Many people have had an uncle or a cousin who pulls out a deck of cards at a family gathering to keep the young folk entertained. Beyond that, seeing a magician at a children’s party, or the experience of seeing David Copperfield perform in Las Vegas, live magic shows are a rare form of popular entertainment. However, starting today, the world’s best-selling touring magic show, THE ILLUSIONISTS — LIVE FROM BROADWAY, will have a week long engagement at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, as part of its 45 city tour.
THE ILLUSIONISTS, which is produced by Simon Painter, Tim Lawson, and MagicSpace Entertainment, offers audiences of all ages a show that is filled with comedy, death-defying stunts, live music, and performances by seven illusionists — each with their own specialty. Among the seven is Dan Sperry (aka The Anti-Conjuror). Sperry, whom has been described as Marilyn Manson meets David Copperfield, has a very colorful resume, which includes: headlining at the Magic Castle when he was only 17, multiple appearances on the TV series “Masters of Illusion,” an appearance on “America’s Got Talent,” and creating illusions for Jane’s Addiction’s “Great Escape Artist” tour. Recently, the Weekly spoke with Sperry about working with Jane's and about THE ILLUSIONISTS.
OC WEEKLY (Scott Feinblatt): How was working with Jane’s Addiction?
Dan Sperry: It was awesome! I remember listening to them and looking up to them back when I was younger — I was a little kid, and I remember they were on Saturday Night Live as a musical guest, and Perry Farrell was just a nutcase. And I was just thinking like, "Holy crap! What are these guys about?" [Many years later] Jane's Addiction's manager had been kind of paying attention to our show at the Sydney Opera House and knew our producer, Simon Painter, a little bit, and Jane's wanted to put some sort of illusion or magic type thing in their upcoming live tour. They'd seen some of the stuff that I did and wanted to know if they could incorporate some of the existing stuff that I was already doing — that wasn't exactly a magic trick, but like a magical visual, I guess you could say — and incorporate that, and then a couple magic trick type things. And then, next thing I know, I'm in Perry Farrell's living room, up in the hills, drinking Diet Cokes or something, and he's going over the set design of the show and all of this stuff with the tour, and it was really cool.
Very cool. So, how did you get involved with THE ILLUSIONISTS show?
[During] summer 2011, there was a guy who was working with our producers, Simon Painter and Tim Lawson. He was sort of charged with the task of being almost like a finder, a scout. So he was going through Google, YouTube, all that stuff, and he was involved in the entertainment field of magic shows, so he knew some of us by reputation. Others he kind of had to search out. It was kind of interesting because when the initial call came through, they'd tell us the details, ask if we were interested, and they would ask us who are some of the people that we thought would be a good fit for the show, and in a lot of ways, some of the original cast sort of wound up recommending each other, which was kind of cool.
[For their final selections,] they had some criteria, like: they had to make sure that nobody was like any other person in the show, so like one guy was cast as the guy who would do big illusions, and there's another guy who would do the comedy stuff, and then there was, you know, me, and there was a mind reader. They wanted to make sure that everybody was different but could support the show and bring something good to the show, and the other criteria was that they could perform live; there are so many guys on the Internet who are getting popular with magic now — be it on Instagram or Vine or YouTube. They can perform really great for a webcam or their cellphone camera, but if they need to do, and be a part of a two hour, big, live show — or even just a live show in general — they can't really do that.
Once the producers had made their selections, what happened next?
Next thing, we're flying to Vegas, and we're up in this suite at The Venetian, with legal pads, and we're just writing down ideas. It's probably what a sitcom writer sit down is like, you know: "What do you got? What are you going to do? I've got this routine. I've got this bit. Okay, That could work good if so and so does that part, and then that could transition into you." We just kind of made a loose outline of the show in one day of just being locked up in this suite at the Venetian, and that's kind of how it came to be.
What is the format of the show? Do the individual illusionists get up there and take their turn, or is it a big unified theme? How does it work?
It's a little bit of both, actually. A little bit where we're all doing a montage type thing, you know like an ensemble. And there are also parts where we break away and do our various bits, as a featured spot throughout the show. There are also huge, moving, flat screen LEDs that have live video projected on them. We have two cameras; one's at the back of the theater, and the other one's on stage and kind of down in the pit, with a handheld camera — the one at the back is stationary, and the other one moves around, so it can come up onstage and go out into the audience. When we're doing stuff, nothing's really hidden I guess you could say. There's nothing to hide. You know, people today will explain something away and say it's an app: "Oh, you did that with an app," or whatever. [Then] there are people in the audience like, "Well, from here it's one thing, but if I was onstage, and I could look behind and I could see, then I'd be able to figure it out." So the camera guy will come up onstage and, for example, show the box empty; he can come up and pan all around and put the camera inside and the whole thing, and that allows people to see all sides, all elements, and all angles.
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[The show also features] a really good band, so it's not just like you're listening to a weird version of "Caravan" or whatever typical magic music. There's pyrotechnics, explosions and fire, lights, lasers, and fog, and all sorts of crazy stuff. It's like MTV Music Video Awards, but not as lame because it's magic tricks and there's no Miley Cyrus, so it's a win win win.
What else should folks know about the show?
Sometimes people dismiss magic shows, but this is really more than a magic show. I always tell people: It's a magic show for people that love magic shows and a magic show for people that hate magic shows. It fits everything that somebody's looking for: it's got comedy, it's got suspense, it's got drama, the whole thing. As long as they come looking for a good time, they're going to find a good time with this show no matter how old they are. It's a show that's appropriate for families, but it's not a kid show, so there's stuff that grandma and grandpa will like, stuff that mom and dad will like, cousins and uncles, teens, little kids, you know, stuff that goes for the adults goes right over the kids' heads. We're hopefully breaking a lot of stereotypes with magic shows, as well, so hopefully your readers will come and have a good time. If they've got any questions, they could just tweet at me, and I'll let 'em know what's up.
THE ILLUSIONISTS — LIVE FROM BROADWAY will be at Segerstrom Center for the Arts from Feb. 2 - 7. For more information, visit: http://www.theillusionistslive.com/