Dan Sperry began doing magic when he was a kid. Now, he’s playing to Broadway crowds as part of the show, “The Illusionists.” He talks about how he became interested in magic, and how audiences in his hometown can be a tough sell.
When did you discover your love for magic? When I was about four or five years old my grandparents took me to see David Copperfield. I had no idea who he was or that magic could be so theatrical and larger than life. At the time my only exposure to magic was seeing a magician at my school, library or maybe a birthday party, and up until that point it really had no effect on me.
But Copperfield opened the show with this trick called the Death Saw; he had to escape off a table before a huge six-foot spinning saw blade comes down and cuts him in half. There weren’t any boxes or cover, it was just out in the open. It was like one of those old-school Bond villain contraptions.
Well, the premise is that the trick apparently goes wrong and the saw accidentally falls too soon, and you visibly see him get cut in half. So as a little kid when this happened I freaked out and lost it - I had a total kid spaz moment because I thought I just saw a guy die. We had to go to the lobby and eventually leave the theater. I never saw him get put back together in the rest of the bit and never saw the rest of the show.
That was my first introduction. I was later given little magic kits from the toy store and things like that to illustrate how magic is all a trick or an illusion. But I never really had a defining moment. It just sort of happened and evolved with me. Magic and I sort of found each other as I kept reading more about it and working and building my own tricks and eventually performing shows. My whole career has sort of been an ever-growing snowball.
Where did you study? How does one study to do this and get a break in this niche career?I’m mainly self-taught. I grew up in central/northern Minnesota where the closest magicians were at least an hour away, so I read a lot of books and found videos to study from. The majority of my career - especially when I was just starting out, but even up to now - has been a lot of trial and error. I’ve had a lot of amazing opportunities and milestones but I think the biggest thing that has helped me is social media. I have a lot of really great fans from all over the world that have discovered me via Facebook shares and YouTube videos.
Living in New York, what does it represent to you to be on a Broadway stage? Do certain acts appeal more here versus elsewhere?The best thing about New York audiences is you get both sides of the coin. You have tourists who just love to see shows, which is great, but then you also get that New York audience that tells you like it is, and I love that. If they don’t like a bit, you’ll know. The brutal honesty is the best feedback. I’ve also found that they can also be the most fun to perform for. I always love coming back to NYC to not only perform, but also to just exist. The vibe here is like no other place in the world.
How did The Illusionists come about and how did you find yourself performing in the show?The show started almost four years ago as an event for the Sydney Opera House. I’m one of the two original acts that have been part of the show from the beginning. It has been a crazy ride for sure. The show in Sydney oversold the three-week run we did there and word spread like wildfire about this new cutting-edge magic show that broke their ticket sales records. It was crazy because we came out of nowhere. Before we knew it, we were touring all over the world. And now last year we finally came to America and did Broadway, and became the bestselling magic show in Broadway history. To be able to come back again for an even longer run is really cool.
Do you ever notice the reaction by children is different than adults to some of your acts? If so what do you see?Yes and no; yes, because I do some pretty shocking and out-there type magic tricks. Often times the parents or adults might have a harder time watching whereas the kids are like “That’s so cool!”
What has been the most dangerous segment you have performed?There’s a bit of danger in almost everything I do. It’s not so much short-term danger, but there are things that could potentially produce adverse effects later in life. One trick I’m doing on Broadway with a signed coin could potentially cause blindness later on if I’m not careful.
Where do you see yourself and magic overall in the future?I honestly don’t know and don’t even think about it. I’m taking it as it comes. I just want to be able to have fun doing what I do and hopefully people will continue to enjoy it, and then the snowball continues to build and build… and then I’d be able to go to Disney theme parks whenever and where I want.
What magic does NYC give you?Life. I feel alive here. Again, the energy and people of NYC are the best in the world.