Magician DENNIS WATKINS
Two Magicians Talk about Life CONNECTIONS and Performance
Magician Dennis Watkins
I did a podcast the other day with Dennis Watkins. Dennis is a magician, and corporate entertainer who will fly to a client’s convention or meeting and put on a jaw-dropping classic magic show. He’s an old style magician like Harry Blackstone or Orville Meyers who does incredibly creative sleight of hand magic and other close-up magic designed for an intimate theater setting. He’s super talented. Dennis has a regular show at a venue called The Magic Parlour located in the Palmer House Hotel in downtown Chicago. I’m so jealous of that set-up. It sounds like an ideal setting for a kick-ass, classic magic show.
I just got to know Dennis recently when we both attended a magic conference called Magic Live, in Las Vegas last month. (Actually, we were already friends, but we had some GREAT conversations at the recent convention. ) Imagine piles of magicians all in one convention center who are geeking out on magic tricks, watching performances by magicians from all over the world, and generally having a great time talking about and demonstrating everything magic related. It was a blast. I used to be a working magician decades ago before I got into motivational speaking and moved over into the professional speaking world. I often do magic as part of my motivational speaking stuff…. but I’ve taken the focus away from being a “magician.” But I’m proudly a magician…and often do full magic shows.
Anyway, Dennis came on my podcast to help me recreate a conversation that we’d had at Magic Live about why people love to watch live entertainment. Rock concerts, Cirque du Soleil, comedy acts, even magic shows. What is it about live performances that brings people out to theaters or concert venues when they can get so much entertainment on television or their computer these days?
I asked if glitzy, glamorous shows with laser lights, music and explosions are what make people want see a live performance, or if maybe all they really want is to see Taylor Swift on a stool playing acoustic guitar, and they don’t really care about all the add-ons. As a professional speaker I’m always questioning myself as to whether I need to add some bells and whistles like more power point slides or music or theater style lighting. Dennis and I talked and argued and went back and forth on this over the span of three days. Of course, there is no right answer. Or actually, the right answer is — it depends and both of us are right.
Dennis says that he believes the primary reason folks go to a live show is that want that feeling of community that comes with having a group of people all watching something really cool together. He says he is helping to create an experience where people are coming together for the same thing at the same time, creating a community experience. I thought that sounded pretty intelligent and insightful.
But I love to argue, so I said that what people really want out of a show is a connection with the actual performer. They love being with that performer who makes them feel special for coming out and paying for live entertainment. His audiences connect with him, not with each other—they could care less about who else is with them in the room. In that case, Dennis said, they could just watch it on tv. No, I said, they want you, live and in front of their faces breathing the same air, not some image on tv. They want to be in community with the performer, not each other.
In the end we agreed we were both right. I mean some people will pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for a Taylor Swift concert with all the pageantry and excitement. Others will pay hundreds of dollars for a concert of jazz legend Wynton Marsalis (like I did) in a smaller theater with a no less enthusiastic crowd, with no laser light show, just a bunch of talented musicians. Both audiences got what they wanted, and both felt a sense of energy and community and camaraderie from the event.
Next time you go to a live show of anything, music or magic or otherwise, ask yourself the question, “Why I am digging this show, or not digging this show?” Look at production value or the lack of production value of the show. Do you feel like you need the extra decorations or lights or fog machines to have a good time, and if you do, or if you don’t, how does that change things for you the audience member?
I think live entertainment is special. There’s just nothing like the energy created and the bond forged between the entertainer and the audience at a live show. It can’t be duplicated on television or youtube. Or even in a movie theater. And that was something both Dennis and I could agree on!
Thanks for joining me, Dennis Watkins, in my quest to answer some of life’s persistent questions. Can’t wait to catch your show at The Magic Parlour in the Palmer House in Chicago when next I’m there. You should check it out too. Perhaps I’ll see you there!
Bio of a Magician Motivational Speaker
Funny Motivational Keynote Speaker Brad Montgomery is an award-winning speaker. He speaks to audiences across the globe (and across the USA), and is based in Denver, Colorado.
Although he speaks to audiences in nearly every industry, he is known as a funny health care speaker, a education speaker for teachers, a real estate speaker, and a sales speaker. He got his start as a magician & comedian, but now is known almost exclusively as keynote speaker.
He speaks both at live, in-person events, as well as online and virtually as a zoom speaker. No matter what you’re trying to accomplish with your audience, if you’re ready to invest in your people, give us a call now.
Here’s a Transcript. It’s Made By A Machine…So…er… Good Luck!
Dennis Watkins: Does Modern Entertainment Have To Be Modern?
2022, Brad Montgomery
Successful, Interesting & Awesome
[0:00] Hey my friends you’re gonna.
[0:10] He’s the kind of guy that is just easy to be with. I met him at a conference didn’t really know him that well but we hung out a ton and turns out.
He knows his people where you meet them and it feels like you’ve been friends a really long time. I feel that way about Dennis. He’s just,
But also he he’s wildly successful in his chosen field.
This if you have ever been to a show or you ever plan to go to a show or if you happen to be in that small percentage of people who does shows you’re gonna love this conversation cuz.
Among other things we talk about what makes us so good.
It’s kinda fun and we disagree a little bit which I think is kinda fun too,
I’m so bonded to him right now and one of the reasons I think you’re gonna love him in this podcast is the guy has every reason to be.
[1:17] Snobby and Braggy he’s just super accomplished but that is not what
He’s all about. He’s just one of the world’s nicest guys. You would never know when you’re hanging out with him that this guy is
So I know you’re gonna enjoy medium as much as I have and I know you’re gonna love this interview.
Everybody I’m glad you’re here
But don’t forget to use social media to because that helps me get the word out.
Appreciate you more than you might guess.
[2:05] Hey, my friends. It’s Brad. I’ve missed you.
I got lucky cuz recently we were at a conference together in Las Vegas and we just hang out a ton and,
Not much for the record I think you were awesome also.
[2:45] I wouldn’t say that I’m on this.
You’re famous. Downtown Chicago. You’ve been running it for I think a decade or more or something like thousands and thousands of shows.
[3:12] Runs five shows weekly at Palmer House Hotel in the middle of downtown Chicago.
[3:23] Is celebrating actually this year celebrating 150 years of continuous.
[3:29] Really long scratch.
[3:39] Burned down and then they rebuilt it otter palmer built this hotel as a gift to his wife first.
[3:50] It’s a it’s a big.
Since new year’s eve of 2000.
You know, I am counting COVID in that because technically, we opened the magic parlor at a small theater in.
[4:16] So in 2009 in 2 years of running and then 8 years of COVID and then 2 years.
So I’m gonna I count it I think it’s fine to say over a decade cuz it has been but also during the pandemic Iran virtual show called the Magic Harbor Home.
And while we were not able to be broadcasting it from the Palmer House we kept the show running and and the form that we were able to do.
[4:48] Well, it’s a really big deal. So, magicians around the country like me look at you and your theater and go, oh,
No and if there’s anything to be salvage from past.
Fellow motivational speaker and we are talking about how we saw Elton John in Vegas.
[5:31] My friend was stunned that there were video screens playing movies that seemed to him to be completely unrelated to whatever Elton John was doing and there were dancers all up and down the wings and of course there was a band and a tremendous light show and occasional pirate
Techniques and my friend thought,
Oh is this like the death for old school entertainment where you have a person on stage that basically says watch me and we’re gonna have fun
I think your show is a little old school and that you were not doing a paratectics and you’re not doing the big video screens. Can you talk to talk to us about this?
It’s interesting. I am going to to Las Vegas to work a trade show next week.
And the first night I’m there I bought a ticket to see Chris Angels show because from what I know of it and I’ve never seen Chris’s show
It is the complete opposite of my show, right? Just tell me the first 20 minutes of that show is absolutely unbelievable in terms of spectacle scale,
And it’s like it’s right in line with you,
And it’s right in line with what you’ve described as the Elton John concert and the way that I think we tend to consume entertainment.
[6:46] But my show is very different
When it comes to magic in the classics.
[7:06] My taste and my education and my training in magic is very old school,
But even beyond that.
[7:25] This art comes down to one moment. It is a moment of share revelation. Imagine that we are performing
This the the classic spotless to the sponge rolls. The classic sponge box, right? I take a sponge ball, I put it in the palm of my hand, I pick up another one, I ask you to hold it in the palm of your hand, and you close your hand around it, and I open my hand when I open my hand
My hand is empty you open yours and there are two balls there not one and there’s a moment that I see on your face that you,
Our experience something.
That you are experiencing exactly what I wanted you to and your revelation is oh my gosh there’s two not one and we have a moment of shared revelation that is the moment of magic.
It’s that mode. Yeah. Scared revelation between you, me, and whoever else is in the room.
[8:21] When it comes to performing magic in my mind.
To amplify that gold and I believe in all the storytelling tools that we have at our disposal to do that. And when I was younger,
In my my younger life as both a magician,
Most of the work that I did was over the top massive spectacle,
Chorus is a performers. You know, I did nine runs of this show called Death and Harry Houdini at different theaters in the country and that’s it. That’s a show wherein,
We tell the story of Harry Houdini and I played Harry and there was,
Walking on broken glass and thin model sawing and a levitation and a tabaray illusion and people were appearing in disappearing and I was dunked in a water torture cell and was big and was over the top and it was huge and it was the first show,
That a company that I started produced right out of college and that was my taste and storytelling, right? Hey, I still love those things.
To be an older magician.
[9:31] A place where would I thought we had to do,
By by throwing a lot at you, right? Right. Watch lots of movies, lots of TV, we see things,
[9:58] Write the phase of camera cuts or,
They’re furious and we we think that that’s what we need but I I I think that as magicians we do ourselves a disservice.
By trying to tell too many stories at one time and trying to sell tell too many stories and too many ways,
In my my education my my college education,
But there’s a great there’s a great Richard the third that set in like world war two
Right? And so you’ve got naughty Richard the third running,
Which is a big broad story and then they decided that you Brad probably wouldn’t stick with that story unless we said it not to Germany
Naughty Germany so that you
And tap into the themes of naughtyism and genocide and that’ll make the story more powerful, right? I would argue.
[11:14] Any director who decides that that’s the story they wanna tell should be telling that story instead of Shakespeare story because Shakespeare’s probably a better storyteller.
[11:28] Really human part of the story and all we need to focus on to tell the story of Richard the third is the human part of the story we don’t need tanks
We know it would be bombs falling from the sky. We need Richard the poetry and a stage and that’s what we need. And we can go further
If we’re not distracted by bombs falling from the sky and nazis that weren’t there,
And all kinds of nonsense. And I think that the same thing is true in theater. I or in magic. I love.
I love sick freedom Roy I love who by the way if you haven’t seen Zig Free Detroit they’ve had all the crazy stuff there’s a one 1 million things happening with.
But Eugene Berger.
You know, when he he started coming to my show, The Magic Parlor right when it opened. And tell us to Jean, tell us who’s Eugene Burger is.
Write down to the big white beard. Eugene, of course, is one of the greatest.
Close up magicians of our time.
[12:50] Be able to work with me and guide me in shaping the magic parlor into the show that it is today and when Eugene.
Started coming to the show and when he started working with me on this show I was also performing some of those big Houdini style shows and big stuff and and and a lot of my money was coming from,
Corporate events that I was learning how to work. I don’t work them the same way I did back then, but back then,
My general philosophy was if I step onto a ballroom stage in a hotel and there’s 400 people in that ballroom
That there was a committee of five that
Right? So, the goal,
Hey Facebook hook them from the beginning and keep them for the full 40 minutes without letting them have space to go. Do I need another drink? You don’t wanna do that? You wanna keep it fast and loud and funny and moving. And that was the way that I had packed building the magic parlor.
Which is a 90 minute experience for which people paid just shy of $100 for their ticket,
The truth is as Eugene made clear people have already decided to see you Dennis you don’t have to sell them on your show for the first 40 minutes they’re there,
Big but what it let me do is breathe and slow down and paste the show and discover.
[14:10] That we distract the audiences from magic,
I love comedy magic I’m not a terribly funny there’s a lot of funny in the show and that show that funny comes from the audience,
And the situations and the things that people bring to the show every day it’s funny but I’m not a comedy magician because what I want to focus on,
Is building the moment of wonder the moment of joy and the moment of mystery,
That’s a lot to do. I don’t pyrotechnics are distracting,
It’s I haven’t seen your show yet which by the way I’m I’m going to remedy.
It helped by the way if you were in my state.
Yeah, there is, of course, there, there, there’s some basic level of production because I think that there are tools that really help us move into.
[15:10] The biggest tools.
That I use are.
Scripting is a big one.
We have lights on. But i don’t use lights to focus the attention of the room. I use sound. I do use a soundtrack to the show. It’s very carefully scored. With with jazz, but,
Outside of that.
To the hotel. It was because we wanted to be low maintenance and I didn’t wanna ask for the anything from the hotel and because the Palmer House is a union hotel and if I start hanging lights every Friday and Saturday night I’ve got a higher reunion people to be there the whole time and it’s just it’s just a nightmare.
I actually understand that,
And Peter Brook wrote he wrote a book called,
We sit down in a room and we go all we need bread is the room we need the room we need you we need me and we need our imaginations and if we have those things,
It’s not that the other tools, the bigger, brighter, wilder tools don’t help us tell the story. It’s not that they don’t help us make it more magical. They do and they can,
But I think there is something really pure that happens,
That you can either blame the magic on. Oh, I was a lighting trick.
When you’re not distracted by those things and you can say there was literally nothing there but me.
[17:38] And then you can create something magic, something that’s not distracting, something that doesn’t feel like you could have watched it on TV, something that’s not gonna look cooler with CGI.
When you watch it in an episode of Stranger Things with something that happened just because you were there because I was there and that’s all we really need to make magic. And,
[18:05] I have a friend who shall remain nameless who believes that,
Every time every time I show him a piece of magic it’s like that’s a straightforward piece of magic where’s the hook where’s the gimmick where’s the
And by gimmick I don’t mean that the pizza the apparatus that makes magic happen I mean what’s the what’s the,
What’s the frame that you’re gonna build around this piece of magic to engage the audience? It really, you know what it should be? Is it should be story about when you were on an airplane for the first time and blah blah blah blah blah. I was like, I actually, I think it should be about.
The experience that Brad has when he opens his.
[18:51] What? It’s such a this topic is so interesting to me because I’m dealing with myself. I’m I’m I’m going to those boardrooms, right? I’m going to the bank room and,
The Marriotton Indianapolis or whatever.
Using the computer with sound and like a interesting use of PowerPoint to add more production value and if in my first choice I’d have cool lighting like a spotlight on me and I know general wash that is not possible because.
But I feel like that adds to it and doesn’t take away to it because and partly cuz it’s so different.
[19:34] Conferences they’ve been sitting through 3 days of conferences and it’s just this the stage does not change literally from speaker to speaker and if I can change it.
Paid money versus.
[19:58] I mean, I think there is a difference. Yes, I do think there’s a difference.
[20:06] There’s an opt in difference, right? And we all know that as and I say we all but I mean people like you and me who step in a hotel ballrooms for company X on a big stage and we do things for people after they finish their dinner and we make them feel great.
And we do all the things, right? But we step into those rooms and you’re right.
Nor do I have any control over how many of those people would have chosen a magic show for their nights entertainment if they were given a choice. That was not laid out for them and an agenda, right? So, you do, you have those,
Buy in from the audience at these big conventions and corporate events versus.
Boutique magic show for 40 people is the thing that I think is gonna do it and so I researched it and I chose and I decided to spend $120 on our tickets on each of our tickets and to buy dinner before or after night this thing and,
The entertainment that I’ve selected for myself and for my wife on this on this night.
[21:25] How the show has to be run like are you a little bit and not as much as I used to think okay.
Not as much as I used to think I and I I I think that as my work as a magician,
In the magic parlor,
Louder, faster, faster, funnier, bigger.
[21:55] As magical as it could possibly be,
One place to another so did my work in the corporate real,
A lot and you know, I don’t mean to say that I’m some sort of talking head. But it’s a verbal show and it’s slower than it used to be, you know, again, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. So, here’s, here’s an interesting example. There’s a piece of magic that I love that I used to perform.
I should close with a bang. It has to close with a bang. It has to close big and strong and loud. Yeah, it’s like a,
That’s right. That’s right. So, I was doing this corporate event for BRP International. They build like sea doos and and
ATVs and nonsense and within DC and there were 1500 people and this was early in my corporate career and I don’t know why I was able to convince BRP to hire me but I did I don’t know
I’ve I’ve used performing on much smaller stages than 1500 at that point in my career today is different but then it was and I was like okay so I’m just like a hand guy and a mentalist.
[23:19] Saw a friend of mine went to a friend of mine’s for Thanksgiving dinner and they showed some videos of their kids in high school variety shows and one kid had like taken one of his giant balloons and blown it up seven people to leave and crawled inside it.
[23:32] There’s gonna be a car I’m gonna turn that into a car trick is,
And and that way I can do a car trick for 1500 people and it’s gonna play big and be loud and funny and hilarious and so what we what I did was I I would have someone take a card,
And sign it and then I give them the deck and have them shuffle it into the deck and hold on to the cards and take a balloon and a leaf blower and I crawl inside of it. Flip it around, stick my head out, so that it got my head in a giant 7 foot balloon,
And I would have the volunteer stand across the stage for me
Through the balloon pop the balloon and catch their card on the knife it was a card stab right yeah nothing revolutionary about that plot and magic but if you throw in AA butterfly knife a leaf blower 7 foot balloon you can play it at 15
Brilliant. Sounds good, faster, funnier, bigger.
It’s not but it feels 12 minutes and it’s big and it’s wild and it’s crazy and it closes the show with a bang and for the first,
Several years of the magic parlor I close the show with that piece even though Eugene was telling me hey that one doesn’t belong and I think that piece distracts you from being the magician that you wanna be,
That piece makes you a big, wild, crazy, carnival performer, not.
Another 10 minutes that was worthy of closing the show and B something else that could let’s pretend the first 82 minute or the first 72 minutes of the show is complete disaster how can I get everyone on my side with this big beautiful endearing funny.
Loud, fast-paced card stab thing and it worked, man. It was gold,
Every time that bloom pops cards fly everywhere and there’s a beautiful picture and punchline and their card with their name on it it’s great right.
[25:42] It’s not magical.
But it’s something cool that I can do because I can practice.
That the magician in you is not doing something sneaky but it’s actually skilled enough to catch part on knife.
Your creativity and your skill but what they are not standing up and clapping for the end of the show,
Is a change in themselves. There’s been no catharsis. There’s been no magical cathart. There has been guitars. You scream. You’re waiting for that balloon to pop.
From the moment you start blowing it up. It’s not a pharcis of wonder and joy. It’s a it’s a catharsis of wow that was a big loud noise and it surprised me,
The guitars as we want is one that comes from mystery and magic and wonder. So, I threw the balloon piece out.
And I close the show with the smallest most intimate piece of magic.
[26:49] It’s magical.
Boggling to the audience and it puts an audience member at the center of the action instead of me at the center of the action and something really magical happens. It’s small, it’s soft, it happens center stage, and everybody has to stand up and look at the table to see it. Instead of.
A seven footballoon exploding and sending cards everywhere,
I was recently at a show.
[27:31] Teenager like high school age kids and they came out in a lobby and instantly on video so we’re watching over their shoulders they’re playing games on their phone.
Cut their literally.
They are literally at an entertainment venue that’s not entertaining enough for them.
I got a plan.
We’re just gonna go on a journey. I love that. Good for you.
Hey Facebook obviously it’s working.
I can see and feel it in the audience and sometimes.
[28:30] You know it’s really interesting,
Now in Chicago there are magic shows all over the place and I I I’m not saying that happened since I started running my show because of my show it didn’t,
There’s something interesting happening in Chicago in that lot of magic shows are opening all the time and lots of magic theaters are opening all the time and,
Absolutely love it. It’s big. It’s beautiful. It’s an art deco, magic theater, and I tell you what, when it opened, Brad, I thought, oh my god, I’m doomed. I can’t compete with them. Yeah.
I’m a little bitty close up show with 44 season time and truthfully it does not kill us it helps us because we’re we’re telling people that they can buy tickets to magic shows and that’s gonna be awesome but also because my show is very different from what they offer,
They you’ll go there and you’re gonna see six different magicians.
[29:48] This is contrary to the way that I think about deep storytelling,
It doesn’t mean that they can’t accomplish deep storytelling in their mold, what they do is great. I can only talk about what I do and how it works for me. But for me, there’s a there’s a deep story telling that comes with an empty space you me and your imagination that doesn’t require,
Lights and town hues and.
A whole bunch of cocktails to get you ready for the magic.
I should get like live,
This live band and what they
And impact you know what one of the most successful things we did with the Magic Parlor in the last several years is that we we we we launched an encore room.
[31:01] An encore performance for people who wanna pay more money because Brad. I think someone wants to pay more money. We should let them pay more money. But you wanna see a cartridge? Well, do you have you know it?
We’re gonna take 12 of those people the 12 people who bought the the extra ticket and we’re gonna move them to a small room we’re all gonna sit around one table and we’re gonna do more magic we move from one room
With no spectacle lights to a smaller room with no spectacle and lights and you know what people are clamoring
To get that ticket to that extra show after the show because.
[31:44] What we’ve done is we spent 85 minutes together
Let it be that pure and then we find something that’s really pure and we really like you know actually I would like another 20-
And it’s sort of the opposite. It’s the same thing as the balloon trick, right? It’s like you’re gonna take that thing that closes out big and loud and you’re gonna like.
Scrap it for something that’s smaller and more intimate and more magical and speaks more to the people’s hearts and that’s what we’re gonna do and hopefully,
At the end of the day. Yeah. There’s enough weight for people that decide to pay $120 for my magic show ticket instead of 55 for the one that has multiple stages, multiple performers.
[32:35] And all that kind of nonsense.
It makes me happy too.
Yo, let’s start overhearing it all
In my mind I thought often on for years what would happen if I traveled with a jazz trio,
A call for like I want to be with that person in the way that that person has structured and developed.
[33:28] I’m there. I I just but what we really want. I’m assuming Dennis, the reason those people wanna pay for an extra 25 minutes is not to see more magic. It’s to see more dentist.
[33:54] I think they might think that, right? I think that the audience might think that when they.
[34:06] Quote unquote me.
The most enjoyable time it’s it’s it’s work for me and it’s my job and I like it and I love doing it but I it’s naturally a little bit.
[34:27] Against my my rhythm. And I do, but I do think that after we spend 85 minutes together,
You leave and you feel like you know me and that is rewarding but really what I think you’re there for,
Brad what or what I think I don’t I’m not sure it’s what get you in the door.
That’s what gets you in the door.
Makes you come back or what makes you then decide you know what every time I have out of town gas I’m bringing them to see Dennis at the Magic Parlor is not my award winning personality,
It’s the cathars it’s the magical capacis that you experience over and over throughout 85 minutes of your time,
And the fact that that is so.
I I just can’t imagine.
When your audience leaves,
I love that guy.
That they would not wanna sit through 90 minutes and they wouldn’t wanna go for an extra show and they wouldn’t bring their friends back.
[35:53] So that must be you.
[35:56] Okay, okay. So, now that that’s interesting. So, I think that might be true. Like, what makes us unique is not the magic, right? I mean,
Tarbell’s complete course of magic sitting right over here and you can you can craft an 85 minute show right out of those eight volumes that would like knock people socks off and and create some real magic in their minds and maybe they will watch every performer do that,
They wouldn’t I don’t think that audience would have watched me do the show that I do 10 years ago.
If I if I was given this script in this material 10 years.
I can afford to slow down the show and focus only on the magic of it,
That connection with the audience.
Learn how to connect with people and just connect with people. Like that’s the thing, right? That that word is where.
Is the magic partner in Chicago.
[37:21] You could you could take a reasonably good magician and coach him her and make the show very good and it wouldn’t those those people wouldn’t be bringing her out of town guests.
The show or the tricks.
[37:53] Yep he’s leaving.
[37:59] Check check.
I was saying that the word is connection.
Dennis I think the word you use it so important disconnection and they undoubtedly your magic is world class and undoubtedly your experience has made you one of the greats of the world.
I hear that but i think.
[39:09] More than that.
It’s it’s kinda it’s it’s a little bit bogus. It’s like I think it’s a little bit manipulative actually.
Yeah the head is here you go.
[39:30] Oh no let me kick another note we’re starting to section again.
[39:43] Do you have a road? What do you have?
Alright, I’m gonna start that up again that one section again.
Post people back to your show again and again is not your world class magic and it’s not your experience it has made you one of the greats in the the world it’s,
They wanna see Dennis you have been able to insert your personality into that show in a way that is uniquely you and that’s what they love most.
I mean I think I think you’re right. There are a lot of my personality in the show and I do like to feel like I’m I’m special enough to keep audiences coming back. But I think that the the.
[40:34] Things that we really.
Made me understand what we do again,
I’m I’m a I’m a workaholic. I love my job. I love working. I love.
Magic, and I love sharing it, and I do somewhere around 400 shows every year, and this is something that.
[41:13] Feels different today,
In my 30s. And feels different today being a dad than it did when I was unencumbered and I say,
Not sure like I or I like I love I I’m happy to be incumbent it’s the best thing in my life but but when when I was working when the work had different reasons before we gave my team,
Medical insurance in 401 case and all that kind of crap and suddenly,
The work had a bigger purpose than,
Putting money away for their own retirement. So, that’s one of the reasons that we work now that we offer those things, right? It’s different.
Here in Chicago we do three performances of the magic parlor and three encore performances all in 1 day,
So we do six shows back to back to back,
Yeah we do we do four times on Fridays so like it’s it’s those 2 days they just kick your butt and by the time the pandemic hit and we had to shut everything down.
Magical moments but it became I don’t know it just became so much so pedestrian it happened every day and we’re doing it I was boring and I was burned out and in the pandemic,
We all shut down,
We all stayed in our houses. We didn’t go anywhere and we didn’t see new people and we didn’t see old people. We didn’t see the people that we knew and we loved that,
Feeling like human beings, right? And we started to feel frankly, not like human beings. We were sitting here looking at Zoom screens all day long or on the phone and afraid to go out and hug people,
And I when we launched this,
Magic parlor at home, virtual show. I was like, this is never going to work. First of all, but also.
[43:39] What’s the draw?
And I and I learned what it was,
Was that when people were logging in we were you know sending our mailing list hey we’re doing this virtual show come in for join Wonder and we were making you money off of it basically we’re just trying to to keep people engaged throughout the course of what we thought would be a 6 month pandemic,
We’re trying to keep people engaged and then what we would see is that that Brad would log in from Colorado,
And they would share something together that they couldn’t share at that moment because they couldn’t find a way to be together. Right? And I got to watch,
Because I can see the zoom gallery not everybody else can just see it’s good but I got to watch Brad watch his kid.
That there was a shared revelation happening between me and Brad’s kid but also with Brad.
That the one of the things that makes Peter Brooks empty space.
[45:06] Virtual or no,
These magic shows are building space for community between people. Yeah.
To be in a community experience of child like wonder. That’s it,
Live through a camera and I like you said this will never be any good and why are they watching me when Brene Brown is on Netflix?
Two and a half years later I can tell you that for me it wasn’t the community of them interacting with the gallery it was me finally embracing being me,
Did you know presenting the material is best I could but what I really found they liked was me just playing with them and being purely me.
[46:10] And so that means,
Yeah I mean the bread they love you,
And kind and charming and incredibly generous and you feel that when when Brad walks into the room, right? And so that that makes people love you and and and I think that.
[46:41] Like you’re you’re not you’re not trying to create a room full of people who adore you everyday you’re putting you walk into that room and you bring you but you’re you put something else at the center of the room.
We don’t just clap for Brad. We we clap because the way Brad makes us feel and the way that Brad unites us as a room of people who feel the same way in Brad’s presence.
Dang it, am I gonna have to backtrack and say you’re right? After you said you’re wrong. Right. I think you’re right.
I think you’re right, right? Because not everybody can do a bread does.
When you come into the room, you spend 45 minutes with your audience, you give them everything that you can give them and you leave, they feel like they love you, Brad.
[47:44] I think we’re after all we’re agreeing. So, yeah. To turn this back on you, by the way, I did love those compliments.
[47:55] But one of the things you’re getting out is just a pure magical experience that shared moment.
Repeated but also they’re getting a chance to be with you and and near the pied piper creating this.
But it couldn’t have happened without Dennis and it wouldn’t happen to the same degree without someone as good as you.
[48:25] The other thing the other thing that I.
That became a center of the work for me in both in all in all the work that I do.
[48:43] The other the other component of the work that’s important and that I think is important to you and your work too Brad is that.
[48:54] We celebrate.
That is me showing off what I can do magically.
I can hang on the overarching narrative of the show which is that when you sit down in the seat in my room you are the magician,
And your imaginations that make miraculous things happen.
[49:42] It puts you in the middle of it.
Now it is true that I have been doing this 400 shows a year for quite some time,
That puts you in the center of it and that I am the magician in the room but at the end of the day.
[50:03] That’s worth a damn in my work hangs on the idea that it couldn’t have happened if you had made a different choice,
There would be no magic in,
We’re gonna celebrate you guys. We’re not gonna stand here until we meet all
Step on stage owning their power and demonstrating remarkable things can still create real magic for their audience. It’s just not the way that I can do it.
And it’s not the way that I can feel good about doing it.
But what I can do is feel good about offering people a service and I think that’s a service that makes you feel magical in the middle of a community of people whether not their strength. It turns out my friend Dennis.
We we totally agree,
Oh, it’s just, it’s all about the audience. And coming from a background in entertainment, I’m like, what?
[51:21] Raise it. I’m in the middle or I’m I’m I’m the pipe piper. Let’s go. But.
Of course we were both right because.
[51:40] It’s better. If I just think about how I can help the audience, it’s better.
Right? And you know what? Like,
You can’t and you don’t know. You don’t know that you that you can do it. You can’t do cuz you don’t know. And I think I think that something.
[52:03] Something came out of fragnitism, fragmentism, also in this work, which is that.
I’ve had many brainstorms of you know what Lincoln can actually do here cuz we can do this really rad thing if what I need is a flash pot,
And blah blah blah and you know it’s.
[52:31] You know it’s a it’s it’s it’s often the same,
I I’m I’m a sight of hand performer. I love fancy finger flicking slights. And things that are incredibly hard to do but look really magical. And you know what Brad? I do them all the time unless I’m actually working.
[52:55] I my my my worker and audience that paid to see me,
Doesn’t work 400 shows a year there are two two to three shows a year where my hands are too sweaty cuz the AC isn’t working and I mess it up,
Or there are two or three shows a year where there’s some drunk guy who keeps screaming and I’m only halfway paying attention to that thing because I’m really focused on managing the audience and I can’t do both of those things at the same time. Right. And so the slight of hand,
Dies and we’re all done, right?
Yeah you know what’s gonna work every time is if I walk in and you hand me a microphone and I hold it.
I can make it work and if I can you know if I’m working for a corporate client I’m working 45 minutes at a time if I can’t fill 45 minutes with me in a microphone and things out of my pockets
That I don’t have something that I can charge a client $10 thousand for because for anything for $10 thousand or more I better be damn sure it’s gonna work every single time whether or not the HDMI cable is too old
Right? It doesn’t matter.
[54:12] And it we have we we have to be able to create the experience of wondering community.
That challenge can lead us to a deeper experience of those things.
[54:29] For me to take away from this interview which by the way I’m gonna have to drop this up because I’m I wanna be respectful of your time.
[54:40] You’re you’re,
We cos we started this conversation talking about do we need to bring in all the modern digital and electronic tools to hold our audiences at entertainment the answer is no not if your dentist
But also like what is the value of coming to Dennis’ show and so yes it’s killer magic and it’s stripping away everything but that shared moment between,
That instant of astonishment.
Doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
And we called it the house theater Chicago and we called it the house theater Chicago because the house is the space that encompasses everyone in the room. The storytellers and the audience. It creates one space for both to experience the story,
The story of the community and the cat,
Like that is the.
[56:08] Josh Weden tells really great stories with his
More moving, precise, and beautiful to look at on that screen like you you can see you can see what it looks like when a vampire’s teeth.
Bro, right? Like, you can, I don’t, there’s no misdirection that happens that you can see it. It’s good. And if we don’t create something different than that, which is,
The experience of me doing that with you, Brad, in the same space, then, like, we should just resign the fact that people should watch.
We make good stories on TV,
One of the things I like about this podcast besides the fact that I get to learn more and besides the fact that I get to have interesting conversations is it’s a chance for me to pepper really interesting people with questions that have an excuse.
So really fun to spend more time with you Dennis Watkins. Oh my gosh likewise.
And how to deliver social and emotional support on purpose.
[57:20] Everyone has people who have encouraged them.
But not everyone can remember sometimes they’re little micro encouragements to add up to something worthwhile or sometimes people really land on you and say like dad is walking your special let me help you to get reach your potential,
If I say who are your encouragers who comes to mind?
My mom is the first one.
Supportive of all of her children. She has four sons, all of us are very different and all of us pursuing very different passions.
[58:08] In the way that we need it to be supported.
My mom really understood that that’s what I wanted to do. I was pretty young. But instead of,
Which is to.
You need to learn how to be on station to be comfortable,
And she was able to do that despite some, you know, great personal difficulty doing it. She prioritized supporting her kids over just about anything else. And,
She and I did not agree on a lot of things. I am a gay man and she was a fundamentalist Christian. And so there was a lot of conflict and strife there and even through that.
At every step of the way in our journey together I could feel her support and I can feel her holding me up that’s all she wanted to do she didn’t agree with me but she wanted to do it so I mean buying buying.
[59:37] Single place that I could say I felt support here was it with my parents both of them my mother and my father a US for a person.
[59:48] I love that. What you said about your mom? She didn’t agree with me but she wanted to support me.
Yeah, that’s right. That’s right. You know, a fundamentalist Christian who’s worried about you because you’re gay. They’re worried about you because they don’t want you to spend eternity in hell, not because they don’t love you, right?
Way too early and we would we would have resolved our conflict over time that’s what it takes and that she she died before the the journey was over,
So in my mind.
[1:00:32] Wow, that is so much more healthy than I would probably be.
That is so much,
Come to see.
With a U P A R L oh U R the magic parlor chicago. Com we’re talking to Dennis Watkins.
Leads a very successful magic business in a really unique and boutique theater in one of the oldest.
Hotels in America. Dennis Watkins, what gives you hope?
My son gives me hope i have a 3 year old son.
Hey, man. I often think well, why?
[1:01:36] The truth is.
Through his eyes is the most hopeful thing.
I wish people who are listening to this.
[1:02:17] While I was with you at the conference in Vegas and you said I wanna hug from my son.
Yeah that’s nice.
[1:02:32] I’m gonna give you a bit of a website one more time. Za, don’t forget that. The magic partner Chicago. Com.
Dennis, you’re a good guy. I’m so glad we got to disagree and then it turns out we weren’t disagreeing at all. We were right on the same page.
Thanks everybody. Dennis, hold on with me. Everybody, be nice to each other.