In his professorial garb of slicked-back hair, glasses and a houndstooth jacket, he approaches a table of young women wearing plastic tiaras. He whips out a deck of cards from inside his jacket and does a simple card trick. One of the women sets herself apart with a cocky remark and Professor Phelyx focuses on her as he performs his real trick: bending a fork with his mind. The woman's jaw drops open in amazement before she giggles and mutters, "Crazy!" as she stares at the twisted utensil.
"Any eight-year-old with 30 years of experience can do it," quips Phelyx, whose real name is D.W. Phelyx Hopkins.Professor Phelyx is a magical entertainer and mentalist.
Phelyx actually is that kid who got a magic kit when he was eight years old and put on his first magic show at age 10 for his Cub Scout troop, and discovered a lifelong love of illusion.
"My dad was a homicide detective and he needed some levity so he started studying circus clowning and magic," he explains. "I was meeting fire eaters, sword swallowers and started practicing magic."
Just like a magic potion, it turns out if you combine a young boy's curiosity with his father's detective skills, a few circus performers, magic tricks, and shake it all up for a few years, you get Professor Phelyx.
But making magic is serious business, not just kid stuff. Just ask Professor Phelyx, who has now performed more than 2,000 shows and mentally bent more than 10,000 forks.
"I started as a magician," he says. "Then my skills got a little better and I found myself being a mentalist."
And what's the difference between being a magician and being a mentalist?
"Failure is not an option," says Phelyx. "Mentalism is a risky bit of magic. A lot of magicians don't move on to mentalism. It's very difficult to create an experience for 400 people at once when you are reading one person's mind."
And yet, whether he is performing for a bar mitzvah at the Denver Zoo
, a corporate event in Fargo, North Dakota, or Dublin, Ireland, appearing in a commercial for the Wynkoop Brewing Company
or late at night at Lannie's, people are ready to suspend their disbelief and be awed by the inexplicable.
The magic of dance
In fact, what Phelyx does is provide magical realism, which is a genre in art and literature in which fantastical things occur within in an otherwise realistic framework.
"What I love about Phelyx is that he is deeply passionate about his work and his art," says Garrett Ammon, Chief Creative Officer for Wonderbound
, an avant-garde dance troupe in RiNo.
After seeing Phelyx perform at the Central City Opera House
, Ammon approached him with the idea of a collaboration with writer Jesse Manley.
"It was just weird enough to appeal to me," says Phelyx. "I love the concept -- it's so foreign."
Both Ammon and Phelyx are a bit vague about what audiences can expect when seeing A Gothic Folktale
Oct. 18-27, but Ammon hinted that it will have a tie-in to Halloween.Dancers practice for "A Gothic Folktale" at Wonderbound.
"It's kind of an exploration of vaudeville meets Americana and old carnivals," Phelyx explains. He will appear on stage doing magic, but not dancing, and during rehearsals he is teaching the dancers some magic tricks as well.
"I think when you look at how with all of the knowledge that we have in our world today, there is still this desire to believe in the supernatural, to believe that people's minds can be read," says Ammon. "Phelyx says himself that he's a skeptic, but that's what he practices is this art of illusion. He can plainly say, 'No, it's not possible to read your mind,' but then he convinces us that he's reading our minds! He creates this really off-kilter world where we don't know what's going to happen next."
Photos by Kara Pearson Gwinn.