Event: A Brief History of the Golden Age of Stage Conjuring – with Optical Illusions
The Golden Age of Stage Conjuring (roughly 1880–1930) in North America and Western Europe encompasses a period of rapid technological advances in the performing arts, cinema, photography, lithography, transportation, and more. What were the social functions of stage illusions and their performers during this tumultuous period? How do stage illusions from the Victorian era continue to influence optical illusion technologies and their use in entertainment media today?
During this praxis presentation, Dr. Culpepper will demonstrate certain optical illusions to explore how the history and technology of stage conjuring performances directly influenced the special effects pioneered by early filmmakers like Georges Méliès. In particular, Joseph Stoddart’s “The Sphinx” illusion will be discussed as a piece of performance technology that connects London’s Egyptian Hall to Paris’ Theatre Robert-Houdin. Stage technologies and their intermedial presentations at each venue reveal a shared yet culturally specific tradition of multi-modal performances that embodied many cultural realities of the day, including the colonialism and Orientalism of the French and British empires.
Dr. Joseph Culpepper is a scholar, magician, and magic consultant. As Affiliate Assistant Professor at Concordia University's department of English, he studies magic history and its cultural influence. As an Associate Researcher at the Center for Circus Arts Research, Innovation, and Knowledge Transfer (CRITAC) at Montreal’s National Circus School, he helps turn secrets from the past into contemporary performance practice.