Photography: Francis Augusto
As a 16-year-old growing up in Brazil Rubens Filho dreamed of being a magician and started practicing. He never stopped, and following a successful career in advertising his that dream has transformed into something else – a school called Abracademy which teaches the power of wonder and belief to kids in schools, workers in offices, people suffering mental health challenges and many others besides. This startup takes magic beyond the rabbit and the hat and applies it to the wider social culture because as Filho himself says, “these days the world needs magic.”
Now a 12-person troupe, Abracademy was founded three years ago in London by Filho and fellow magician Alex Pittas, product designer Katy Jackson and coach-facilitator Robert Dewilde. Recent recruits include a squad skilled in Dynamo-style street magic and disciplines such as cardistry: prepare to be wowed when check out Billy Menezes’s Insta feed
“I wanted to build a business with a purpose,” Filho says at his workspace in Farringdon, London, “and I knew that magic could help people learn, grow and develop”. The typical Abracademy workshop includes applying magic to overcoming shyness, creating connections, disrupting thinking, finessing storytelling techniques and exploring the power of imagination and play. They’ve worked with institutions including HSBC, the Tavistock & Portman Trust, and Comic Relief alongside schools serving pupils with special needs. “Think about things like eye contact, hand-eye coordination and learning to perform – these are ways in which magic can help people. It’s amazing to see people go through these transformations and unlock themselves.”
Wonder and belief may sound like nebulous concepts, but Abracademy are also exploring their neuroscientific roots in a partnership with cardsharp academics from Goldsmiths College, analysing how the brain responds to dynamics such as perception and expectation. Think of the response to an incredible trick: first you’re held in suspense, next your mind is blown and finally you experience the joy wonderment (and if you’re a spoilsport, you insist on knowing how it worked). Either way, as Filho says, “Magic uses glitches in the brain. It plays with how decisions are made and the gaps between true and false memory.”
Far from demystifying magic, the company’s work with neuroscientists, street magicians and facilitators is aimed at creating more magic, play and performance in places where it’s needed most – and in schools, offices and other places where it’s becoming harder and harder to connect with others.