Madame Esmerelda Fallendo, an endearing old gypsy queen with broad but stooped shoulders and a stout 6-foot frame, has every intention of misleading audience members at Theatre on the Square tonight. Brushstrokes of expertly applied makeup conceal her masculine facial features, and a decorative head scarf covers her cropped hair. Robed in a flowing, full-length dress (think: Stevie Nicks circa 1982), Madame Esmerelda will take the stage to perform a few tricks and to emcee Indy Magic Monthly's 7th Annual Halloween Special.
Tonight Taylor Martin, aka Madame Esmerelda, will host the show as a gypsy woman, but he's also know to perform in full drag as the lovely buxom blond Andrea Merlyn, Queen of Magic, as Shammi Baye Fakkir and a number of other female characters. But Martin slips just as easily into male characters such as Rodney the Younger, Colonial Conjurer, or even as himself -- a magic historian, performer, master of ceremonies and producer of Indy Magic Monthly.
"I'm considered transgendered, and I'm a professionally trained actor, so it just feels right," says Martin, who has been performing for more than 50 years.
Married for decades to Deborah, his college sweetheart, Martin is all too familiar with things that aren't quite as they seem. "It just works. We live on the East Side; she's a retired schoolteacher, and we've been married 36 years," he says. "When I go on stage I'm being myself [when in drag], being honest. It's like, 'Here's some deception. Sit back and enjoy it.'"
He says that most people who come to magic shows don't care how the tricks are done; they just love to watch.
If he or any of his eight characters look familiar, that's because he's taken his "illusionistory" (knowledge and history of magic) from Conner Prairie and the Indianapolis Historical Society to IndyFringe, private engagements, festivals and every place in between, locally and nationally.
Indy Magic Monthly, which he created and now emcees, remains one of only about 15 or 20 regularly scheduled magic shows in the United States. With it, Martin brings in local and national magicians to perform before a live audience the first Tuesday of each month, and he says it attracts some of the best talent in the country.
"The theater is a good place to succeed, but it's also a good place to fail," Martin says. "The magicians who perform at Indy Magic Monthly want to do well. So they're good and they have good shows."
Martin should know, he's watched a couple thousand magic shows, even though he says research indicates the average person will see only seven throughout his or her lifetime.
Friends with Teller of the famous "Penn and Teller" duo, Martin says being a great magician requires a lot of skills.
"You're only as good as your last show," Martin explains. "If you're a good magician and, for example, you drop your cards during a card trick, you pick 'em up and continue and your audience doesn't even remember it when your show is over. But if you're not good, that's all they'll remember about your act."
Martin says the theater setting brings out the best of the best because unlike with televised magic shows, there's no editing out mistakes in live acts.
Among his vast knowledge of all things magical, Martin says whether you're performing at a bar mitzvah or the Bellagio in Vegas, all magic originates from the same seven types of tricks: vanishing/reappearing acts; mentalism (you feel someone touching you from across the room)/escapes (think: Houdini moves); cut/restore (sword through someone lying in a box); multiplication (one coin in a hand becomes two with the tap of a wand); transmutation/transformation (a silver coin in a cup changes to a copper coin).
Tonight guests of all ages can watch Madame Esmerelda host a special Halloween show at TOTs. Ran D. Shine will be the featured magician. Known nationally for his ability to educate audiences about the African-Americans' history in the art of magic, Shine was a guest of President Obama's in the White House. Also in the night's lineup is Daniel Lee, who'll have a spooky set of tricks up his sleeve and "The Great Loudini," Indiana's youngest escape artist. At only 11 years old, he will maneuver his way out of a straightjacket.
A creative costume will earn one lucky guest two tickets to Masters of Illusion at the Old National Centre this Thursday. The costume contest will be during tonight's intermission.
For tickets prices or additional information, visit the Indy Magic Monthly website.