Entertainer mixes magic and academics

zhang_masterstea-115

Magician Paul Draper wowed a crowd of more than 60 students and faculty as he seemingly bent a spoon with his mind, made coins disappear and identified objects with his eyes closed.

Draper, the house magician at the Venetian Las Vegas Hotel, invited audience members to participate in all of his tricks at a Pierson College Master’s Tea Wednesday evening. Having earned his bachelor’s degree in anthropology, Draper said he hones his skills by observing people and their tendencies.

“What I do is, in fact, different than what a magician does,” he said. “A magician can practice alone, in front of a mirror. I, on the other hand, need people to practice.”

Draper, who previously taught in the communications department at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said he approaches his performances not only as a magician but also as an intellectual, drawing on elements of cognitive science, psychology and the performing arts. Since his performances involve the audience and incorporate the unpredictability of human nature, he added, his tricks fail about 5 percent of the time.

“Nothing I do uses psychic power,” he said. “All I use is influence and persuasion.”

Draper acknowledged that he has not always used his abilities in completely ethical ways. In a previous position at the Venetian Las Vegas Hotel, he said, his assignment was to distract the families of gamblers, who continued to lose money as their families were dazzled by Draper’s tricks.

But as he traveled around the world performing magic, he said his experiences, particularly at a Navajo Native American reservation, convinced him that he could “use magic to help people.” For example, he said, he meets nurses who doubt the efficacy of new technology in medicine, and his show helps them to embrace ideas they cannot completely explain or understand.

Throughout the roughly 90-minute talk, the crowd often responded to Draper’s tricks with gasps of disbelief and claps of approval. Four attendees interviewed all said they were impressed by his show, but some said they felt his performance was overly dramatic.

Jessica Tordoff ’15, a prospective science major, said some of Draper’s comments, such as his assertion that his tricks transcend mathematical principles, were excessive.

Tanjim Efaz ’14 said he wished that Draper would have focused less on performing tricks and more on his academic work.

Draper has been featured on many television programs, including the HBO comedy fest at Caesar’s Palace.

Comments