Pittsburgh Current Staff Writer
Sleight-of-hand is the family business for Chicago magician Dennis Watkins.
His uncle Jeff is a magician and so is his grandfather, Ed. In fact, Ed ran his own magic shop in Texas for more than 30 years. So, when the younger Watkins expressed interest in learning the craft at seven, he was in good hands.
“I’ve wanted to do this job since I was a kid,” he says.
Watkins combines this childlike wonder with mentalism and sleight-of=hand magic in “The Magic Parlour,” running from now until Sept. 29 at Liberty Magic, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust venue dedicated to parlour magic.
Unlike other shows at Liberty Magic, which gives the historic form a modern, edgy twist, “The Magic Parlour” gives off a swanky air, with a suit-clad Watkins performing tricks to impressionist piano and jazz.
After graduating with a degree in acting, Watkins moved to Chicago to start The House Theater of Chicago, a multidisciplinary theater company that allowed him to combine magic with theater.
“I’m one of those lucky people who, when they were in first grade and the teacher said, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ I actually get to be that,” he says.
Watkins first performed “The Magic Parlour” eight years ago in Chicago at the Palmer House Hilton hotel. The venue and the concept are similar to Liberty Magic’s; Watkins performs to a small group of 44 people for an intimate, magical night.
Audience members can expect the same Chicago set in Pittsburgh, but with a few additions and changes, according to Watkins.
“I had a lot of guests over the last couple weeks say to me, ‘Hey we’re from Pittsburgh and we saw you’re going to be at Liberty Magic and here we are in Chicago, so we thought we’d come to your show here,’” he says. “I can say that those folks are going to see some different stuff if they come back to it.”
Watkins also serves as one of three artistic advisors to Liberty Magic, a post he has held since the venue’s opening last year.
After helping plan the venue, Watkins says it’s incredible to finally perform in the venue.
“It’s just such a joy to be able to be in a space that literally my imagination got to to design a little bit,” he says. “I voiced the kinds of things that I would want as someone who does a parlour-style magic show five shows a week to walk in and have all those things there, it’s remarkable.”
For audience members used to seeing larger shows, Watkins says “The Magic Parlour” and other Liberty Magic give them a chance to take part in a custom experience.
“This is sort of a unique opportunity to see magic in a room that’s built for magic by professional working entertainers who are getting to sit down for a stretch of time and work on a longer-form magic show,” he says.
Watkins hopes the show inspires those who come into the theater with their guard up and their arms crossed to revel in the awe and mystery.
“Theater-goers as grownups living our day-to-day lives, we don’t get to live in that place very often,” he says. “So I hope that that that’s what we can give them when they come to The Magic Parlour. It’s just a chance to experience joy and wonder in a light-hearted way.”