Jeanette Andrews
Photo by Saverio Truglia

Are you finding it impossible to peel your eyes away from the television screen searching for updates on the pandemic? Do you keep refreshing your feeds in need of news? Would you appreciate a momentary distraction to provide an oasis of wonder during this crazy time?

Sensory illusionist Jeanette Andrews’ new venture “Magic by Telephone” may be the answer, as it connects callers with an awe-inspiring experience that is comforting and joyful for people of all ages.

Andrews is known across the Chicago area—and the country—for her unique performances that combine science, history, art and, of course, magic.

When COVID-19 caused Illinois to go into a complete shut-down on March 21, Andrews knew she would have to adapt in order to continue sharing her art form. She pulled the proverbial rabbit out of her hat by combining a few ideas that she had been pondering, and researching, for years to create the new experience of “Magic by Telephone.”

Upon dialing 855-296-2442 (855-BY-MAGIC), callers hear Andrews greeting them by saying, “Thank you for calling the Magic Hotline. Please enjoy something that will look and feel a lot like a magic trick in the comfort of your own home.”

Callers then follow prompts to choose their own illusion using a deck of cards, dictionary or their own hands.

“A big part of what was important to me about this piece was the accessibility of it and making sure that it was free for everybody to access with absolutely zero strings. Everybody who has a phone and knows the number can call,” explained Andrews.

“Magic by Telephone” is technically very different from Andrews’ typical performance style, which is often experienced as parlor magic or strolls through crowds that can’t believe their eyes. Though that visual piece isn’t possible by phone, Andrews still incorporates many of the thematic concepts of her live work by incorporating history–“Magic by Telephone” is in part an homage to the 1969 “Art by Telephone” exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago – as well as community.

“It’s something that people can participate in with whomever is in their household,” said Andrews. “There is still that kind of hyperlocal community experience, but then people are also sharing it on social media and have that community aspect to it too, which is very different. Those are very different forms of a community experience than what is typically done with my live work.”

The experience is also designed with a layered approach, so a young child can fully enjoy the wonder of seeing their card emerge, while others may find a larger sense of fascination with the project’s historic connotations as well as its use of technology–cellphones, telephones–as a means of connection.

Above all else, Andrews hopes the experience can provide callers with a momentary distraction from the worries of the world.

“It is really my hope–and this was my hope in making it – that if somebody is finding themselves in a really stressful day, or maybe in a particularly stressful moment, they can give a call and get anywhere between three and 15 minutes of reprieve,” said Andrews. “Your mind won’t be able to focus on anything else but this as you follow the prompts.”

“We need these forms of escapism right now. There’s still an ongoing need to be talking, thinking or doing anything that ‘isn’t about this.’”

More information about “Magic by Telephone”–as well as Andrews’ virtual magic programs – can be found at or on Instagram.

(Photo by Saverio Truglia)

Laurie Fanelli is a Chicago-based writer and photographer who specializes in live entertainment coverage. She is at home at major music festivals like Coachella, Bonnaroo and, of course, Lollapalooza and...