How ‘AGT’ Champion Shin Lim Adapted His Magic Act for Pandemic-Era Audiences (Guest Blog)

“What I do truly relies on being able to see people and read them,” notes Lim’s opening act, Colin Cloud

shin lim
Courtesy of Shin Lim

The vibe in Las Vegas’ Mirage theater was eerie. It was a Friday night, and we were taking our seats to see “Shin Lim: LIMitless.” Vegas is still reeling from the effects of the pandemic but the Mirage recently re-opened after a months-long hiatus, and the visual cues of COVID were still evident. Handwash stations competed with ATMs for floor space. Like cowboy hats at a rodeo — everyone was wearing a mask.  Not many seemed happy about it.

Lim, who’s the only person ever to win “America’s Got Talent” twice, almost didn’t make it to his own premiere. The pandemic profoundly affected the entertainer. “I didn’t leave the house for a whole year,” he told me after the show. “I didn’t practice. I wasn’t in the right headspace, so I purposely did not do magic. With the exception of the occasional Zoom gig, it wasn’t until two months before we opened that I said, ‘It’s time to create.’”

After telling his wife, Casey, that he didn’t want to continue doing the show, she was incredulous — and encouraged him to return to the stage — and to rethink his approach to magic. “People are hostile, and they’re confused. I didn’t know how the audience was going to react,” Shin said. “However, it was in that moment that I knew that I had to make a change to the show. The show pre-pandemic was different. We were all different then. So we had to go deeper with this show, and instead of thrill them, maybe we inspire them.”

Colin Cloud, a mentalist who opens for Lim in his Vegas show, recalls feeling similarly apprehensive. “I’d never been more terrified in my life when I was thinking about coming back live,” he said. “Had I forgotten how to be a performer? Had they forgotten how to be an audience? Add to that new rules, regulations and masks. What I do truly relies on being able to see people and read them. To adapt to their rhythm, their energy, their reactions to ensure we work in harmony together. This was uncharted territory for everyone.”

It was impossible to tell how many in the audience were vaccinated — but that evening I think we all found a cure for at least some of our troubles. Both Lim and Cloud seemed to have diagnosed the frustrations of the audience, and in so doing created what we used to call a “unification event” — or, if you remembered the ’60s, “a happening.”

Lim said he learned to approach his magic act from a different perspective. “When I was creating this show, it wasn’t as much about the tricks as it was about the emotion of the show,” he said. “There’s just so much visual stuff that you can do. Once you’ve made a card vanish, or someone vanish and then reappear at the back of the theater that’s as far as you can really take it. This show had to be more about the artistry and how magic is the tool or gimmick that is used to portray and give the audience an emotional experience.”

Even though Lim and Cloud’s acts are starkly different from each other, they are strangely in sync. They gel like haggis and tofu. Cloud’s “Scott-ish” rasp is the perfect contrast to Shin’s crisp and endearing sincerity. They mirror not only the cultural diversity of the audience – but also the duality of our pandemic society. Even if the vaccination status of audience members varied, we left united in our incredulity.

“The aim of the show, unlike all other magic shows, is to share our raw skills and talents with the audience,” Cloud said. “It’s literally Shin and I executing these demonstrations unaided, in the moment, achieving truly authentic connections with the audience. Don’t get me wrong, we’re surrounded by the most amazing team of stage hands, audio and visual experts, consultants, directors, stage and production managers who glue it all together and ensure we shine. But Shin is hands down the best in the world at he does, he’s a pioneer, a master and a true visionary of his art.”

And of Lim’s greatest tricks: allowing audience members to see our smiles hidden beneath the masks.

“Shin Lim: LIMitless” with special guest Colin Cloud runs every night but Tuesday and Wednesday at The Mirage Theatre at The Mirage Resort, Las Vegas.