Now that the vibrant hues of green leaves and golden afternoons give way to the burnt-orange fallen foliage that swiftly blows along downtown sidewalks, folks can enjoy a new offering at Browncoat Pub and Theatre just in time for Halloween. The local venue, which routinely hosts an abundance of original productions, recently has welcomed back paranormal illusionist Aiden Sinclair to their intimate setting with his show, “The Séance.”
Hailing from Cheyenne, Wyoming, Sinclair previously has wowed the likes of Howie Mandel and Will Smith. His accolades are ever present in his most recent act at Browncoat. Going in to the night of macabre, I had no idea what to expect. A few guests raised their hands when asked if they were familiar with Sinclair’s work, but I was a blank slate ready to be taken on whatever journey was in store. I anticipated there may be some light tricks to give the impression that a few restless spirits had entered the room; instead, I was met with a night of magic—perfectly guised as a séance.
Each showing (there are four a night) has a different featured artifact: On Friday, it was an Ouija board. It’s not a séance in the sense that everyone joins hands and chants; instead, Sinclair intertwines magic tricks with stories of possession and even a little ghostly history about the Titanic.
The show begins as a batch of 12 brave souls enter Browncoat’s theater. The stage is replaced with an ominous-looking room. Browncoat’s owner, Richard Davis, gives heed that anyone wishing to leave should do so before broaching the confines of the room. Davis informs that strange occurrences have taken hold of the theater and pub since Sinclair’s haunted artifacts have been kept there. He then enforces everyone turn off their cell phones (apparently, the spirits don’t like them), and requires each participant to sign a waiver. Davis’ set up draws a nervous laugh from the crowd (and for me an eye roll), but deep down it does leave one considering whether or not he should step foot past the point of no return. The charged energy begets a needed uncertainity to fully enjoy the show.
Upon giving consent to a wild night of spooky fun, guests file into the tiny room. The walls of the tightly sealed tomb are adorned with blood-red paint. A Southern gothic mystique perfectly sets up a moody mien, perfect for raising the dead. Tables with old, black-and-white photos mark each corner of the room, and benches covered in velvety black fabric line the walls. In the center sits a table, surrounded by black carpet. Participants are warned to keep their appendages out of its vicinity, as it’s the most spiritually charged area of the room. In an instance, the lights are flickering and giving way to total darkness. Then, the night’s guest of honor appears and takes the reins of the evening’s events.
The production is nothing if not hokey, but in a positive way. Sleights-of-hand swiftly take hold of the viewers. From card tricks to chicanery with cell phone ringtones, Sinclair’s showmanship leaves audiences guessing and wanting more.
Sinclair manages to maintain the energy throughout the show’s entirety. His years of experience take over the room, as he knows how to engage the audience full-heartedly. Sinclair can discern which participants are ripe to be picked on and which tasks he should give them. (I was enlisted to run the paranormal activity detector over Sinclair’s body to ensure he had no devices that would trigger a response.) Keeping the audience involved is key to any magic show.
The night of eerie splendor largely relies on the charisma of its host. It doesn’t matter who’s a firm believer in the occult or who’s a skeptic; everyone is there for one purpose: to be entertained. “The Séance” certainly doesn’t lack in any shortage of spirited ringmasters. Both Davis and Sinclair have the required conviction to force audiences to leave their reservations at the door and let the night take them where it will. Honestly, that’s what it’s all about.
As well, Sinclair knows how to evoke a precise balance of fear and humor. The night never becomes so serious that the nonbeliever feels alienated, but it also never enters the realm of outlandish camp, wherein even the most frightened of guests feels at ease. There are enough laughs to enjoy, but it never compromises the grave atmosphere. People always say comedy is the hardest genre to achieve, and horror—especially live horror—is a close second. Sinclair succeeds at both.
Only problem: It doesn’t last long enough. Each night there are four showings, and I felt like the fun was just getting started when the lights came up. While getting out of the claustrophobic, hot room certainly was a relief, I could have toughed it out for one or two more tricks. I also would’ve enjoyed more interaction with the haunted artifact. It’s too scary a prop to be used really for only one trick.
Overall, “The Séance” is a blast. Each show is different, so there’s always the promise of a completely new, fresh return trip if one didn’t get enough the first time. Annually, Halloween is a time in which the spirits walk with the living, and whether or not there were ghosts in that room is of no concern because Davis and Sinclair believe it—and they make everyone there buy into it, too.
Bowncoat Pub and Theatre
111 Grace St.
Everyday (except Monday), Oct. 22- Nov. 1, 7 p.m.; 8 p.m.; 9 p.m.; 10 p.m.