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Behind the Scenes with Naathan Phan from Masters of Illusion

Logo for Masters of Illusion depicts a floating woman in a red dress. She is laying horizontally and the words "Masters of Illusion" appear at the top in white text.

Lisa Condit spoke with Naathan Phan from Masters of Illusion about his career, the show, the different types of magic and more! Read on for highlights from the interview, or listen to the full interview below. Tune in to Talk of the Commonwealth with Hank Stolz on WCRN 830AM Fridays at 9 AM and Saturdays at 1 PM for more behind-the-scenes interviews.

Lisa: Thank you all for listening to Behind the Scenes with The Hanover Theatre. This is Lisa Condit, and I’m so excited to bring you an interview with magician, Naathan Phan. He’s one of the stars of the touring show, Masters of Illusion Live, and that is going to be appearing at The Hanover Theatre here on Thursday, October 6. Welcome, Naathan! 

Naathan: It’s great to be here. Thanks for having me. 

Lisa: Absolutely. For those of you who may have seen Masters of Illusion on the CW TV show, you have a little bit of an idea of what we’re talking about with Masters of Illusion. Naathan, you’re quite the magician with quite the long resume of accomplishments. Tell us a little bit about the show from your perspective. 

Naathan: I’ve been on the television series Masters of Illusion for seven consecutive seasons now. In addition to that, I was part of their Las Vegas residency, and I was also a part of their recent Atlantic City residency. I’ve been touring with Masters of Illusion Live since 2015. I’ve done darn near every incarnation of Masters of Illusion and I’ve loved every moment of it. 

Lisa: Oh, that’s so fun. Well, you have quite the story. You’re originally from Anaheim, California and, like you said, you’ve been on stages across the globe. You’ve also been in movies like “Superbad,” and you’ve been part of regular TV shows on networks like NBC, sci-fi CW and Comedy Central since the age of 23. That’s pretty impressive. 

Naathan: Yeah, I think I was either 23 or 24 when I first did “America’s Got Talent.” There’s a discrepancy between when they film it and when they air it. It’s wild any time you go on any of those programs that aren’t directly live. 

Lisa: What’s it like sitting on the information that everybody else has to wait for months to see? Are you allowed to talk about it before? 

Naathan: It depends on the kind of contract. Most of the time, they have what’s called an NDA, a nondisclosure agreement. Sometimes it’ll be like, “Hey, you may have just won money on this TV show, but you cannot talk about it until this airs.” Then, once that airs, then there’s usually a 90-day period where they’ll send you the check for the money. It’s a whole lot of boring stuff that has nothing to do with magic. It’s very interesting, but it is not my favorite thing. I’m just so used to showing up, you performing and getting paid for it, bada bing, bada boom. That’s one of the things that I love about touring. You show up and you get to do all these shows one right after the other, and you don’t have to worry about trying to track down some Beverly Hills mom who wants to book you for their child’s seventh birthday party. You just show up and you do your stuff. You’re working with friends and people become your family. You get to tour around the entire world, like right now we are in Markham, Ontario, Canada, at a venue that we performed at. I performed here before, three years ago. This will be my first time performing in Worcester, so I’m really excited about that. 

A magician is seen making a woman levitate. She is wearing a blue dress and is floating horizontally on stage.
Rick Thomas, 2022

Lisa: We have a Conservatory as part of The Hanover Theatre and Conservatory for the Performing Arts. Any words of advice for aspiring magicians and performers that you think would have helped you? Although, like I said, at 23, you were very successful. 

Naathan: I was just learning as much as I could. I actually went to an art school in Southern California called the Orange County School of the Arts. I had to audition to get in and I auditioned for the drama department conservatory, and I auditioned for the writing conservatory. I was accepted into the writing conservatory. I spent four years every day going to my conservatory classes after school, and you learn different things. I learned about different styles of writing and different genres, that sort of thing. Around that same time, I also was encouraged to audition for a musical that was being produced nearby, so I started doing that. Then, I also started doing stand-up comedy at open mics and I started getting into improv.

Learn as much about all the things that fascinate you as much as possible, even if it’s something that doesn’t seem like it’s related to your art form. If you’re passionate about it, that’s all part of your adventure and what makes you, you.

Naathan Phan

Naathan: You never know when that will become necessary to your journey, to your unique signature and flavor of your art or whether it’s just the thing that keeps you alive and invigorated. Whatever you’re passionate about, follow it and learn as much about the world as you care to learn. When I perform, it’s not just a magic show. It’s magic, there’s some stand-up comedy, I throw in celebrity impressions, I’m able to banter with the audience effortlessly and I sing songs from musicals and opera during my act. You can find a way to forage your own path and create your own market, because if you’re just trying to be one of the many things that people want, then you’re going to be in competition. If you are the only “you,” you can create that demand for which you are the only supply. 

Lisa: Absolutely, that is fantastic advice. 

Naathan: Picasso didn’t try to just be an artist; Picasso became Picasso. You can only get that type of artwork from Picasso. 

Lisa: You’re not just a triple threat, you’re a quadruple threat, right? I mean, I’ve heard you wowed audiences with your opera singing, your mind-blowing stage illusions and your celebrity impression. Tell us about your favorite part of performing on Masters of Illusion Live. You were talking about that live experience. so what do you really look forward to each night as you take the stage? 

Naathan: What don’t I look forward to? There’s so much encompassed in that there is the fact that the show does have a framework. You know who’s performing alongside you, you know who’s in the wings, you know who’s there to help and you know who’s running sound and lights. That’s a lot of comfort because on tour, such as corporate events or cruise ships, you never know who you’re working with and you don’t know how good they are. There’s a lot of hedging bets as opposed to when you’re on tour, you know exactly this person, who they are, their style, I trust their ear when it comes to mixing sound, I know they’re going to get my cues right, I’m going to look good on stage, I know my props are going to get handed to me at the right time. That’s an amazing experience. Walking into a different crowd every single night and it being people from an area as opposed to people being from a large spread-out area. When you perform cruise ships in Vegas, everyone’s traveling from across the country, if not the world. So, sometimes it can be tough to kind of put your finger on the pulse of what everyone’s going to like, the speed of delivery, the punch lines, what’s going to land and what’s not going to land. When I’m on tour, I get to meet new people and I get to immediately figure out, “This is what it is. Cool, we can click into this. We can we can rock and roll. This is not a problem.” On nights we have off, being able to walk around and explore the area, see the downtown, see where the locals go to eat or drink. It’s just an amazing experience. To know that if you don’t get a chance to do that, you go to the tour bus, you fall asleep, you wake up in the parking lot of the next venue and you do it all over again.

Masters of Illusion makes me feel connected to the roots of vaudeville, which, to me, is the epitome of performing arts because there was a little bit of everything. You do the work, you do the thing and you see the world. I love everything about it. 

Naathan Phan

Lisa: I love that you love everything about it and I love that enthusiasm. I know we’re going to enjoy seeing you on our stage. Again, I am talking to Naathan Phan and he is going to be one of the illusionists in our Masters of Illusion, taking the stage on Thursday, October 6 at 7:30 pm. Tickets start at just $29 and go up to $59. Plus, there are two other magicians who appear with Naathan! 

Naathan: Dan Sperry, the anti-conjuror and shock illusionist, is the only magician to win the most original magician award from the World Magic Awards. They had to invent the award just for him because he’s that good. We’ve also got Michael Turco, who had his own show in Vegas and Atlantic City and he’s just amazing. We’re going to have grand scale illusions and sleight of hand intensive magic. We’ve got some comedy, we’ve got some drama, we’ve got mentalism and we’ve got people coming up on stage to help us. It is completely family friendly. There are some dramatic moments, it’s a little bit more macabre, but there’s nothing that will send anyone over the edge, I think. It’s just more intimate, because we used to do a buzzsaw illusion which was one of Harry Blackstone Jr.’s signatures. We used to do the thing with a giant three-foot buzzsaw that would come down and would splinter the lady in half, so we don’t have that in the show. We do have stuff that’s very dramatic and intense, but it is completely family friendly. We do a free meet and greet after every show and it’s fun for the whole family. It’s such a diverse show and it’s unlike anything that exists. 

Lisa: It sounds incredible. You said you love going out and seeing the town, and I think you’re going to love Worcester. You’re going to love our gourmet partners, and we have lots of beautiful architecture and some really rich history that’s here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I’m dying to ask, when you’re out and about, are you ever tempted to do tricks on people? When you’re out at a restaurant, do you play around with that? Or are you kind of undercover? 

Naathan: I think it kind of depends on what evening we want. Sometimes we’re on a quick meal break and we can’t draw too much attention. But, if we’re out for the evening, it also depends on whether or not people feel like seeing any magic. We’re not the types that kind of go out like, “Hey, look at us, we’re here. We’re the magicians.” We’ll show up somewhere and if somebody recognizes us, we’ll chat with them. If they ask us to do magic, we just feel out whether or not we want to do any magic, or whether we’d rather just lay low. I always want to do magic, but if everyone else is just feeling really chill and we just need to decompress, then I’ll take the lead and say, “Oh, I don’t think we have anything to do magic with. We’re so sorry.” I always like performing and meeting people because I have my roots in close-up magic, as many magicians do. Many magicians don’t start out sawing the lady in half, you start out with “Pick a card.” I love being able to return to those roots as often as possible, but it just kind of depends on the mood and the vibe. 

Logo for Masters of Illusion depicts a floating woman in a red dress. She is laying horizontally and the words "Masters of Illusion" appear at the top in white text.
Masters of Illusion, 2022

Lisa: What do you mean by close up magic? I’m just not familiar with the terminology. What is that progression that you journey through on your way to becoming a master magician? 

Naathan: Close-up magic refers to anything that basically needs to be seen from less than a few feet away; mostly card tricks and coin tricks. So, if I’m stood there in a bar and people are gathered around me, that’s going to be close-up magic because it’s not like I’m going to have a giant box I can produce a girl out of when I’m in a bar. So, that’s close-up magic and then there’s parlor magic. Parlor magic is based on what people used to do in the Victorian era; they would have entertainers come out to their houses, which would have a parlor and that’s usually for a few dozen people at a time. That’s slightly more people with a slightly bigger distance, but not quite stage magic. Stage magic, and specifically illusions, refers to big box tricks, as we call them. Anytime you see a large prop on stage, then that is referred to as an illusion or a grand illusion. Some people wonder what the difference is between a magician and illusionist, and technically an illusionist uses large-scale props, but they are still a category of magicians. 

Lisa: Oh, interesting. I didn’t know so thank you so much for explaining that to me. Again, we’re talking with Naathan Phan who is one of the stars. He’s obviously multi-talented and has won many awards for his talent, his magic and his illusions. He is performing live on our stage here at The Hanover Theatre Thursday, October 6 at 7:30 pm as part of the Masters of Illusion tour. Tickets are available now, and they start really reasonably at just $29 at TheHanoverTheatre.org. Naathan, you’re a very captivating and interesting person. If people want to find out more about you, is there a website they can go to? 

Naathan: Absolutely. My website is no joke, it’s MagicAsianMan.com

Lisa: I saw that and it made me laugh just a little bit. 

Naathan: Some people are a little thrown by that. They’re like, “Is that okay?” Yeah, why wouldn’t it be? All three of those words accurately describe me. 

Lisa: That’s fantastic. You’re also active on social media so how can people find you? 

Naathan: I do the most amount of posting to my professional Facebook profile and Instagram accounts. Just look up Magic Asian Man on any social media, you will find me. If you message me, I will get back to you. Included in that $29 to $59 ticket, there is a complimentary Meet and Greet after the show. Some people just want to come by and grab a quick picture, and some people like to stick around and interact for a few minutes. If you want to meet us, we want to meet you. 

Lisa: Amazing. I’m so looking forward to having you. Again, Masters of Illusion comes to The Hanover Theatre and Conservatory for the Performing Arts on Thursday, October 6 at 7:30 pm. Naathan, thank you so much for your time.