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Lyre: A Theatrical Séance

"you see the true power of this age-old game"

Harry Milas deploys some of the oldest tricks in the book to promote healthy skepticism and agency.

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Lyre: a Theatrical Séance

Date: 17 May 2019

When I was younger I would set up a tent at the local market with a sandwich board that said Fake Psychic.

I would do readings, tarot and predictions all with a solemn air and serious tones, but with a clear nod to the fact that it was entirely bogus.

The goal was to see if people cared if it was real or not. I learned quickly that people do not care.

Now, years later, I’m taking another swing at this idea, this time in the guise of a seance. It’s called Lyre.

A wonderful irony of magicians is that they are quite a skeptical bunch. I suppose it’s because we learn how to fake a lot of what some claim to be real, and often perform it with much better results.

Many magicians, including myself, pay their rent performing fake mind-readings and predicting the future, making bold predictions of what will come and telling people their darkest secrets.

To be able to show up a psychic and top their feats with fraudulent methodology satiates the rarely scratched itch of the performer – that of intellectual superiority.

Magicians seek this all the time; Jerry Seinfeld said that the goal of the magician is to make the audience feel stupid: “Here’s a quarter, now it’s gone, you’re a jerk.”

In essence, most magic you see on television or on stage is really just a “revenge of the nerd”.

Director Blazey Best and I are trying our best to subvert that old cliche with Lyre.

Every month or so we traipse over to each other’s houses and wonder out loud how we can best fake a seance. We both feel conflicted about the prevalence of psychics and mediums in our culture, and see it as indicative of a larger issue: that we are losing sight of empirical truths in favour of an indulgent autonomy-focused life narrative.

It is deeply satisfying to show how easy it is to fake the feats of mediums and psychics.

I don’t aim to disprove their claims. Instead, I hope to promote the importance of a healthy skepticism.

Heavy hopes and reassurance are hung precipitously on the waffling of a psychic turning over randomly shuffled Tarot cards. The advice given can often be dangerously influential, regardless of it being positive or negative. Apocryphal tales of people cancelling holidays, meetings or even weddings pervade the darker side of this underworld.

To be able to shun these muddy waters for the bright, terrifying light of a more determinist outlook can help someone regain agency over their life.

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Our first incarnation of Lyre (back in March) was a very traditional seance. I adopted the role of a medium and we contacted the real deceased friends and family of the audience in attendance. The reaction was astounding.

A memorable encounter was with an audience member, who, upon finding out the show was entirely fake (a fact we tried our best to as clear as possible before people entered the space), then asked if I did private readings.

Despite my insistence that the psychic feats in the show were complete hokum, she responded, “I don’t care.”

Some things don’t change.

Of course, it is remarkably easy for skepticism to slide into cynicism.

Often what begins as a joyful deflation of assumed truths can veer into a rather nasty dismissal of the real mysteries peppered throughout our universe. To embrace mystery and ensconce oneself in its graceful chaos is the richest experience a magician can offer the laity.

Often you will see grown men and women giggle and clap like small children, their eyes wide, mouths agape and blissfully silent. For once a man in his forties is speechless.

Our next attempt with Lyre is very different.

We don’t want to spoil how the show has changed, suffice to say it is now much lighter, and more open about its fraudulent intent. We want to show how easily you can construct a narrative about yourself that is built on sand, or even worse, lies.

When I’m working on this show, my mind goes back to those market days with my Fake Psychic tarot readings.

I realised that to perform Tarot with tongue in cheek – firmly clear that this is a “performance” not a “reading” – can inspire something beautiful. Instead of the Knave of Cups foreseeing a vague and unprovable claim about the future, you see the true power of this age-old game: That it is the meaning you assign to the turning of the cards that has the power to change you.

The random shuffling of Tarot has no celestial meaning. To say this robs us as human beings of autonomy and imagination. It is the meaning we find within this chaos that makes us so remarkable.

So this, then, is what Lyre is hoping to say; the most basic and real truth of the meaning of life: that you give it to yourself, plucked from chaos, always changing, always true.

Lyre is also performed on July 15 and September 9 at the Old Fitzroy Theatre

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