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Simon Coronel: The magician who left Melbourne

simon coronel

International Illusionist

"Melbourne is an amazing, wonderful city but I just couldn't thrive here."

Dinner and the interview are solidly underway when Simon Coronel checks his watch in mid-sentence.

“Sorry, I’m just checking the time. Shit, I actually have another show in eight minutes. I completely forgot. My phone is still on airplane mode. I need to run. Shit. I’m enjoying myself too much!”

It’s nearly impossible to believe that an award-winning illusionist has almost missed his own show at the Melbourne Magic Festival. Then again, the impossible is exactly what Simon promises in his solo performance, Glitches in Reality.

In fact, Simon feels like a glitch in reality himself when you meet him in person.

On stage he is calm and wickedly funny as he takes his audience on a meticulously planned journey. His words are carefully chosen and always in perfect cadence with the illusion itself.

Off stage and despite being “completely exhausted”, the words hurtle out of his mouth like carriages of a runaway train that winds up at unexpected but intriguing destinations. Ones that are inhabited by deep reflection and contemplation.

“I’m the least magicky magician you will probably ever meet because I was never into magic per se," he says "I was into understanding things and figuring things out. And magic to me was something fascinating. Because through understanding deception you can understand truth.”

And with that, Simon is out the door and into the night to take another audience on a magical journey.

You’ve lived in London and now in LA. Where have you felt most at home?

Melbourne. It’s where I was forged as a human. But LA is where I want to be and where I can see my future. That might change and it is totally possible that I might want to come back at some point. Melbourne is much more comfortable and stable, but I want to get out there and make things happen, and LA is much more fertile for that than Australia.

How many times did you visit LA before making the big move?

I first went in 2007 on a big creative pilgrimage. It was just after the Sigfrid and Roy tiger attack. It suddenly hit me that I would never be able to see them perform. And then I thought about the other acts I wanted to see like Penn & Teller and Mac King. They weren’t going to be around forever.

I was about to start a full-time job with Accenture as part of my graduate program and so just before that, I went on a nine-week odyssey around the world that included LA and the Magic Castle. The performing arts scene there was mind-blowing. Absolutely stunning, intriguing and invigorating. I started using all my annual leave to visit LA every year from 2007 to 2014. It was then that I realised that I wanted to move there.

Let’s backtrack a little. How did you get started on the path of magic?

I got interested in magic in university. I was studying software engineering, psychology and a minor in Mandarin. It was the university degree of someone who’s interested in everything but didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life. Anyway, there was a magic club on campus and it became my favourite thing for the next five years.

When I joined Accenture, magic was still my main second life. It was during my five years at Accenture that I hit my stride, won a couple of competitions, and started getting recognised and getting good feedback. To cut a very long story short, I finally quit Accenture and went full-time into entertainment.

Was that a difficult choice?

Yes. I had planned on giving Accenture just a couple of years but then I got addicted to the paycheck. For a lot of people in performing arts, leaving full-time work is like disconnecting from the matrix. You’re now fully in charge of your destiny. You’re not a cog in a machine anymore but now you’re in a dark, scary and inhospitable place. You’ve got to fight for everything to make it happen. But I realised that if I didn’t have a crack at doing this, I would spend the rest of my life wondering what if and that is the number one curse.

And then what happened?

Then came the big epiphany; when you’re a performer your full-time job is that of a salesman. It was a painful, horrible epiphany because I hate sales. It’s not who I am, but for better or worse, that’s now my job. And if I want my creative passion to be my main source of income, I have to wear that salesman’s hat because the gigs aren’t going to just come to you. They might if you’re part of the 0.1 per cent that’s astonishingly off-the-scale brilliant or lucky.

That’s the other thing no one tells you - that you also have to be lucky. No one wants to admit that because it’s an uncomfortable truth but everyone who has been successful has also been lucky. They were doing the right thing at the right place at the right time in front of the right person. You can work so hard until your career fails and never get seen by the right person. That happens.

Were you afraid that would happen to you?

I’m still afraid that will happen to me.

When you first started out, was it easy to sell yourself in Melbourne?

No. It’s never been easy to sell myself anywhere.

Ok, I’ll rephrase. Was it easy to build your performing arts career in a city like Melbourne?

It wasn’t for me because I was never a cultural fit for Melbourne. And it’s hard to know whether it was me going about wrong or just me being unlucky. I’m sure it’s both. It’s never just one thing or the other. I never found the performing I do to be valued enough in Melbourne for it to stand out. There’s nothing about what I do that they really care about. One of the most popular comedians here is also the lowest common denominator. That’s the kind of entertainment that succeeds in Melbourne and Australia generally.

What were the gigs like then?

When you do magic, the majority of the gigs are corporate events and private parties. It’s either doing a show or what is known as walk-around, which means doing close-up magic for guests at a cocktail event. There are many walk-around jobs. I just happen to loathe them. I find them soul crushing. You spend decades of your life crafting your thing and it’s treated like the canapés. Nice and pleasant but fundamentally of little significance or value.

Did you do many of those gigs to start with?

I still do them because I need the money to eat and pay my rent.

How is LA different from Melbourne in terms of the performing you do?

LA’s primary industry is entertainment so it’s more discerning and good performances get more traction over there. I find that I get a much better response in LA than I do in Melbourne because to the average Australian, I’m no better than the other magicians they see. Over there, my stuff stands out.

It’s still early days in LA but at least there I’m getting work through other performers who see my stuff and like it. That very rarely happened in Melbourne or anywhere else in Australia.

Also, there are many great performers in Melbourne but very few who have inspired me or whom I really admire and want to learn from. Whereas in LA, there are so many of them. The creative fertility of the place is astonishing. There I can climb upwards whereas here, it is about getting better in sales and marketing.

Why do you still return for the Melbourne Magic Festival each year?

The festival is an oasis in the desert of magic in Melbourne. It’s well promoted although it’s still hard to sell tickets. And it’s really fun to hang out with the other performers, some of whom are really very good. It’s fun to bounce ideas around, it’s very collegiate and everyone helps each other out. It’s like an action adventure vacation.

In A Snap:

Favourite Aussie phrase: “To bang like a dunny door in a hurricane.” I know, I know it’s archaic and terrible but it’s the most Australian thing I’ve ever heard!

Favourite building: The State Library of Victoria. I use to love that place. It had a massive magic collection and I used to go there and study.

Favourite insider information about Melbourne: It’s not super insider but the Centre for Adult Education. It’s such a great institution. I’ve done so many cool courses and met cool people there over the years.

What you wish more Melburnians knew about the local entertainment industry: That there’s more good stuff beyond music and comedy.

Biggest change you’ve seen over the years: The one that I’ve enjoyed the most has been the coffee arms race. First thing when I come back, bam, the coffee! I love that you can walk into any random café and get a world-class espresso.

What you hope will never change: The coffee and the healthcare. Compared to America, Melbourne is a rational place. Not completely but there are no guns.

Is Melbourne the most liveable city in the world? It’s definitely up there. Top tier.

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