Derek DelGaudio Escapes Sophomore Slump With 'In & Of Itself'

"All of the magic that is in the show has been created for this show, made from the ground up. That's been extremely challenging and probably stupid on our part," says the writer/performer, back for his second engagement at the Geffen Playhouse, now extended through Aug. 28.
Jeff Lorch Photography

Forget Malibu or the Hamptons. Hollywood insiders are flocking to Westwood this summer.

That's where the Geffen Playhouse's Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater is hosting Derek DelGaudio's latest production, In & Of Itself, a one-man show that mixes magic and illusions with a moving personal narrative. The intimate venue, which seats just 100 guests, has seen such A-listers as J.J. Abrams, Ari Emanuel, Robert Downey Jr., Barbra Streisand, Chuck Lorre, Joel Silver, Steve Martin, Sacha Baron Cohen, Spike Jonze and Larry Wilmore walk through the doors to experience DelGaudio's jaw-dropping tricks.

The popularity has extended to the general public, with a rep for the theater telling The Hollywood Reporter that the Frank Oz-directed, Tom Werner- and Glenn Kaino-produced show, which opened May 3, has just been extended for a fifth time. It will now close on Aug. 28, and should more bold-faced names pop by in the coming weeks, don't expect DelGaudio to be too fazed by his well-known fans.

"There are absolutely people who I would really want to do a great show for, but the show is so demanding — technically, physically, emotionally and mentally — that I don't need to put any unneeded pressure on myself," he says. But he's not the only one feeling something.

Without giving too much away, there's a segment of the show that requires audience participation. DelGaudio invites a volunteer to join him on stage for an experience that turns out to be quite emotional. "Sometimes they are in protective shock, because for many people being in front of an audience is really terrifying, so the more uncomfortable they are in front of an audience, the more they are internalizing. If they are in shock, they go back to their seat and start collapsing or crying," he explains. "It's a very truthful, vulnerable piece. It's not exploitative. Whatever reaction they have is super genuine."

Here's how DelGaudio reacted when The Hollywood Reporter caught up with him hours before a Friday night show.

Congratulations on the extension. After opening on May 3, you are now extended for the fifth time, closing Aug. 28. This is the most successful run in the Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater since you were in the same theater in 2012. What does that mean to you?

It's amazing to know that your work is resonating with people and that it wasn't just a fluke — that there is something in the work that you're pursuing that is consistent. That's a big thing. The second album is the hardest, they say, and this was both a second album and not, because it's very different from first one. There were expectations from the last one, but not many in the scheme of the world…because that's what happens when you perform for 100 seats a night. You have to do a lot of shows to get people to see it.

When I was telling my editor about the show, I actually didn't mention any of the tricks or illusions. I talked about the duality of self concept in how you can exist in two forms in the world dependent upon how you see yourself, and how others see you. Is that the message you wanted to get across?

That is exactly what the show is intended to be about. Any illusions that are in the show are used to illustrate that idea.

Do you find that most audience members walk away with that?

Yes, something resonates within them, and they understand there is something deeper than a surface level of enjoyment going on here. The show forces people to reflect on what the experience was and what the show is about. Even if they don't completely get to that point, they are heading in that direction, and hopefully they are heading in that direction because of the way the show is designed.

Tell me more about starting the show off with the statement about truth. You encourage audience members to believe that everything they are about to see is true. Why do you do that?

I think everything about the context in which I am delivering the show is wrong, because it stars with me as a creator who has a background as a magician. People are disinclined to believe you, and add on top of that the context of the setting. We are in a theater, a place where stories are told, and stories are pieces of fiction. It's not typically a place of confessions, but instead a place of telling stories that are fantasies, generally speaking. I want to acknowledge that people are bringing unintentional biases so I can at least make them aware of their own belief systems and tell them that what they are about to engage with is authentic and honest. If they don't believe what I'm saying is true, they won't get to root or heart of what I'm saying. It's a very transparent way of beginning, and I'm acknowledging the circumstances so we can move forward together.

You also ask the audience to choose how they wish to be seen. How do you wish to be seen?

There's a magical elephant creature that I reference in the show, which is the sum of many parts that shouldn't go together, but they do to create this magical creature. That's the social identity that I've been crafting for myself. I like to traverse multiple worlds. I'm in the performing arts, and in the entertainment world. I function as writer and a magician. I'm fine if someone needs to label me or identify me for their own purposes if they don't know what else to call me. I find it rewarding to be multiple things at once and maintain these labels and identities, and still be able to coexist and be one person. Commercially, it's not the smartest.

Did any illusions end up on the cutting-room floor?

Yes, but it was all done in service to the show. This show is unlike other shows I've made or worked on or know of, because it started with an idea. This idea of the duality of one's identity. For the first seven months of writing the show and working on it, there wasn't single illusion that was firmly attached. That's pretty crazy when something is sold as a magic show. What that has done has made it a more cohesive show with a series of great illusions or great moments that escalate until the big finish. All of the magic that is in the show has been created for this show, made from the ground up. That's been extremely challenging and probably stupid on our part.

Your team is so diverse: You, director Frank Oz, producers Tom Werner and Glenn Kaino, music director Mark Mothersbaugh. It's like a dream team of sorts, but people that you wouldn't necessarily pick out of a crowd to work together. Do you think that's why it works so well?

Yeah, I think so. Everyone involved is a hybrid. When you say the name Frank Oz, you might think puppeteer, but he's also a director and an actor. That image is shattered and a new image emerges in your mind. Glenn Kaino, the same thing. He's a conceptual artist, a political activist, someone with business partnerships with Oprah Winfrey and Simon Fuller. Mark Mothersbaugh, same thing. He's Devo, an artist who makes things, a Renaissance man. Everyone involved has a quality about themselves where they refused to be confined by labels that they may be known for.

How will you celebrate the end of a successful run on Aug. 28. A vacation?

You know what, I really should. I am going to try. I know that it's probably important to take a break and regroup. I also think it's a really important time to reflect on the show and what comes next with it. You don't want to get too far away from the show before looking at it [more closely] to make notes and fix it before moving forward. I will absolutely take a break. I am absolutely exhausted and will be by then. Right now it's alive and I need to use that time wisely and use the aftermath wisely, so that the next time we do the show it's for the better.

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