Magic is not enjoying a golden era in Italy at the moment. Television producers realised some time ago that, given the reality TV boom, it was more profitable to show an incapable magician and make fun of him messing up the tricks than it was to pay a professional to perform his act. Thus the most famous magician currently on Italian TV is a complete disaster - a figure of fun for the audience and an embarrassment for other magicians who are finding it increasingly difficult to be taken seriously. Television work is now almost non-existent and when it does happen it is badly produced because nobody believes in magic as a viable form of entertainment.
However, a small seed of hope has been sown: a young magician called Walter Rolfo went to work for RAI, Italy's state television network, as a presenter and writer. He applied for space to produce a show on magic called "ArcanA" and, by a lucky series of coincidences, was given it. The project was pitifully underfunded, the studio was tiny and the broadcast slot was very late at night. Initially, Walter and his team thought about throwing in the towel but bit by bit they started working around the problems.
First, they got round the studio size by substituting the audience with 7 expert witnesses from various professional fields to ensure that there was no camera trickery and to give the magicians a foil to bounce off. Then they collected a lot of documentary footage to add some strong content between the live acts.
The final hurdle was to somehow entice magicians to contribute to a show without a budget. All the local performers agreed to work for free in a one-off attempt to give magic in Italy a kick start. Even international stars like Juan Tamariz, Stevie Starr and Max Maven showed immense generosity by accepting the challenge and worked out special deals that kept the production costs low.
The result is a triumph: 4 of the 7 episodes have been aired so far and the overall quality has been very high. General poor summer audience levels and competition from world cup football have meant that good viewing levels have been very hard to achieve but the show has performed very well considering.
More importantly, the magic community held strong and the generosity of its members resulted in a high-quality show that sent a clear message to TV executives: when current TV formats wear thin, there is a body of professional performers ready to offer some quality entertainment.
I know some of you will be frustrated that you can't see the show: well you can (albeit in a limited way) by going to www.arcana.rai.it and clicking the "VIDEO" link. Each week the performance sections are uploaded to the site. They are in Italian but most are enjoyable for their magic content even for those who don't speak Italian.
© Thomas Blackthorne, July 2006