As the old adage goes, a true magician never reveals his tricks. But Professor Phelyx, whose real name is D.W. Phelyx Hopkins, isn’t your typical magician. While most people are familiar with the usual card illusions and saw-cutting acts, Phelyx sells a very different type of show: comedic mentalism, which includes a witty approach at what looks like mind-reading, magical predictions, and bending metal objects with his mind. The Littleton native (who claims he’s the first person to be blacklisted from Colorado casinos), chatted with 5280 in advance of his upcoming show at the Dairy Arts Center to share insight into his magical process.
5280: What inspired you to become a magician?
Phelyx: The truth is my father was a homicide detective here in Colorado back in the day, well before it was called CSI. The gravity of that job just sort of started to get to him, because he was seeing the worst that our culture has to offer. So just to add to some levity to his life, he recognized that there were a few people in the department who were either hobbyist magicians or worked professionally to some degree and he got interested in those people. He initially brought home a couple of magic tricks and shared them with me.
What’s the difference between a magician and a mentalist?
There are as many different kinds of magicians as there are genres of music. I would begin with what we term “box magicians” or “box illusionists.” And these are the people who perform the large-stage effects, and generally it requires a box of some kind, hence the term. There are also close-up performers, so people who are most often playing cards and coin magicians. And then there are mentalists, which is what I guess is the closest term for what I do. Very often no props are used at all and most of the magic takes place in the idea that I deliver the illusion of being able to read minds or “psychokinetically” bend metal, make predictions, those sorts of things.
So, can you actually read minds?
Well, kind of—to the best of my ability I do. A lot of it, I will tell you, is an illusion. I deliver the illusion of that possibility, but a lot of it is also in diligent training, observational techniques.
What are some of your favorite places to perform in Colorado?
I often appear as much as twice a week if I’m here in town. I appear at the Clocktower Cabaret and have for about 12 years. And I frequently appear at Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox and Voodoo Comedy Playhouse.
Aside from performing, you’ve also co-created A Gothic Tale, the first-ever, magic-themed full-length ballet. What inspired you to work on a ballet show?
That was honestly one of my favorite all-time projects. We were at [the] Central City Opera House doing a show—and I say “we” meaning the producer of the event—and gathered entertainers from all kinds of different disciplines. It was a fun little showcase where each of us were given 10, 15 minutes to entertain. The [artistic] director for [Denver ballet company] Wonderbound, Garrett [Ammon], approached me after the event and asked if I would be interested in co-creating a ballet. I’m notorious for saying yes to anything, so I said “Yes” and then I freaked out about it the whole ride home. I thought, “What am I doing? I have no business doing that, no education in ballet, no experience.” But I entertained the idea, and we ended up having a coffee [with] a musician named Jesse Manley. It was just the three of us and we were talking about creating and producing a collaborative effort which became A Gothic Folktale.
So what projects are you working on now or hope to work on in the future?
I am working with a nonprofit called Warm Cookies of the Revolution and despite their funny name they’re really a go-getter outfit. They are spearheading an effort to educate communities on the idea of participatory budgeting. They hired me to play a rather sinister role in educating people about the illusion of free choice.
If you go: ““Professor Phelyx, From The Vest” is happening on Saturday, September 22 at 8 p.m. at the Dairy Arts Center; 2590 Walnut St., Boulder. Tickets are $12.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.