Adults who believe magic shows are exclusively for the juvenile set are doing themselves a disservice—especially when the magician Dan White is alive and well and doing his act with such deft sleight of hand that even the most skeptical will find themselves mesmerized.
White is a known quantity among in-the-know Hollywood types (Sacha Baron Cohen, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ashton Kutcher) and New Yorkers, who flocked to his weekly show at the NoMad hotel to watch him do his “time-traveling” card tricks, in which he predicts how a guest will draw a series of cards, and then relates one of them to a moment from that person’s past.
When the world locked down last March, White vanished from the stage (sorry, we couldn’t help ourselves) and spent the remainder of the year figuring out how to transfer his in-person show to the Zoom audience. The resulting show, which he calls The Magician, is remarkable, with White having created an immersive online experience that makes his guests feel like they are present, even if they are traveling only as far as their own living rooms.
“We do a lot of things with Zoom that Zoom wasn’t built to do,” he says. Sure enough, a Dan White experience has nothing in common with the videoconferencing software’s traditional uses. Held live over the platform a few nights a week, his 80-minute-long show books out weeks in advance, as attendance is limited to 150 households. A few days before each performance, guests are sent a box full of props (and snacks), which are to be opened only right before showtime. There is also a gentle reminder to dress for a night out. (This is magic for the style set, after all.)
White’s online show does not have card tricks, but audience participation is still an essential component, with willing participants frequently put in the hot seat while White seemingly reads their minds. White’s grand finale (spoiler alert), which may or may not involve a red balloon, ties the various elements together by revealing the destiny of a red balloon that made a foreshadowing appearance during the show’s introduction.
The resulting show, which he calls The Magician, is remarkable.
“It leaves you with a weird little question mark,” he says with a smile.
The 40-year-old White grew up in downtown Philadelphia; his mother was a nurse and his father was an artist. An ardent fan of comic books and superheroes, he discovered magic at age 10, after experiencing David Copperfield in person. “It was a real-life interpretation of the fantasyland I’d been living in,” he explained. As a teenager, he got a job at a magic store, but instead of earning a paycheck, he worked in trade for an education in the craft.
After graduating from college, White was ultimately drawn back to magic, moving to New York and producing illusions for two of David Blaine’s television shows. Then he went to work for Copperfield in Las Vegas before he developed television projects of his own, including a Discovery Channel series in which he visited monks in Nepal to learn the origins of magic. “At the end of the day,” White says, “I’m just a big kid dreaming about nerdy things.”
Upon returning to New York, restaurateur Will Guidara enlisted him to create a magic component using a deck of cards for a dessert course at Eleven Madison Park. After Guidara and his then partner, Daniel Humm, took over the NoMad hotel, Guidara invited him to do an evening show Thursday through Saturday in a spare room. White and his team at Theory11 (his company) created a theatrical experience, and for the next five years it was A Thing.
Although White plans an eventual return to a physical-performance space, he will continue with his online format as well, given its ability to attract guests from all over the world.
It helps that he is able to make it all happen from his home, in Connecticut, where he lives with his wife and young daughter. It turns out that his three-year-old may be the one person that White fails to impress. “She hands me a toy and says, ‘Please don’t disappear it,’” he says with a smile. “Maybe I’m ‘disappearing’ stuff too much.”
Ashley Baker is the Style Editor for Air Mail