The Magic Parlour at The Palmer House Hilton has been a Chicago staple for a decade. Before that, it enjoyed a run at The Chopin Theatre in Wicker Park. Dennis Watkins had tapped into an audience that appreciated his ability to possess both the wow factor with his skilled illusions and mentalism and also recognized the importance of the intimate experience when it came to magic. How does one take that experience and transfer it to the confines (bus also, comfort) of their home? It is no surprise that open run live performances have had to pivot to virtual solutions lest they are forgotten by their fans in this age of uncertainty. The Magic Parlour at Home takes the extra steps to acknowledge, appreciate and relate.
As one enters the Zoom waiting area, an assistant checks you in. At the top of the show, an instructional video very clearly spells the rules of the experience so even those who have never Zoomed before can follow without a hitch. Even so, the unpredictability of individuals’ internet speed and knowledge of computer navigation can be a factor and even a seasoned professional like Watkins spends a portion of their performance dealing with technical issues. However, it’s part of the charm and those hiccups are just a reminder how performances are now oscillating between the emulation of the live audience experience and the comforting admission that most of us are watching without wearing pants.
Dennis Watkins invites audiences into his personal life
In tune with recognizing that the production is home based, Watkins early on tackles how he has managed to transform his basement into a studio for his virtual performances. There are two camera angles that he toggles between by having a cellphone on his desk. His sleight of hand and multitasking prove to be excellent skills as the switching between those angles is seamless. There is a monitor which displays his virtual guests as he pulls them in because —what is a magic show without audience participation?!? Consequently, the featured guest becomes someone whose reactions you invest in. Unlike a live performance where you would normally stare into the back of the participant’s head or if they have been called on stage, feel their discomfort with being under the spotlight, the participant is highlighted on screen with Watkins. You can see the reactions on their face. Virtual audience participation seems to feel less forced and more genuine, at least to this writer team.
But the invitation into the tech aspect of Watkins’ show isn’t the only intimate sharing in The Magic Parlour at Home. Numerous times, Dennis’ grandfather is introduced as the figure who ignited the love of magic within his grandson, our host. Anecdotes about his grandfather’s skills serve as transitional material from one trick to the next. You too may also find that they help to bring humanity and relativity to the magician. Mysticism surrounds Watkins’ craft. Meanwhile, he reiterates his consistent message: “You, too, are magic!”
Connecting with you inner child
The Magic Parlour at Home isn’t billed as a children’s show, possibly due to the fact that one must have some knowledge of card suits, for example, and not due to any explicitly adult content. Yet, there is something peculiar about how it transforms each of us—the adults in the room-- into a kid full of wonder and awe. The feats are designed to impress and this writer team found that they do! One particular trick had Dennis Watkins correctly guess a guest’s choice of a Wikipedia article of a person so random no one, including Watkins, had ever heard of them before. More, the performance doesn’t feel overly manufactured. This seems to resonate with youngsters, and the kid within the adults. We can’t blame smoke and mirrors distracting us from the acts. The result is an hour filled with unconditional joy, laughs, and magic—even in the age of COVID!
Thru September 25, 2020
Fridays and Saturdays 7:30 PM US Central
For tickets and Information, visit The Magic Parlour website.
Images courtesy Dennis Watkins
About the Author:
Tonika Todorova and her son Jaxon DuFloth:
Tonika Todorova is a freelance writer and director that goes by the self imposed title of Adventure Architect. She experiences a lot of performance with her eight year old son, Jaxon, by her side, and his reflections on Chicago theatre offer a refreshingly new perspective for her, and hopefully, others. Jaxon practices autonomous learning and is proud to be an Albany Park Chicago Children's Choir singer. Tonkia and Jaxon also enjoy reviewing children's books together. You can learn more about them and their experience writing for Picture This Post by watching this Picture This Post YouTube video.