This revolutionary show drags the ancient art of magic into the 21st century. The international cast – David Williamson, Dan Sperry, Kevin James, Mark Kalin, Jinger Leigh, James Dimmare and Phillip Escoffey – will deliver jaw-dropping levitation, mind-reading, disappearance and escapes. Time Out talks to Dan Sperry.
Dan, what illusion will be your piece de resistance in Australia?
At this time I really don't know for sure – I'm always working on new material and testing it out. I do this thing with an ugly mutant baby – his name is Baby Stinky and he's kind of become his own character and gotten quite a following. People email asking if they can babysit him and get pictures with Baby Stinky and so on. Last time I was in Australia I brought him out for the shows and people really loved it so you can count on him being used in one of my sets somehow.
You first saw David Copperfield aged four. Have you met him now?
Yes... a few times. Several years back he wanted to see my set at this huge haunted attraction in Las Vegas called Fright Dome. I was doing like four shows/night there (it was the perfect fit as I'm sure you can imagine) and DC is friends with the owner of the haunted attraction, so he asked him to keep it open after hours for his crew to come and check out the haunted houses and see my show. I got DC up on stage and did a bit with him... we hugged... and I really hope that was just chapstick in his pocket...
Are people naturally wary of you (as a magician) in day-to-day life? Are you interested in using psychology and the power of persuasion in people while “off-duty”?
People are naturally wary of me regardless of if they know I'm a magician or not. To be totally honest I really don't push that I do magic onto people. I'm more of a recluse in that sense. I've never understood why people just expect magicians to be all in their face with magic 24/7 – that's just not me. I'd like to talk to them about bands, movies, etc, and then maybe after a while I'll show them a trick – and usually it’s something pretty creepy or weird so they don't ask anymore, ha ha! I don't get into the psychology or power of persuasion either. I just kind of do what I do and be me... I can be pretty convincing of anything all the time. I was always the one who was instigating and stirring the pot ever since I was young – the one who popped up on his friend’s shoulder, whispering in their ears to do something mischievous and the like.
What do you do in your free time?
I play bass guitar when I can and I run my own coffee brand called Zombie Java, which takes up most of my free time. But if I have a full day off I love driving over to Disneyland – it’s only three and a half hours from where I live in Las Vegas, so that is always fun. But usually I'm always working on something. I'll put on really trashy American TV in the background while I'm working. I love really bad reality shows like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.
Do you try to stay in character when in public? I guess you need to remain an enigma so can’t be seen strolling around with a yoga mat.
If I need to blend in with normal people I've gotten pretty good at it for when I have to make a getaway, but really there is very little to what I do that is a "character" – this is me off stage as on stage. I don't have a fake character, a fake stage name, a fake anything. I've always been and tried to be as real of who I am on stage as to who I am off stage.
You started so young, finding fame at 17, yet I can’t find any embarrassing pictures of you on Google Image. Did you make them disappear, or have you always had the mohawk and tattoos?
This is who I've always really been. In high school my friends and I were the ones in garage bands, going to punk shows, etc. We had mohawks, liberty spikes, wallet chains, the whole thing... though I leaned more "goth" than my other friends. Now one of my friends from those days is a financial planner. Sucker!
As you can see I've never really grown out of it. I call it my Peter Pan complex. I did, however, strike a deal with my parents for my graduation photo. They had always wanted a "nice" photo of me... you can imagine what our Christmas cards looked like and our other family photos (*one of these kids is not like the other*), so I cut my hair, dyed over the colors, took out my piercings, let my eyebrows grow out, put on a suit and tie and had a real grad photo taken for them. They are still in debt to me for that one, but I've never taken them up on that debt... yet.
You have your own coffee brand… and you must know, Melburnians consider themselves to be a superior species when it comes to coffee. How would you pitch Zombie Java to us?
I brewed several versions of Zombie Java and made them available. I wanted to make it for people who love coffee and for people who hate coffee. I really don't think there's anything I have to do to convince you. I've got the dark roasts that taste like a cigar was put out in your mouth and then I've made some fluffy flavours like Banana Cream for those who can't do the real hardcore blends – and then I've made some right in the middle like a mild coffee you'd get at a diner at 4am.
To me, coffee is more than just something to drink and is definitely more than the stupid Starbucks idea of grabbing it on your way to work or holding up and working on your midterm. When coffee is done right and you're sitting there with a friend and just enjoying the blend and taste and talking and sharing memories or making them or even driving in your car any time of day and you become one with the coffee and that moment (those that have experienced this know what I'm talking about) it is better than sex on silk sheets.
What’s the best part of your job? I notice you make the most of the opportunity to travel.
The best part is experiencing food and culture of different countries. I love trying local food that is stuff I've never had before or can't get in America. I've had jellyfish, haggis, and – yes – even Vegemite.
Magicians are becoming the new rock stars. What band would you most like to tour with?
We are? I'll believe that when someone throws panties at me on stage. If I could tour with any band ever in history hmmm... either the Doors or Ministry.
You’re from small-town Minnesota. Was magic initially escapism for you?
No, making molotov cocktails, and shooting guns, and hunting and fishing, and cow tipping and whipping donuts on ice in a parking lot after stealing your friend’s stick shift, not knowing how to properly drive – that was an escape. Magic was another form of artist expression and a creative outlet.
This is the second outing of The Illusionists to Australia. What did you all get up to last time on your days off?
I don't think I can disclose this. But one memorable experience involved me losing my phone in a cab and having to get one FedEx'd over from America... it was a bad night.