Franco-Australian former water ski star nominated for top magic prize

Zatanna tells of magical transition from sport to illusions and mentalism, and how her ‘very British’ show is shortlisted for ‘Oscars’ of the magic world

Zatanna’s prize-nominated show has a ‘very British atmosphere
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Zatanna is one of only a small minority of female magicians in a profession which is still very male-dominated in France.

She is also the only transgender woman.

Born in Paris, 50-something Zatanna has joint French-Australian citizenship and lived in Australia for many years before returning in 2018 to be closer to family on the Riviera.

One of her shows, Zatanna – Aux frontières de la Transcendance, has been chosen for 2023’s awards for the spectacle magique de l’année prize of French magic federation FFAP in the ‘mentalism’ category.

Pic: Zatanna

This is a kind of magic in which performers appear to show extraordinary powers of intuition and mind-reading. Judges saw her perform at this summer’s Avignon fringe.

Zatanna is thrilled to have been picked after an incognito visit, along with two well-known French magicians, Taha Mansour and Fabien Olicard, whom she called “the French Derren Brown”.

“Even if I prefer Derren, it’s not bad going!” she said. “This is the only French contest where they judge a magic show.

There are others which judge magicians on a performance of five to 10 minutes at a contest, but that’s different.

“The judges will come back during a performance of the nominated show – I won’t know when – then they’ll decide.

“So, I’ll have to go on performing that one, but I love doing it.

Very British atmosphere

“It’s magic and mentalism plus storytelling, with a very British atmosphere, with stories about Scotland Yard, Arthur Conan Doyle and the Titanic.

“I’ve got an old British postbox on stage, and a crime scene with ribbons saying ‘do not cross’.”

Zatanna said a mentalist “needs a good memory, and knowledge of psychology, philosophy and maths, and to be witty, reactive and quick on your feet.

“I especially enjoy acts where I can do a cold reading of what someone is thinking of.

“Sometimes things can happen and you’ve got a kind of miracle on your hands where you weren’t expecting it. You can get inside the minds of your audience.”

Making spectators ‘forget their everyday troubles’

She added: “I love seeing the amazement on spectators’ faces and to make them forget their everyday troubles, or Covid or the economy.

“For an hour-and-a-half, they are in another world.”

She suggests people do not try to ‘work out the trick’. “If they’re doing that, I’m not doing my job properly.

“I have to get them involved in a story, then they won’t think about it. Maybe they will afterwards, but not when they’re watching it.”

Currently performing at Nice’s Théâtre du Cours, Zatanna originally followed her performing dream with acting lessons in Paris in her 20s, including with John Strasberg, son of renowned US ‘Method’ acting teacher Lee, after which she had a brief stage, film and television career in France.

“With the Actors’ Studio style, I liked the fact you had to be the character – you and the character are one. It’s an ‘inside job’, unlike classical theatre, which is just that the costume and text must be done well.

“All my favourite actors were from the Actors’ Studio, like Brando, De Niro, Pacino – people that really get the feeling inside.”

Club Med beginnings

In the 1990s, she joined the team of gentils organisateurs (GOs) at Club Med, which combined a love of sport with evening performances.

“It was there [at a winter resort in the Alps] that I got my first taste for magic, in the early 90s,” she said.

“I had a snow-skiing accident and couldn’t finish my season because of a damaged Achilles tendon. “I worked during my rehabilitation in a nightclub in Guildford, owned by an old ski student. That’s when I discovered magic.

“One of the doormen used to do a bit. I talked to him and he sent me to Davenports in London. I went there and started to learn.” Sadly, Davenports, the world’s oldest family-run magic shop, closed in 2020 after 122 years.

“I bought trick card decks and books there and learned to do things with regular cards as well, and fell in love with magic.

“When I went back to Club Med, I started practicing in my free time. “I even did it during a year on board Club Med 2, a huge [200m] five-masted boat [one of the world’s largest cruise sailing ships].

“That was when I went to Australia for the first time.”

Transition into champion water skier

Her interest in sports led to a diploma in coaching and a water skiing career, which saw her become French champion in 2001, Australian champion in 2008 and a bronze medallist in the world championships in 2005.

“It was around 2007 I decided to go into magic full-time,” she said.

“I was doing it part-time and getting more and more inquiries and was getting older for sport and getting too many injuries.

“It started with private parties and corporate work, then in Australia I had a big illusion show, with assistants.

“I was doing the classics, like cutting a person in half. I was getting people up on stage and making them levitate. “I was putting swords through a box. I had seven or eight doves, a parrot, a rabbit and a fish!

I was Western Australia magician of the year three years in a row.”

Only transgender female magician performing in France

She is the only transgender female magician performing in France, having had a transition part-way through her magic career.

She thinks she is the only one in the EU, although in the UK Fay Presto is well-known. “I’ve met her a couple of times, she’s fantastic. “Also Cara Hamilton [from Scotland], a lovely lady who is a mentalist and spirit medium.”

Zatanna makes no secret of being transgender – the word is in the name of her nominated show – and she hopes to help blaze a trail for other LGBT people.

Even so, she said it was nerve-wracking when she came out, around eight years ago, after more than 10 years in the magic business in Australia.

At first she felt “really scared”, she said. “I had no idea if people would accept it. But I did a test. “At the clubs I sometimes dressed as characters, like Inspector Clouseau from the Pink Panther or the Joker from Batman, so I came dressed as a woman one time.

“It took a while for some of them to recognise me, but to them it was just another character. “I wanted to see their reaction. “I was very nervous but it was well received. It was a change from the classic magician who’s always doing the same stuff.

“So, at the next meeting of the Western Australia Magic Club, I came out.

Came out to standing ovation

“I said you’ve seen me as Zatanna – that’s how I’m going to present myself in life and my shows all the time. “I felt this inside me but it took me 50 years to come out. I hope you’ll still be my friends.

“I was really surprised, because they gave me a standing ovation and came up to give me a hug and said it was brave and fantastic. “They were very supportive. I get goosebumps talking about it as it’s a memory I will cherish.”

She came back to France to be closer to her mother and has been building up her career in the south, in theatres and for private events.

“I entered the FFAP awards a couple of years ago, but my show wasn’t as good then,” she said. “I’m really glad to be nominated now, along with some of the best magicians in France.

The results will be out in autumn next year.”

Zatanna said Derren Brown is one of her mentalism heroes, as well as American Max Maven, who died last month. “I met Max half a dozen times. He was adorable and gave me tips.

I checked with him that my newspaper trick was original.” The trick involves tearing up a paper with a spectator, who keeps one piece and circles a word at random, then restoring the paper with that piece torn out, and then making it whole again.

You can see it here.

“In general magic, there’s [American] David Copperfield, but for card tricks, the Spanish Juan Tamariz and Dani DaOrtiz are the best cardmen in the world.”

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