Brad is a renowned instructor who travels around the world sharing his unique approach to the magical arts.
Brad Henderson is a real magician.
Austin magician Brad Henderson has traveled the world sharing his unique approach to the magical arts. While others are content to amuse, and some strive to amaze, Brad's goal is to make his audiences feel, taking them on an emotional journey where surprise, awe, shock, wonder each has a special moment.
Henderson began studying magic at the age of four, but did not get serious about it until age ten when he and a schoolmate took the Hearn Elementary School's "Big Theater" by storm. From then, local magic shows led to out of town magic shows, and eventually even a magic show in space!
Like many magicians, Brad began his studies because he loved magic. He loved the idea of real secrets in this world. Whether it was Bigfoot, Easter Island, séances, voodoo, or secret societies, Brad was hooked. Of course, visits to local libraries to seek out magic tricks disappointed him; he was shown, all too starkly, the published secrets to magic were not exciting at all. He was particularly discouraged by texts which purported to teach sleight of hand and mind reading; one seemed impossible and the other seemed like mathematical puzzles. Was this all there was, at the art of what captivated him? Or could there be something more, something perhaps not written in these books so readily available to the masses?
Undaunted, Brad began studying looking to books on conjuring's past. Here lay the real secrets, he thought, and mysteries of the ages lost to time. He began studying the history of magic in earnest. During his college years, while many of his classmates were out drinking, Brad was beginning to assemble what has become one of the largest and most comprehensive privately-held working libraries on conjuring resources. He dedicated his time to learning as much as possible about the creation and history of the principles of prestidigitation.
Unfortunately, Brad was at an impasse in his performances. His shows always received peals of laughter and thunderous applause, even when a youth. But now, something seemed missing. There were too many jokes. It all seemed so silly and pointless. Sure, people had fun; but Henderson knew and deeply felt that true magic was far more than a momentary amusement.
Nearing the conclusion of his undergraduate studies, Brad began searching for a new way to approach magic performance. He became a leader in the alternative branch of magic called Bizarre Magic. The Bizarrists were a group of magicians based originally in England who, in reaction to the trivialization of magic as a mere diversion for children, began exploring presentations which suggested occult influences, demonic presences, and ghostly happenings. As a child who loved haunted houses, this spoke to Brad.
Henderson took his magical skills an applied them to a new type of magic show — one that entertained, yet also troubled. One that made you question if what you were seeing was real. One that sent shivers up and down your spine. Séances became his favorite medium. (Pun sadly intended). It was during this time that Brad began reevaluating what mind reading could be — not what he learned from the books in the library, but what was possible when you applied real principles of human psychology with the techniques of the mentalist.
It was also at this time that Henderson was exposed to the world of the side show. Fire Eating, the Human Blockhead, displays of regulated regurgitation — Brad was fascinated. He began his studies in earnest, becoming expert at several techniques and befriending many of the masters in that field. He even presented his material on the street in an effort to infuse an authenticity into his recreations.
The Bizarre school of magic, like many alternative ideas, was rejected at first by the mainstream magic community — even mocked. But Brad knew the Bizarrists were up to something, so he brought the mountain to Muhammad, so to speak, organizing the first Bizarre magic events ever held at mainstream magic conventions. Eyes were opened and a conversation began.
At that time Jeff McBride began an interesting experiment called Mystery School. This was an invitation-only gathering of people interested in magic of all types — religious scholars, shaman, card tricksters, clowns — all were welcome. Mystery School, unlike most mainstream magic gatherings of its day, explored the big questions: What is magic? Why is it important? What has changed through the centuries, and what endures today? Unlike many magical gatherings, Mystery School was highly participatory. Taking a nod from the Bizarrists, students went through immersive theatrical experiences of a ritual nature, and the worlds of the real magician and the stage magician began to unite once again.
At first, like the Bizarrists, Mystery School was mocked and derided; however, the magicians coming out of the Mystery School tradition began to draw attention. There was something different about their magic. There was a substance beyond the trick.
It was at this point that Brad began to break off from the Bizarrists. After reading Philosophy in a New Key, Brad realized the secret to impactful magical experiences was the artistic manipulation of symbolic structures. While the Bizarrists attempted to move their audiences by frightening them, Brad realized that other emotions were equally viable. Thus began the self-indulgent years. Brad began exploring the use of symbolism in magic. Many of his pieces produced during this time were entertaining and engaging, but there remained a superficiality to his work which he could not shake. While superficial magic at a corporate event is fine, Brad knew there was something more.
At this point in his career, Brad had graduated with his Master's Degree and making his living as a full time magician. These were his commercial years. Relying on his uncanny ability to see through to the essence of an idea, Brad began creating customized presentations for corporate events that even veteran sales people found awe inspiring. One could often find Brad on the trade show floor espousing the greatness of a Fortune 500 Company's product or service to the gathered crowds. Some executives were so impressed they recruited Brad to share his presentational strategies in customized seminars for their sales and management teams. Brad was truly in his element. He thrived on the challenges of creating and communicating customized messages in clear and impactful packages. He loved working with sales teams, exploring strategies for dealing with difficult customers or devising highly memorable sound bites that informed and sold.
As much fun as Brad was having with these clients, ultimately the magic Brad was creating was for someone else. In an effort to return to his own vision, Brad began honing several interactive performance concepts including The Soiree, The Mind Show, and his critically acclaimed Hypnosis experience. In 2006, a key piece of the puzzle presented itself.
Austin, Texas was home to internet gaming pioneer Richard Garriott, who was also a pioneer in interactive, immersive, participatory theater with his full-scale Haunted Houses and highly themed parties. The two men shared an interest in magic memorabilia. One conversation led to another and eventually they elected to team up together to produce Magic at the Manor, perhaps the most interesting, elaborate, artful magic experience ever staged. It was a rousing success.
Brad and Richard collaborated on several projects including a full scale alien abduction and landing for a noted video game release event, a magical wedding ceremony where the bride and groom levitated into the air in each other's arms as they kissed, and the largest Mayan Apocalypse party on the planet. It was through these events that Brad's personal vision began to come into focus. Both Richard and Brad realized the incredible power in immersing people in an imaginative experience. Brad had been a huge fan of Walt Disney before he could even speak. Now he was given the chance to make Disneyland a reality in his own way. The lessons learned from these experiences gave Brad a perspective most magicians will never have: an understanding of how people truly experience something novel and new. He learned how to take a gathering of strangers and mold them into an audience. He discovered how to move that audience through new spaces, both physical and emotional. He realized the importance of creating an experience, in real time for real people, rather than merely replicating an event that one hashed out in the privacy of one's practice room.
While thrilled with the opportunities opened to him at his time, ultimately Brad was still unsatisfied. He loved art, and one afternoon, while walking through the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Contemporary Art collection, it dawned on him — all of the other arts are so rich in variety, even within a given "school", that magic seems thin in comparison. The other arts had abstraction and experimental movements. Magicians were still performing most of the same tricks the same ways. Why?
That's when Brad realized that in order for magic to advance, we must look to the other arts to understand what is possible and consider if those things are possible for magic. Influenced by Marcel Duchamp, Suzanne Langer, the Surrealists, and contemporary artists Brad has embarked on a new approach to magic, one that privileges the expressive content of a piece and manifests in the emotional journey of the audience. He is exploring how to approach magic as a real performance art, not just a replication of clever moves intended to amuse. Brad believes the goal of the magician is to make the audience feel, and feel as deeply as possible. The performer who conveys the greatest depth of feeling to their audiences becomes the real magician, against whom all other magicians are measured. The duty of the artist is to use the resources available to him or her in order to convey this depth of feeling as successfully as possible. It is an approach which values the audience as intelligent and important contributors to the experience; an approach focused on the needs and experience of the audience, and not the performer. It is an approach that treats magic as important and real.
It is an approach you will never forget.
Brad has been teaching magic for over 26 years, specializing in lessons for amateurs and interested non-magicians. He has written for MAGIC magazine, Genii magazine, MUM magazine, and the Linking Ring Magazine as well as numerous other small magic publications. He has consulted on numerous projects including The Michael Ammar Easy to Master Card and Money series, The Complete Cups and Calls, Bob Farmer's Bammo Ten Card Dossier, Jon Racherbaumer's M.O., ABC Family's Exploring the Unexplained, Mattel's line of Harry Potter Magic Toys, the MIT Blackjack Team, TLC's Mysterious World of Alain Nu, History Channel's Lost Magic, and was a noted participant in the recent Our Magic documentary. He was a facilitator for Jeff McBride's Mystery School and is a contributor to their monthly online installments.