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MIND GAMES: An Intimate Conversation with Wychwood Mentalist Bobby Motta

For his first trick before an audience, illusionist and Wychwood resident Bobby Motta gave a nod to one of his influences and played off his, well, unique surroundings. Motta found himself in a church basement. It was about 15 years ago, and he was entertaining a bachelor party.

He began with a popular “effect”—that’s illusionist-speak for trick—one the world-famous David Blaine, someone Motta looks up to, has performed before. It goes like this: someone picks a card, any card, and shuffles it into the deck. Then, the illusionist tosses the whole pack at a window. The chosen card appears stuck to the window—on the other side of the glass. Motta, however, put his own spin on this bit.

“To keep it short, I did the exact same thing … but instead of a window, I used one of the [exotic] dancers. I’ll leave the rest up to your imagination,” Motta tells Village Living Magazine during a recent interview at Project Spaces, a co-working space in downtown Toronto. “It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever done,” he adds.

From a church basement, Motta, 45, has gone on to become one of the 50 to 100 people in Toronto (according to his estimate) that are making a living off of performing magic. He’s done a sky-high show inside an airplane, received praise from celebrities such as Russell Crowe and Al Pacino, and created effects for big industry names Chris Angel, Penn & Teller, and even Blaine himself. Now, he’s begun another season of CRYPTIC—his weekly show at Dave & Buster’s in Vaughan which Motta says, at six years, is the longest-running series of its kind—plus he’s working with a team on a forthcoming theatre production.

However, big plans like these didn’t always appear to be in the cards for Motta. After shuttering his multi-media company, Giraffe Studios, an endeavour he says “broke the bank,” he took a year off, and pored over his magic library. His wife, Alana, wound up encouraging him to turn his passion for magic, which dates back to when he was six years old, into a job. Motta did, but not without facing his share of challenges. “I’ve been booed off a stage. I’ve had French fries with ketchup thrown at me. I’ve had things go wrong, and you go home with your tail between your legs,” recalls Motta, admitting there have been times he’s wanted to pack it in for good.

Most embarrassing of all was a slip-up in Vegas, where he was a guest performer. A trap door opened at the wrong time and, poof, Motta randomly fell through the floor right in front of the audience—a cringe-worthy moment he nevertheless worked with. “It was so funny that we wrote it into the show,” says Motta. “It was a very embarrassing moment turned into a very good thing.”

Today, boasting years of experience, Motta’s CRYPTIC shows are still constant works in progress. And there’s no telling when he’ll get inspiration for a new effect, let alone where he’ll be. He might be in the bathroom or a closet, in an underground parking lot or at a studio—virtually anywhere. “It’s a mental thing. It’s in your head,” Motta explains.

Every two years Motta completely reworks his show, with CRYPTIC building on its two previous incarnations, Grey Matter and Head Games. So what’s different this time around? “I really create the illusion that I’m tapping into people’s thoughts,” Motta reveals. “They start believing, whether or not what they’re seeing is real… and that’s when I think the current show’s a lot darker and stronger,” he adds.

There’s the old cliché that magicians never reveal their secrets, and not surprisingly, it applies to Motta as well. “I wouldn’t be doing anyone a favour by doing that,” he replies when asked to expose what’s behind an effect. “Everyone that remembers those effects are probably still scratching their heads, and the second we expose it the fire is burnt out. We don’t want to do that to them.” Neither does Amira de Vera, his publicist joining him here for the interview. “I don’t want to hear how he does it,” she chimes in.

Motta does give some insight into his methods, though. Earlier in the evening before taking the stage at a gig, he might ask someone in attendance what their zodiac sign is. Later on, he may single that person out during his performance. “I look over, and I say, ‘Um, you’re an Aries, right?’ You’re going to recall that that’s just me recalling our discussion. For everybody else, I just figured out your star sign without knowing—that’s dual reality.”

The performer makes it clear that his magic isn’t real, at least in the supernatural sense, although at least one audience member has thought otherwise. “I’ve had someone stand up in the middle of a show and say, ‘This is the work of the devil. I’m going to church,’” Motta remembers. That person got up and walked out, he says.

Rather than the work of the devil, Motta’s performances can be classified as a kind of magic known as mentalism. “Mentalism, in a nutshell, is creating the illusion of mind reading and psychokinetic energy, so it’s magic for the mind. It’s magic for the intellect,” he explains.

Countless hours of practice later, his work mastering mentalism appears to have paid off. He leaves this interview in a black Porsche. He’s sporting white YEEZY runners, distressed jeans, and a black t-shirt, Ray-Ban aviator sunglasses hanging from the collar. To Motta, it seems, all this is “just bonus,” though. “What is success measured by? A Porsche? I don’t think so. I know there’s a lot of people that make a lot of money … that hate their job,” he says.

“I’m one of only a few people in Ontario that are at my tier, and I am super, super grateful for it, because I know a lot of people in this field struggled very hard, but they don’t leave it ‘cause they love it.”

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