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Now You See It Now You Really See It?
By Simon Tait - artsindustry

Prestidigitation is simplified by the phrase "the quickness of the hand deceives the eye" the operative word being "deceives". So magic is really deception achieved by concealing part of the operation.

Barrie Westwell takes the same view as Penn and Teller, the illusionists whose speciality is making the audience part of the show, and invites his audience into the mysteries of the illusion leaving them key elements still to ponder, an important part of what he does.
What he does is what used to be called "light entertainment"- theatre, comedy, a bit of drama, even some fear thrown in. But chiefly it's teaching “What I'm doing is using illusion and theatrical presentation to stop people in their tracks and make them think differently about negotiating and selling, inspiring, empowering - and, if you like, to have lateral thought about what they're actually doing or trying to achieve" he says.
He is one of a growing number of artists and performers who are providing a new dimension to the corporate process, helping managers to think out of the box".

Westwell does it for all sorts of organisations: Glaxo Smith Kline was an early client before the pharmaceuticals multinational merged into an even bigger one; the construction giant Skanska; the South West London Regional Health Authority for which he ran part of an away-day which, said its chief executive, "helped with our team building and also underlined the power of laughter when making difficult decisions";

Disney, The Inns of Court; Oracle, the database supplier; even a gathering of psychiatrists and GP's.

A session can take a variety of forms, but the effect is the same in showing how language use, psychology and, perhaps most important of all, preparation can improve interaction in the business process.

Barrie Westwell does not conform to the usual image of a magician. Large and genial, he began working life as an engineer, did day release courses to become a Member of The Institute of Production Engineers and seemed set for a career in making things, in the north-west of England. Instead aged 22 he set off for London and found a job selling machine tools, living in a tiny bed-sit off Baker Street and filling in his spare time by joining a series of amateur dramatic societies. “It was a good way to meet girls, and I got involved with old time music hall that we toured round hospitals"

Later, selling business systems for National Cash Registers, he was asked to devise some entertainment for the annual convention. He devised an old time music hall but changed the songs and sketches with modern references, "It was the time of

Round The Horn
on the radio, so we had Julian and Sandy selling office equipment" "It went down a storm and a bit later I was asked to devise a series of sketches called Know Your Company, which we travelled, and this set me off on another direction of performing & presentation.

It seems a short step from that to Illusions Unlimited, but before that there was a considerable diversion through pleasure cruises and television which was to help hone his art.

Through contacts, Westwell got himself on board a Mediterranean cruise ship on a two week holiday relief job working spotlights, after using his engineering expertise to reorganise the stage and rigging in the cramped surroundings, he returned home to find a letter asking him to go on the ship for the season. Without hesitation he threw up his well paid job.  "My view was if I don't do it now I never will."

The 1970s oil crisis ended the cruising, and theatre for a non-union worker was closed, but he was welcomed by the BBC to build sets. Six years later he'd moved into production and was head of 600-strong team, building sets for the likes of The Morecambe and Wise Show, The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Tenco - "it was a mini-Hollywood". He also got a business management qualification while with the BBC.

In the mid 80s he joined an independent production company and after five years set up his own, Independent Production House I.P.H. which forms infrastructures for independent productions - lawyers, accountants and project managers that understood the business and were trusted by other independent companies and broadcasters. IPH won a BAFTA for the Disney Channel Kids Awards TV event and a Silver Medal at the New York Film Festival for a children's six part drama, also for Disney.

When the Disney contract which had occupied him almost full-time, ended, Westwell indulged his hobby of the past ten years - with the help of Ravensbourne College of Design and Communications.

I'd been doing bits of magic at dinner parties, collecting illusions and puzzles from all over the world. I'd already done some lectures at Ravensbourne on business finance, and Professor Jeremy Barr, thought I could use some of those skills in a business and enterprise course for BA honours students. It spread from there.

"It goes back to ancient Egypt, if not further, when priests and shamans used illusions to establish their power behind the throne" he says.

"Magic has always been used as a source of influence, but also at another level, in street markets to gather crowds and sell stuff. That's a big intellectual range."
Working from home, his workroom is a library of books and boxes of magical illusions. "It's a theatrical art which has its place in the business world" Barrie Westwell says.

“It's value is that it makes you think creatively whilst using all your senses ".

© copyright Westwell Associates 2007