Master magician stuns audiences with ‘mystery entertainment’

Graham Shapley

The term ‘magic show’ conjures up images of card tricks and young women being sawed in half.

Paul Noffsinger, a professional magician operating out of Greeley, is reluctant to use that phrase to describe his performances. What he does is a breed of magic entirely his own. Noffsinger performed his show, ‘The Mystery Collection’, on Friday, Oct. 19 at the Community Creative Center in Old Town.

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Magician performing a trick
Paul Noffsinger hands a volunteer their card during an apothecary card trick in his magic show rehearsal Friday October 19, 2018. Paul is a master magician and storyteller, who has consulted on many magic TV shows. (Alyse Oxenford | Collegian)

“I try not to use the words ‘magic show’ because when you see a magic show advertised, you assume it’s going to be rabbits, linking rings and card tricks,” Noffsinger said. “Friends and I have coined the kind of magic we do as mystery entertainment. The idea of ‘The Mystery Collection’ is kind of a paranormal show and tell.”

Noffsinger began doing magic in his childhood but put it away for several years in high school as his priorities shifted. Noffsinger left his job in finance after almost 19 years, and although the decision seemed rash, it reflected his personal philosophy. 

“This isn’t a dress rehearsal for another life,” said Noffsinger. “This is it. If I spent the rest of my life behind a desk counting beans, it’d be wasted. I called my wife right around my fortieth birthday, and told her ‘I’m gonna quit my job today.’ She asked ‘Well, do you have a plan?’ and I told her I’m going to become a professional magician.’”

One priority that put Noffsinger’s passion on hold was the birth of his daughter 13 years ago. After moving boxes to make room for the baby, he found a box with books, decks of cards and coin tricks. Noffsinger says he had been moving that box from house to house since college and into his thirties.

Noffsinger began rereading the books he had once read about card tricks and looked up local magicians online, meeting his mentor The Great Lewdini in Fort Collins and discovering a Fort Collins branch of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, the Presto-digitators.

“I kind of realized that there’s not a lot of storytelling in magic,” said Noffsinger. “When a magician goes to cut a woman in half, do you believe that the woman’s in danger? Of course not, because she’s half-dressed and she dances her way into the box. If a man said to a woman ‘I’m going to put you in this box and I’m going to cut you in half’, she’d probably protest getting in there. At that point, magic becomes less magical – it becomes a puzzle.”

Magician hands shuffling cards
Paul Noffsinger shuffles tarot cards meant to represent the volunteer’s future in his dress rehearsal on October 19, 2018. (Alyse Oxenford | Collegia

Most of Noffsinger’s tricks and stories involve supernatural items and curiosities from years of magic’s past. In the entry hall to the small black-box theatre where he put his performance on, a table full of odd items greeted attendees.

A pack of antique tarot cards and a whole apothecary kit full of “tonics and tinctures” rested there. A shrunken head from Ecuador sat in a glass case next to a spirit trumpet, a device which apparently lets one hear the voices of the dead.

“Everything’s in the hands of the spectator,” said Noffsinger. “Audience members drive the decisions and things just kind of happen – you know, minor miracles.”

Noffsinger showed off his showmanship with an opening trick he developed over five years. Noffsinger gives two bags to audience members and has them “sense” the energy of what was within to pick out apothecary cards. In one bag was a living plant in a glass tube, and in the other, a dead one. The audience member with the living plant manages to pick out cards depicting medicines, while the member with the dead plant picked all poisons.

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Noffisinger’s performance was filmed by FC Public Media, who has done series on comedians, authors, and local musicians, but this show is potentially the first in a series on magicians. Magicians pose an interesting question on the technical side of video production: how do you get magic across in video form?

“Magic is really hard to film,” said Noffsinger. “There are things that I don’t want you to see, there are things that I do want you to see and it’s not easy.”

Jeff Baldwin, a director of the show who works for FC Public Media said that it takes a lot of forethought into how the show is going to look.

“You have to consider every single element that’s going to play into the final performance,” Baldwin said. “From audio to lighting to cameras, we have to create as good of a recreation as possible of what the live audience is going to see.”

The show came together relatively quickly after Noffsinger visited Fort Collins Comic Con and began talking horror movies with Alexis Hmielak, who suggested the idea and became the show’s producer.

“[I’ve worked with] FC Public Media’s public access television almost since its inception, about eight years,” said Hmielak. “So my thought was, why don’t we do a series on magic?”

Noffsinger explained his love for horror, referring to Hmielak’s public access horror movie show ‘Beware Theater’, which she hosts Friday nights under the pseudonym ‘Arachna of the Spider People’ on Comcast channel 97. Noffsinger notes that the horror and mystery business is populated by eclectic personalities.

In his time as a magician, Noffsinger has been a consultant for a contestant on ‘America’s Got Talent’ and for ‘Penn and Teller: Fool Us,’ and has consulted for an upcoming series on Netflix about haunted magic.

Graham Shapley can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com and on Twitter @shapleygraham.