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HIV-Positive Magician Daniel Bauer's Death-Defying Escapes are Beyond Belief

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Don’t call Daniel Bauer an illusionist. “The ‘i’ word is a horrible word; I never use it,” says the New York-born performer, who is coming to Houston. “What I do is I’m a magician, an escape artist and a mind reader.”

Bauer, who fancies himself a modern-day Harry Houdini, has been pursuing the craft of magic since his youth. “I got a kit at eight years old and I suddenly knew what I wanted to do with my life,” he says, admitting to being known as Dan the Magic Man of Poughkeepsie for much of his tender years. But after his parents insisted Bauer get a “practical job,” he began teaching high school math and ASL.  “After two years, I sacrificed everything to move down to the city and become the new ‘IT’ boy of magic,” Bauer says. 

All looked up for Bauer as he began to play bigger rooms off-Broadway, until he got the news that would rock his life: He’d been diagnosed with HIV, a fact Bauer tackles head-on in his act. “This show really is the story of my life,” he says. “Starting with the day I escaped my mother’s womb, all the way to the moment I decided to return to the stage. [Beyond Belief] is about being diagnosed, the dark days after that, losing everything. But the magic is more layered. You see the first trick I ever learned as a kid, and the magic progresses and gets more intricately confounding, compiling until I do my final death-defying escape: Houdini’s Mail Bag, where I have potentially only 90 seconds to escape before I run out of air.”

Bauer, a seemingly normal man, admits that there is an undeniable rush associated with saving his own life with these escapes. “I have been hurt more times than I care to count, but I just love it. Adults forget how to believe in magic, and what I have done with this show is I’ve taken down all the barriers. No smoke, no mirrors, nothing between me and the audience. So I think what the audience is experiencing is what I like to call ‘pure magic’ – very Harry Potter sorcery.”

The autobiographical nature of Beyond Belief seems unique for shows of this kind, but that honesty, Bauer believes, is a testament to his relationship to his craft. “When I didn’t have a family to believe in,” Bauer says, “when I didn’t have all those people you should have to believe in, an agent, managers, funders – the only thing left was the magic. It was the thing that kept me safe as a kid because there were no ‘I love yous,’ no physical emotion or affection. You know, I was a kid who was never wanted. So magic was my safe haven. It kept me safe from bullies, and it’s something I keep going back to.” Bauer hopes his audience will feel the same face-melting pleasure that he does when he pulls off a new trick.

While Beyond Belief features a full 90 minutes of original magic, Bauer warned that people who want to see his most famous escape will have to wait. “My most well-known escape is called Piranha Peril, but that’s being saved for America’s Got Talent,” the escape artist boasts, mentioning that the producers have been after him for a few seasons now. “That’s been quite the negotiation, but I promised I would not show [that escape] anywhere but there.”

If Bauer fulfills all his ambitions and becomes a household name, he’s got big plans for bringing magic further into the mainstream. “I really want to be the Yanni of magicians,” he says. “So once a year, whether it’s in the Acropolises or at the Pyramids, there will be one mega-major escape that I do, where the world just stops for an hour. Everyone forgets their problems, and the only thing on anybody’s mind is whether or not I can get out alive.”

Performances are scheduled for 8 p.m. on December 9 and 10, and at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 pm. on December 11  at the Classical Theatre Company at 4617 Montrose. For information, visit beyondbelief.yapsody.com. $30.

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