A Heart With Six Chambers

Farewell to Derek DelGaudio’s In And Of Itself.

Most people have a pair of ventricles and a pair of atria in their hearts. One atrium and one ventricle on each side, each partnership forming half of a vital organ and working in concert to keep us alive.

The atrium receives blood as input, holds it for a fraction of a moment and then passes it to a ventricle that will send it back out on a new mission. The right side takes in blood from the body and pumps it to the lungs to receive fresh oxygen. The left side takes the blood back from the lungs and sends it everywhere else.

I’ve seen the show In And Of Itself four times. Perhaps I needed one for each chamber in my heart. The first time was with my wife, the second with her and a dear group of friends. The third was with my brother. The last was just me and my wife again, the closing show on Sunday, August 19th. If I put one show in each chamber, the last goes in the left ventricle. It can’t just sit there. The heart has to send it everywhere else.

Given that the show has concluded, it seems appropriate to use past tense when discussing it. I can’t do that yet; the show is still circulating in me.

There’s something special about a show that changes every time you see it. Some changes are obvious, like the contributions that each new audience brings. Others are more subtle; they change because you as an observer have changed, because your perception has changed.

This is by design. If you tried to explain the show in one word, a lot of people would choose “identity.” When you go to see the show, you are first presented with a thousand cards that read “I AM” and something you are, or want to be, or could be. It depends on how you choose to interpret the task. The card I chose each time was different: HACKER, COMPOSER, POET, MINIMALIST.

The show asks you to choose a label for yourself. By the end, you are challenged to think about how well that label fits, but also about all the things it misses.

DelGaudio performs a handful of amazing magic tricks, but it would be hard to call his performance a “magic show.” To do so would miss a lot, at least by modern interpretations of the term.

If you watch the short video Invisible Dialogues you can get a better sense of what’s happening. DelGaudio is not trying to subvert the idea of a magic show. He’s resurrecting its former purpose: to tell stories that really matter to people.

What could matter more to a person than who they are?

The parable of the blind men and the elephant plays a big role in the show. Because the story is so familiar, I looked right past it on the first viewing. Even after the second and the third time, I didn’t really catch how well DelGaudio weaves this into the overall narrative.

On the surface, he is making a point about how perception can affect identity; how the things we perceive are limited to our senses, and how vital details are missed. But even though it was right in front of me the whole time, I did not realize that there was an elephant on the stage, hiding in plain sight. It lurked in one of the six displays that frame the entire show, but I was blind to it.

pick a card, any card

The number six seems significant. In DelGaudio’s version of the parable there are six blind men. As the story goes, each of them tries to identify the elephant, and each of them get it wrong.

Elsewhere in the show is a story about Russian Roulette, a game played with a gun that can hold six bullets, each of which fails to fire.

These misfires are good fortune. To die is to be permanently labeled, or perhaps vice versa. So long as our luck holds out, the way we see ourselves can change.

The magic you get from multiple viewings is seeing how we can change without losing what we were before. We can be all the things we want to be. Different people see you in different ways. This is by design.

I can only assume that Derek DelGaudio is not like most people. I think his heart has an extra atrium, an extra ventricle, tasked with processing signals from within, pumping them out into the world.

In And Of Itself tells a story that matters to me. It challenges me to think about what I want to be, and more importantly, what it means when someone sees me the way I see myself.

I’m sad this show is over, but if magic is a synonym for hope, then I hope it won’t be too long before this performer returns with something new. Something that I’ll have to see multiple times because I’m not smart enough to get it the first time.

Sincere thanks to Derek DelGaudio, Frank Oz, Neil Patrick Harris, and all who were involved in bringing the show to New York City.

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