Christopher Howell is an international multidisciplinary performer who specializes in magic, theatre, singing and consultancy for media among other things. Last month, he performed a series of his Séance shows in London. Now we got the opportunity to talk to him about what happens at those shows, how he came up with them, his start in magic, and more…
-PH: We sat down with magician Christopher Howell who just finished a series of shows in London called Séance: Conversations in the Dark. How did they go?
-Christopher: The run was an exciting start for the life of the show. It’s a thrilling experience to build a show over a period of months, bring to life some ideas that have knocked around in your head for years, and finally see how it affects people who come to see it. We had good audiences in a hauntingly atmospheric candle lit venue in southeast London called The Asylum Chapel. My audiences, the ghosts and I had a great time!
-PH: Can you tell us a little about those shows? What happens during them?
-Christopher: No bonus points if you’ve guessed the show features a séance. But what an audience might not expect is that the show also takes them through a collection of terrifying stories both from my own experience and from research that I made when building the show. It’s through those stories that we arrive at the séance itself.
-PH: Was audience participation a big part of the show? What can the audience expect as far as participation?
-Christopher: Yes participation is a very important part of the experience. In the first minutes I explain that whoever doesn’t wish to take part in whatever the spirits have in store for us must leave. With any experience like this you get out of it what you put into it. As for exactly *what* to expect, well that would be telling!
-PH: How did you come up with this particular show? How is it different from some of your other work?
-Christopher: While almost all of my work in magic up to now has had a theatrical slant, this is the first show I’ve done that I’ve intended to be a theatre experience more than a magic show. I used to make a ‘haunted house’ every Halloween and ever since then it had been on my mind to make theatre show that captured some of the same feelings as that. Once I set off on the journey, it was a matter of making sense of the big creative mess that you have when exploring what the show ‘could’ be; what the theatrical journey could be and what magic could be used to tell that story.
-PH: Will there be more of these shows in the future?
-Christopher: Yes. I’m in talks now about developing the show further and getting another run of shows set up. If anyone reading wants to know about it, my social media is the best way to make sure they catch news about future shows
-PH: So when did you start doing magic? Did you go through formal training?
-Christopher: I’ve been into magic ever since my family went to see David Copperfield when I was a kid. I’d work for countless hours on new routines even when I was young. Since then I did a BA in Theatre which made a big impact on my style of magic. After that, while I’ve taken magic masterclasses and have had mentors both in magic and in physical theatre, I haven’t had any long term formal training for magic specifically.
-PH: What are some other kinds of shows you’ve done? Where else have you performed?
-Christopher: One of my favorite shows to do is ‘Norvil & Josephine’. The show turns the old fashioned notion of the imposing magician and his doting assistant on its head in their reinvention of a vaudeville style magic act. It’s a totally different show from my séance show, although when Norvil performs without Josephine his material is quite dark with a “Vincent Price meets Willy Wonka” sort of flair. The show has appeared at The Magic Castle in Hollywood, The Wintergarten in Berlin and the Hackney Empire in London as well as in productions for private events around the world.
-PH: You’ve also done some consulting and speaking about magic. What are some of the most important things you tell people who are interested in becoming magicians?
-Christopher: I give a lot of talks about my creative process with an aim to offer useful nuggets I’ve learned along the way to help anyone become more creative in whatever they get up to every day. And yes I’m a magic consultant for commercials and theatre productions that want to incorporate magic somehow. The best advice I can give someone interested in starting magic is to learn a few pieces very well, rather than roughly do a lot that aren’t up to scratch. My mentor always told me that every moment counts, and I really believe that’s valuable advice for anyone at any level. So if someone approaches their magic with that mindset and it’ll be much better than if they don’t.
-PH: So are you a horror fan? Does being a horror fan influence your work in any way?
-Christopher: I love horror films. I’ve learned so much about suspense from good horror and I was very conscious of that when developing my séance show. I’ve also been aware of the point about horror imagined being so much more powerful than horror seen. I’ve aimed to employ the audience’s imaginations as the biggest special effect of the show. The show is intentionally very low-tech and story based. The audience brings the horror in their own minds to the show and so my stories, the show’s sound scape and the magic are just the devices that help unlock it so it can come out to play.
We would like to thank Christopher for taking the time to answer our questions. Hopefully you got a good idea of what his shows are like, and can attend one in the future. To keep track of Christopher Howell’s future shows of Séance: Conversations in the Dark and other upcoming projects, follow him on: