Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Magic Man

Backstage at the Lakeshore Theater Nick Paul, a magician, wonders will I be able to pull off my act without messing up? He worries about his show, because for Paul this is his life, career and love. He does not work at a desk or in at a store; he travels from stage to stage performing magic.

Paul has always had a love for magic even at an early age. Paul’s first trick was an illusion. He made a rope penetrate a bag. As a boy he was too nervous to perform in front of a crowd, but he performed for his family and they were proud of him. From that day on Paul decided he would pursue his interest in magic.

He grew up in front of clowns and jugglers. Paul said that becoming a magician is not that surprising to him. He has his dad to thank for his inspiration because his dad is a ventriloquist. Paul’s dad has been a ventriloquist for over 23 years. While growing up perfecting his magic skills, his father was always supportive.

“And yes, my father talks to himself for a living,” said Paul.

Paul’s first big break came in 2001. Paul was just 14 years old and he was very nervous. He was not performing for his family this time; he was performing for his fellow church members. The tricks that he was attempting to perform were not well practiced and as a result he failed. He attempted to perform illusions. Paul did admit the lack of practice was an issue.

“You are never supposed to perform something unless you have rehearsed it to the point of muscle memory,” said Paul.

Nonetheless Paul did not let his failure bring him down so he decided to perfect his skills. Paul was determined to get better and one of his beginning tricks that he performed was an illusion. His illusion involved a box with a hidden door that made the content of what was inside disappear. To make the trick more entertaining Paul decided to use his dog.

“She was terrified of the cage. We just shoved her inside there and there was like this fake wall that would come up and she would have to stand there, eventually we switched to my little brother” said Paul.

Paul was just 13 years old at the time he performed the dog/brother disappearing trick but thought the trick was fun to pull off.

As Paul performed his magic act, the more and more his father took notice and invited him to go and perform his magic act in Japan. He agreed to go and in 2004 he went to Japan. Paul describes the experience as amazing. Paul has always had a fascination with the Japanese culture and even took classes in high school to learn the language before embarking on trip. Although Paul did not know a lot of the Japanese language, the little he did learn helped. His magic act was a hit which led him to travel back to Japan the following year to perform a second time.

After high school Paul was accepted into Columbia University in Chicago and decided acting would be a good choice. Although Paul is a magician, he admits that acting played a major role in improving his shows.

“Acting definitely has helped me cause it’s pretending I’m someone else”, said Paul.

While attending Columbia, Paul took full advantage of the opportunities that were presented to him. He acted in many of the Universities shows. This led him to work with: Barbara Robertson (Wicked), Nick Kittle (Blue Man Group), Tim O’Malley, Norm Holly, and Michael Gellman (The Second City).

Paul even took American Silent Language (ASL) while attending Columbia University.

While studying, Paul discovered a type of acting he did not expect that he would ever do, miming. Michael Lee, Paul’s friend, introduced the world of miming to Paul. He discovered that a mime is not just a man in white face pretending to be trapped in a box but a character. Lee gave Paul a first class experience of what miming is like through his company called Opus Mime.

Paul describes Opus Mime as the blue man group. Opus mime can be more physically demanding which can lead to a few bumps and bruises but Paul will do anything for a laugh.

“You don’t become a mime you’re born a mime,” jokingly said Paul.

Recently Paul has been cast as a mime in a music video, Munther Fahmi (Yoma Khatha). He only appears in the video for a minute but his friends and fans love it.

Paul also went to Second City to be in their improv comedy classes.

“Second City of Chicago is a mecca for improv and sketch comedy,” said Paul.

He thinks his improve training helped him out more times then he can count because anything can go wrong in a show. Paul has had his fair share of close calls but one show he can remember all too well. He was attempting to escape a straight jacket in two minutes while dancing to Black Eye Pea’s when he noticed something went wrong. He did not move quick enough and time was running out. Luckily thanks to his quick hands he was able to escape just as the buzzer went off. The crowd did not even know that Paul messed up thanks to his training and making the trick look natural. Paul admits that making the trick look natural is one of the most important things in magic.

His training in both acting and improv comedy allowed Paul to perfect his performance and develop a stag persona. He is loud witty and humorous. On stage Paul is lively, however, off the stage he is completely different.

Ben Radell, a friend of Paul’s, describes Paul as a calm, average person. Radell and Paul have been friends for years.

“Paul’s act is what makes him great,” said Radell.

Radell has seen Paul perform at a Texas Roadhouse and describe his show as entertaining and fun.

“He did card tricks. Made coins disappear and made a ring disappear,” said Radell.

Paul returns to his hometown of Sterling Heights, Michigan to see his family and friends every year and admits the adjustment is not always so easy to get used to.

“It’s actually still an adjustment every time I come home because it’s just a different mentality in Sterling Heights then it is in Chicago. Things tend to go slower. There is no public transportation or subway so everything is a lot bigger and more spaced out so it’s weird even though I grew up there.” said Paul.

He even comes back to Michigan to do a few shows a year. Overall Paul performs over 200 shows a year throughout the Midwest and hopes to someday make it big. He has performed on the same stage as John Belushi in Second City and hopes that he could one day join the tour but knows that it will not be easy.

Paul worries about keeping his shows original. He said that it is very difficult to make new material which is why he studied the greats such as Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Harry Houdini. He still learns new tricks the same way as he did as a kid, books. Paul spends countless hours reading, watching and putting his own style into magic tricks and the trial and error method. Paul believes by putting a certain style to a trick it will make it successful.

Anyone can learn a card trick, but being able to perform it in an entertaining manor is a whole other ball game,” said Paul.

Card tricks are the most difficult trick to perform for Paul. The problem he said is remembering what to do while talking to the audience member. “You have to make it look natural because if you don’t, the trick doesn’t look good. The trick is to make them believe in the art of magic,” Paul said. He admits that he was messed up plenty of times but is thankful for his acting to help save his shows.

When Paul is not performing magic, acting or being a mime, he loves to play the drums. He plays in a band called Toast. Recently they have released a CD. They have even played a few shows. Toast is just starting out but Paul hopes that it will all go over well. Paul describes Toast’s style of music as listening music through an eight track. He admits the style is unique and enjoys playing with the band a lot.

Paul likes to combine his talents in his shows. In one show he used balloon animals to make a card trick more interesting. He asked an audience member named Laura to pick out a card. He ripped off the corner of her card and then threw her piece of card and a popped a balloon animal into an ordinary bag and told her that he would bring her balloon dog back to life using CPR. Paul blew the bag back up, ripped it open and magically her dog was back to life and attached to the dog was her card.

Another interesting magic trick he does is light his wallet on fire. He has opened his act with a joke,

“I’m Nick Paul I’m a magician. Would you guys like to watch me magish?”

He then pulled out his wallet and it was magically on fire. The fire wallet trick always leaves audiences amazed.

Paul admits that money is sometimes hard to come by but that is the life of a performer.

“There is no set schedule when you are a performer, and I still struggle with the mindset of not always having a solid paycheck. But you get used to it and persist when things get difficult (mainly booking gigs so I can pay rent), and enjoy it when you are busy,” said Paul.

He usually only works weekends as a magician but during the weekdays he performs with an improv comedy team called Wildcards and works as an intern for O’Connor casting company.

Paul loves performing magic not only because it is fun but because people treat him differently. He said that people treat him like a rock star and it is a huge ego boost even though he does not live like a rock star. He lives in a small house with a few roommates and when one of them moved out life got hard for Paul. He had to pay a few hundred dollars more in rent. Since Chicago can be expensive, Paul said that it is difficult having to pay more just because one person left.

Paul has shown his audiences that magic is not simply pulling a rabbit out of a hat saying “abracadabra.” It is about skill and practice. Magic was once the hype of the world. People used to wonder what trick Harry Houdini would do next. Magicians to this day regard Houdini as the greatest magician even 84 years after his death. Sadly the attention to magicians has faded, leaving magic in the backlight of entertainment.

Paul is hopeful magic is making a comeback. He recently performed at the famous Navy Pier and his show was a hit. This led him to do multiple shows which he is grateful for but he says that the best thing about the Navy Pier is the people themselves. One fan even dressed up as a storm trooper. Paul said that was pretty sweet.

“I do it because I can be my own boss and write my own show much of the time. I also get a thrill from honest-humorous reactions from the audience. There is an honest child like quality with magic and comedy that can’t be found in many other art forms,” said Paul.

Paul believes that magic is a lost art form and his website is dedicated to his love of the art of magic.

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