Magician and former Leventhorpe School sixth-former Tom Brace is bringing his Eat, Sleep, AMAZE, Repeat show to South Mill Arts in Bishop's Stortford
How can a magician put on a live show when the dreaded coronavirus keeps getting in the way? Tom Brace has a few tricks up his sleeve.
The former Leventhorpe sixth-former is taking to the South Mill Arts stage in Bishop's Stortford next month to perform socially-distanced magic in his new show, Eat, Sleep, AMAZE, Repeat.
"It's certainly different and there were some challenges, especially getting volunteers involved, but we really changed the way we do the whole thing," said Tom.
And he has risen to the challenge.
During our interview on Zoom, he produces a deck of cards and gets me to think of one. I pick the seven of diamonds. "It would be amazing, wouldn't it, if the seven of diamonds was the only card here upside down and turned the other way, right?" he grins.
He opens the box, fans out the cards in front of the camera and, sure enough, it is the seven of diamonds that is upside down and facing the other way. Amazing.
This is the kind of skill you would expect from a master magician who has been perfecting his tricks for decades, but Tom has been in magic for just three years.
In September 2017 he quit his office job and threw himself into his craft.
The home-grown talent, who started performing with Phoenix Theatre School as a youngster, quickly picked up his skills in sorcery.
Since then, Tom has taken two stage shows to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, embarked on a tour of UK theatres, landed the role of Merlin in the 2018 Rhodes panto and delighted countless party-goers at private events with his close-up magic.
But the Covid-19 pandemic brought everything to a grinding halt. Tom was forced to cancel the second half of his UK tour, Brace of Spades, and it didn't stop there.
"We were meant to be going up with a new show to the Edinburgh Fringe [in August] and a lot of the stuff that was rescheduled for October has been cancelled again because theatres just can't open with reduced capacity," he said.
In spite of these unprecedented circumstances, Tom found innovative new ways to keep performing.
"I did a couple of online magic shows," he said. "For lockdown, I did a show called Connected. It was a Zoom show, so you paid £10 per screen and we had about 50 screens in total.
"It was all about how do you do magic through cameras? And the theme and the idea of the show was that even though we have all been apart for so long, we are all kind of connected.
"It was really enjoyable but I did crave that in-person interaction. There's only so much you can do on camera before you miss that buzz of live performance."
Tom's prayers were answered in July when he received an unusual offer from a venue in Brighton. The Warren, a bustling pop-up theatre, was given the go-ahead to put on an open-air arts festival.
In the space of just a fortnight, Tom devised an all-new show, comprising tricks in line with social distancing restrictions; he transported cards across the stage, read minds and performed some classic larger-scale illusions.
Now he and his new assistant Kelly Middleton-Evans – a teacher at Sawbridgeworth performing arts school Youth CREATE – are bringing their spectacle to Stortford's South Mill Arts, formerly Rhodes Arts Complex, and it is hoped their show will be the first in a nationwide tour.
"We do get volunteers up on stage, but we've got this big line across the stage so everything that happens kind of revolves around myself and whoever else never crossing this line in the middle," said Tom.
Eat, Sleep, AMAZE, Repeat is taking place on Monday October 26, the first day of half term. There will be live performances at 3pm and 5pm, and there is reduced capacity in the theatre.
"We're trying not to be too 'Covid, Covid, Covid', we want it to be escapism rather than constantly thinking about it, but we're trying to make light of it throughout the show," said Tom.
Tickets can be booked in blocks of 1-6. Call 01279 710200 or visit www.southmillarts.ticketsolve.com .