On Nov. 6, 1916, throngs gathered in downtown Pittsburgh to watch Harry Houdini escape from a straitjacket while suspended upside down high above Liberty Avenue. He pulled off his feat, and got the publicity he wanted for a run of shows he was undertaking in the city.
A little more than 100 years later, some prestidigitation is returning to that part of town. In February, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust is opening Liberty Magic at 811 Liberty Ave., just a few doors down from the Cultural Trust's arts education center. The former site of the Arcade Comedy Theater, which has moved to more spacious digs up the street, Liberty Magic will be intimate – it will have 68 seats in four rows, all the better to see the card tricks and the other types of sleight of hand that will be on offer.
At a preview for regional media earlier this month, Cultural Trust president and CEO Kevin McMahon explained that "we think the city is hungry for that kind of entertainment. It's different than any other space in the Cultural District."
Once Liberty Magic opens, it will join several theaters, galleries and other properties that the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust owns and maintains, such as the Benedum Center, the Harris Theater and the Greer Cabaret Theater. With the arrival of Liberty Magic, Pittsburgh joins New York, Las Vegas, London, Chicago and other cities in having small-scale, parlor-style magic venues.
Admission to Liberty Magic will be $40 per person, with a "Skeleton Key VIP Experience" available for $65, which includes a meet-and-greet with the performers, a seat in the first two rows and the opportunity to participate in the performance. Liberty Magic is also slated to be a BYOB facility -- "the most affordable speakeasy in town," according to Scott Shiller, vice president of artistic planning for the Cultural Trust – with a $5 corkage fee.
The first performer booked at Liberty Magic is Eric Jones, a Philadelphia magician who has appeared on "America's Got Talent" showing off card tricks. His show "Impossible" will open Feb. 6 and conclude March 17. Jones said audiences "can stand as close as they want as long as they don't reach in my pockets." Following Jones will be Pittsburgh-area performer Lee Terbosic, who is also the artistic adviser for Liberty Magic. His show, "In Plain Sleight," is scheduled for March 20 to May 12.
"My goal is to keep the level of talent coming to town extremely high," Terbosic said.
Additional information is available at TrustArts.org/Magic.