For David Kwong, seeing is not necessarily believing.
The magician and puzzle maker presents his one-man show “The Enigmatist” at the Geffen Playhouse from September 14 to October 30 after his visit to New York in 2019. Drawing on his experience creating crossword puzzles for newspapers and doing magic, Kwong said he designed the show to be a mixture of storytelling, illusions and puzzles.
Kwong spoke with Annie Liu of The Daily Bruin about the inspiration behind the creation of “The Enigmatist” as well as the process of developing the show from a story to an immersive experience for audiences.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Bruin of the day: How did you get interested in puzzles and magic?
David Kwong: They were both childhood hobbies. I saw a magician when I was a 7 year old kid, and I stuck with this hobby and started reading books on magic tricks and finally got two books on tricks pass-through. I practiced throughout my teenage years, and at the same time, I was playing Scrabble with my mom.
In the tradition of (puzzles), I started designing New York Times crossword puzzles. So I had these two parallel hobbies and passions, and it wasn’t until later that I realized I could intersect them and synthesize a new art form. So I was delighted with how the product turned out.
BD: What inspired you to create “The Enigmatist”?
DK: I am a magician and creator of puzzles. I write a lot of crossword puzzles for The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and The Wall Street Journal, so I managed to merge those two passions into one cheesy and clever magic show. This is how the tricks I perform were born, which are magic tricks based on riddles, (or) magic tricks involving numbers and letters and words and secret codes.
“The Enigmatist” really took shape when I decided I wanted to tell a story around these tips. I found and researched a wonderful love story, an unknown story in American history that has to do with decoding, and wrote this tale to surround these riddle-based magic tricks.
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BD: How to create an immersive theatrical experience?
DK: Immersion begins even before entering the theater. As soon as you enter the Geffen Playhouse, you will be greeted with four puzzles that you will need to solve to enter the performance space. They’re not too harsh – they’re not meant to scare anyone. These are puzzles anyone can solve, but they are themed around the location of the magic show, which is a bizarre and fantastic area of Chicago called Riverbank.
Then throughout the show, I do magic tricks, I tell stories. Every now and then I pause, put a puzzle on the screen, and ask the audience to stand up if they know the answer. Everyone gets a chance to participate (and) to feel smart, and all of those puzzles add up to a big surprise at the end.
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BD: Like the Geffen’s first in-person show since the pandemic, what do you plan to deliver that might not have been possible in a virtual setting?
DK: I am delighted to be back in space live in person. I think for the illusion, I can’t wait to see people’s eyes pop – there’s nothing quite like eye contact. I can’t wait to hear the laughs and hear the gasps and really engage with people on a personal level, and it’s going to be awesome.
BD: What do you hope to leave the audience after the show?
DK: It is important to say first that I do not claim to have any superpowers at all. I am a magician who immediately recognizes that these are just tricks. I even go so far as to say that these are all puzzles, and if you can figure it out, good for you. I challenge the audience to try to decode everything they see, and I hope that when people leave the theater they will discuss things with their family and friends and try to sort everything out and see what happens. they can solve the puzzle they just watched. Hope people come away inspired and have discovered a few amazing people from the story that they could also see themselves in a bit.