“Magic was something that set me apart as a kid, and gave me an excuse not to score touchdowns,” says magician Robby Bennett, a Clear Lake native who received his first magic kit when he was 5, but wouldn’t actually give it any real attention until he was 9. That’s when he spent nearly two years at home sick from school with what turned out to be undiagnosed food allergies. Magic passed the time.
He got good at it. So good, in fact, what when he went back to school, it wasn’t unusual for him to have a deck of cards on him, entertaining his classmates and teachers.
“Since the seventh grade, I never had a teacher tell me to put the cards away.”
Those card tricks and the simple magic he learned in the kit became the thing that led him on the path to being the professional performer he is today. Bennett booked his first paying gig at 13, playing parties at the George R. Brown Convention Center for GE. Now, at 30, he performs hundreds of times a year—for corporate parties, events, at hospitals, and on stage, all over the country.
Houstonians will be able to see his latest show, Anomaly, which he’ll perform at the Wortham Theater Center on December 22. The show features routines involving metaphor, allegory, and powerful storytelling—gripping stories and hilarious anecdotes.
“We started developing the concept for this in 2013,” he explains. “It’s really a spectacle of the impossible. We’ve gathered all the elements of storytelling and magic and put them into this huge production.”
As a kind of bonus for the audience, Bennett will pick someone out of the crowd and turn him or her into a magician with their own routines and production in a matter of minutes.
“Audiences today can be a little more skeptical [about magic] than they were in the past, I think,” he says. “With so much technology and so many answers at our fingertips, we’ve lost that sense of wonder. Fifteen years ago, the things you can do on a smartphone would’ve been borderline witchcraft. We have all this knowledge available 24/7. We forget how amazing things can be. I want to bring that sense of awe back.”
Bennett says his routines have evolved to be part magic and part standup. Over the years, he’s not only watched other musicians, but also comedians and actors and other stage performers to see what he might incorporate into his act. Free Press Houston recently lauded Bennett for being “a young performer breathing new vitality into an old art form and engaging audiences.”
“In magic, there might be about 10 tricks, and everything is a variation of those,” he says, laughing. “So, it’s how you build on what’s there and adapt to it. We do a large version of the Three Card Monte [a version of the shell game that uses playing cards in place of shells, where an audience member has to pick a card and follow it as the magician moves them around].”
With Anomaly, Bennett feels he’s combining and 21st century technologies and stagecraft to infuse this old art form with new energy. But for all the illusions and stagecraft, he says he also has a soft spot for old-school tricks.
“I love versions of ‘torn and restored’ tricks,” he says.
His favorite is his rope routine, where he cuts a rope into different-sized segments and then restores it one piece.
“That’s been with me since my youth; I’ve done it I don’t know how many thousands of times.”
Dec. 22 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets from $20. Wortham Center, 501 Texas St. 713-228-6737. More info and tickets at houstonfirsttheaters.com.