One Spellbound Evening: Chad Sanborn Conjures Film Noir Magic for Mon Cherie’s Burlesque with a Hitch

Magician Chad Sanborn is one of the many talented local and regional performers in BURLESQUE WITH A HITCH Sat. Aug. 13 at Masquerade. Photo courtesy of Chad Sanborn.

Legendary film director Alfred Hitchcock has been dubbed the “Master of Suspense,” but suspense also is the key ingredient to a great burlesque act – the tantalizing tease which has you wondering when she’s going to take it off. Leave it to Mon Cherie to have the genius to put the two together for one of the more innovative burlesque pairings in the local scene this year. In BURLESQUE WITH A HITCH, the latest in her Va-Va-Voom series at Masquerade this Sat. Aug. 13 (doors at 9 p.m.), each act will be based on a different Hitchcock film. Alabaster JuJu stars, with master of suspense and mystery Miss Mason hosting, and the line-up of top local and regional performers includes aerialist extraordinaire Sadie Hawkins (Blast-Off Burlesque)Rebecca DeShon (Hoop Essence)Stormy Knight, Fonda Lingue, Evil Sarah, The Chameleon Queen, Katarina Laveaux (Birmingham, AL), Nicolette Tesla (Charlotte, NC), and Peachz de Vine (Greensboro, NC). Before and after, DJ 313 spins alternative dance, Allison Kellar offers body-painting, and there’s also the usual RAWKIN’ RAFFLE with lots of vintage-inspired vendors donating prizes. Cover is a bargain 5 bucks, and doors open at 9 p.m., with all proceeding helping cancer patient Shawn Brown.

Of course, suspense is also the key to a successful magic trick, and all great burlesque and vaudeville shows have to have a magician. For BURLESQUE WITH A HITCH, we think Mon Cherie couldn’t have picked less of a “Wrong Man” than Chad Sanborn, who, outfitted like a ’40s noir detective complete with fedora, sets up his tricks like a crime to be solved. ATLRetro caught up with Chad to find out why he adopted his signature style, as well as gather a few clues about his Sat. night act and his other projects, including movie and TV roles and HOUDINI: DOG MAGICIAN commercials for The Cartoon Network. And Just Added: Chad sent us a short rehearsal clip for his Saturday night trick. Watch it here.

ATLRetro: How old were you when you started performing magic, and is there any fun story about that?

Chad Sanborn: I started performing, if you could call it that back then, when I was just a kid. I’d say about 8 years old. David Copperfield would do a yearly television special. Those have inspired me greatly. When you are starting in magic, your family and friends are your guinea pigs. Mostly they are cordial and say “that’s nice,” whether you fooled them or not. Then there is my grandmother…ugh. She would tell me the truth. And it hurt. “It’s in the other hand,” “there is a string on it,” etc. What’s worse is that she would holler it out right in the middle of the show! I hated that. Mostly because she was right. Now I see that honest criticism as a good thing. It lets me know what works and what doesn’t. Positive feedback is good for the ego, but honest feedback is good for the show. It’s been tough, but I have learned to set my ego aside and do what’s best for the magic.

Photo courtesy of Chad Sanborn.

You’ve adopted a noir ‘30s/’40s Humphrey Bogart/James Cagney look instead of the top hat, tux and cape that magicians traditionally have worn. How did that come about?

Well I learned magic from old books I got from the library. They would preach about bringing your own personality into each trick. Are you funny, clever, sexy, goofy? Whatever you were, they said you should inject that into the presentation of the tricks. So who was I? That’s tough to answer at 8 years old. Heck, its tough to answer at 38 years old. As I got older, I realized that I liked vintage things -1900s-1950s clothing, music, vaudeville, etc. Everything. So it was only natural to bring those elements into the magic. I emulated Bogart because he was tops in his field. So now I wear a vintage suit and tie with a fedora and spectator shoes, instead of a tux, top hat and cape. Though I do own a tux made in 1942!

Your tricks aren’t just tricks. They have a storyline. Do you start with the trick or the story?

Yes as I mentioned, I was influenced by David Copperfield. His early shows were very story driven. He would perform about three to four illusions in one routine that told a love story. It was fantastic theater. I try to do a similar thing in my show. Only my stories are driven by things in the vintage era. In one routine, I play the part of a DRAGNET-style detective. I’ve captured half of a pair of serial killers. Her partner is still on the loose. It’s my job to track them down. Combining the right look, music, atmosphere, with an old radio voiceover, I transform a mere card trick into a piece of theater. But in the end, it’s still just a card trick.  That particular effect actually came to me in a dream. I woke up and immediately wrote down everything I could remember about the dream. The hard part was coming up with a working method. That is something the dream left out.

Photo courtesy of Chad Sanborn.

Your act seems like a perfect fit for the BURLESQUE WITH A HITCH theme. Were you excited to be invited to be part of this Mon Cherie show and what does Alfred Hitchcock mean to you personally?

I was thrilled to be asked to perform! Hitchcock was a master of suspense. He kept you guessing till the end and usually had a twist in the story you weren’t expecting. He is a master of storytelling and really knows how to frame it in the context of a movie. As a magician, I work toward doing the same thing. Tell a story that keeps you guessing even after you have left the theater. I am really excited now, as it was announced earlier this month that the first movie he ever made was found. I hope it gets a worldwide release as no one has seen it in probably 50 years!

Without blowing the mystery, can you give us any tease about which Hitchcock movie you’ll be honoring Sat. night and why you chose that particular one?

I don’t want to say too much. But, if you go through a complete list of his films, one will stand out as being something a magician would do. It was a natural choice and it makes perfect sense once you know what it is! I am excited as I get to use a partner in my illusion this time. I usually borrow someone from the audience. But this trick required lots of rehearsal, so I went out and found an assistant for this one. Her stage name is Catatonic Raucus, and I am thrilled to be working with her.

Photo courtesy of Chad Sanborn.

Anything else you’d like to share about BURLESQUE WITH A HITCH?

I am working on another routine that tells a story of missed opportunities and second chances. And it’s the first trick I have ever done that will show you what can happen if you could go back in time and do something over.

You’re doing a lot more than magic these days—movies, TV shows, lookalike appearances. Where should we look out for you on-screen and what are a few of your favorite recent performances?

I love the theater and there is nothing like performing for a live audience. But television and movies pay more. So I have a love/hate relationship with them. In the last year, I have worked on THREE feature films, (HALL PASS, FOOTLOOSE, THE THREE STOOGES) and a television show (THE WALKING DEAD). And filmed 11 commercials for Cartoon Network. Acting is a lot of fun, but it certainly isn’t as easy as I thought it would be, and it’s nothing like being on a stage. No one applauds for you on a movie set! I think I am going to add that into my next contract though.

Photo courtesy of Chad Sanborn.

If you want to see me at my worst, look for me in episode 4 of THE WALKING DEAD. I am a zombie and attack the survivors camp. I approach a little kid to eat him, when IronE Singleton shoots me with a shotgun saving the day. Special effects makeup is an art form, and it was great to experience it. Atlanta is a hotbed of movies and television lately. And if anyone wants to see what its like on a Hollywood set, I would suggest that they go to Facebook and look up Extras Casting Atlanta. You can submit a photo of yourself, along with your basic measurements of height and weight, and I can almost guarantee they will call you to see if you can work. It’s a long day, but you will get free food and drinks, and you never know who you might see!

If it’s magic you are after, then I suggest tuning in to Cartoon Network. I filmed 11 commercials titled HOUDINI: DOG MAGICIAN for them. They feature a real dog with human hands that does magic. All the shoots were fun, but challenging as I couldn’t see what my hands were doing when we filmed. In some spots, the dog is seated at the table. I’m hidden underneath, reaching up over my head onto the table top doing cups and balls, or making a giant dog biscuit appear. In the others, the crew built a human body form. The dog is the head still, and again I am the hands. I am secretly hidden in the form behind the clothes and under the dog. But still magic happens. In one memorable moment, from the very first one we filmed, I was hidden under the table, and at the end of the trick the director yells, “Give the dog the treat.” I did and the dog, who had treats waved in his face all day went crazy and swallowed it whole! He then started chocking, and I am stuck directly underneath him with nowhere to go. I got showered in dog slobber and vomit. Ahhh, show business… The glamorous life.

When and where can ATLRetro readers next catch you making magic?

You can always keep up with me on my Website. It has a calendar that displays where I will be at. I think after the show this Saturday, my next one will be in New Orleans for the New Orleans Burlesque Fest in September. Also, I will be in the Dragon*Con parade. I will be dressed up as Mr. Fantastic from [Marvel Comics‘] Fantastic Four. It’s in conjunction with a group known as Avengers Assemble. They dress like the comic book characters The Avengers and put them in everyday situations. I’m in an upcoming episode and conduct a job interview with a superhero looking for work.

Photo courtesy of Chad Sanborn.

What’s the most important piece of advice you have to anyone interested in becoming a magician, other than the obvious practice, practice, practice?

The best piece of advice I can give is to go to the library and read some books on the subject. Specifically the history of magic. You can never progress forward without knowing where you have come from. 2 great books are THE ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF MAGIC by Milbourne Christopher and CONJURING by James Randi. Both give a comprehensive history of the art. After reading them, if you are still interested, join the International Brotherhood of Magicians (IBM) or the Society of American Magicians (SAM). They are a great resource, and you can use them to find out about meetups and people who can mentor you. I wish I would have had a mentor when I was learning.

What question does no one ever ask you, but you wish they would? And what’s the answer?

Actually no one has ever asked me if magic was real. Or if I knew someone who had real magic powers. The answer is, that lots of people claim to have special powers, but as of yet, no one has been able to prove it in a laboratory. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t stop looking. The universe is full of stuff we can’t explain. And that’s magic to me.

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