Carnival of Illusion

Susan Eyed and Roland Sarlot.

Courtesy Photo

When the recession hit in 2008, Roland Sarlot and Susan Eyed weren’t fazed. In fact, they saw it as an opportunity to take a chance and make some magic—literally—by launching a new magic show.

“We were going on the offense instead of the defense,” Eyed said. “We just refused to take part in the recession.”

Part of the reason the pair hardly blinked an eye in the face of economic uncertainty was because they were used to it. Sarlot had spent years working as a resort musician, and Eyed had opened her own dance company in 2000. In 2002, the two teamed up to create their traveling stage show, Dance of Illusion, a spectacle that blended Eyed’s dance experience with Sarlot’s background and math, physics and magic. But the working conditions were less than ideal—no predictable income, and no heading home for the weekend to spend their paychecks and relax.

So, instead of freaking out, Eyed and Sarlot started looking for people in the performing industry, artists who had lost their jobs due to the recession but were amazing at what they did. In 2009, they launched Carnival of Illusion, a close-up, vaudeville-inspired magic show. They received the Gwynne Excellence in Magic Award at the United States’ oldest magic convention that same year, followed by “Featured Performer” status at the Hollywood Magic Castle. Audience responses were even more positive, and they soon expanded to offer shows in Phoenix, Mesa and Tempe.

“We really had something that people wanted and needed in their lives,” Eyed said. “We realized that magic was that great thing that gave people a break in their real lives.”

The recession may be over, but there’s an ever-evolving set of reasons that people need a break, and a little bit of magic in their lives. So it’s lucky for Arizonans that Eyed and Sarlot are kicking off their ninth season of Carnival of Illusion, which will contain their landmark 500th performance as the longest running Arizona theater show. 

“It’s just a wonderful experience that we’ve been able to build, and people keep coming back,” Sarlot said.

The tricks the couple performs run the gamut of tone, scope and cultural influences, but the real magic at a recent Tucson performance came from the way their show affected people. There was lots of laughter, a few tear-jerker moments, and one enormous sigh of relief from a man selected to come up on stage who didn’t want to, and was let off the hook. Sarlot said making the night fun for audiences is his favorite part of doing the show.

“For me, it’s when people spend an evening of their life [with us] and we make it a special night together that they’re going to remember for the rest of their lives,” Sarlot said.

At just one of the shows on a two-show Saturday night, there was an 87th birthday celebration, a 25th anniversary celebration, and one half of a 29th anniversary celebration (an under-the-weather husband had stayed home). There were wide-eyed kids, jovial seniors and everyone in between. During intermission, groups mingled to talk about the show, some guessing at the secrets behind the tricks, many deciding to just enjoy the mystery of it all.

“There is a change that happens to the audience,” Eyed said. “It’s a gift that we can give.” 

With their positive attitudes and flair for the dramatic, the pair brought to mind a famous line from a poem by Arthur O’Shaughnessy (better known for being mentioned by Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory): “We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.”

It’s a sweet thought: the idea of dreaming so big. In the same poem, though, just a few lines down, there’s another that Sarlot and Eyed evoke even more: “We are the movers and shakers of the world for ever, it seems.”

Sarlot and Eyed aren’t just dreamers: they’re movers and shakers. And they’re moving, shaking, enchanting and magicking their way to a better world, one smiling audience member at a time.

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