Reprinted by permission of MAGIC Magazine, Las Vegas, Nevada, www.magicmagazine.com

Magic Magazine - November 2008 | By Steven Sokulski
Villa Livera - The House That Gio Built

Giovanni Livera is a tough man to keep track of. His personal history in the world of magic is marked with such notable experiences as producing halftime shows for several sports venues, including the Orlando Magic basketball team, creating and performing with his own flea circus, and edging his way into the highly competitive world of tradeshow magic. Ultimately, his passion for close-up magic won him the IBM Gold Cups in 1991. More recently, his talents as a motivational speaker have led him to become adistinguished member of the National Speakers’ Association Hall of Fame, the oratory equivalent of the coveted Gold Cups.

When asked what drove him from one discipline to another, the energetic Italian responds, “I moved on when it wasn’t as much fun anymore.” But while he removed himself from the world of the fulltime closeup entertainer, he has never taken magic out of his life or his work.

Governed by what he refers to as his “funmeter,” it’s no surprise that Livera’s central Florida home would be just as interesting and fun-filled as he is. Villa Livera — as the house is referred to by Gio, his wife, and their two daughters — has all the charm of a home in the Italian countryside and more tricks up its sleeve than it lets on. Even before entering the house, the playful tone is set — or rung. The doorbell doesn’t emit the usual doorbell sound; instead, it sounds like the loud ringing of a church bell.

Inside the house, a parted curtain to one side of the entryway reveals a small room, replete with plush pillows. Middle Eastern drapery hangs from the ceiling, adding to the décor. “This room is so multi-functional,” Livera notes. “Great for reading, board games — we’ve even held a séance in here.”

“It has always been my dream to design my own house,” he adds as he heads toward the kitchen. “My interest in architecture has made that a prominent goal.” So far, the kitchen looks normal enough, until Gio coyly presses a button on the wall, activating an endless hallway in the pantry. The effect shows a floor-to-ceiling wine pantry that curves off into the distance for what looks like hundreds of yards.

Next, upstairs for a quick demonstration of one of the many bits of technical wizardry that went into the home automation system: an array of electronics that controls much of Villa Livera’s functionality, including lighting, audiovisual, and climate control. On an indoor balcony that overlooks the living room, Gio pushes a button on the wall. All at once, the lights in the living room dim, the music fades, and a light brightly illuminates the landing. “We call this the ‘toasting balcony’ — great for parties,” he smiles, making it apparent that his passion for entertaining flows abundantly into his personal life.

Heading back downstairs, we pass through the home’s large living room. Giovanni refers to the style of his residence as Tuscan Carnival, the high drapery and stonelined fi replace accenting the Mediterranean influence. But what about the carnival? Gio leads the way toward a set of double doors, which reveal a room decorated in dark purple. A bar is positioned on one end, a stage on the other. In between sits a couch and a large open space. “This is where we hold a lot of our parties,” he points out. “We’ve got a projection system for movies and lots of fun tricks built into the room.”

A built-in ticket booth does double duty as a puppet theater, and a large, ornate wooden showcase sits beside it. “Wait here just a second,’ he says again, disappearing from view. A curtain soon lifts from the case and Giovanni’s disembodied head comes into view. “We used to use this on tour,” he explains, his voice distorted by a special sound system designed for the prop. “Now it stays here year-round.” The “tour” he refers to was a series of trade shows, on which Gio worked with Terry Ward. Ward — or at least his head — would appear in the box as he portrayed “Hedric, the Small Medium at Large.”

Livera next directs attention towards a diminutive door at his feet. The door opens, a mouse pops his head out, looks around, and disappears back into the hole. The mouse

[From left, facing page] The floating wine bottle magically pours. An exterior view of Villa Livera. Pepino and Maria inhabit the walls. The stage across the room from the bar, and Gio’s prop drawer. Pepino’s plushly appointed mouse house. Gio entertains behind the bar. Secrets revealed behind the bookcase. Giovanni’s disembodied head speaks to guests.
is named Pepino, and he seems to live quite cozily in his well-appointed mouse-hole apartment. As Gio points his guests’ view up the wall, they see a small balcony with a set of miniature French doors. Behind the French doors, the silhouettes of two mice are seen. A romantic interlude takes place between Pepino and his girlfriend, Maria, complete with mouse-like sound effects.

“My friend Kerry Pollock worked on that one, along with the rest of the technology in the house,” Gio notes, displaying a small remote of the type you might use to unlock your car. Pollock is the electronics wizard responsible for a number of effects used by magicians, both in their performances and elsewhere, as in the Villa Livera.

Stepping behind the bar, Giovanni returns the remote control to his pocket and prepares to demonstrate the rest of the unique functionality built into this room. Behind him, a jug sits in front of a large mirror. The jug levitates, pouring its contents into a waiting glass before floating back down. The mirror also provides a wide reflection of the performer on the stage, a useful bonus for any magician. “That was more of an accident,” adds Livera. “It just sort of worked out.” He makes use of this regularly, rehearsing tricks to be performed during keynote speeches and corporate events. Among the routines he still uses in his presentations is “Pasta Opera,” in which Gio destroys a spectator’s watch only to have it reappear in a jar of tomato sauce. With over 85 performances a year, this room sees a lot of rehearsals.

Pressing another button on the remote control causes the lampshades on either side of the bar to spin, their tassels extending and whirling wildly. These can comically accent a spectator’s sneeze, or they might highlight other gags when Gio performs the Three-Shell Game or other close-up magic behind the bar.

On the opposite side of the room, the stage is backed by a thick velvet drape. Drawing back the curtain, Livera shows that the performer onstage can play to the audience in the room or to a patio behind the house, with a lake in the distance.

Bookshelves lining the walls of the room are covered with memorabilia of all sorts. Somewhere among the scores of books, Giovanni pulls a lever, and a section of bookshelf gives way. Behind it, a secret passage leads to a discreet spiral staircase that heads back upstairs. To the side of the staircase hang some of the well-known stretching paintings from the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland — three lithographs and one original.

As we reach the second story, we are outside the master suite, set behind a pair of double doors. “I’ve always wanted to live above a theater. Being able to design the house this way was a big bonus for me,’ Giovanni comments. “We laid the house out so that we could entertain and hold teaching sessions here without letting the guests disrupt our home completely.” That was before Livera’s motivational business moved into its newest location, TimeCompass.

Giovanni exhales to comically spin a lampshade. The seemingly endless wine cellar. Sunset in the yard behind the Villa. The Livera family cutting the ribbon to open TimeCompass. Inside “the learning center,” the hand on the ceiling clock points toward one of the curtained destination portals, as an electric train circles the room.

Referred to by Livera and his staff simply as “the learning center,” the newly completed facility provides office space as well as a classroom that is far from traditional. “Our old location was a typical office suite. Great for day-to-day operations, but it wasn’t the kind of place you could teach and inspire in,” says Giovanni.

Once again, Gio’s fun-meter urged him forward. After having taken the live version of his book, Live A Thousand Years, to companies across the country, Livera searched for a way to turn the tables and bring the clients directly to him. Organizing events in his own space allows him to spend more time at home with his family, as well as engineer more complex presentations that utilize his custom facility.

“Live A Thousand Years is more than a book,” he explains. “The idea came to me following the disasters of 9/11. Just as the nation was beginning to cope with the loss, my wife and I discovered we were to be having our first child. Faced with both a terrible piece of news and the best news I had ever heard, I was struck with a feeling that one should be living every moment of life to the fullest.” It was a simple idea. Most people only take advantage of a small number of opportunities in their lives. By utilizing every opportunity to the fullest and living every moment possible, one could effectively live one thousand years.

Describing the experience, he says, “It’s a little like The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People meets Willy Wonka.”

The glowing gold walls of the round room provide the perfect backdrop for five vibrant banners, each displaying artwork for the “journeys” of the Live A Thousand Years program. Each of the banners is revealed as a thick curtain parts at Gio’s command. On the ceiling, a large clock hand is used to designate which phase of the session the group is currently embarking upon. In addition to the motorized banners and curtains and a host of large flat-screen televisions, the room also features a strobe effect accompanied by foam lightning bolts and brains falling from the ceiling. This, of course, signals a “brainstorm.” The Time- Compass experience also includes a train that circles the room after a travel illustration, color-changing lighting effects, and 3-D surround sound. Although not necessarily magical effects, these — and a myriad of other such tricks and treats Livera and Pollock have designed into the facility — are married with Gio’s ever-energetic style of showmanship to create a truly magical, lifechanging experience for his clients.

“I tried to make this as visually interesting as possible,” Gio says. “Who wants to use a black-and-white word document to plan their life?”

Livera notes, “It is definitely driving us to create new experiences to present here.” His perseverance and history of success indicate that anything he has a hand in creating is sure to be a delight.

Steven Sokulski, the audio-visual director for MAGIC Live!, has also worked on projects for the IBM and SAM. While doing an internship at Walt Disney World recently, he had the opportunity to visit “Gio Livera World.”















 

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