For David Ben’s two kids, having a magician for a dad is no fun at all. A schoolyard taunt – “my dad will cut you in half and never put you back together again” – elicited a phone call home. And Dad mostly performs for adults – not for kids at all.
Since leaving tax law, Ben has become one of the world’s greatest sleight-of-hand artists. He is definitely among the best educated, with a BA (1983 UC), a law degree (University of Western Ontario) and a Master of Laws from the London School of Economics. “I never took courses that put me on any career track,” says Ben, 40. “At U of T, I studied film and that helped me understand not how a magic trick works but why it works, which depends on cultural context and imagery. In law, as in magic, you’re always looking for the loophole, the equivocation. Designing a tax transaction is like designing a magic trick – you know the end result and shuffle the elements until you achieve it.”
Ben hauled his intellect out of the hat for his recent magic shows, The Conjuror and The Conjuror’s Suite. They featured heavily researched and technically demanding performances of Victorian and turn-of-the-century magic, such as Okito’s floating ball and Houdini’s needle mystery. The productions have been a hit over the past five years, showing at the Shaw Festival, the Royal Ontario Museum and the Charlottetown Festival.
Currently, Ben is writing two new shows and two books, pitching a magic exhibition in London and finessing a new balancing act. “It’s my goal to be the greatest sleight-of-hand performer who has a balance of career, family and economic stability – that’s the trick.”
A U of T lab is working with actors, writers and directors on how they could harness AI and other emerging technologies to generate new ideas and – just maybe – reinvent theatre