in my collection. We'll bestow luck to the unlucky, see what's inside the Anything Box, try to divine the future, and test out a Coincidence Machine, among other things.
I love movies and TV shows and filmmaking (when I was a kid, I was always making little stop motion movies and stuff) so I've been shooting mini-documentaries that introduce the "exhibits" in the show. A bunch of those were added relatively recently and really enhance the experience, in my opinion.
In creating the show, I tried to take inspiration from a bunch of things that I like. The title is a reference to the Twilight Zone and the Black Lodge from Twin Peaks. I wanted to create a universe where anything could happen, similar to those fictional extradimensional spaces. I also took inspiration from Wes Anderson, LOST, "Weird Al" Yankovic, and a whole lot of other things. Someone recently came to the show and said it was like "The Addams Family meets Pee Wee's Playhouse." Those were not things I was consciously taking inspiration from, but I love the Addams Family, and I love Pee Wee Herman, so I'm sure they're subconsciously part of the cocktail.
Magic Seats - That's great to learn how the show has evolved since I last saw it.
I am aware that you have a worldwide audience who follow you; are there any particular countries that you have higher numbers of followers/audiences for your online shows/work?
Vincenzo Ravina - My audiences tend to be people from Canada, the US, and the UK, and I find there is a disproportionate number of audience members from the UK at my shows. Maybe people from the UK like magic more than people from most other countries, I'm not sure. But I really love getting to perform for a room of people from disparate countries while they're in their own homes... or driving their car. That kind of thing can only happen at a virtual show.
Magic Seats - That's the great thing about Zoom, opening up performances to international audiences. No doubt, your Penn & Teller: Fool Us appearance helped raise your profile.
When you appeared on Penn & Teller: Fool Us - how did that opportunity come about?
Apologies for the length of the answer to follow. Let me tell you my life story.
I've been a fan of Penn & Teller since I was a kid and I discovered a VHS tape of Cruel Tricks for Dear Friends. I watched the tape again and again. I got copies of their books from the library. When I started doing magic, I was heavily inspired by their shocking, bloody, and irreverent magic. David Blaine was also a big inspiration. But, when I was younger, my efforts were very derivative. I stole tricks and passed them off as my own. It was wrong and uncreative. I performed at birthday parties in my early teens and got tired of getting heckled after a while, so I quit performing magic for a long time.
But I continued to be a fan of magic and of Penn & Teller, and when Fool Us came on the air, I loved it. I watched every episode of the original UK run, and always hoped they'd make more. When the CW commissioned new episodes, I was very excited.
I started getting back into performing magic around 2016 and taking it more seriously. I realized that I could use magic as a vehicle for my writing, that I could use magic to create strange and surprising experiences for other people, that I could be much more creative with magic than I used to be. I started performing at open mics here in Halifax, Nova Scotia between the singer/songwriters. I also performed a few times a year in a theatre show with the rest of my magic club. I started developing material with an eye toward putting a show together for the Halifax Fringe Festival.
One of my magic club's members, Ian Stewart, ended up appearing on Fool Us and told us all about his experience. He said he absolutely loved it and that it was one of his best experiences performing for a television show. That put the idea into the back of my head that one day, if I came up with something really good, maybe I could appear on Fool Us. I also heard a podcast interview with Ondřej Pšenička, in which he gave out the Fool Us casting email and encouraged magicians to submit. I tucked away the email address for future use. (It's email@example.com , by the way).
In 2019, before I got married, my best man, Cameron, and my brother, Adriano, took me on a surprise trip to Las Vegas for my bachelor party. We did what I assume all men do when they go to Las Vegas for a bachelor party: we went to see five magic shows in three days. Cameron had gotten us second row tickets for Penn & Teller. Before the show, we were allowed to go on stage and inspect props that would be used in the show, and I remember standing on the stage and thinking, "Wow, so this is what it looks like when you get to perform on Fool Us." (It actually looks quite a bit different, because they rearrange things in the theatre and bring in TV lights and cameras and such, but it is the same stage.)
Penn & Teller's show was incredible. On another night in Vegas, we went to see Piff the Magic Dragon, and before the show, there was a man dressed up like a medieval king going through the queue and talking to people before the show, keeping them entertained. The man's voice sounded familiar to me, and it took me some time to place it, but I realized it was Matt Donnelly, one of the co-hosts on Penn's Sunday School. I talked to him for a few minutes and took a picture with him.
When I got back home to Halifax, I learned about Donnelly's Fool Us behind-the-scenes podcast, which he does on Patreon. I immediately signed up and started learning all about how Fool Us actually works. Listening to the podcast made me realize that having a trick that might actually fool Penn & Teller is secondary to having an entertaining piece of magic. Donnelly also said something along the lines of: the producers were looking for funny, unusual acts that didn't use cards.
At the time, I was thinking that Fool Us had been going for six seasons already, and most shows don't last much longer than that. I figured that if I didn't submit to Fool Us soon, I might never get the chance. So even though I didn't feel like I was ready, I submitted a clip from one of my magic club's theatre shows. It was a trick called Mind-Reading Glasses. It used playing cards, but I thought it was my strongest piece, so I submitted it despite that. I didn't really expect to hear back, because I've heard several seasoned pros on magic podcasts talk about submitting to the show and not getting booked to appear.
My original submission video:
About a month later, I got an email asking for my script and the trick's method. I sent them. And then maybe a month later, I got a phone call from the producers saying they liked my trick (I was gobsmacked), but they wondered if I could find a way to do it without cards. I said I could and came up with a few ideas for alternatives: a deck of ESP symbols, or drawings from the audience. They said I should do both ideas. So then there was a month or more of going back and forth with the script, tweaking things, changing the method to fit. I was also building the Thought Transmitter helmet, and designing the ESP cards (I didn't like the design of any of the commercially available ESP cards). It was incredibly stressful and exciting. Eventually, they sent me an email officially booking me to appear on the show.
For someone who was only performing at open mics, I was super nervous about going on the show. Performing in front of 500 people, Alyson Hannigan (who I love from Buffy) and of course, two of my biggest heroes in magic, Penn & Teller, was a terrifying proposition and I was positive that I was going to completely blank on my script and totally screw it up. My wife, Laura, and I rehearsed the trick every night, usually twice, for a month or more with her playing Alyson Hannigan. Over and over and over. I had friends coming over to my apartment to play Penn and Teller to help me memorize the script. It was a script that the producers and I both wrote parts of, so it was not quite as easy as memorizing something I'd written by myself. By the end of it, Laura had memorized the whole script as well.
Also, since I'd often seen seasoned professional magicians go on Fool Us with shaking hands and visible nerves, and I didn't want that to be me, I went to the doctor and explained the situation, and he gave me a prescription for lorazepam.
I flew to Las Vegas and stayed at the Rio. Laura came out with me, and two of our friends. I had a intimidating rehearsal in front of a panel of people who make the show and met Matt Donnelly again. He was very kind. And I ended up being on the same show as Ondřej Pšenička, so I got to hang out and talk to him backstage (actually under the stage) for several hours while we waited to go on stage. I was standing right behind the giant video wall at the back of the stage during Ondřej's third time fooling Penn & Teller. I went on stage right after him. And as a result of the lorazepam, I didn't feel at all nervous while I was on stage. The fact that I didn't vomit and die on stage was a huge win.
And all throughout this experience, I was slightly envious of Laura and my friends because they got to sit the audience during a taping of Fool Us and not be unspeakably nervous. Performers on Fool Us aren't usually allowed to watch the other performances, so I asked the producers for permission to attend a taping the day after my taping and they said yes! As a superfan, it was awesome to see both sides of the production.
So that's how my Fool Us appearance came about, in excruciating detail. Short version: I'm a superfan who submitted a trick and the producers liked it!
Magic Seats - That is excellent that you not only performed, you were able to watch another show being taped the next day. It is a fantastic achievement and you obviously worked hard to perfect the routine. And would you want to appear again?
Vincenzo Ravina - I would absolutely, dearly love to be on Fool Us again. It was an incredible experience. Getting to go to Vegas and meet and speak with magicians I admire like Ondřej Pšenička, Carisa Hendrix, Shawn Farquhar, Matt Donnelly, Michael Close, and of course, Penn & Teller, was a dream come true. Not to mention getting to collaborate with the amazingly smart and talented Fool Us producers, Andrew Golder and Lincoln Hiatt, getting to meet Alyson Hannigan, and getting to be in the audience for a taping.
In conclusion: being on Fool Us is awesome and I highly recommend it. 10/10. I hope I get to do it again one day, though I haven't submitted anything for next season because the taping days are really close to when Laura is due to give birth to our first child!
Magic Seats - That would be amazing if you did get to perform again. Though understandable that timing is everything (and congrats to Laura and Vincenzo who have become parents since this interview was conducted).
As a magician and collector of weird stuff, what are some of the most unusual things that you own? Any new additions since your mind reading glasses!
Vincenzo Ravina - I own a bottle of North Korean wine. I own a picture of me with "Weird Al" Yankovic, holding an older picture of me with "Weird Al" Yankovic. I think those might be the most unusual things I own.
Magic Seats - That is amazing to get the photo with "Wierd Al" and meeting him a couple of times. Any other collectables?
Vincenzo Ravina - I don't actually have many magic collectables! I have an "I AM" card from Derek DelGaudio's great off-Broadway show, In & Of Itself. When I went to Vegas for my bachelor party, I collected a little piece of detritus from nearly every show I went to, so I have a feather from Jade Simone's showgirl costume from the Piff the Magic Dragon show, I have a piece of rope from Mac King's show, and I have a bit of card Dan Sperry cut up with a razor blade before swallowing it at his show. At the Penn & Teller show, I brought along my childhood copy of How to Play in Traffic and got them both to sign it. I wasn't able to get anything from David Copperfield's show. I tried to make off with the dinosaur, but Copperfield is too strong.
Magic Seats - I do something similar, trying to get collectables from live shows. I was able to get some playing cards used by Richard Jones once during a live performance.
You are also a writer and designer as well as magician. You have short stories available and T-Shirts that you have designed. (Peril & Exploit: And Other Mysterious Tales etc).
What new projects do you currently have in the works – any future plans?
Vincenzo Ravina - I'm working on a second collection of short stories with the tentative title of Short Book Of Short Stories To Hit Your Goodreads Reading Goal. I hope to have it out by December 2021 or 2022.
You can read The Fixy Fixy Man, one of the stories from my first short story collection, for free right here: http://perilandexploit.carrd.co
I'm always doodling things and putting the doodles on t-shirts. Those are available http://VincenzoRavina.com . Someone in Switzerland recently purchased one of my t-shirt designs outright because he wants to use it as the logo for his coffee shop! That was a surprise and a delight.
Also: I have a Patreon where for a couple of dollars a month, you get access to any new stories I write, magic videos, updates on whatever I'm working on, etc. If anyone would like to support my various doings, please join me over there! http://patreon.com/savourthesea
Magic Seats - Good luck with the new short stories book. And I have to ask....
Last time we spoke, you told me about the mystical unicorn giraffe which has one horn and not two - the girafficorn. Though some say that they don't exist, have you been able to discover one yet?
Vincenzo Ravina - I have been unsuccessful in my pursuit of the giraffe with a singular ossicone, thus far, but it's only a matter of time. I will find it, I will solve its riddles, and it will give me the gem I seek.
Magic Seats - Thanks Vincenzo for taking the time to chat with us today. It has been most informative and we hope that you find the gem that you seek!
To learn more about Vincenzo's services, take a look at his website and social sites below.
Website - magic
Website - general