Sunday, September 20, 2020

INTERVIEW: Joe M. Turner, Magician

I had the great pleasure of seeing Joe M. Turner perform a magic show at a corporate event a number of years ago. Loved his show and I've followed his career since! It was a magic show, but he was also the keynote speaker. What an unexpected, wholly remarkable combination! People were watching and listening to the show, not bowing to their Blackberries and iPhones. The man is brilliant, I tell you!

I recently learned that while much of the performing arts world is on lockdown due to the pandemic—Joe is a musical theatre fan and performer, so he feels the pain doubly—Joe has taken to digital entertaining. And, he has not only graciously granted me an interview, he's offering my friends and fans a great deal on his next show, Sunday, September 27 at 7pm ET. See the deal at the end of this post!

Joe M. Turner, Magician, Mentalist, Keynote Speaker
Joe M. Turner, Magician, Mentalist, Keynote Speaker

Let's get into the interview with Joe M. Turner, Magician, Mentalist, and Keynote Speaker, and be sure to watch the videos interspersed along the way—to get a sneak peek at the awesome entertainment you'll get when you join me online at his show this weekend!

wanderlust ATLANTA: Share with us a little about who you are, where you’re from, and how you landed in Atlanta.

Joe: I was born in Jackson, Mississippi and grew up in Brandon, a small suburb. Brandon is also the hometown of Mary Ann Mobley, who was Miss America 1959, and Jerious Norwood, who played for the Atlanta Falcons. I studied physics and theatre at Mississippi State University, then took a job designing and delivering corporate training at a management consulting firm in Atlanta. I moved here in 1993.

wanderlust ATLANTA: What was the catalyst that got you into magic? 

Joe: I got a magic kit for Christmas when I was five and that held my interest for several months. I also had some children’s books about magic, and I remember being fascinated by Doug Henning and David Copperfield on television. I started performing magic for real audiences when I was 10...talent shows, birthday parties, and so on. I left it aside in high school and college, and came back to it as an adult in the mid-1990s. It sort of took over my life after that.

Joe M. Turner, Magician, Mentalist, Keynote Speaker
Joe M. Turner, Magician, Mentalist, Keynote Speaker

wanderlust ATLANTA: What’s the difference between magic and mentalism?

Joe: That definitely depends on who you ask! I tend to group them both under an umbrella called “mystery arts” or “illusion arts,” as they are both a form of performance art dealing with the theatrical creation of illusions. Magic tends toward visual illusions—such as appearances and disappearances and transpositions, while mentalism is more about psychological illusions—simulations of ESP, predictions, and such. 

Some mentalists—not all—like to leave the question of whether it’s an illusion or not unaddressed, and are perfectly happy to have people believe that they can actually read minds or predict the future. They maintain, correctly, that the people who truly believe their mind has been read are getting an experience that cannot be replicated by a visual illusionist, because nobody in the developed world believes a coin can literally disappear by magic, but they might still actually believe you can read their mind or predict the future if you frame the presentation properly. 

Leaving this claim unaddressed is not my style ethically, but I have good friends who fall in that camp. I am aware that some mentalists really resist being “lumped in” with magicians, holding that magicians who do mental effects are just doing “mental magic” and not really mentalism. Then again, I asked Max Maven, probably the preeminent mentalist in the world today, the difference between mentalism and mental magic, and he said it was a meaningless distinction.

Joe M. Turner, Magician, Mentalist, Keynote Speaker
Joe M. Turner, Magician, Mentalist, Keynote Speaker

wanderlust ATLANTA: When and how did your love of magic and mentalism turn to corporate stages?

Joe: I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a corporate stage for magic! When I was a kid and interested in magic I used to see the magazines and I thought everyone was either doing local parties, or they were in Las Vegas at a casino. I didn’t really understand the whole concept of corporate events and large hotels with ballrooms and such.

After I regained my interest in magic in the mid '90s, I joined the local magic clubs and found out then that people were being hired to perform magic at corporate events, cocktail parties, and other occasions. Having worked in the management consulting and training world, I was really comfortable in front of audiences of adults and realized then that that was where I wanted to take my performances.

Joe M. Turner, Magician, Mentalist, Keynote Speaker
Joe M. Turner, Magician, Mentalist, Keynote Speaker

wanderlust ATLANTA: Harry Houdini performed at the Wimbish House, today home of the Atlanta Woman’s Club on Peachtree Street, nearly 100 years ago (ch. 44 in my book). On what stage(s) have you or do you want to perform on that people 100 years from now might be talking about?

Joe: I have performed for a large event at the London Palladium and took a bow on that stage. I have every confidence that a century from now that will still be meaningful. I’ve done some off-Broadway appearances, but it would be wonderful to be hired for a touring show that did a Broadway stint. Locally, I have worked the Egyptian Ballroom at the Fox Theatre and I love that room dearly.

Joe M. Turner, Magician, Mentalist, Keynote Speaker
Joe M. Turner, Magician, Mentalist, Keynote Speaker

wanderlust ATLANTA: How has your show developed over the years? What transformation in your show was the most “magical” for you?

Joe: In magic there is a saying that amateurs perform an ever-changing set of routines for a consistent audience, while professionals perform a consistent set of routines for ever-changing audiences. I think the most important transformation for me was to focus on developing a core repertoire that fit me well, and not try to be everything. Early in your career it is all so amazing and intoxicating that you think you should be a sleight-of-hand expert one day, an escape artist the next, and turn ladies into tigers on the weekend. Focusing on my authentic personality and the things I can credibly present to audiences—and learning to focus on my strengths—this was the primary transformation in my business. If you see me perform, I’m likely to perform at least one thing you’ve seen me do before, or something that is related to it. I do still create custom work and custom illusions for clients, but I have worked hard to develop my core in a way that it gives me a solid foundation on which to build and grow.

Joe M. Turner, Magician, Mentalist, Keynote Speaker
Joe M. Turner, Magician, Mentalist, Keynote Speaker

wanderlust ATLANTA: With the outbreak of COVID-19, most people's careers and lives changed or were affected otherwise, some significantly. How have you adapted? Are these changes permanent, fully or in part?

Joe: In February I was performing magic on a cruise ship in the South China Sea. After departing from Guam, the pandemic spread and every port we were scheduled to visit closed. After nearly two weeks at sea with no stops, we finally landed in Singapore and I flew home. I spoke at a conference and did a couple of other corporate events, but by mid-March my entire 2020 calendar was emptied by the virus.

Soon after that, I attended my first couple of Zoom meetings and realized immediately that there was an opportunity to develop a unique kind of interactive theatre in that space. My constant goal through the whole crisis has been to keep finding ways to be creative and productive, so I decided to create and produce a virtual magic and mentalism show.

I launched my first virtual show on April 3, and a couple of weeks later I received an email from a New York Times arts reporter asking to see my show for a story on how magicians across America were using technology to perform. My show was included in the article, and then two weeks later I was having coffee one Sunday morning when a friend in Manhattan messaged me to congratulate me for being in the Times. I thought she was mistaken because the story was already old news. But I had gotten an additional mention – a recommendation of my show in the Sunday Times!

None of this would have happened if I hadn’t been one of the very first in the country to develop an online performance.

I have resisted using the term "pivot" during this time because I think it implies a change of direction. I haven’t really changed my direction, but I’ve certainly added a lane, and added new skills, and am able to deliver my work in additional ways. I do expect that I will continue to offer online offerings in the future.

wanderlust ATLANTA: You’re more than a magician. What other talents to you share with public audiences?

Joe: I have a reasonably deep background in musical theatre. I did some professional performing and continued to act and sing in Atlanta after I moved here. I have also worked as a pianist and conductor. During the pandemic I’ve done a lot of Facebook Live-streaming of showtunes from my piano, just for fun. I have taken the odd piano gig here and there, too. I never really marketed it much in past years, leaving it mostly for people who just knew I had that background, but more recently I did finally put together a web site: Atlanta Pianist. I have combined that with my magic for another little project: Vaudeville on Demand

Joe M. Turner, Magician, Mentalist, Keynote Speaker

wanderlust ATLANTA: There have been a LOT of them…what is your favorite magic/magician movie? Why?

Joe: The favorite of many magicians is the Tony Curtis Houdini movie, but I think my favorite is The Illusionist with Ed Norton, Paul Giamatti, and Jessica Biel. I think The Prestige may be a better film, but when The Illusionist came out I was doing my one-man show “Shenanigans” at the Grand Hyatt in Buckhead and the distribution company called me to do a cross promotion between my show and some previews of the film. So I’ll go with The Illusionist

Also, Jessica Biel.

wanderlust ATLANTA: When you have time to play tourist, where/what are some of the destinations in Atlanta that you most enjoy?

Joe: You mentioned Atlanta Magic Night in your book. That is a local magic show with a rotating cast, and I've co-produced the show since 2014. It takes place at the Red Light CafĂ© in Midtown, which is someplace I'd recommend for anyone to check out when they have their live shows up and running again. It could be country one night, rock the next, comedy the next, burlesque the next, and magic the next! It is a wonderful venue. Check out their streaming—Wednesday night is Jazz Night!

I have surely enjoyed the College Football Hall of Fame since it came to Atlanta.

If you’re up for a little drive, High Shoals Falls in Paulding County is a beautiful little waterfall and a quiet place to contemplate your blessings.

SPECIAL OFFER: Joe is offering wanderlust ATLANTA friends and fans $5 off tickets (You only need one ticket for the entire household!) to his upcoming show—Joe M. Turner's Remotely Entertaining—on Sunday, September 27, at 7pm...use promo code "social".

I'll see you at the show and if you're a person who schedules speakers for your company, consider Joe. I highly recommend him!

Follow Joe M. Turner on…

Facebook Twitter Instagram | YouTube | LinkedIn | and on his website

(All photos and videos courtesy of Joe M. Turner. All opinions are my own.)

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