Picture the Deal!!! Discount Tickets Preview
Editor’s Note: Last spring, Picture this Post writer Taryn Smith reviewed Near Death Experience – “IndyFringe Theatre Festival award-winning NEIL TOBIN, NECROMANCER: NEAR DEATH EXPERIENCE Review: An Interactive Exploration of Mortality”.
Now, Tobin is re-mounting NEAR DEATH EXPERIENCE for Halloween Season
October 7 – November 4
5800 N. Ravenswood Ave Chicago
Listen in on this conversation between Picture this Post (PTP) and Neil Tobin (NT), to find out more about this production, his admirable charitable work using magic to help children heal, and more below.
Picture this Post (PT) What is the inspiration for the production?
Neil Tobin (NT) Around Halloween several years ago, back when I was performing Supernatural Chicago every week at the dearly departed Excalibur nightclub, an interviewer with the Tribune asked me what activity I’d recommend to readers looking to do something fun and off-the-beaten-path. Without even thinking, I blurted out, “Visit the cemeteries!”
Chicago — and I say this with the pride of one who was born and raised here — has some of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world: acre upon acre of beautifully landscaped parkland filled with trees, dotted with gorgeous sculptures and memorials, and crisscrossed by peaceful paths to walk. And I recognized in that interview that the major reason most people don’t even think of going there is because they’re afraid to think about mortality.
That’s a big issue that needs to be addressed, as confirmed by several books from noted psychologists and medical doctors. But nobody was using interactive theatre. So I set out to apply my skill set — including comedic storytelling, improv and magical performance — to reach a different audience and give them a good time along the way. Near Death Experience is the result.
How scary is Near Death Experience?
I’m going to say this once in all caps: THIS SHOW IS NOT SCARY. AT ALL. It can be serious, it can be surprising, it can even be funny. And there are certainly some people who are carrying around psychological baggage about cemeteries being creepy because they watched too many hours of Scooby Doo as kids. But Near Death Experience is, as it says on the website, “dead-serious fun.”
Are you really a necromancer?
The word goes back centuries, and originally meant somebody who could speak with the spirits of the departed (that’s the “necro” part) in order to forecast the future: in other words, an oracle, a fortuneteller. Over the centuries, it’s been expanded to mean someone who exhibits any variety of magical or psychic ability, so that applies. And since I often use magical performance skills to communicate serious themes (including death), “necromancer” feels like a more apt description than “magician” or “mentalist” or “psychic” — and certainly carries more weight.
What has been one of your favorite memories from your original run this past spring?
When I perform magic and psychic entertainment for corporate and private events, I’m used to getting a certain type of reaction — surprise, applause, laughter. But after this show, people have actually asked to give me hugs. So I might be reaching them on a more profound level.
Also, after nearly every performance, I hear from at least one person who says, “I’ve lived here for 20 or more years, but I’ve never been to Rosehill before. It’s beautiful!” So, mission accomplished there.
Who do you recommend see this show?
I think everybody from high-school age and up should see it. But nobody younger. Not because it contains any objectionable material, but because it can get serious at times, and less mature attention spans simply won’t be able to appreciate it.
Let me put it this way: it’s over an hour of me talking. No car chases. No explosions. I’ve seen adults who don’t have the attention span for that! So please, don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because there are magical elements, this is a magic show for children. It is not.
What else are you currently working on?
Speaking of children: in my life outside performance, I just started working with an incredible nonprofit focused on the emotional needs of children in hospitals. Along with the serious health challenges and difficult medical treatments these kids obviously face, there’s also stress, fear, pain, sadness, and a sense of absolute powerlessness. And this organization — Open Heart Magic — sends volunteer magicians to their bedsides to perform and teach them magic. It’s empowering and therapeutic, and parents often tell us it’s the first time they’ve seen their children smile since they got there.
Since our volunteer magicians are rigorously trained in clinical protocols, they can go where other charities can’t: reaching kids in the emergency room, pediatric intensive care, burn units, oncology, and isolation. Open Heart Magic has been doing this for over a decade, and I’m so honored to be their Assistant Director of Magic and Community Outreach. We’re currently partnering with a dozen hospitals and bringing magic to over 13,000 young patients annually — giving them the hope and strength they need to keep fighting to get better. You can find out more at openheartmagic.org.
What first sparked your interest in magic?
I noticed as a kid that I had a certain sense of intuition, an ability to pick up nonverbal information and be sensitive to my surroundings to a greater degree than most of the adults around me. That piqued my interest. So I went to the library and read everything I could about psychic subjects. And on the shelf next to those were books about ghosts and hauntings, so I read everything I could about that. And next to those were books about magic, so I read everything I could about that. These formative interests have remained in my artistic bloodstream ever since.
When did you decide to make magic performance a career?
I never set out to make magic performance a career. I just realized that without it, I wasn’t as happy. Ever since grade school, when I started learning about magic, I enjoyed sharing it with friends and family. And shortly after, starting about eighth grade, I became immersed in theatre.
From that point through the end of college, I was constantly involved in theatrical life — if I wasn’t auditioning or performing or taking class, I was painting sets or writing press releases. After graduating, getting married, starting a family and pursuing a creative but non-performing career in advertising, I realized how much I missed having theatre in my life.
The idea of mounting a magical solo show was a natural: I could write, produce and perform it myself, and rehearse it during the odd times in my schedule. So I put together my interests in psychic and magical performance, used them to tell the stories of Chicago’s paranormal history, and mounted my first ongoing show, Supernatural Chicago. I had no idea it would climb to the top of TripAdvisor and run every week for 10 years, or that I would still be making magical theatre today.
Do you ever take on apprentices?
Through my work with Open Heart Magic, I have a couple hundred of them! I get to work with people who may never have performed magic before, but who are dedicated to helping sick children; and over the course of months of study, I help turn them into wonderful, caring magicians who are making a real difference in the world. That’s enormously gratifying.
In the theatre world, I’ve taught magical performance skills to actors as an advisor on several productions, including The Days Are Shorter at Pride Films & Plays; and The Addams Family (Jeff Award) and Barnum (Jeff Nominated) at the Mercury Theater. And though I’d never call them apprentices, I’ve taught thousands of performers globally through the release of my original magical creations, articles written for trade publications, and lectures for the Society of American Magicians and at the national conference of the Psychic Entertainers Association.
Also, at some point I’d love to teach a workshop to university theatre students on creating magical solo theatre (so if any theatre teachers or school administrators are reading this, let’s talk).