The death of Eugene Burger, a legend of modern magic, has just been announced.
Much will be said in the magic community about Eugene’s passing. I cannot think of another figure in our strange and wonderful world who was (and is) as loved, who loved as much back, or who truly gave himself up to the stuff of mystery. He inspired a generation of close-up magicians – including me, very directly – and will continue to do so. When I first met him as a novice, he taught me a great lesson in how to make magic feel special. We later became friends, and though I lived too far away to count myself amongst his close companions, we would see each other when we could and had a lot of love for each other.
Yet there is something else surrounding his death that has struck me, which may be passed over amidst the eulogies, and may even sound a little strange to say now. And that is, that his death was somehow suitable.
As a magician, Eugene was a master storyteller. His magic hooks you in because it weaves a narrative around the possibility of deep mystery. In life we weave stories continuously: in order to navigate the infinite data source of our environment we must edit and delete and reduce an active, messy world to a neat story that makes sense of what’s going on. We tell ourselves stories of who we are, how we got to where we are, what we want, what other people want, what they think of us. If we are mindful, we might try to see our story-telling capacity at work, and remind ourselves that we are continuously twisting the facts to fit whatever story has gripped us. We should of course own our narratives, but we might also choose to be aware that they remain just that, otherwise they have a tendency to own us.
Eugene seemed to be a man in charge of his own story, yet mindful of its contingency within a world of deep mystery. When we are not, we are usually beset by needs and forever chase external approval and goals that continually elude us. By comparison, Eugene lived with a minimum of possessions (he knew little of the collecting mania which drives many of us in our field) and seemed to have no particular ambitions beyond the grateful enjoyment of the here and now. If you know his work but never met him, he was exactly as you’d want him to be, and then some. I found this almost too good to be true: I wanted to understand how the love for magic could continue to run so deep in this brilliant, philosophical man, without a hint of the weary cynicism of which we are all guilty. How it was to find his only family in the magic community. But throughout, there was only the warmth and ease of a man very at home with himself and his world. I never felt even a hint of the bitterness one might expect from a magic legend who remained more or less unknown to the public at large. There was no suggestion of jadedness, or pretension, or the bewildering egomania that pervades our craft. He had of course his distinctive look, but he was never affected, never contrived (after all, he always had that look: I imagine he emerged with beard and garb fully dressed from the womb, greeting a world that would come to adore him with a rasping basso tremendo). The aura that surrounded Eugene (on stage as well as off) was one of twinkling mischief, of naughtiness, of gravitas without solemnity. Perhaps most powerfully he carried that air about him that the most charismatic actors often bring to their parts: that of I have a secret. It was irresistible.
He appeared to me a man profoundly at home with himself; one who had made a comfortable space for whatever demons still undoubtedly announced themselves on occasion. And unheard of for a magician: he didn’t try to impress. But his masterstroke of story-telling was that of his ending.
Mystery lies in ambiguity. Eugene said towards his end that he was excited to finally meet the Big M Mystery. How profoundly that statement must have moved his friends; how beautifully a lifelong reverence for mystery served him at the end. It is in our last chapter of life that the importance of authoring ones narrative is paramount. When a book or film ends, it makes sense of what has come before. When a life ends, there is no meaning: often only absurdity. We have to find that meaning for ourselves. It is hard to do this if we see death as a terrifying stranger rather than as a companion, and nothing in our culture encourages us to make our peace with its ever-presence. Since we proudly stripped away superstitions from our thinking a few hundred years ago, we have all but lost touch with any cultural narratives that provide a sense of meaning around death. Hence the proliferation of mediums and psychics, who step in to provide some tawdry semblance of significance. Eugene’s séances by comparison offered only further mystery.
So we scrabble blindly when death approaches, and in doing so, we often become cameos in our own stories. The main roles are given over to doctors or loved ones who make decisions for us and above all try to prolong life, which is quite different from preserving its quality. The only narrative the dying person is offered today is that he or she is ‘fighting a brave battle’, and this only helps the healthy onlookers feel a little better. For the terminally ill person it is an imposition, which adds pressure to seem brave for everyone else’s sake. And of course it presupposes eventual failure.
I could not read his mind, despite the promises of our professions, but by all reports Eugene died as a man in charge of his own story. I spoke to one of his dearest friends (and doctor) soon after his passing: I am told Eugene had nothing but deep gratitude for a life that surpassed all his expectations. Unattached to possessions, he adored the hospital rooms with which he had become quite familiar, marvelling at the food and how well he was looked after. Mortality had become a comfortable theme for him, and when a cancer diagnosis came he declined to fight it with chemotherapy. Pneumonia arrived instead, and continuing the theme of a life well lived, he took a quiet ownership of death too. A lifetime of loving and of gathering people together meant that he finished his life in the way he wished. He died very well.
Finally, it’s rare one gets to choose ones family, but Eugene was able to do this. And this family of close friends will now miss him terribly. Yet nothing that burns so brightly is snuffed out easily. Eugene deeply affected so many people: those dearest loved ones and partners in magic, his friends, his students, those who have learnt from his books and videos, the audiences who have loved his performances, and the magic world which will honour him. Eugene knew that the self is not fixed but malleable, ambiguous and situated: it extends into the world. So we should honour this. He is not absent: we can still find him in all of those people. When we die, we leave behind an afterglow in the hearts and minds of those who loved us. Eugene’s afterglow will be felt for a very long time.
Those who were closest to him will recall and settle in their reveries of Eugene; they will now and then feel what it would be like to be him, to laugh at what he would laugh at, to react or raise an eyebrow or ponder a thought in his way. When they do, they will recreate in themselves the particular pattern, the unique twinkling consciousness that defined him. The more sympathetically they knew him, the more him it will be. And maybe this is where we find the Big M: perhaps it is something to do with the love between people that provides the mechanism for the self to survive death in the only meaningful way we know.
In those moments, in each of those imperfect, invisible versions of Eugene that will spring into life within those who know what made him him, his distinctive Eugene-ness will appear again. And again, and so on, through all of us, and over a very long, slow fade.
From 11 Sep 2017, the nation’s favourite dark manipulator of magic and mind control will perform his latest stage show, DERREN BROWN: UNDERGROUND at the Playhouse Theatre, London, for a limited season until the 14th October.
Direct from a sell-out national tour, it features a collection of some of the very best of his previous stage work brought together into a spell-binding experience of showmanship and magical genius.
Derren comments: “It’s not a brand new show, rather an opportunity to see me perform some of my own choice of favourite bits from the past fourteen years of touring. Hopefully, it will be just as rewarding an experience for those who have seen me before as it will be for first-timers”.
Michael Vine, Andrew O’Connor, Derren Brown and Paul Sandler for Vaudeville Productions Ltd. and David Binder Present DERREN BROWN: UNDERGROUND, Directed by Andrew O’Connor & Andy Nyman Written by Andy Nyman, Andrew O’Connor & Derren Brown. Setting by Will Bowen, Lighting Design by Charlie Morgan Jones, General Manager is John Dalston.
The performance is not suitable for children under 12 years of age.
This Spring, Derren Brown will make his American theatrical debut in Derren Brown: Secret – a world premiere production at Atlantic Theater Company.
For the first time ever, New York audiences will be able to experience Derren’s unique blend of mind-reading, suggestion and psychological illusion live and on stage in a brand new theatrical experience.
Derren Brown: Secret will run from May 4th – June 4th 2017 (with previews from Friday, April 21) at Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater.
Atlantic Theater Company Announces
The World Premiere of
DERREN BROWN: SECRET
Starring Olivier Award winner Derren Brown
Written by Andy Nyman, Derren Brown and Andrew O’Connor
Directed by Andrew O’Connor and Andy Nyman
Performances Begin Friday, April 21
Opening Night Tuesday, May 16
Limited Engagement through Sunday, June 4
Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater
“What Mr. Brown does is find or impose patterns within or on the chaotic whirl of life, making an immense and varied group of people feel, if only for a moment, ineffably connected.”
— Ben Brantley, The New York Times
“There’s a depth of intelligence…a relish for the poetical and the philosophical too – that easily stands comparison with the finest drama.”
— Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph
Atlantic Theater Company (Neil Pepe, Artistic Director; Jeffory Lawson, Managing Director) is proud to announce the world premiere production of Olivier Award winner Derren Brown’s new show Secret, written by Andy Nyman, Derren Brown and Andrew O’Connor, and directed by Andrew O’Connor and Andy Nyman.
Derren Brown: Secret is a brand new production from the acclaimed British performer and author who will make his American theatrical debut at Atlantic Theater Company. In the UK, Derren Brown’s critically acclaimed shows have played sold out runs in the West End and won two Olivier Awards.
Be part of the startling world of mind-reading, suggestion and psychological illusion at the hands of UK phenomenon, Derren Brown. This spellbinding theatrical experience challenges us – in the most jaw-dropping way – to take a closer look at the stories and beliefs that guide our lives.
Derren Brown: Secret will begin previews Friday, April 21, officially open Tuesday, May 16 and play a limited engagement through Sunday, June 4, 2017, Off-Broadway at Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater (336 West 20 Street).
BUY TICKETS HERE: https://atlantictheater.org/playevents/derren-brown-secret
Secret is not suitable for children under 12.
Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater is located at 336 West 20 Street (between 8 and 9 Avenues).
Tuesday at 7pm, Wednesday-Saturday at 8pm, Saturday and Sunday at 2pm.
No Sunday matinee: 4/30
Added performance: Sunday 4/30 at 7pm
Tickets will be available to Season Passport holders beginning Monday, February 13 at 2:00pm, to Super Fan Passport holders beginning Friday, February 24 at noon and to the general public on Friday, March 10 at noon. Super Fan Passports include 2 tickets to the show, a 2-week pre-sale period, unlimited ticket exchanges, no additional fees and 2 Derren Brown-signed show posters.
Regular tickets begin at $65. Super Fan Passports are $185. Order online at atlantictheater.org, by calling OvationTix at 866-811-4111, or in person at the Linda Gross Theater box office (336 West 20 Street between 8 and 9 Avenues).
Passports can be purchased online at www.atlantictheater.org/passport/, by calling OvationTix at 866-811-4111, or in person at the Linda Gross Theater box office (336 West 20 Street between 8 and 9 Avenues) Tuesday through Saturday from 12:00 – 6:00pm.
BUY TICKETS HERE: https://atlantictheater.org/playevents/derren-brown-secret
‘Derren Brown: Underground’ is a collection of some of the very best of Derren’s previous stage work.
The Charing Cross Theatre is small, intimate, discrete, and indeed, Underground. This is a one off opportunity to see Derren in this type of location and is made up of a very limited number of performances. If you want to see Derren perform his own choice of some of his favourite work then this is the show to see.
Please move fast as tickets will sell out very quickly.
Buy tickets on Ticketmaster
Derren Brown talks about happiness, the subject of his latest book, Happy.
This is your chance to meet the man and delve into his extraordinary mind.
The talk will be followed by an extended time for Derren to answer any questions you might have.
Early booking recommended.
Saturday 24th September – Assembly Hall, Tunbridge Wells
Sunday 25th September – The Anvil, Basingstoke
Saturday, 1st October – Concert hall, Reading
Saturday, 8th October – Dorking halls, Dorking
Friday 21st October – The Hawth, Crawley
More dates to be announced.