Skip to content

Island drama professor discusses ‘smoke and mirrors’ of theatre magic

Leon Potter presents colloquium series talk at the Malaspina Theatre on Oct. 20
VIU theatre professor Leon Potter is presenting a colloquium lecture on ‘Spectacular Spectacle: A Brief Look at the History of Special Effects on Stage’ at the Nanaimo campus’ Malaspina Theatre on Oct. 20. (Photo courtesy Shimon Photo)

A Vancouver Island University professor will reveal what ‘lies behind the curtain’ of theatre magic.

Leon Potter, VIU’s theatre program chair, presents ‘Spectacular Spectacle: A Brief Look at the History of Special Effects on Stage’ on Friday, Oct. 20, as part of the university’s 15th iteration of the Arts and Humanities Colloquium series.

The impetus of the project, Potter said, started when several of his students asked him about holding a class specifically on the subject of special effects.

“Which I thought was great,” he said. “And then I realized I couldn’t find a textbook for them, simply because there wasn’t one … and I figured I should probably write one myself.”

The professor said that although he did find some research papers that considered the topic, his hope is to eventually create a comprehensive special-interest textbook down the road.

As Potter originally trained in set design, ‘“smoke and mirrors” have always fascinated him, as has the aspect of storytelling that can ‘wow’ an audience.

“It’s great to know where we came from … and the idea that these things can happen without green screens and projections – we’ve become almost numb to special effects in a way and nothing really surprises us anymore,” he said.

Many of the ‘tricks of the trade’ are still popular and commonly used today, as seen in trapdoors and smoke and lighting effects during rock concerts.

“In Victorian theatre, ghosts were very popular,” the professor said. “And the idea of creating a ghost on stage is very similar to how they still do it in places such as Disney Land’s haunted house ride. It’s done through reflective glass, but in Victorian London, they would have the reflective glass right in front of the stage so that the entire audience is looking through the glass. And then in the trap room underneath, they would use light and reflections in order to create an almost ghostly appearance.”

Although there is “too much to cover” in a single presentation, Potter will focus primarily on the Renaissance era, 19th century melodrama and the Grand Guignol.

The free-to-attend public lecture ‘Spectacular Spectacle: A Brief Look at the History of Special Effects on Stage’ will be presented at the Malaspina Theatre, VIU Building 310, on Oct. 20 at 10 a.m.

READ MORE: VIU theatre professor explains ‘Theatre of the Grotesque’ in colloquium talk

Mandy Moraes

About the Author: Mandy Moraes

I joined Black Press Media in 2020 as a multimedia reporter for the Parksville Qualicum Beach News, and transferred to the News Bulletin in 2022
Read more