Mike Larkin Interviews Paul Draper

There are many highly specialized brilliant performers in the world of magic. Amazing stage artists such as Lance Burton, experts at the card table like Guy Hollingworth and masters of manipulation such as Juliana Chen.

But modern day Renaissance man Paul Draper takes a different approach, proclaiming himself to be a perspicacious polymath.

Despite ostensibly being a mentalist, the multi-talented Salt Lake City, Utah native is also a very skilled close-up and parlor magician.

More noteworthy however is his huge list of achievements outside the world of magic.

He has taught anthropology and communication studies at the university level, made Emmy award winning documentaries, works as a musical theater actor and is an adviser for world famous theme parks.

His status in the Las Vegas community has also led to him to take on his most audacious role yet – as a fully ordained minister providing marriage services as a free community service to members of the entertainment community. He has performed ceremonies for notables including Dan Sperry, Tyler Kyle Knight among other Las Vegas headliners.

So how does Paul manage to juggle so many different roles?

He said: “Performance leads to performance. The more we perform, the more we perform.”

Paul sees his life as “weaving a rug. A little blue yarn, a little red, some yellow and white. Each piece adds to the other to create the whole.” The Las Vegas resident believes every piece of his training works in harmony to create his unique brand.

He added:  “My anthropology studies give me a different approach to mentalism than the current vogue for psychological presentations.

“Rather than understanding the actions of participants based on their ID, Ego and Super Ego, I predict their thoughts-based on their culture.

“As an anthropologist I have the opportunity to look at all the different perspectives of culture, society and identity.”

Paul even starts his show with a stand up comedy-esque set defining his background and what an anthropologist is.

“My character draws upon the folklore, literary and film archetypes of characters such as Batman, Indiana Jones, Sherlock Holmes and even Santa. Characters that know what you are thinking study every topic available and almost know your thoughts enough to know what toys you want and if you have been good or bad!”

This has led to Paul developing a more theatrical and whimsical style that leaves it up to his audience to decide how he makes his amazing divinations.

When asked if his education has helped him in his presentations he said:  “My studies have definitely affected my style of performing. I integrate stories about myths, folklore, as well as modern theoretical and human perspectives. I think it makes for a very interesting and thought provoking mixture of education and entertainment”

Paul is already established as one of the world’s finest mentalists. He has performed in top venues in Las Vegas and New York, as well as featuring in the world-famous Magic Castle.

He has been seen talking about Houdini on the history Channel and chatting about shamans on Criss Angels’s show Mindfreak on A&E. His thoughts have been featured in articles in Psychology Today, Glamour Magazine and even the Associated Press.

The 32-year-old recently celebrated his second anniversary of being a full-time mystery performer, a salient time for some reflection on his magical journey.

He said: “It has been quite a hard road. I am excited to see what the rest of year three will bring.

“Starting in October 2008 at the head of the greatest recession in the last 60 years in American history was probably a bad idea, but it has been the greatest run of my life so far.”

Paul left a blooming career as an academic in 2003 to become a full-time entertainer, and his versatility soon proved to be a valuable asset.

He said: “Soon after leaving the ivory tower of academia I stage managed musical theater productions, acted in musical theater tours and took a full time position at the Venetian Hotel and Casio where I played many roles including magician, gondolier, juggler, visual artist and high roller suite entertainer.

“Leaving my full time job at the Venetian in October of 2008 I dedicated my time fully to working as a full time mentalist and speaker. I suddenly became the CEO of my own life and career.”

While making the transition from the luxury of receiving a regular paycheck was not easy, he believes it has been more than worth it, allowing him to branch out into other areas he is interested in while still maintaining a focus on his mentalism career.

However, he freely admits that being self-employed does not make his working days any shorter.

He said: “I spend 8 hours per day working at finding work. Marketing, sales, cold calls, promotion, product creation, follow ups, press releases, social media and the like.

“I decided that success would mean seeing this as a real job. Others with real careers work 40 hours per week or more doing their job and I needed to do the same.

Even if I have a show that day, I still put in 6-8 hours looking for more opportunities. Working on my show and performing have become the equivalent of my hobbies and pleasure time. That is something that I do after hours – after my sales day.”

“Of course some of my success has been about being in the right place at the right time, and how do I do that? By making sure to be in right places all the time.” He said in his monthly Mysteries of the Mind newsletter offered on his website.

However he also readily admits that his current success is born from a lifetime of study and dedication to magic.

Paul is not afraid to admit that mentalism chose him almost as much as he chose mentalism. As Eugene Burger often says, “Like the clergy, magic is often a calling.”

Paul said: I didn’t have a lot of money growing up. As an only child of a single mother in Salt Lake City, Utah I couldn’t afford illusions or expensive effects. Also I wasn’t particularly handy at building them myself.”

So he gained as much experience as a performer from his other interests in theater, juggling, and speaking as he did as a mystery entertainer.

Also his wide intellectual background allows him to make his performance pieces more layered than someone purely influenced by the world of magic.

He said: “In school, I was state champion in pantomime and one of the national champions in debate two years in a row. I took acting, singing, directing, business, debate and dance classes in middle school and high school.

“At the university level I double minored in Musical Theater and Communication with a major in Anthropology. My graduate work was in political rhetoric and I worked at a magic shop to help pay my way.”

His predisposal to magic-of-the-mind paid off during the time he studied at University.

He said: “Mentalism could be performed for university students without seeming silly. I could build the props needed from school supplies that were readily available. The key to mentalism was in understanding and loving the other person – a skill that I enjoyed.”

But, despite his outgoing and gregarious personality today, Paul admits he was not always so confident.

As so often seems to be the case, the young Draper was an introverted lad who found magic could be a social outlet.

Dazzled after seeing some of the truly great magicians of the last century, it was not long before he was interested in finding out more about the art himself.

He said: “As a child, I saw Harry Blackstone Jr., Harry Anderson and David Copperfield perform magic on T.V.

My uncle took me to the touring production of David Copperfield’s show in the early 1980’s when he came through Salt Lake City, and while on a family trip at age 10 we made a special trip to see Michael Skinner perform the three card monte at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas.

“When I was young, I was very shy and so desperately wanted to believe that magic was real. I remember the first time I was taken into the magic shop, the man behind the counter could do amazing things with ropes and blades and colored sticks and strings.

“I looked up at him as he hovered high above the glass case filled with colorful cards, feathers, wands and coins – and politely asked in a small voice “Is magic real?”

“To which he quickly quipped ‘Yes, and you can learn how to do it too for $7.95.’

“I instantly pulled out my wallet and several weeks of savings only to find that… it was… a trick. I had been fooled. This finger chopper wasn’t real magic; it was merely a trick blade.

“Yet something from within compelled me to practice and memorize the story that came printed in the red and green plastic package. Some great force drove me to go up to one of my peers on the playground and perform it for them.

“At that moment, when I saw the amazement in their eyes, I realized that it wasn’t just a trick. Instead, I found in that singular moment, in the sharing of the experience and wonder – in that moment, it was real magic.”

And the power that came from being able to impart the moment of wonder soon also led to a transformation in Paul.

He said: “I bought more effects and practiced. I read more books and learned. Slowly but surely my shyness faded away and my confidence and ability to work a room blossomed – giving me a life long desire to use magic to amuse, educate and entertain in every appropriate instance.

“It gave me the confidence to carry magic where ever I went and use it to leave places and people a smile happier than they were when I found them.”

He has come a long way from his early days, but even now he admits he will always have more to learn.

Perhaps the hardest lesson he has had in the last few years was in understanding the entrepreneurial side of performance.

He said: “The business of my job is my responsibility. There will never be an agent, a manager or anyone else who cares more about my career than I do.

“I can not wait for a hand from the magical world to pluck me from obscurity and give me work. I have to build relationships and find my own opportunities while proving myself every day.

“A bit of advice for entertainers – Though some take the role of the shy girl and make sure that everything is as pretty as a picture before they go to the ball, and once there, they stand coyly by the wall waiting for someone else to ask them to dance.

“I have found that successful entertainers take the dashing gentlemen’s role, risk rejection and stir up their courage to boldly ask others to join them.”

In addition to serving as a university lecturer he has also served as a teacher of a different kind at Jeff McBride’s Magic and Mystery School.

Paul believes the experience was a huge benefit to him professionally and socially.

He said: I attended one of the first Master Classes in Las Vegas, then came back for the very first Mysterium.

“After that I have attended every Magic and Meaning and Master Class for Mentalists until this year as I was so lucky to be ‘too busy’ performing my own shows.

“I have helped teach at Magic for Mentalists, Street Magic and even Magic and Medicine.

“The friends that I have made at Magic and Meaning have been some of the best friends in magic that anyone could ever ask for. They continue to inspire me daily.”

And his time there has led to him making a number of observations about what the novice needs in his toolkit to be a solid professional.

He said: “Every magician must take opportunities to attend as many theater, dance, acting, speaking, comedy, stage management, business, marketing and sales classes as they can.

“Most importantly, please care more about your audience than yourself.”

And he believes there is still a lot to be learned about magic even in these cynical modern times.

He said “It is an endless discovery made every day and in every interaction between artist and audience where the two continually grow and shape each other.”

What is your favorite magic book, and why?

The Psychological Subtletiesbooks from Banacheck really shaped my thinking. The first book made me realize that powerful magic moments could come anywhere and with nothing more than paper and a pen.

Also –

Magic History and Performance Theory:

  • The Illustrated History of Magic by Milbourne Christopher
  • Tarbell Course in magic volume 1 by Dr. Harlan Tarbell et al.
  • The Five Points in Magic by Juan Tamariz
  • Verbal Magic by Juan Tamariz
  • The Magic of Ascanio compiled and written by Jesús Etcheverry
  • Magic and Meaning by Eugene Burger and Robert E. Neale
  • Strong Magic by Darwin Ortiz
  • Designing Miracles by Darein Ortiz
  • Books of Wonder by Tommy Wonder
  • Maximum Entertainment by Ken Weber
  • Shattering Illusions by Jamy Ian Swiss
  • Neo Magic Artistry by S.H. Sharpe
  • Art and Magic by S.H. Sharpe
  • Our Magic by Nevil Maskelyne & David Devant
  • Find the Stuff That’s You by Chris Carey
  • The Magic Mirror by Robert E. Neale & David Parr
  • Greater Magic by John Hilliard
  • Hiding the Elephant by Jim Steinmeyer
  • The Last Greatest Magician in the World by Jim Steinmeyer
  • Glorious Deception by Jim Steinmeyer
  • Magic and Showmanship by Henning Nelms
  • The Trick Brain by Dariel Fitzkee
  • Foundations by Eberhard Riese
  • Scripting Magic by Peter McCabe

Non magic books I feel magicians should read:

  • How to Argue & Win Every Time by Gerry Spence
  • The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
  • The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell
  • An Actor Behaves by Tom Markus
  • You Are The Message by Roger Ailes
  • The True Believer by Eric Hoffer
  • Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
  • Born Standing Up by Steve Martin
  • Making a Good Script Great by Linda Seger
  • Zen and the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury
  • Why People Believe Weird Things by Michael Shermer and Stephen Jay Gould

What is your favorite trick?

It changes regularly. For me to perform Right now Kurotsuki by Max Maven from the Video Mind series. I have my own twist on it and currently use it as my opening.

For others to perform: The Harbin sawing. Truly a beautiful illusion that looks so very magical. My favorite performance of it has to be by Mark Kalin and Jinger in their show Carnival of Wonders with Jeff Hobson that I fist saw in Reno back in 2001 or 2002.

Who are your favorite magical performers?

Magic: I was inspired by Doug Henning, Harry Blackstone Jr., Looy Simonoff and Eugene Burger.

Mentalism writing: Bannacheck, Max Maven and Barrie Richardson.

Children’s magicians: Paul Brewer & Christopher Fair.

My 42 favorite magicians to watch (in no particular order). One day I would like to throw a magic party and have this be the cast list (it could be done for about $75,000).  Don’t worry, if you’re not on the list. You are still invited to the show. 🙂

  • Helder Guimarães
  • Derek Hughes
  • Mac King
  • Bob Sheets
  • David Williamson
  • Roberto Giobbi
  • Lennart Green
  • Sebastien Clergue
  • Guy Hollingworth
  • Max Maven
  • Juan Tamariz
  • Michael Weber
  • Dirk Losander
  • Paul Green
  • Ardan James
  • Rob Zabrecky
  • Howard Hamburg
  • Johnny Ace Palmer
  • Scott Hitchcock
  • Jeff McBride
  • Marco Tempest
  • Banachek
  • Romany Diva of Magic
  • Andy Nyman
  • Darren Brown
  • John Archer
  • Wayne Dobson
  • Paul Daniels
  • Ricky Jay
  • Harry Anderson
  • Penn & Teller
  • Lance Burton
  • Appollo Robbins
  • Paul Brewer
  • Christopher Fair
  • Gary Darwin
  • Anthony Blake
  • Alan Ackerman
  • Peter Reveen
  • Mark Kalin & Jinger
  • Eugene Burger
  • Bob Fitch

What are your influences outside of magic and mentalism?

In his video for the Essential Magic Conference he said “Stay away from just the pure study of mentalism, because the pure study of mentalism is not the future of mentalism.”

  • Hiding the Elephant by Jim Steinmeyer
  • How to Argue & Win Every Time by Gerry Spence
  • The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
  • The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell
  • An Actor Behaves by Tom Markus
  • McDonaldization of Society by George Ritzer
  • The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner
  • Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
  • Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow
  • The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman
  • The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
  • Why People Believe Weird Things by Michael Shermer and Stephen Jay Gould
  • Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose
  • Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson
  • The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
  • Born Standing Up by Steve Martin

I read a lot!

Endnote – Other interesting material

Paul also prepared a thought provoking video for the Essential Magic Conference where he covers topics such as what makes a great mentalism performance, his pet peeves in regards to the art, and many more topics.

It can be viewed by following this browser link – http://essentialmagicconference.com/videos/33

You can get even more information about Paul on his regularly updated newsletter page at http://www.mentalmysteries.com/newsletter/

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