Celia Willis’ & Emily Stein’s new short conjures up pure joy via Jenny Mayers, the first black woman to be invited into the Magic Circle.
Magic is disruptive. It ruptures reality, making the impossible possible for a hot second. Of course, it’s all a trick. And there will always be a smart-ass in the crowd to point that out. But suspend disbelief and be fooled, and you’ll experience pure joy.
It’s this unadulterated, pre-adulthood wonder that new Random Acts short Magicland conjures up. Directed by Celia Willis and Emily Stein, it orbits around a star performer: Jenny Mayers.
Celia remembers coming across Jenny via a fittingly surreal experience. Celia and Emily met twenty years ago at art school in Camberwell, but “mainly worked together on other people’s projects”. Deciding to combine forces on their own project, they were “looking through all the ideas and images we’d ever had…lying around,” Celia remembers.
It was here that Celia came across Jenny: “I just kept looking at this photo of Jenny that Emily had…and I loved her out of all the images and thought ‘if only she was real!’ And Emily was like, ‘she is real!’ I just thought it was some random picture that people pull off the internet, but she was like ‘no, I know her’!”
This act of serendipity was vital in making the film. For Jenny is literally the star of the show, a subject so magnetic that she commands complete attention. She spins plates, transmogrifies CDs, twists balloons and performs with a diablo, backed by a helter-skelter backdrop of Pachebel’s Canon. It’s hypnotising.
Peppered throughout the film are snippets of Jenny’s voice, appearing and disappearing at will. Her thoughts on magic are illuminating. The first black woman to be invited into the Magic Circle, she broke down barriers of exclusivity through a click of the fingers. As Celia puts it: “She trained at a point when, as a black woman there actually weren’t any roles for you at all. That’s why she started doing one-woman shows – she was like ‘fine, I’ll do my own thing then!”
“I was very surprised when I was accepted into the Magic Circle,” Jenny says during the film. It’s this humility that makes the feel of the film even more poignant. No pretension, just well-practised pretences.
The setting is just as wondrous. Painted in a pale, pastel palette, the film’s styling takes on a certain magic of its own. Candy-floss pinks, slushie blues, circus props and a giant bouncy ball give it a sublime innocence. It’s euphoric: like double-dropping an E number.
What makes it truly beautiful, though, is how natural it is. “With Jenny, the magic she practices is very traditional,” Celia thinks. She recalls Jenny performing her water and newspaper trick in a bar when they first met. “Everyone in the bar was staring at her in total wonderment…it’s such a simple little trick, but at that moment…there’s anticipation.”
Even as an audience member on YouTube, rather than the Magic Circle’s HQ, a children’s party, or a lucky punter at a bar, it’s just as unique. Magic is a language that everyone understands, none so more than children. It’s why Emily and Cecilia chose to include Jenny’s grandaughter Naphtalia, who twirls around the house connecting the generations. Magic is about rediscovering your inner child, tapping into that feeling of being transfixed by a kitten or giggling hysterically at a hairdryer: amazement at the mundane.
Joy, after all, is timeless. As Jenny puts it simply at the start of the film: “When I perform, it takes me into a world of sharing things with people, making them happy. And them being happy makes me happy.” You’ve got to take your rabbit-stuffed hat off to that.