In & Of Itself: An Exploration of Identity

“We are all the unreliable narrators of each other’s stories.”

Derek DelGaudio

Light spoilers regarding some details of the performance.

In & Of Itself was a stage show/performance put on by magician and storyteller Derek DelGaudio that had over five hundred performances in New York City, and culminated in a movie-documentary released on Hulu. It is a performance that combines elements of storytelling, performance art, and magic. This movie has gotten extremely positive reviews, and even has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I can promise you that this is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before in the sense of how interactive the performance is, and how much it forces you think about who you are and how people view you.

The movie shows a cut of DelGaudio’s various performances that are edited together to make it look like one performance. Each show only had around 150 people crammed in a small theatre, due to the fact that it is a very intimate experience where each person in the audience plays a role. Before each show, every member of the audience is tasked with picking a card from a wall that represents their identity. Every card starts with the words “I AM” and has a label that could be an occupation, a character trait, or something more abstract. Examples are I am a teacher, I am an adventurer, I am a skeptic, or I am nobody.

The performance begins with DelGaudio explaining how we are all asked the same two questions in our lives. When we are children, we are asked what we want to be when we grow up, and later in life we are asked what we do—which is another way of asking what we have become. DelGaudio notes how it’s never enough just to have a name; people need to have something to call us, an identity. Throughout each story and magic trick DelGaudio performs, identity is the key theme that brings it all together, and the main message is that identity is an illusion. However, DelGaudio seems unsatisfied throughout the performance and is constantly looking back at the six props behind him that represent the six barrels of a gun, a direct reference to the first story told in the performance.

As the performance goes on, DelGaudio begins to warm up to the audience and has moments of genuine connection with these complete strangers. We even get to see a magical spectacle where an audience member is seeing something that has an incredibly deep emotional meaning to them and them only.

This is a mix of magic show and performance art. DelGaudio uses storytelling to beautifully capture the feelings of not being seen and not knowing who you truly are because everyone sees you differently. Along the way, he uses participants in the audience and brings them up to the stage to interact with them for a trick. A key aspect DelGaudio’s performance was that each time, he would ask a single audience member to come to the stage, and he would show them a large folder with sketches and paragraphs of people who had previously come to the show. He explained that in each performance, a single audience member is tasked with taking this folder home before the ending of the show and writing down how they imagine the ending will be. The audience member then leaves the show before the ending and is sent home early before anyone else to work on their homework. It’s incredibly interesting to see the amazing sketches and descriptions of what people imagined the ending would be, before they returned the next day and were allowed to witness it.

After a few more stories about his tragic upbringing and the power of the illusion of identity, DelGaudio performs one last trick which is the most emotional, beautiful, moving spectacle that makes every single person in the audience feel seen. The show then ends in a way that connects each story to the very beginning, and DelGaudio gains an understanding of his own identity and why he really is the person he is. With this beautiful ending, we are moved to reflect on how we see ourselves, how people view, and who we really are. We also come to see the illusion of identity and we realize that in the end, we are all the unreliable narrators of each other’s stories.

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