Marcus Morgan is – presumably – not the world’s only bisexual magician, but his new one-man London show ‘Bisexuality is Magic’ might genuinely be unique. Its tagline is 'If you only see one comedy magic show about bisexuality this year, make it this one’ and indeed you’d be unlikely to find another.
You might be wondering why bisexuality is a topic for training courses, let alone a topic for magic shows. Even in LGBT circles, it’s not really focused on – for a lot of people, ‘gay’ and ‘LGBT’ still mean basically the same thing. And that’s exactly why bisexual activism exists. There are more bisexual people than there are gay and lesbian people, but there’s much less awareness of their needs. It’s not well known that bi people have worse mental health than either gay/lesbian or straight people. And 28% of bisexuals have told the important people in their life about their sexuality, whereas 77% of gay men and 71% of lesbians have done so.
Facing prejudice from both the straight mainstream and the gay and lesbian communities (‘I’d never date a bisexual’ is a common comment from allegedly LGBT communities), bisexuals have created their own spaces and their own grassroots communities. Marcus, who as well as being a magician also runs campaigning organisation The Bisexual Index, is one of the UK’s leading bi activists and deeply involved in the struggle for awareness and respect.
“I started doing a lot of public speaking because of the activism” he explains, “which led to being asked to be on radio and TV, and then I began delivering bi training courses. Which all involved me talking in front of large groups of people about my sexuality and about bisexuality as a concept, and learning how to make it entertaining. People assume means diversity training means they’re going to get told off, but if you make it fun, people learn without noticing.”
Having been involved in activism for many years, Morgan started to practice magic in 2012 when he was laid off from his day job at a hospital. A long-standing interest had recently been revived by doing tricks to entertain his children, and he decided to try making a living from his passion.
“I specialized in children’s party magic at first, but I was still separately doing bi activism. The collision of magic and bisexuality happened in 2016, after I went on a Stonewall training coursel. That lead to my creating CaBiRet – an ‘evening of the bisexual variety’ which is now a regular Patreon-supported event. There was music, poetry, comedy, and spoken word. I was the compere and also wanted to do a magic act, but wasn’t sure how to make it relevant to the theme. At first I had jokey ideas – here’s your card, lose it in the deck, it’s risen to the top. Of course it has, it’s the King because that’s how the cisheteronormative patriarchy works and that’s why the white man is the ambitious card. Maybe a bit too niche…”
He didn’t use that one, perhaps wisely, but he did develop a rope routine based around the Kinsey scale (which measure people’s sexuality from 0=totally heterosexual to 6=totally homosexual), and it’s now a regular part of his diversity training and LGBT performances at Prides and elsewhere, most recently at a performance in Leicester for LGBT History Month.
“The idea,” he explains, “is that people have this rigid notion about sexuality being about one fixed length line. But what if that line can be split or stretched or bent, like the rope in a rope trick? I leave them in a tangle, then I show them that with a snap of the fingers all the problems they have with bisexuality can disappear. In terms of the moves and sleights it’s a very traditional rope routine – until you hear what I’m saying. As far as I know nobody else is using it in this way.”
In the same show, Morgan also performed a trick themed around coming out as bisexual. “I talk about coming out stories and how bi people need to come out over and over again because people keep forgetting. At its heart is a nest of boxes, so I call it ‘Coming Out Of Boxes’.”
The Leicester audience seemed appreciative of both the tricks and the education.
The road to a one-man show was sparked when, in 2017, Morgan was asked to perform in a play by another bi activist, Sally Wyatt. “It was set in a dystopian future, and the idea was that the performers in the play were in a talent show where the loser was shot by a firing squad. It was fascinating because usually being a magician involves being in charge of the interaction, but in this case I had to play low status – I was begging someone to come on stage and help with the trick, and then the trick all goes wrong and dooms me. It made me think about how differently magic can look if you’re playing a character.”
It also introduced him to the play’s venue, Matthew’s Yard in Croydon, which has a theatre space and which is now hosting his show, Bisexuality is Magic, on April 14th.
“I realised I’d built up a body of work that could all come together. I’ve been doing a talk which is mostly discussing bisexuality with a couple of tricks at the end. Which is great, but the people who come to talks about bisexuality are generally already willing to have their conceptions challenged. Whereas if you have a comedy magic show that happens to have bisexuality as the plot it brings in different people.
“So, I thought I needed to combine all this into one production. Using a proper theatre gives me a chance to expand the format and make it more theatrical - part performance, part play. I don’t precisely play myself. I play a character who’s is a bi activist called Marcus. He wants to put on a bi magic show but he isn’t sure it’ll work. He’s trying to do a dress rehearsal, but he keeps being interrupted by the director, being told to take things out or put things in.
“The narrative of the show is the development of one routine which is performed at the start and the end of the show. But it’s also a magic show in itself. Routines that include volunteers from the audience will really include volunteers. It opens the door to a lot of humour that wouldn’t work in a presentation style performance, there’s a lot of scope for comedy around things going wrong.”
His inspirations include the Michael Frayn comedy Noises Off, which is set backstage at a play where things keep going wrong. “It was one of the first proper grown up shows I saw, and left a lasting impression of how much you can do with how you tell a story and when you’re allowed to peek backstage. In my show, as I’m doing the routine I’m saying how I don’t have a script, how it’ll be different on the night, but that itself is the script.”
It’s designed to be inclusive. “One of the things I wanted to create was a solution to the problem of people being dragged along by their straight or gay co-workers or colleagues to a succession of events they don't quite fit into. If you're a member of your organisation's LGBT group and you’re tired of being dragged along to see drag performances that are biphobic or being taken by your straight colleagues to comedy clubs where you sit waiting for the joke that's going to make everyone say around you laugh but leave you feeling frozen - bring all of them to this instead.”
Marcus is also hoping to encourage some of his Magic Circle colleagues to come along. “Everyone at The Magic Circle has been very supportive. I've had some wonderful surprise reactions from people who I thought would be indifferent and confused and have actually been fascinated and have wanted to know all the details. I think everyone who's involved in magic is always excited to see how different people can do very different things with it.“
Through The Magic Circle, Marcus has also found a director for the show - Paul Longhurst, who was previously with the RSC and recently directed Sweeney Todd at the Minack theatre in Cornwall. “He’s an excellent magician himself. And he's working with me on the staging of it, because I’m not a director. One of the things people advise not to do with magic is try to do everything yourself – for example you really can't sit in the stalls and see how it looks.”
So what’s next after the April show?
“What I would love to do next is go on tour. The performance is designed to be portable – I can fit all my props into one big flight case. Which means I can go anywhere. I've already had an interest from a number of Prides around the country. I think there's a wider audience that would appreciate the show for the comedy, and there's an audience who will appreciate the show for the magic. They'll go away having learnt something about bisexuality perhaps not realising they have. If you bring people along to it they will go away with slightly fewer stupid questions to ask you about your sexuality. But also people who aren't bi will come along, I think, just because it sounds unusual.”