Feature: Paul Vigil

by Jay Fenster with Jerome Finley

Paul Vigil is in the Parlour reading minds!”

“No, REALLY reading minds.”

Breathless exclamations like these conveyed the excitement at the Magic Castle in Hollywood recently when Paul Vigil demonstrated his current groundbreaking masterpiece, HCE (Here Comes Everybody).

After all, having your mind read along with over 20 other people at once isn’t an experience you have every day. When you’re among the two dozen who mentally select a card from the deck – which Vigil correctly identifies, one after another – the feeling is akin to Richard Metzger’s description of “an atom bomb going off behind your eyeballs and a razor blade slashed across your brain.”

This is a dramatic, breathtaking event that must be seen to be believed, and during Vigil’s week at the Magic Castle he received repeated standing ovations from laypersons and professionals alike. Word spread quickly about the trick.

With only a regular deck of cards, Vigil takes the stage at the Parlour of Prestidigitation. Stylish, well-dressed and unmistakably edgy, he addresses the audience in a voice uniquely his own. “I’m here tonight to speak to you about tuning in,” he says with traces of a sly smile on his lips. “What do I mean by tuning in? Well, to send and receive thoughts…” He spends the next 35 minutes directly engaging his audience, leaving them spellbound on the edges of their seats.

His audience members mentally choose their cards before shuffling, casing and tossing the deck away. One by one, Paul identifies the chosen cards. There are no forces, no pumping or fishing. Without “no” answers or compromise, each participant experiences the thrill of having his or her mind read.

“Is your card the Ace of Diamonds?”

A jaw drops. Wordlessly, a head nods. The volunteer sits back down, shocked.

Vigil repeats this stunning feat more than twenty times during his 35-minute performance. He has undeniably, powerfully influenced his audience’s decisions, twisting perceptions while plucking thoughts from the deepest recesses of their minds. Lives will be changed here tonight – once Vigil has probed and provoked your consciousness, you’re never quite the same.

When Vigil appears, magical things really do begin to happen in his wake. Mysterious things capture the imagination and rupture the skeptical adult heart. The astonishment he creates feels as wordless and giddy and excitingly foreign as a feeling of first love.

This is magic in lavish abundance.

This is the world of Paul Vigil.

For those who run in magic circles and stay abreast of popular trends and creative directions within our art form, Paul Vigil is a well-recognized name. He’s created multiple “Magic Trick of the Year” winners; close-up effects like Ladybug, Diplopia, Sympathy for the Devil and the ICON coin bend are among his most talked-about creations.

His magical artistry is raw and potent – elegantly constructed, perfectly scripted and flawlessly executed. You will be fooled, badly, even when you know what’s coming next. More than that, Paul’s magic leaves you open and wounded, but in a good way – like you’re better for having experienced what many swear to be “real magic.”

Vigil is a rare breed of magician. He’s a true believer in magic – as an art form, poetic device and creative living exercise. Magic isn’t just a career or a calling for him. It is nothing less than a way of life whose fruits can be shared and enjoyed with others. In his hands, magic sleights are heavenly meditations. They are joyous ceremonies of creation.

To Paul and those who deeply feel the effects of his work, magic is not a puzzle to solve. It is a state of being to embrace. Vigil adheres to the idea of creating magical moments that last for years or even a lifetime.

Most of what Vigil does is based around advanced psychological manipulation of his audience, as well as raw, visceral displays of power that affect the space, people and objects of the universe around him. Like many great artists he crafts his work through a variety of traditional and cutting-edge methods.

The result is something elegant and sophisticated – a script peppered with vicious linguistic ploys, intuitive gambits and invisible knuckle-busting sleights which separate the men from the boys. These seeds of wonder – these beginnings or a miracle – are coddled, cradled and nurtured by a man whom many consider to be magic’s best-kept secret and the most valuable hidden gem of the Las Vegas scene.

Paul’s humble roots in magic remind many of his friends and colleagues of their own passionate beginnings and memories. He vividly recalls his first experience with magic decades ago on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. Amidst the colorful and dazzling displays of street performers, the one to capture his mind and heart at this early age was a skillful mage working the crowds with sponge balls, ball and tube and linking rings. Paul’s parents took him to the magic shop there and the rest, as they say, is history. All of us can relate to the passion, excitement, mystery, intrigue and magic that captured his heart that day.

Since his first exposure to our and craft, magic has been a constant in Vigil’s life and work. Over the years he has displayed a propensity for higher learning; even in his formative years he learned to read before attending school. His interest in comic books and magic texts encouraged his imagination and creativity, allowing him to exercise his mind in very deep and powerful ways. Even today this creativity is one of the hallmarks of his work.

Paul grew up just outside of Salt Lake City, first honing his skills at the area’s premier brick-and-mortar magic shop, Showplace Magic. He was always the guy people remembered around the store – quiet, clever and remarkably smooth, displaying a breath of knowledge that staggered those around him.

While studying sleight-of-hand magic and the psychology of performance, Paul polished his skills live and up close, in various venues around the Salt Lake Valley. In this neck of the woods his reputation preceded him. Even back then he was, as Paul Harris described him, “the magician all the other magicians want to hang out with.”

Ever the seeker, Vigil’s focus on the psychology behind close-up performance led him to Utah State University, where he studied psychology and natural medicine for several years. Each of these discrete disciplines, on some level, pertained to his own unique brand and vision of magic. These inter-related interests allowed him to combine skill sets and knowledge to produce and explore his magic, his way. Paul complements his understanding of magic’s history and origins with knowledge of how it works as well as how magicians might use it – and have used it – for millennia.

Paul excelled in his academic endeavors and was soon awarded the prestigious Botanical Preservation Corps scholarship, which allowed him to travel to South America’s primary rainforests. Here he studied ethnopharmacology, the magico-religious complex of shamanic plant sacraments, alongside legendary scientists such as Drs. Terence Mckenna, Kary Mullis and Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin.

His experiences with these people and the indigenous Amazon tribes left Paul feeling energized, renewed and reborn. He moved to the Netherlands and continued to rub elbows with some of the most remarkable-minded people of our age, including Dr. Albert Hoffman, the Swiss scientist best known for discovering LSD and heralded in the scientific community for decades afterwards as one of our time’s greatest pioneers of consciousness exploration.

Vigil’s obsession with the origins of magic inevitably led him to the study of religion and mysticism. Through explorations of shamanism and his own consciousness, he began to refine and purify his vision of magic.

By blending past and present, chemistry and psychology, linguistics and sleight of hand, Vigil has assembled a profoundly powerful toolkit for producing magical experiences for others, experiences that wildly transcend simple card and coin tricks. Paul Vigil’s magical art form originates from the soul, and that is where it is felt. More than one magician has been brought to tears by his performances.

Eventually, after stints in academia at the University of California, Berkeley and the California Institute of Integral Studies, Paul uprooted himself for the city of illusion, Las Vegas. “I made the decision in less than a day,” he recalls. “Vegas is the magic capital of the world, and I wanted to be there. I rented a truck, packed my things and left that night. I’ve never looked back.”

This decision was put to the test on Vigil’s first night in town. He arrived knowing nobody, except for a few magicians he’d admired from afar, and visited a local magic meeting. While he was there, his cell phone rang. It was the police. His truck had been broken into and all of his belongings stolen.

Always one to land on his feet, Paul calmly smiled and quickly placed a down payment on the condo where he resides to this day.

Truly, this is the house that magic built. It’s immediately obvious that magic lies at the heart of this place. Live plants adorn the surroundings, vintage magic posters cover the walls and rare and classic texts fill his huge bookcases. A large golden Buddha statue smiles and extends his blessings upon all who enter. From the personally signed artwork of Alex Grey (“To Paul, With Love and Fire”), to a human skull and crystal ball, right down to his familiar spirit and partner in crime – a black cat named Ouija, this is clearly the home of a very strong and committed student of varied Arts. The space feels organic – living, breathing, beating with a life force – the blood, sweat and tears of human enchantment.

The best of the best have walked through Paul’s doors and into his world to stay and work on their craft. Such magic legends as Paul Harris, Armando Lucero and Joey Burton have all lived with him at one point or another. Lee Asher, Alain Nu, Aaron Fisher, Kostya Kimlat, Luke Jermay, Jason Scott, Chris Korn and many others have spent many a night on his couches, in his guest bedroom or on one of many blow-up mattresses made up especially for them. Not only have world class magicians entered this playground of the mind, but also Nobel laureates, Harvard professors and MIT researchers.

From evening to daybreak, Paul and his friends will fry your mind with tailor-made performances and timeless instruction. When your mind can take no more, he’ll put the magic away and sit down with one of his many guitars, playing some of the most beautiful songs you’ve ever heard. Vigil’s biggest musical influence is Buckethead, a mute, masked giant who blends numerous styles into a never-before seen form.

This is a completely different kind of magic, but with obvious parallels to the other. The nimble fingers of a magician are clearly at work as he wields his instrument with surgical precision. Vigil is also working on a number of original tracks, choreographed and timed perfectly to accompany his magic. His skills in this arena are no less impressive – one well-known magician, upon hearing Paul play, wished “there was something, anything, that I was even half as good at.”

Vigil’s teachers constitute a virtual “who’s who” of contemporary magic and sleight of hand. Legends and artists like Johnny Thompson, Channing Pollack, Eugene Burger and Armando Lucero have invested years of their time, attention and energy instructing Paul for a reason: he’s damn good, and he makes magicians everywhere look damn good by their mere association with him.

Upon first meeting him, Lucero thought so much of Vigil that he took him under his wing as his first student. In over twenty tears, Lucero had never considered mentoring another magician – but Paul was, is, different. He is a true “magician’s magician.” The two are still the best of friends to this day.

Here in Las Vegas, Vigil’s close-up magic is his calling card. VIPs crowd around him, enraptured, as he moves coins invisibly across the table or bends them inexplicably at his fingertips. Ripples of power and mystery fill the room as his audience bears witness to the utterly unexplainable and digests its fateful implications.

Right before he drops his final bomb on the audience, you can hear a pin drop. Afterwards, emotion overwhelms the room. Genuine laughter hits the air with shock waves of amazement and wonder. His audience members have no other choice but to reform themselves and prepare their minds for the next round of miracles.

Even when you know where Paul is taking you, the ride is unforgettable. Bringing one effect to a coda, he levels with the audience: “I really don’t even need to turn the card over after that, do I?” And he doesn’t need to. As an artist, he earns his audience’s trust – and in this case, a huge round of applause.

Vigil is a popular act on the private, corporate and VIP circuit here in Sin City. For these audiences, he prefers subtle but enormous displays of mental power instead of legerdemain. “Looking back, I see a very conscious decision to move away from displays of skill,” he explained. “Instead of flourishes, I would rather have my audiences rewind their mental tapes of the show and think to themselves, ‘but he never touched anything!’”

HCE is a perfect example of Vigil’s astounding abilities and presentation. But more than that, it was a labor of love. His years of advanced learning allowed Paul to combine principles and formulate a concrete structure. Still, it took him over a year to polish and perfect. The end result is something magnificent – an entire show that can fit in your pocket and bring down the house, no matter what the conditions.

During the creation of this piece, Vigil’s normally tidy home looked like a scene from A Beautiful Mind. The place was in disarray, with dozens of card decks strewn about along with piles of notebooks, charts, graphs and complex mathematical solutions covering what used to be sofas.

Eating and sleeping were forgotten for the moment. Friends who never worried about him grew concerned. All the words he could muster were, “I’m consumed with something I think is my masterpiece.”

And it is.

This isn’t your Uncle Robert’s magic or the mentalism of days gone by. HCE is a complex and sophisticated work of art devised by one of the brightest minds in the business. If Chan Canasta were alive today, Vigil would be $1,000 richer. Chan would have rocked the party with this twenty-first century marvel.

Paul explained the going price for Here Comes Everybody. “Some secrets need to be kept secrets. There need to be certain things available for the real-world, working performer and not available to kids or collectors for simply playing with. HCE is one of them.”

After consulting for top names and selling his remarkable creations to magicians hardy enough to walk in his shoes, what’s next for Paul Vigil? He continues to perform regularly at corporate events, presenting a high-energy show that’s equally entertaining and mystifying. He also has a loyal clientele in VIP lounges around Las Vegas, where he performs at private high-end functions.

But he’s focused right now, focused on landing his dream gig. Vigil is in talks with promoters and performance venues across the city looking for the perfect space for his evening show and program, an intimate night of magic meant to be shared with audiences of just 30 to 60 people.

This “magician’s magician” is betting that Las Vegas is ready to see what he is able to reveal. The magic community – and for that matter, the public at large – have long deserved a proper introduction to this man and the miracles he creates.

Ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, behold the magic of Paul Vigil.