Friday, September 07, 2012

Unusual magic show about a British lunatic asylum had its roots in Cheyenne

"Battered Bride" by Forrest King
Today's Denver Westword carried a story about an unusual magic show that had its roots in Cheyenne. Denver magician Aiden Sinclair was asked by artist Forrest King to do a magic show in Cheyenne last summer to benefit for the Laramie County Safehouse. You may know Forrest King for his social engaged art. His most famous piece is "Battered Bride" (shown above) that he did in an effort to publicize the plight of the many abuse and battered women amongst us. He's travelled to churches and other venues, artwork in tow, to talk about the issue and to raise funds for Safehouse.
While in Cheyenne, Aiden Sinclair wrote an unusually magic show that revolved around abused women from another time and place. Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum was housed in a gorgeous British mansion. But what happened on the inside was far from gorgeous. Most of its "patients" were women committed bu their well-to-do husbands because it was easier (and cheaper) that getting a divorce. Most women were fairly young when committed, but they usually died there, because the only person who could release them were their husbands, who wielded all the power.
I'll let Westword tell the rest of the story:
At Aiden Sinclair's magic show, you won't see any bunnies pulled out of hats or ladies cut in half. Sinclair describes From a Padded Room: An Evening in Colney Hatch Asylum, which plays at 7 p.m. Saturday, September 8, at the Tattered Cover LoDo event hall in Denver, as an empathic journey back in time to the very real British asylum and the horrible practices that went on in its halls. Beyond the chilling entertainment, $5 from each ticket sold will go to support SafeHouse Denver, which provides emergency shelter, counseling and advocacy for survivors of domestic violence.
We caught up with Sinclair in advance of the show to learn about the history of Colney Hatch and his mission to raise awareness about domestic abuse.
Westword: How did the show come about?
Aiden Sinclair: The show came about by coincidence. A friend of mine in Cheyenne is a gentleman named Forrest King and he's an extremely talented artist. And the cool thing about him is all of his painting is really driven toward social issues that a lot of people don't talk about at all. So he did this painting that's called the "Battered Bride," and the first time I saw this painting it was extremely emotional. It's one of those things that's really hard to look at, but you can't look away at the same time.
So he had approached me about doing some magic at a benefit that he had, and as soon as he asked if I would do a benefit I said absolutely. It kind of struck me that normally when I perform magic for people the object of magic is the suspension of reality -- it's to take people away from the world and bring them into some imaginative creation that's somewhat impossible. Generally as a magician, for eighteen years I've been very happy to take people away from their problems. This, however, seemed like something that you needed to bring people to, not away from. And I thought it was important that if you have a bunch of people getting together to donate money to a cause, they should really be conscious of exactly what it is that they're donating to and that they're helping people.
So we stopped the show and took it off of production and went into pre-production of this show specifically for this cause. Just to raise money for safehouses. So that was the trick. How do you write a show about domestic violence and still have something that's entertaining, that people would want to sit down and watch?
We basically designed the show around this place [Colney Hatch Asylum] and around the tragic tale of what happened to women in those days, and we take people on a very empathic trip back in time. It's not like any magic show that has ever really been done before. There are no card tricks, there are no bunnies out of hats, there is no traditional magic to it. We basically take those patient registries, hand them out to the audience, and we ask audience members to pick a patient. It's a free choice; these books have 500 different people in them, some of them are good, some of them are bad, and you basically will pick a person and become that person in your mind. You'll actually visualize what it would be like to be that person. And it's an extremely emotional experience for folks. It's really a neat show, mainly because it's not physical. It's very cerebral. It's exciting.
The first time we ever did it we presented at an art gallery in Cheyenne. We did four shows over a two day period and they were the most emotionally draining four days I think of my life. About 70 percent of the audience left in tears or visibly shaken. And not in a way that they were scared or anything, it just really struck them. And I wanted the show to have meaning but I was really unprepared for the response that I got, and that has been the consistent response.
To buy tickets for the Tattered Cover event, go to For more information about SafeHouse Denver and 24-hour crisis help, call 303-318-9989 or visit For info about Forrest King, go to

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