Posted 4/2/15 | © Photo courtesy of Dallas Summer Musicals
Dan Sperry knows the power of a good illusion.
Emotionally shaken at four years of age after leaving a David Copperfield show thinking that he'd actually seen a man being cut in half, Sperry gradually began to perform a set of mysterious magic tricks himself. At 17, he became one of the youngest illusionists to headline the world-famous Magic Castle in Hollywood; and immediately after a 2010 appearance on NBC's America's Got Talent during which he freaked out judge Howie Mandel, Sperry became one of the top 10 most-searched people on Google. Now ready to dazzle local audiences, the self-proclaimed anti-conjuror is appearing in The Illusionists - Witness the Impossible featuring the spectacular talents of seven of the most incredible illusionists on earth performing some of the most outrageous and astonishing acts ever to be seen on stage. The Flash List spoke with the fascinating performing artist about his notably unusual road to fame.
TFL: Describe the transition from seeing David Copperfield for the first time to then performing illusions yourself.
DS: It's a weird transition maybe. I saw Copperfield, and that piqued my curiosity maybe, but not necessarily my desire to perform. I was curious that these are magic tricks and it's all an illusion, and I had little toy magic sets from the toy store. I remember doing little - most likely terrible - magic shows at my mom's garage sale and having a cardboard box set up using my toy store magic set and having a Crayon-drawn sign that said,
magic show 5 cents or something like that; and I'd do a trick for the kids that the parents would bring.
I remember doing that, but there never was really a time or a thing that I did that I felt like,
Okay, this is it. This is what I'm meant to do. I actually never really had that. It just kinda came about one year for my birthday. I just got tired of the toy store magic tricks and I asked if I could go to the real magic shop and get real magic tricks. And that's what I got for my birthday; that's all I asked for for my birthday. ... Then there was one day where I just knew I could do shows, so I needed to get the word out. I sat down with a legal pad and started writing out an ad for the newspaper. I even called the newspaper when I was ten years old and asked,
How do I put an ad in your newspaper? This is when it was like, up to 150 words is this much and 200 words is that much. I wrote it down; and I remember counting my money from allowance, and making the bed, and doing dishes, and mowing the lawn, and all that stuff. My dad was like,
What are you doing? and I said,
I'm putting this ad out.
There was another guy in the town that grew up in that did birthday parties as a clown and also did some magic as a clown too. My dad called him and helped me get hooked up with that guy to help teach me how to, not to perform a show, but to book a show, what you do when you show up at the show - the more show business side of things too. And then after a while, he started passing on the shows that he didn't want to do or couldn't do, and it just kinda started from there.
TFL: Can you elaborate on the meaning of the term anti-conjuror?
DS: That was a word that I invented a long time ago when I was still in my late teens getting ready to graduate high school. I would do shows - like opening for bands and DJs - at goth clubs and alternative clubs, and I didn't want to have the word magician or illusionist put next to my name on the flyer or the website because the audience is there to see the band, and having an magician for that crowd might be a tough sell. So I wanted to have a word that described what I did and said 'magician' in a camouflaged sort of way.
TFL: What has been the most surprising aspect of your popularity?
DS: I get surprised all the time by stuff that gets sent to me in the mail. I get stuff that kids will make me, and some of these people that are into what I do are really artistically talented. Stuff comes from all over the world, and some people have done oil-painted portraits of my bird or something. That stuff's really cool. Or getting tagged in an Instagram photo; a lot of things come through social media, and it'll be photos of people that get my name tattooed or my logo ... that always is really interesting. Sometimes I gotta to step back and be like,
Whoa, this is for real.
TFL: What do you wish more people knew about you?
DS: I think a lot of the time people get a little judgmental because I do a lot of weird stuff at times with animals like rats or mice or birds. And I wish people knew that I'm actually a member of the ASPCA and I donate to a lot of animal charities a lot, so I'm not some cruel person that just collects these animals and does weird [stuff] to them.
TFL: How do you feel that movies like The Prestige, The Illusionist, or Now You See Me have affected your industry?
DS: I think it's good because it's exposure to help spread the word ... if it got people interested in it, that can't be a bad thing, that's got to be a good thing. Even though the stuff that's shown in some of those movies is not true or not possible or never happened - it's Hollywood, right? - at the same time, I think it shows an interesting side of magic that in some cases could be true. Like in The Prestige, there's the rivalry; in Now You See Me, they're robbing money from people. Both of those are true, and it's happened. There are people who have been magicians that have gone to jail because they've used magic to take people's money. It's kinda interesting to show that it could happen and in some cases it has happened.
Audiences are not likely, however, to feel robbed when their cash is exchanged for tickets to the mind-blowing production of The Illusionists. Stunning acts will include grand illusion, levitation, mind-reading, disappearance, and for the first time ever in history, a full-view water torture escape.
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