Franz Harary: Illusionist, Designer & Philosopher, Part 2
With so many illusionists and magicians in the world, only a few stand out and become famous. In your opinion, what are those that don’t “make it” doing wrong?
Well that is a big statement! I don’t know. I think if I’m doing anything right, it’s that I eat, sleep, and breathe this business. You can ask my wife, I get up in the morning and this is all I do. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, nothing. This is all I care about, to a fault.
My biggest fault is that I have such tunnel vision. I’m obsessed with the creation of something new, beyond even my social life, my personal life, my family. I don’t know why, because when you think about it, how important are we really?
We are these subatomic, microscopic specks on this very unimportant little speck in a part of a section of a galaxy. We are nothing, and yet all that matters are each other, and so you embrace that and wonder if we’re only here for this snap in time, what’s it for?
Photo Credit: Levent Cimkentli
For me what it’s for is to try to make it as happy and as pleasant as possible for as many people as I can possibly reach. I’ve had a lot of fortune, especially as a celebrity in India, so I’ve been able to touch a lot of people. That is what it is all for, it’s about affecting those people.
Then, I think about, “what’s my message?” That took a while to discover until I realized one day that really what I do, all the toys and technology, is for one reason.
For a split moment, adults can recapture that sense of childhood, the sense of wonder that we had when we were little kids. By the time you’re thirteen or fourteen, it’s gone. Think about the first time you saw snow, it’s freaking magical.
At eight, nine, and ten years old, everything is magical. I think the most magical moment of my life was when I got glasses. When I put them on I could suddenly see leaves on trees! That’s everything, the universe opens up to you.
What this is, what The House of Magic is about, what I am about, is trying to give people that feeling again. Once you are in your 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s, it’s hard. I’ve become Krusty the Clown, I’ve seen everything.
It’s very difficult and Chinese audiences are a whole other ball of wax. By the way, this may be the first time that I have every used the expression, “ball of wax,” (he laughs).
Chinese people in their 50’s have been through so much shit. If you think about the Cultural Revolution, I don’t know how much you know, but it’s mind-blowing, so if I see people in their 50’s-70’s, I look in their eyes and imagine the path they’ve taken to come here and now to be lucky enough to be able to afford to spend USD $60 for a magic show. My gosh, the turn that their life has taken. When I see an older lady in the audience and I give her a squeeze, that also speaks to my philosophy or what this is all about.
I’m talking a lot more about philosophy than magic, so I hope this is ok…
It is perfect and we are grateful that you are willing to share your thoughts with TheatreArtLife. Part of our mission is to share the lives of the people behind the entertainment industry and their philosophies, so we think it is really fascinating to hear your words.
As a performer, we all go through three phases. First, you’re in it for the ego: picking up girls, sex, approval of strangers, that’s what it’s all about. Then once you’ve got that, then you wonder how you can make a living with this. How do I eat? How do I have a home? Then once you’ve obtained that, by your 50’s, then think you have the approval of strangers and are making a living, and you start to wonder what’s the point. That’s when you start asking why? Why are we working this hard?
I wake up at 10 am and I work until 3:00 am every single day. Doesn’t matter where I am on the planet. My company is in the United States, I’m working all night because so much of my business in based in Asia. When I’m here in Asia, I’m working all night because of my company in the USA.
Why work so hard? I’ve had many heated discussions with my wife because she takes the brunt of this schedule. God bless her! I don’t think I could handle me, but she does.
It’s to a fault, it really is, it’s an obsession to want to put out something new, create something new, and throw it at as many people as possible. You can say it’s driven by ego, but not that much anymore. If there was ego there I probably wouldn’t look like this (he points to his casual, between-shows attire).
There was a time in 1987, I used to get dressed up to go to the 7-11. I would wear black leather pants, rubber jacket, and big heavy boots; I was Billy Idol with big Bon Jovi hair. Just to go to the 7-11, I would make sure I was “glam-rocked” out. Then, I just stopped one day.
When you have finally made it, you ask yourself why should I work so hard? For me it is to affect other people, as many as I can before I die.
With your shows, you work very hard on the design of the illusions, do you also participate in the rest of the production in terms of the content that is projected on your LED screens and lighting?
The magic itself is only 10% of the design. In the Mega Magic portion of the show, I spent about a year and a half on designing the illusions. The graphics took me two years, more time than the magic. Then, I started with the music, I knew where the show was going to go, I knew the art I wanted to create. I pulled music, and I lived with that music, then I started designing the graphics.
I have thousands, at least, without exaggeration, 2000 separate hand drawings before making the graphics. At the same time that I am working on the graphics, I’m already starting to think about what is going on the stage, then I’m designing the illusions at the same time so that I’m already living my life at 30 frames per second. The illusions are in production so then I can get started with my choreographer.
We begin working with the music and we choreograph the show. Then, we shoot the choreography on a green screen, the dancers and me, and then give the footage back to my graphics guy. The projections designs come back and when you remove the dancers from the screen and put everyone on stage, you pray to God that everything lines up correctly with all of the timing that you had in your imagination.
After the projections are complete, you have to take the automation of the stage, the rotation and movement and make sure it all lines up.
I’m not really proficient with computers, I can barely send emails, so I’m doing all this stuff by hand. The show is one thing, but it’s the whole place, all of the art design.
When you walk into my laboratory, most pictures there I took with my cellphone. A bunch of them are old pictures of my family, but it’s basically the place for Franz to show off for his friends.
©Franz Harary Productions
Is there an official storyline for The House of Magic?
There’s a backstory to this place that no one knows about. The Illusioneer has created a machine, a capsule, that allows him to travel through space and time and the first thing he does is search for real magic.
He finds it in a medieval forest and he simulates that. He finds it in an art nouveau theatre in France, and then he finds magic in a futuristic spaceship environment which is the Mega Magic Theatre. He copies all of the places and from his laboratory, he creates a portal back to all of them. Today, this portal happens to be here in Macau right now. You as his guests can go through his portal and enter into his laboratory, see his works and then he takes you through these places that he has simulated to show you that he has found real magic.
That’s the backstory that I worked with and then everything was designed from that vision. The House of Magic, in my mind, is a single show experience and it’s linear. Instead of sitting in the audience and having things come to you, you are able to pass through from environment to environment. When it’s finished, the four magicians that you have experienced tie together in a single performance experience.
From your initial concept to what it is now, how close is the finished product to the initial design in your imagination? How often do you achieve a reality?
80%. I will never achieve more than 80% of my original vision. I can get more than 80% but I may piss off more people. I have come to terms that 80% is enough.
© Franz Harary Productions
If you had the opportunity to speak to your 18-year-old self and give him a piece of advice, what advice would you share with him?
Enjoy life more! That’s the biggie. At 18, I graduated high school. I received a scholarship to go to Eastern Michigan University to study music. My dream was to go to Broadway and to be a Broadway star and singer. I was always working, working, working, trying to attain that next thing- always goal oriented and never enjoying the moment.
Even as an adult, I remember when I was 30, I was in Indonesia, and they had a parade for me. A parade of about 200 people walking down the streets of Jakarta for the promotion for a show, and I remember that it was so early in the morning, and none of my staff had come with me and so I was there by myself. I did not enjoy it because I was thinking, I have to figure out how to get back to the arena and do the show. It never occurred to me, there is a freaking parade with tanks and marching bands for me.
I wasn’t in the moment. That is the mistake I have made.
Also, I never realized how easy life was at 18 and 20. Did you?
Enjoy it! Enjoy the ride. Also, realize that girls want it as much as you do, (he laughs), I didn’t realize that!
Epilogue: Following the conclusion of our interview Harary was performing his illusions on stage less than two minutes later. Mark Twain once said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you were born, and the day you find out why.” Franz Harary may be one of the most famous illusionists and designers in the world, but what struck me most was his incredible insight and humanity. He has actively considered the “why” and has an idea of the answer – to bring wonder to his audiences across the world.
It is pretty incredible to watch Franz Harary live onstage and if you have the opportunity, you should see his humanity and insight from the audience of his shows, and watch his performance touch every single person in the theatre.
Photo Credit: Levent Cimkentli