Scott Silven can seemingly read minds and has mastered the mystery arts. But the acclaimed illusionist, mentalist and performance artist hasn’t been able to solve one mystery for the last year: how to escape Scotland.
Silven was on tour when the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns began around the world in March 2020. He got on the last flight out of Seattle, thinking it would be nice to see his family for a few weeks — and has not left his childhood home outside of Glasgow since.
During the first two weeks back, Silven canceled his remaining in-person shows for the year. But returning home also inspired him to begin creating The Journey, which will be part of Spoleto Festival USA’s Spoleto at Home digital offerings, starting June 8.
“It was in that moment that I realized coming back to Scotland, this place that inspired what I do today, was pretty powerful,” Silven said. “It was a place I hadn’t been to in some time, and it felt unfamiliar to me. And I had this innate sense of nostalgia.”
Spoleto participants will join 30 others from around the city — or even the world — for an intimate yet collective experience as The Journey transports them from wherever they are into Silven’s home.
Custom-made technology created for The Journey projects the audience onto the walls of Silven’s home and allows the illusionist to pull members up as holograms that “stand” beside him.
“We bring the audience into the room for the first time,” he said, “and it’s a very dramatic moment where I touch the wall and the walls of the space fall away and the audience suddenly appears.”
He said the sense of sharing intimate moments with people virtually, while all remaining in our own respective spaces, intrigued him.
“There’s something really powerful about people being confined to their homes at this time, surrounded by objects of meaning and with the time to focus on themselves,” Silven said. “I knew I wanted to create an experience that explored those themes.”
Silven said The Journey, which premiered in fall 2020, has given him a chance to connect with people from places like Charleston, Hong Kong or New York in new ways.
“Even before the show, I’ve always felt we were living in such fragmented times where we entirely exist within our own heads or in thoughts,” he said. “I don’t think that’s a healthy way to be. And I think the great thing about this pandemic and hopefully this show is that it’s realized the power of connecting to other people can equally inspire ourselves.”
Silven worked with what he called a creative “dream team” – director Allie Winton Butler, set designer Jeff Sugg and Tony Award-winning sound designer Gareth Fry – to bring The Journey to life in a matter of months. Sugg, who traveled to Scotland last year to collaborate with Silven in person, said the use of technology within The Journey was one of the things that interested him most about the show.
“I think what makes this work stand out is that it embraces the technology and implicates it into the essence of the storytelling,” Sugg said. “The tech and the show are inseparable.”
Butler, for her part, said the show “has really made me consider how extraordinary projections can be both from an artistic and technological perspective.”
However, Silven said, the completely remote experience has led to some viewers feeling a little more casual about the show than others.
“I selected someone to be projected into the room,” he said, “and the lady I selected was at the McDonald’s drive-thru at the time of the show, just taking her order from the side of the screen as she was interacting with me, which I thought was kind of incredible. It was very engaging and got a great reaction, but it made me realize pretty quickly, ‘Oh yeah, this is a new form of theater that I have to get used to.’”
Samantha Savery is a graduate student in the Goldring Arts Journalism and Communications Program at Syracuse University.