Edinburgh Magic Festival artistic director Kevin McMahon aims to keep lockdown blues at bay with free daily YouTube magic classes for five to 12-year-olds

YOU’LL like this, quite a lot, especially if you’re the parent of kids currently on lockdown.

Kevin McMahon, stage name Kevin Quantum, is Artistic Director of Edinburgh Magic Festival
Kevin McMahon, stage name Kevin Quantum, is Artistic Director of Edinburgh Magic Festival

Edinburgh ‘magician and scientist hybrid’ Kevin Quantum has vowed to take to YouTube every day of the lockdown to teach magic to children from the ages of five to 12.

From mind-blowing mind-reading to making spots appear on dominos, Quantum Magic Lab not only sets out to astound and amaze but also to demonstrate the science and secrets behind the amazing illusions that can be learned and performed at home. Quantum, real name Kevin McMahon, explains how the 15-minute shows came about.

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“After the first few sleepless nights as my diary of live shows completely emptied, my next thoughts were, ‘How can I help here? What’s my role in all this?’ The idea for Quantum Magic Lab came from a parent at my daughter Olivia’s school, who suggested I should do lessons for kids online, as the schools would be cancelled due to the pandemic.

“I waited a few days to think about it and then started them the first week of lockdown, just a day after Joe Wicks started his PE classes.” He grins, “I was thinking that I wanted to be the ‘Joe Wicks of magic’.

The free magic lessons, perfect for anyone stuck at home and keen to learn a new skill run daily, at 12 noon, on Kevin’s YouTube channel.

“The classes last about 15 minutes each but you’ll need to spend a bit more time practising afterwards to get it right,” continues the 39-year-old. But I wanted to make the classes different, not just a magic lesson. So with my science background I decided that I’d try to explain the science behind each of the tricks too.

“So far we’ve covered vanishes, appearances, escapes, potential energy, air pressure and much more. It’s a jumble of stuff that’s fun and educational. Parents may have heard of STEM, the educational buzz-word for Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics. Well I call this M-STEM - Magic with the other science stuff.”

Kevin, who can normally be found performing around the globe, hopes the classes will help parents keep their children occupied during the current pandemic conditions, a challenge he understands only too well as the father of two daughters.

“Lockdown with a six-year-old, Olivia, and a six-week-old, Melody, who has never known true freedom, has been time consuming,” he reflects.

"You don’t really appreciate the job a teacher does until your kid is home with you constantly asking, ‘What shall I do now?’”

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“Fortunately, Olivia has four grans and she spends a lot of time Skypeing and reading books to them. She is also my co-anchor for most of my Quantum Magic Lab YouTube videos. She loves dressing up and performing, she’s a natural, so when we film every couple of days, she’s kept busy.

“With Melody, I’d kind of forgotten how to look after a newborn, it’s been a few years. So I’m gradually coming back to terms again with getting just five hours of broken sleep a night. On the upside, with all my theatre shows around the country cancelled, I’m spending a lot more time at home that I would have done otherwise.”

The reaction to the free magic classes, so far, have all been extremely positive and the magician admits that they have taken him by surprise.

“Four weeks on from starting to do them I now realise, after getting messages from so many parents and kids, just how important these lessons have become to families. It’s so hard to keep a schedule right now with everything up in the air, so for kids and parents to know that for 15 to 30 minutes every day I can keep them occupied, can be a real life saver and something to look forward to.”

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By the end of the classes, Kevin hopes kids viewing will have learned a party trick - “For when parties are allowed again,” he qualifies - and developed an interest in science.

“I want to give them something to look forward to each day, something they can practice with their friends online and show to their families. Magic is really fun, really interesting. For parents, it’s simple, I want to be able to provide them with 30 minutes of peace.”

Unlike his young viewers, Kevin was 24 years old when he got into magic, although he was taught by the best. Midway through studying for his physics PhD, he was given the opportunity to go on the Channel 4 reality TV show, Faking It.

“The idea was to learn a new skill in four weeks and then fool a panel of expert judges,” he explains. “I spent four weeks learning from the best British magicians, then had a week in Vegas, including a master-class with Penn and Teller, before having to convince the late Paul Daniels that I was an actual magician. That was how it all began.”

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The first trick Kevin ever learned, however, came long before that, when his uncle taught him how to make an elastic band jump from one finger to another.

“It blew me away,” he says, “and is now the very first lesson that I teach on Magic Lab. It really means a lot to me.”

His greatest inspirations while filming Faking It were two of the world’s topmost illusionists, he reveals - Penn and Teller.

“They are the best for me, they effortlessly fuse their magic with science, social commentary and politics, which ultimately makes it more meaningful,” he says.

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Despite making it in the magic world, Kevin’s is determined that his academic background also remains central to what he does - his adult shows often tackling weightier issues.

“In my work I make shows that are crossovers between magic and science. For example, my 2018 show, Vanishing Point, was about how tech companies fight for and eventually control your attention using various visual and psychological cues. Exactly as a magician would, but where the intentions of a magician is pretty clear, to create entertainment and wonder, the intentions of large tech companies are often harder to discern. If you’re a bit cynical like me, then I don’t think their intentions are necessarily for my own good or for the good of most people.”

Despite breaking the Guinness World Record for The Largest Magic Lesson here in the Capital a few years back, Kevin confesses that he is delighted by the numbers clicking on to YouTube to watch his shows.

“The first lesson has now been viewed more than 2000 times,” he reveals. “That’s enough to fill the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh. Viewers have come from all around the world. I normally spend two to three months a year on tour in Australia and many of the viewers are watching from as far afield as Adelaide, Perth and Tasmania. I never thought that it would have the impact it’s had or that most of the kids in Edinburgh with even a fleeting interest in magic would have probably watched at least one video... So much so, that when I’m on my daily lockdown-approved walk, I’ve now been recognised three times.

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“That’s very flattering.”

To join Kevin for his daily Quantum Magic Lab go to youtube.com/kevinquantum at noon

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