Las Vegas Illusionists Kyle and Mistie Knight and their Journey Into Virtual
By Liam Klenk
Las Vegas Illusionists Kyle and Mistie Knight have traveled to over 80 different countries performing their own unique style of magic. The dynamic duo has entertained Fortune 500 companies and headlined casinos and theaters around the world from Vegas to Macau. Lately they have also conquered the virtual realm, a new experience which has proven far more fulfilling than they ever would have thought possible.
Kyle and Mistie are as versatile as they come. They live and have performed in Las Vegas. They were guest entertainers for cruise lines like Royal Caribbean and Disney, and they were featured in TV shows such as Penn & Teller: Fool Us and Now You See It.
The energetic, charming and magic couple has won numerous awards as well. Their interactive performance style keeps the crowd engaged and excited.
A characteristic of their in-person shows which – as you will hear from Kyle and Mistie themselves in this interview – has helped them greatly in this Covid stricken year of 2020… to develop their act in the virtual realm as well.
Personally, I was swept away by Kyle and Mistie’s enthusiasm and amazing positive energy. The hard-working duo brightened my day with their optimism and open-mindedness towards new horizons. I hope they will brighten your day a little bit, too:
We are so excited to meet with you today and share a little of our experiences of the last few months.
We have been performing for fifteen years now. On cruises, for corporations, conventions, casinos, etc.
All that came to a halt when Covid hit. And… we were forced to adapt.
However, adaptation isn’t a new concept for us. We have done well in adapting for many years. Before, it was adapting to changing contracts and venues. Covid limitations and regulations simply meant an additional layer of adapting to a changing world.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not an easy feat and a whole new ball game to transfer from in-person to virtual. But, amazingly, we have found that the virtual shows still give us the same rush we get from in-person shows.
And the same seems to be true for our audiences as well from what we can tell. We feel the energy coming back from them.
This year, we have done one hundred virtual shows already.
Magicians have a certain advantage over other performing arts when it comes to virtual shows. Because what we do is so interactive. And that interaction and engagement is what makes virtual shows work well. For example, the shows of a singer, dancer, or instrumentalist are not necessarily interactive.
We even do magic shows for corporates via Zoom as well. Amazingly fun performances and interactions with impossible magical objects, scenes we film, and a kind of mind-reading magic.
A corporation will have a Zoom meeting and, all of a sudden, the meeting will transform into our magic show, and the executives will be drawn into a world of creativity and fun.
One thing that was very difficult in the beginning when switching to performing in the virtual world was the fact that we had no agencies supporting us.
Previously, almost all of our shows were booked through agencies. Or through our relationships with casinos and cruise lines who knew us.
So, when the agencies stopped booking due to Covid19, it threw us into mostly unknown territory at first.
We began learning about sales and marketing. It was mostly Mistie who took courses. And she got used to the business aspect of our performances. She actually began to really enjoy it.
All of a sudden, there we would be, and sometimes Mistie would even take sales calls and land gigs in the car.
Many of our clients were unfamiliar with Zoom shows as well in the beginning. So we had to help them, explain the process, and show them how advantageous and exciting this form of performance can actually be.
We had to especially explain that watching a performance on Zoom is not just like watching a TV show or a YouTube video. Quite the contrary. Our shows on Zoom are alive and will engage our audience directly.
Because we used to always do extremely interactive shows on stage anyways, we did not have to change much in that sense. We simply took the things we would normally take for theater settings and adjusted slightly.
For example, let’s say during an in-person show an audience member would hold something up for us or perform an action and then stop. Now, through Zoom, it is us who hold up the object or perform the action and an audience member tells us when to stop.
One element of the virtual shows and why they are still very exciting for the audience as well as for us is that often it is like we are performing for one person. And their friends can watch this person have that particular, intense experience. They can live it with them, experience it with them, through them, in real time.
Some elements of our shows include mind-reading for example. Which is something the audience responds to very well. It is powerful when we’re able to read someone’s mind through the screen whilst being thousands of geographical miles apart.
One thing we have noticed is that we can’t keep the pace the same as on an in-person show. The attention span of the audience during a Zoom performance is lower. Our routines have to be slightly adapted in that they have to be shorter and more concise. Which mean we do more routines in less time.
We are actually sweating after the virtual shows.
Incredibly, through performing virtually, we now also have far more international bookings. Some from Asia. India for example. Which is all a new challenge all over again. Because different audience mentalities and cultures always mean we need to adjust our approach in magic.
We are so busy and incredibly happy. For the first time in our lives we even have two puppies. Something which was never feasible before. We work from home. Who would have ever thought that could be possible?
Coming up next month, we have five virtual shows in one day and four in another. The current situation worldwide really opened the door for more shows for us.
In addition to the shows and performances for company events, we also do private events.
People don’t see their families because of Covid. We bring them together by doing virtual birthday parties for them. So, our audience is quite diverse from day to day. Sometimes we have a lot of kids in the audience, sometimes a group of business men, CEOs, etc.
Next month, we have two especially exciting virtual events coming up: one for Google, and one for Twitch.
Another aspect of our virtual shows besides performing them is that we offer an upgrade where we teach magic. We have several of these events coming up where we teach people at home. They learn magic tricks which they can easily perform themselves.
Often, when our audience gets a package which has all the VIP upgrades, we stick around after the show for a meet and greet. And they appreciate it. Meeting us in our home. Listening to us tell how this experience has been for us. And then we let our puppies loose, and they love it.
In one of our performances, one of the audience members randomly chose the word “puppy” for an imaginary object. Imagine his surprise when all of a sudden we made one of our puppies appear.
People like the feeling of seeing you so raw as a performer, less perfectionist. They can connect and identify better with you. Somehow, it makes the experience a greater memory. Most audiences never get to hang out with a performer at home after a show.
It’s a fabulous benefit of virtual.
To get the audience to feel close to us is an element we usually battle with more than other performers. Because we do things that are supernatural, and seemingly impossible. Which automatically makes magicians seem sort of a world apart, hard to relate to.
Us personally, we’ve always had an irreverent style with our magic. We try to not take ourselves too seriously.
In one in-person show for example, Kyle did the classical trick of sawing a lady in half. But he began the routine with showing a video compilation of how it used to be done. And actually revealed in the video: Look, it’s really two women in the box… not one. He explained to the audience how magic is always growing and changing. He held up a fake leg and said, “We’re not even going to use these tonight.” Only after that did he go into the act, presenting our new version.
We like to astound our audiences. But we don’t want to insult their intelligence. We appreciate that they open their minds and hearts to go along for the ride… in a suspension of disbelief.
Currently, surprisingly, one of the most difficult aspects of our virtual shows is the tech. We are dealing with tech we’ve never dealt with before. The WiFi connection can be a problem. And there are multiple cameras installed which we need to operate.
Also Zoom can sometimes be a problem. Sometimes, there is a glitch telling people they can’t come in. You really have to be a master of the App. We took a crash course in Zoom tech.
Now, we even have a dedicated room in the house. That is our professional Zoom studio. Everything is set up. Cameras, video, backdrop, etc.
We have help as well. She used to help us with our in-person shows and now she is kind of the stage manager for our virtual shows, too. Helping to organize and coordinate as we go along.
We have everything. Music. Confetti. The whole deal.
And, amazingly, a freedom we never knew before: we can perform without our shoes, in our socks. Because no one ever sees our feet. That is a wonderful, comfy feeling.
As you know, we live in Vegas, and Vegas has been hit really hard by Covid. We see so many of our friends struggling. Thankfully, they have started doing live stream shows in town, too. They’ve had success with vocalists doing that.
I am definitely grateful, though, that virtual is working out so well for us.
In July 2020 we had in-person shows, too. We performed in a small venue in Tahoe, called ‘The Loft’. Back then they were opening the house to half capacity due to social distancing regulations. We performed for 25 people.
We did two weeks of in-person performances. And we incorporated just as much interaction as before in our in-person shows. The only difference was that we were hands off.
It was a good experience, but also strange. The audience members were wearing masks, of course. It really changes things if you can’t see people’s faces, their emotions. You only get their eyes.
Also, the theater organizers put life-sized teddy bears into the audience as social distancers. It was cute and a bit creepy at the same time.
One unforgettable experience we took away from our performances in Tahoe was seeing people so happy, so grateful, and excited to be there and get in-person entertainment. Once venues open up again, that is something performers will feel immensely. How happy and grateful people will be to be back again, to be able to experience the magic of seeing performances directly in front of them on a stage again.
We don’t think virtual shows will go away, even after Covid passes though. There will now always be a hybrid of virtual and in-person events.
Even companies have now realized they can enrich their meetings with these virtual events.
But, hopefully, in the future, I envision us offering our shows everywhere we used to. In-person shows, close up walk around shows. And, additionally, we want to continue to offer our virtual shows, too.
It is such a pleasure, and we enjoy performing virtual so much, we don’t want to let it go.
It’s strategic too. Far more than you’d think. We make it fun and mysterious. We ask people questions during the show. They don’t recognize these questions are important strategic moments. They don’t initially realize they are involved.
Until things unfold, and all of a sudden they understand that all those small moments they just experienced were cues. They had been part of the story of the show.
We used to do this in our in-person events as well. It’s an important connector.
So, to sum it all up in one sentence, that is definitely the key that has made going virtual so successful for us: We were and are never separated from our audience.