By Jim Vorel- H&R Staff Writer
"Mystifier" Mike Super asks a simple question - why limit oneself to only one branch of the "mystical arts" and a title as simple as "magician?"
"I don't like ‘magician' because it conjures up a picture of an old guy in a tuxedo and a top hat," said Super, who brings his award-winning "magic show" to Millikin University's Kirkland Fine Arts Center Sunday. "Who wears a tuxedo anymore? So I say ‘mystifier' because it better conveys all of the things I choose to do - magic, mentalism, illusions, escapes, etc.
"But most any other term is fine, honestly. They can call me a ‘tada American,' if they want."
Super has been performing magic since age 6, when he first began shows for neighborhood children in the back yard of his home. He had already been touring the country and winning awards for years in 2007 when he accepted an invitation to join the cast of NBC's live magic competition "Phenomenon." Winning the show's national voting and the $250,000 prize vaulted Super's career in magic into the next level.
"I still get recognized by people on the street based on that show three years later," he said. "It changed a lot of things. I used to do my show and people were surprised by how high the production values were. Now, it's simply expected of me, and I have to work even harder to meet that expectation."
Of course, an inevitable question arises when it comes to the format of a television show based on performing acts of "mentalism," or influencing the minds of others. If a mentalist really was successful, couldn't he or she influence the judges and audiences critiquing a performance?
"Unfortunately, I'm not a hypnotist, so I can't just plant ideas to make someone vote for me," Super said. "I did always think it was kind of funny, though, that it was a show with a bunch of possible psychics who all thought they were going to be the winner."
Audience participation makes Super's performance "a magic show turned on its side and spilled into the audience." Be it levitating an audience member or divining private information, Super is obsessed with creating a show that is more than just a progression of tricks.
"My show breaks down the fourth wall that I've always hated in magic," he said. "I also like to have a reason for what I'm doing beyond simply the entertainment factor."
This reason is typically evoking specific emotional responses in the audience. Where some performers might craft tricks or illusions with a specific visual effect in mind, Super's drawing board starts specifically with which emotion it is he wants to generate. A story about his mother is the lead-in to one of his favorite illusions.
"One of my mom's favorite things was snow around Christmastime, and as a tribute to her I make it snow in the theatre in honor of my mom and everyone who supported me," Super said. "People will sometimes tear up and come talk to me after the show to say ‘that was my dad' or ‘that was my grandfather.' "
These fans of Super are collectively known as his "Superfreaks," and their numbers are undoubtedly part of the reason the mystifier was able to win "Phenomenon." Super maintains an email list of over 50,000 "Superfreaks" at any given time, calling them "my lifeblood." Known for his habit of connecting with fans at random, Super has found the Internet particularly useful for dropping in unexpectedly, and cites the Web as severely underutilized by the modern mystifier.
"Magic is always kind of behind the times, it seems," he said. "If I'm bored or traveling I'll just go on my Facebook page, log into chat, and start reading some minds over the Internet. Soon there will be a couple hundred people all clamoring to be next."
Super has saved the best trick, however, for last. Several months ago, the mystifier claims to have received a "strong impression" that he could predict Sunday's Herald & Review front-page headline. He sent his guess to the Kirkland Fine Arts Center, where it is currently being guarded under lock and key by Director Jan Traughber, who is ready to accept blame for any tampering. This is a trick that Super has performed on a small number of other occasions, when he feels particularly sure of his guess. And yet he resolutely denies that he is "psychic."
"I do not possess psychic power like a 900 number," he said. "It's based on automatic writing and what's on the news on CNN. This is completely legit. I've done it about 15 times and haven't been wrong yet, but there's a very real chance that I could be wrong anytime I do it."
Moreover, if Super fails to correctly guess the headline, he has claimed he will refund all advance ticket purchases. As for automatic writing, he claims it is "what comes out of your subconscious when you clear your mind."
"We sent the prediction to the theatre, and I have no idea where it is now," Super said. "I will never touch it again, even at the show. In some towns, it's been kept in a jail cell, or the mayor's office, or even hanging from the theatre marquee."
Audiences on Sunday will find out if Super can back up his boast, but those who doubt may want to purchase their tickets early.