Mastering the craft of magic, the slight of hand, and the art of maneuvering around disbelief, according to Chicago-based magician Dennis Watkins, requires the mastery of multiple worlds.
“It takes the understanding of stagecraft, of story telling, performance,” Watkins said. “It’s theatrical.”
Watkins’ theatrical, mind-jazzing magical-hybrid show, THE MAGIC PARLOUR, is currently in the beginning of its open run at The Palmer House Hilton in downtown Chicago. It’s an opportunity for audiences to revert to a night of “old-school entertainment,” as Watkins describes it, entertainment that mixes the wonders of modern magic with a setting (thanks to the grand Palmer House Hilton) stripped from 1940s America.
PARLOUR's roots extend several neighborhoods north, in Wicker Park's House Theater. Watkins brought the show to the stage for the first time in 2010, though since it’s transplant to the Palmer House, it's undergone some transformations of its own.
“Most people think of magic and see David Copperfield - with THE MAGIC PARLOUR, everyone can literally be inches away. It’s the reason we do the show for 50 people instead of 100: everyone can participate.”
PARLOUR's set-up is simple: in a small, though artistically articulated room nestled on the 7th floor of the Palmer House Hilton, a group of a few dozens chairs are lined in a semi-circle, with Watkins and his menagerie of magic the focal point.
“[It was a] cool, quirky thing to do on a Friday night in Wicker Park,” Watkins said. “It’s been really fun to figure it out from late night bar crowd to something that belongs in that beautiful room in the Palmer House as a real upscale event.”
There are no mishaps, no slipped cards falling from his cuff, no wrong guesses, failed mind readings, nothing to convince the audience that Watkins is anything but a psychic wonder kin, bending the natural laws of the universe in one-two, snapping any premonitions or preconceived notions the audience may have.
After all, he has been doing it for the majority of his life.
At age seven, Watkins' grandfather, the owner of a magic shop in Dallas, began to double as a mentor and teacher, introducing him to the craft. His grandparents would take him to the Texas Association of Magician conventions, he said, placing him among thousands of his future colleagues, participating in workshops and lectures. Watkins hasn’t looked back since.
“From seven onwards, I’ve been in love with it,” Watkins said. “It’s totally heaven.”
And though PARLOUR is enjoying an open run, Watkins isn’t abandoning the prospect of moving forward with other projects. His next endeavor, THE MAGNIFICENTS, is a theatrical production with magic infused, and is set to open in January at The House Theater, PARLOUR's former home. It will be the second run of his play, which originally opened in 2007. THE MAGNIFICENTS is primarily based off of his relationship with his grandfather (whom Watkins loosely plays,) and explores themes of legacy and mentorships.
Though prior to joining him at THE MAGNIFICENTS, Watkins encourages Chicagoans to come check out PARLOUR, it’s uniqueness, and its charm.
“It’s unlike anything else that’s playing in the city,” Watkins assures with a laugh. “It’s guaranteed to have you laughing and mystified at the same time. It’s a really wonderful, old-school feeling of entertainment – in the way that it’s smart, sophisticated, but also just really, really fun.”
The Magic Parlour is currently playing an open run at The Palmer House Hilton. Showtimes are Friday nights at 8 and 10:30 PM, tickets are $75 and include an open bar. They are available online at http://boxoffice.printtixusa.com/housetheatre/eventcalendar or by calling 773-769-3832.