Dan Sperry, who dubs himself ‘The Anti-Conjuror’, is one of the extraordinary people that make up The Illusionists – a modern take on the mystifying practice of magic that’s coming to Brisbane.
Dan, you’ve been described as ‘Marilyn Manson meets David Copperfield’ – do you enjoy that comparison?
I’m not against it but I don’t push it either. It was just a pop culture reference when it first was used on FOX TV about five years ago and has just kind of stuck. It’s like if I were to be compared to ‘Alice Cooper meets [1970’s magic star] Doug Henning’… that is, if I lived in the 70s...
Are you a MM fan?
I’m familiar with his work and respect what he’s done in his career but I can’t say I’ve ever seen him live or follow that closely to his current work. When I was young and Anti-Christ Superstar came out, I, like many of my friends, secretly owned a copy and hid it from my parents – ha ha.
Who has influenced your look?
I can’t say it was any one person or thing. Captain Hook has always been a big influence and artwork by Brom, musicians and bands like Misfits, Iggy Pop, and I remember even watching some rerun clip of [flamboyant 60’s rocker] Arthur Brown when I was really young and just being like, “What The Fuck Is This?” And it stuck with me, as well as films by, like, Tarantino and old German Expressionism films, like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. See... I’m all over the map, ha ha.
Was there a magic trick that drew you into that world?
I first got into magic when I was about four years old and my grandparents took me to see David Copperfield live. Now, at four years old kids don’t quite understand the difference between magic and a clown or anything like that. They’re kind of all the same and blend together. So it was really a new world or like being introduced to a new flavour or snorting that first line of cocaine. Everything changed. He opened with this escape trick where he had to get out before a giant spinning saw blade would fall on him – well it goes wrong and you see him visibly get cut in half. I freaked out – I had no idea what was going on, I thought I just saw a man die. We had to leave the theatre and I never saw him “get put back together”. From there I was given magic kits and stuff to sort of show me it was just a trick or an illusion.
Why do you bill yourself as the anti-conjuror?
It is just a name I made up years ago that says “magic” or “magician” indirectly and also represents what I do to present it. In most of the markets I work if I were to call myself a magician or be billed as a magician it would not go over well because magicians have such disappointing stereotypes that I try to stay away from. So by creating my own word or “title” I can infiltrate gigs under the radar.
Have you ever had a malfunction with an illusion?
All the time. The way you handle it is to not let the audience know. This comes from just doing your show over and over especially in front of a live audience. You can practice in your garage all you want but you really need to do it in a real environment.
What’s the most shocking illusion you do?
There are many and it all comes down to where an individual draws the line for themselves. Some people are offended or shocked by menstrual blood and some people aren’t. I do a bit about Harry Potter and menstrual blood – some people are shocked and offended and some are not, it really comes down to the individual. Another is where I eat a live rat, again some people are even offended and shocked by this and some are not. The funny thing is that I do something like that to a live rat, but then at a different part in the show I bring a woman up and I clearly stick needles thru her arms and she bleeds and other crazy stuff and people rarely get shocked and offended by that.
Are there some illusions that you think of and then discard because you think they might be too gory?
Yes, but the only way to know where the “line” is you have to cross it every once in a while.
How do you come up with illusions? Is there a lot of time making the equipment that you need?
I get ideas from everything – movies, theatre, real life things, pop culture, etc. It is really different: sometimes I will just throw something in the show in a day and see if it sinks or swims. Other times it does take many months or maybe years of refinement and building, tweaking, and re-building.
Did you see the movie The Illusionist with Edward Norton? There are some amazing illusions in that – could they be done in reality?
Yes I did see it. And yes they can be done, anything is possible with the kind of technology illusionists know and use – stuff people can’t even fathom. We are kind of like “Area-51” staff in that we have access and have created things that would blow your mind on how we can accomplish things now days.
What’s the most amazing illusion you have seen?
Still David Copperfield doing the death saw illusion.
Is there an illusion you witnessed that you couldn’t figure out how it was done?
Sort of. There are general principles that limit the magician, because science and nature’s laws make it clear there are only certain ways something could be accomplished. However there have been a few times where I’ve watched something and had maybe 90 per cent of it figured out, maybe I just couldn’t understand how the performer got from A to B to C.
What draws people to magic?
A Peter Pan complex. Everybody has a Peter Pan complex to some degree. They don’t want to grow up because as we grow up we lose something. You realize that the costumed character is not really Mickey Mouse – it’s a guy in a suit. Magic lets you feel something like that which you can’t explain and can let go and go back to that no rules, no limits, anything is possible kind of mentality.
Is it true that there are dire consequences for anyone who betrays a magician’s secret?
We have an island that we send you to that is inhabited by cannibals and when you get there you are given a gun with only one bullet in the chamber.
The Illusionists, Concert Hall, QPAC, South Bank, from January 18, 2013. Bookings: 136 246 or qpac.com.au