Interview: Illusionist Cosentino (Melbourne) on cultural differences, performance mishaps and more!

Having been awarded the prestigious honour of being named Magician of the Year in 2013 by the International Magicians Society, New York (the International Merlin award) and with 4 prime-time specials under his belt having aired in over 40 countries; Australia’s favourite performer Cosentino returns with his new live show Twisted Reality – which promises to deliver his signature blend of street magic, grand illusion and death-defying escapes with dance and humour.

How does your upcoming show Twisted Reality differ in relation to your previous shows?

Well, it builds on the pillars that exist – my show is made up of street magic, grand illusion and death-defying escapes. However, it’s all new material. The illusions have obviously got to become more baffling, street magic gets more tricky, and the escapes, they become more death-defying. In essence it’s Cosentino, but it’s all new. Which is great!

How long does it take to plan a show like this?

A show like this takes about a year of prep. People are like, ‘oh my God, how can it take a year?’ Each effect or trick, so to speak, which is about 2.5 – maybe 3 minutes, takes about three months of prepping. It’s coming up with the idea, then, if it requires a certain kind of apparatus – drawing the apparatus, doing the architectural [and] construction plans, then getting it manufactured and fabricating – whether that means with aluminum, wood, wiring, computer electronics, whatever it may be. Getting it back and then working on it, rehearsing it, practice, practice, practice, putting the presentation on top – the sound, the music, the lighting, the band, the speech patter. So you can see, it’s quite a lot to get done in three months. It’s a long process.

I thought it would have taken longer. It sounds like there’s a lot to do.

It is a lot to do and it should take longer but we’ve got it down to a pretty fine art where we know exactly how we’re going to block out the routine. I start choosing music or having music written before they even have the effect here because I know the feeling or emotion I want to evoke. So we can double-up on everything to speed that process through.

You have a lot of quite dangerous stunts in your shows. What mishaps have you had when trying to master the harder illusions?

When you’re in uncharted territory things go wrong. For example; I’ve done a number of escapes where I’ve been slashed by a knife or I’ve ruptured an eardrum, broken ribs – I sound like I don’t know what I’m doing, don’t I? The reason things go wrong is because you’re walking a very fine line, especially when it comes to those escapes – it’s real locks, real chains, real water, real everything. I didn’t intend to go to the emergency room a bunch of times – that hinders rehearsal [and] the process. But it’s the same as when someone gets in an aeroplane and jumps out of it with a parachute. There is a chance that it might not open – and parachuting is pretty safe – it’s more like when you’re doing base-jumping when you’re really close to the cliff and those guys really push the limits. That’s what we’re doing here with the magic and all the escapes.

You’re taking the show international as well, is that correct?

Yeah, it’ll go to South East Asia then North America, New Zealand as well. That’s happened because of my TV show, which now has aired in just over 40 countries. I’m very lucky. I really am. It’s such an awesome thing. Last year I spent time traveling around launching the TV show. We traveled to 9 different countries so we can now go in and do these live shows. This is the first time I’m doing a tour internationally. My own show, all me 100%.

Are you nervous or excited?

Both. Even though I’ve performed in those regions every audience is different – even in Australia from state-to-state they like different things. And, of course, when you’re talking international, different cultures, language barriers. Different audiences respond in different ways. For example, when we were in Vietnam, I performed as a guest artist on Vietnam’s Got Talent -10 million people watch that show; it’s just ridiculous! They respond in a very different way – they applaud at the end, where say an Australian audience, they applaud as you go through, if they like something they applaud. In Vietnam they wait until the very end [as] they think it’s kind of rude to interrupt the performance.

You’re also offering VIP tickets. What does a VIP ticket get you?

This all came about because originally, after my TV show I would go outside after my performances and do like a signing, meet the fans and just say hello to everyone. But [I’d] be out there for two hours and I wouldn’t get through everybody. People would be lining up and then wouldn’t get to meet me, and I felt terrible. So we decided to do VIPs where before the show they get to meet me, talk to me, have photographs – which really is quite intimate to be honest. They can ask any questions they want, nothing is off bounds, I’m relaxed. I’m just sitting on the edge of the stage so it’s kind of off the cuff. It’s very organic and for the people who really want that, then they can have it. So people who really want to meet me and chat to me, as opposed to people getting upset at the end; we’re trying to basically please everybody to some degree.

What if someone were to come up and ask how to do a trick or illusion?

I definitely wouldn’t reveal a secret. Do you know what, most people they don’t ask that. They kind of know that a magician doesn’t reveal their secrets. It’s kind of like a sacred thing. So no, it doesn’t really come up. I’m lucky, I guess.

It’s been said that you’re kind of responsible for bringing magic back in popularity. Surely, it has to be a great feeling to have that kind of title or accolade to your name?

That’s very kind of you. The facts are this – there was no magic on Australian TV before we had our TV specials: Fact. They’d never been an Australian magician with their own TV show: Fact. Ever. It’s kind of like being a pop artist to have the first pop album on radio, I guess or something like that, it’s kind of unique. I guess we’ve contributed to that at the very least to bring that resurgence back and make it edgy, cool [and] maybe more relevant, is probably more the word I’m looking for, to people today. Really, that’s just me doing my thing [and] my audience, fans and people responding to that is what makes it work. It’s all them.

Where did the idea to include dance in your performances come from?

I’d love to say it was a conscience thing but, instead of just walking across the stage, I would twist and turn and jump so it was more kind of a natural thing. I couldn’t really stand still and then I realized this gives me more of an edge. [It’s a] bit different and people are liking this so I started to incorporate more of it. I wish I could say it was a brilliant thing I came up with but it just kind of happened organically again.

How do you approach setting up a recorded performance compared to a live show?

There’s pros and cons to both. When you do like a recording like television show, the set-ups can obviously be more elaborate to some degree. Usually you’ve got more time to prep for it, you can do a couple of takes depending on what it is [or] you can edit it down. In a live performance, it’s kind of like a one-shot opportunity. I love the fact that live you get instant response, instant gratification whether a effect has or hasn’t worked because you hear the response straight away; whereas when you do a recording, you wait for the TV show to come out and you’re hoping that it’ll connect. I love both of them [but] they’re very different mediums. Television is very quick snappy and visual. Theatre can be a lot more that: theatrical – you can tell a story, you can stretch it out better and get more detail out of it. When you’re coming up with a TV show or live show, you’ve got to approach it from two different angles, although you may be doing the same material.

You bring audience members on stage during your show. What impact if any does that have on a show?

There’s so much audience participation in this new tour that it can go either way. Like you may get someone up who’s awesome and therefore you’re going to get a great response, or you may get someone up who may be a little flat.; so the show, to some degree, is depending on the audience and how they respond. What makes the show interesting in my mind is in this particular show we have three audience members that are invited on stage during an underwater escape. They sit literally a metre from the water tank and I do that on purpose so the audience can see that ‘this is not a trick’, ‘this is not an illusion’ – this is an legitimate escape. They examine the locks, they examine the chains, they watch me hold my breath, they get splashed by water and I’m doing that so they can really feel that tension. Which I think is really exciting!

Do you find that people come up to you saying they know how you did a trick or are they generally more shocked and baffled by the whole illusion?

There’s a bit of both. The thing about magic is that most of the skill from the magician is hidden – otherwise it doesn’t look like magic. It’s not like a juggler where it’s on display; a magician hides it – it’s all underneath. It’s meant to look like magic so we spend a lifetime practicing these techniques and these skills so that we hide them. It’s very bizarre. Very often unfortunately an audience member may say ‘oh i know how that’s done’ [but] most of the time audience has no idea. They might have an inkling how they think it maybe could be done but if you would actually follow that method through you’d hit a lot of stumbling blocks.

What trick or illusion has taken the most time to master?

The most difficult to master wasn’t even a trick it was a piece that I did called ‘Dropped’. It was an underwater escape. I was inside a perspex sphere and dropped 10 metres underwater on one breath and I had to pick my way through 9 or 10 different locks and chains. It was really tough because the original test for my TV show I’d ruptured my eardrum. I went to hospital and my ear canals were full blood for two and a half weeks, then I went back and redid it live on the Sunday Night program for Channel 7. It was the first time a stunt like that had had been done so now that’s even more pressure because now I’m doing it live, its unfolding in front of everyone’s eyes! That was really difficult because it was mentally tough because I’d been through that trauma and that pain. If you’ve ever had a ruptured eardrum, you know it makes you nauseous [and] you get disorientated. It was a scary situation, I was still locked up under the water when that happened and I failed the first attempt. I was in my show and I was like, ‘Am I ever going to get back to do this?’ I want to conquer it, so when I got that opportunity a year later it was a lot of pressure on me to make it work because of the live audience [and] for myself, That was probably the toughest and it took the longest to master because there was a mental factor that was in the way.

What was the first magic trick you learned to do?

I made a coin disappear for my father – a 20 cent piece disappear. My Dad’s a structural engineer. As a kid, I was very shy and I remember making a coin disappear and my dad was, ‘how could you do that?’ That was a huge rush for me to perform that for him so I remember that very clearly.

You started magic at such a young age and you’ve accomplished so much since Australia’s Got Talent. What do you see as the penultimate accomplishment you still want to achieve?

There’s so much. I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface. I hope that I can end up in Broadway. Broadway’s where the best of the best are – the best show, the best musicals all go there. New York City Broadway is the ultimate goal for me and having a long term running show, that would be awesome. [And to] keep doing TV shows and have them airing around the world. Keep making people happy and smile and questioning things – that’s the joy that magic brings and I hope I can be 80 and doing that.

Thank you for taking the time to talk to me and best of luck with the new show.

Thank you very much. I really appreciate it.

Cosentino’s “Twisted Reality” Tour Dates:

Palms At Crown, Melbourne April 10-12
Festival Theatre, Adelaide April 15
The Star, Sydney April 18-19
Jupiters Hotel & Casino, Gold Coast April 23
Qpac Lyric Theatre, Brisbane April 24
The Empire Theatre, Toowoomba April 26
Regal Theatre, Perth May 1-2


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