“Parr explores the outskirts of the human imagination: folklore and fairy tales, poltergeists and psychic powers. A celebration of the weird and wonderful in everyday life.” — Capital Times
“An expert in audience participation.” — Milwaukee Journal
“See him or book him for an event. You’ll enjoy everything.” — Milwaukee Sentinel
Regarding The Magic Cabaret:
“Low on hokum and high on thoughtfulness, this is an evening that shows magic to its best advantage, up close and personal.” — Chicago Reader
“You have a special treat awaiting you every Wednesday at the Greenhouse Theater Center. Don’t miss it.” — Chicago Lawyer Magazine
“Lucky viewers at this show will watch the simply impossible happen in front of their noses.” — Center Stage Chicago
“The show’s a blast.” — Chicago Tribune
Regarding Haunting History:
“The atmosphere is heavy with unexpected, unexplained happenings. Literate and gracefully phrased.” — Milwaukee Journal
“Parr has perfected the power of suggestion to a fine art.” — Evanston Review
“An eerie, inventive melodrama exploring the supernatural. The very stuff of which Halloween is made.” — Downtown Edition
“Parr turns darkness into a ghostly visitation.” — Milwaukee Sentinel
“Smart, scary Halloween entertainment.” — Happy Halloween Magazine
Regarding Visions of Poe:
“Visions of Poe is a sensational trip into the mind of a nervous man teetering on the edge of madness. A night of fright that run-of-the-mill haunted houses will be hard-pressed to replicate.” — Marquette Tribune
“Make no mistake about it: This is no haunted house. This theatrical experience rises above such a category.” — TimeOut
Interview from Hallowzine, Issue 2, Winter 2002
It’s October 31st. We are guided to a room on the lower level of a gorgeous mansion on Chicago’s Prairie Avenue. The house was built in 1897; history is a palpable presence here. A deck of old Halloween fortunetelling cards is placed into an empty wineglass. A brief poem is recited — or is it an incantation? Slowly, a single card rises from among the others as if lifted by a ghostly hand. This is Halloween with magician David Parr. Join me as we get to know this man of mystery.
Tell me about your background. Where are you from?
I live in Chicago, but I was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I grew up in the ’60s and ’70s, and I developed an early fascination for the strange and mysterious. I was irresistibly attracted to monster movies and horror comics, even though they gave me terrifying dreams! The first book I owned on the subject of magic was titled Spooky Tricks. It taught me how to demonstrate invulnerability by poking pins into my fingers and how to apparently swallow a live goldfish — actions guaranteed to evoke horrified responses from grown-ups. I treasured that book.
Did you have a magic teacher?
I’m often asked whether I was introduced to magic by a relative who was a magician, but no one in my family was or is in showbiz. Actually, magic is an art that is largely self-taught. There are many books on stage and close-up magic, books written by and for some of the greatest practitioners of the art in the past several centuries. The first book on conjuring written in the English language was published in 1584.
How did you get interested in the mystical side of life?
My interest in stage conjuring began at age seven, when I received a magic set as a gift. The thought of retreating to my room and poring over secret information was deeply appealing to me, regardless of the fact that this esoteric knowledge came with a plastic top hat! Magic represented a hidden kingdom, a world separate from everyday reality, a world accessed mainly through books. I was already an avid reader, so I began devouring every book I could find on magic. I spent hours and hours alone in my room, reading and practicing. When I emerged from my room, family and friends were subjected to makeshift magic shows in the kitchen or living room.
At the same time, my interest in ghosts and monsters and the supernatural was growing. I was reading Ray Bradbury and watching Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Bear in mind that this supernatural stuff scared me as much as it fascinated me! When I was ten years old, I performed a mock séance in my room. After persuading my family to sit in a circle, holding hands in total darkness for what seemed like an eternity, the “spirits” manifested — they reached out their clammy hands and rang a small bell. When the lights were turned on, it was discovered that the ghostly presence had also consumed half a glass of water and left a message — in a handwriting suspiciously like my own — on a pad of paper in the center of the circle. I wish I could remember what the message said!
When I reached college and began taking classes in anthropology and reading books on ancient myth and religion, I discovered that the world of magic is not so separate from everyday reality. We are surrounded by magic. The arts as we know them — theater, dance, music, painting, sculpture — came from magic. They were ceremonial in function. The sciences grew from magic as well — alchemy gave rise to chemistry, astrology to astronomy. Magic is present in our myths and folklore, it’s in our entertainment, and it’s in our daily behavior. If you doubt that, let me ask you, have you ever read your horoscope, or knocked on wood, or avoided the number thirteen? Have you ever hesitated to state a strong desire out loud for fear of “jinxing” it? So, in a sense, it’s practically impossible to avoid the mystical side of life. It’s a large part of who we are as human beings.
Why are you a magician? What do you enjoy most about it?
Of all the means of self-expression in which I’ve participated, magic is my favorite. While my needs today are different from those I had when I was a child, magic still provides something I need and can’t get from any other source. It has such depth. What do I enjoy most? Sharing that experience with others. The experience of wonder and mystery is a basic human experience. As we become more technologically sophisticated and our practical knowledge of the world expands, it’s important that we maintain a connection to what makes us human. We need to have contact with mystery, with things that cannot be explained in a sentence or expressed in ones and zeros.
I know Halloween is a favorite time of year for you. Why?
Halloween is a magic time. It’s a time when we give ourselves permission to embrace the uncanny and mysterious. In a playful way, we confront the mysteries of death and decay and imagine the possibility of life beyond death. By making the supernatural manifest in our games and costumes and masks, we face our fears and desires and experience catharsis. Anyone who has walked through a cemetery at midnight knows what it is to be human, what it is to be mortal. It’s an exhilarating experience of mystery and the unknown — What’s out there in the dark? Is something following me? Does it mean to harm me?
I’ve noticed that your Halloween show is directed toward grown-ups. Why is that?
I think Halloween is, at its heart, a grown-up holiday. Concerns about to what degree we control our own destinies, as expressed in Halloween divination games, and concerns about mortality, as seen in the iconography of Halloween — these are grown-up concerns. The experience of wonder and mystery can be fun for children, but it’s necessary for adults. So I wanted to create a show that would appeal to grown-up sensibilities. It seems to me that the underlying theme of much Halloween entertainment is, There’s a man in a hockey mask hiding around the corner. I’m interested in exploring deeper waters. The theme I’m striving for is, What if there are mysterious forces at work in the world, forces that are beyond our understanding? That’s what Halloween is about. It’s not about candy. It’s about unsettling questions.