By John Benson
There are plenty of magicians in the world but not many perform their craft with a message.
Then there’s Paul Gertner, who for nearly 30 years has been considered a magician’s magician, someone who explores illusions and tricks with a cerebral flair that wows audiences and exasperates his peers.
The Pittsburgh resident’s latest show is “Braindrops,” which will come to Youngstown on Friday for a show at the Butler Institute of American Art North Building. Ironically, it was an exhibition at this same venue a few years ago that inspired Gertner to embrace, explore and debunk technology.
“‘Braindrops’ is basically a show that combines magic, mind reading and technology,” said Gertner, calling from the Steel City. “Essentially, ‘Braindrops’ kind of asks the question, are we addicted to technology?” It sort of challenges the audience about what they believe in terms of what’s real and what’s not.
“In the show, they kind of have to make choices about whether the magic that’s happening is real; is somebody really reading their mind or is this just an illusion. So there’s a lot of very novel and original magic all done with technology.”
Invariably, “Braindrops” fits right into Gertner’s creative mind, which has taken him over the years to more than 20 different countries for more than 500 corporate performances. He’s also lectured at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as appeared on “That’s Incredible!” and “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.”
Furthermore, his original routines, the cups and balls with steel ball bearings and the ring on the hourglass, are considered classics. Heck, even David Copperfield consulted with Gertner for his television specials.
Keeping with his unique style, Gertner said “Braindrops” begins with something that in modern times has become an impolite and annoying theater habit.
“First of all, everyone opens up their cellphones and makes calls during the show,” Gertner said. “We kind of break that fourth wall of theater by suggesting people bring their iPad or iPhone. I don’t want them to think I have special iPads or iPhones, or technology is doing everything. They’re going to be involved in it. So it creates questions in their mind about what they are really carrying around.”
Without giving too much away, Gertner said what they’re carrying around is an illusion of privacy.
“You can put something on the Internet using a password and that’s private, no one else can see it,” Gertner said. “Well, that’s an illusion. The NSA scandal plays into this. The ideas of posting stuff online, which college kids do all the time and then they’re surprised when perspective employers four years later don’t give them the job because they saw something on the Internet that was disconcerting.”
If there is one message Gertner said he hopes audiences members take away from “Braindrops,” it’s simply accept the fact that just like in magic, you don’t know everything that’s going on with the Internet.
Finally, even though the premise of “Braindrops” appears to be anti-technology, Gertner said that’s not his message.
“I’m certainly not negative about technology,” Gertner said. “I love technology, but I think just as watching a magic trick and not knowing everything that’s going on, the same is true with how we’re dealing with the Internet and technological changes around us. I’m just talking about being aware.”