Protecting the magic of Shadows

Protecting the magic of Shadows
Teller performing his 
Shadows illusion in 1976

It wasn’t about the secret. It was about protecting the magic.

In March of 2012, the magician Teller of Penn and Teller fame saw a YouTube video of a magician named Gerard Bakardy performing a magic trick and offering to sell the secret.

The trick looked the same as a trick called Shadows, which Teller invented and has performed most of his life. He contacted Mr. Bakardy and explained that he had a copyright on the illusion:

Teller told Bakardy that the Rose & Her Shadow looked a little too much like a trick of his own called Shadows that he conceived when he was a teenager and has performed at nearly every one of his shows since 1975. If you saw Bakardy’s version and only it, you would think that it was very good. To paraphrase Penn, it would be like hearing the Byrds play "Mr. Tambourine Man." Watching Teller performing Shadows is like hearing Dylan.

The stage is black, except for the spotlight trained on a single rose in a plain white vase, casting its shadow on a large sheet of paper clipped to an easel. Teller walks slowly toward the easel, his knife flashing. First, he cuts into the shadow of a group of leaves, and down the real leaves fall. He casts a sidelong glance at the rose. Some people laugh. He steps between the rose and the easel unlike Bakardy, proving there are no wires before he has completed the trick and cuts down a few more leaves, which flutter and float clear. He then finishes carving up the shadow, killing the rose in a cascade of red petals.

That’s the moment when Bakardy stopped, perhaps because the trick’s final act might not have been suitable for a dinner show. Teller surveys his deadly handiwork, the audience rising around him in the dark, before he "accidentally" pricks his finger with the knife. He stares at the damage he’s done to himself, and then he puts his hand in front of the light, casting its shadow where the rose’s used to be. A small trickle of red blood spills down the paper, as though out of his shadow, exactly where he cut himself. With a final silent flourish, Teller runs his hand over the blood, smearing it like a thick streak across a butcher’s apron. And then the lights go out.

When negotiations broke down between the two men, Teller had to make a decision.

Shadows by Teller

Read more: The Honor System. Stealing magic has become a commonplace crime. Teller, a man of infinite delicacy and deceit, decided to do something about it. Esquire>>

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