This time last year Sydney was buzzing at the prospect of The Illusionists hitting the stage. They’re back, bigger and better, in Adelaide in 2013. Peter Burdon spoke to The Escapologist, Andrew Basso.
“I couldn’t believe it when I got the call,” says Andrew Basso from his home at Trento, northern Italy. “I was doing a spot on a TV show in Italy and Brett Daniels was also appearing on the show. You have to understand that for anyone who works in the world of magic – we all call it illusion these days – Brett Daniels is right up there, he’s a major figure. He was an absolute legend to me when I was a kid and I was getting interested in magic.
“Anyway, he called me and we met while he was in Italy and he asked if we could stay in touch. Then he called me and invited me to join The Illusionists when it was formed last year. Me, on stage with a hero of mine, and a world tour to follow!”
After a lifetime on the international stage, Brett Daniels has seen it all. A regular in Las Vegas where spectaculars rule supreme, there isn’t much he hasn’t seen, and knowing he had the confidence in Andrew Basso to ask him to join the show was a thrill. “He’d seen my Houdini act,” Basso explains, “and even though he knows a lot about this business, he still couldn’t work out how it’s done, and that was good enough for him!” And indeed, it’s an amazing act – check out the snippets on YouTube. Manacled hand and foot, Basso is lowered and sealed into a glass tank full of water and the challenge, Houdini-like, is to escape. And he has done, hundreds, possibly thousands of times.
So a show that featured the world’s best illusionists, magicians, mind readers, sleight of hand specialists, escapologists like Basso, and more, was born. “It’s a funny job,” Basso admits, “But I’d always wanted to do it. I started getting interested in magic when I was about eight years old. It was a game. My mother saw how interested I was in the magic I was learning, but she tried to get me to concentrate on school. But my father said nothing, he let me do whatever I wanted to do! ‘Pick a card, Father,’ I’d say. ‘Stop it!’ said Mum. And you know what it’s like if you tell a kid not to open a door. You open a door, of course. That made me really want it. And when they saw my first successes they were happy. But my mother still gets crazy when I do the escapes. I’m always her son risking his life to entertain people.
“I did my first escape acts in 2003,” Basso explains, “and a producer noticed me and thought I had promise and got me to go to a seminar in Las Vegas. That was really hard, because I could hardly speak any English at the time, but that got me selected to go to Jeff McBride’s Magic and Mystery School, and within a couple of years I won the world Escape Champion title at the World Convention on Escapology, which is as big as it gets in this area. I’ve been developing my show and my skills ever since, and now I do more than a hundred shows a year all over the world. And I love it.”
It goes without saying that Basso can’t say how he does his escapes, but they sure look impressive. “Well, it does involve quite a lot of dislocation,” he says with a laugh. “I have to stay fit because I have to hold my breath while I’m doing it. But it’s like any profession, and that’s what it is for me. You’ve got to be well prepared. And the audience helps, too, especially when you get a really good reaction. I don’t really hear it when I’m in the tank, because I have to concentrate on what I’m doing, but when I get out and I hear the screams it’s the most amazing feeling in the world.”
Already in its first year, The Illusionists has been a great show for Basso. “Sydney was amazing,” he says, “and to be somewhere in the sun in January when I’m used to the cold and the snow here in Italy is great. And it keeps your muscles a lot more relaxed! And during the year we took the show to South America, where it got a huge reaction. And now we’re back in Australia, in Adelaide this time. All of us have other work all over the world in between these shows, so they have to be very tightly scheduled for us all to be in the same place at the same time, but when we’re together I just love it. And all of the others are so incredibly experienced. Dan Sperry and I are the youngest and we’re just amazed at what the others can do.
“I’m on the same stage with the masters of the masters of the best magicians. I’m grateful to destiny, to God, to my grandfather, and the angel on my shoulder. Come and see me in Adelaide. Grazie mille!”
The Illusionists opens on New Year’s Eve. Book at Bass.