The second interview in our Supersense presents series was with Chad Allen, a blind writer, and magician. He is the creator of the comic, Unseen. With his own words, "Unseen is an audio comic written by a blind person, with a blind heroine, for blind (and sighted) audiences, and he performs magic; and again for both blind and sighted people. Click the video below to listen to the interview or continue reading for the transcript!
Shane: What’s up everyone, I’m Shane from Supersense, and today I’m sitting down with Chad Allen, a blind artist with a lot to talk about. How’s it going?
Chad: It’s going great Shane, thanks for having me.
Shane: My pleasure. You were one of the first people I thought about when we came back to this interview process, so thanks so much for giving us your time. For starters, give me the basic rundown. Tell the listeners who you are and what’s going on right now.
Chad: Well, with the pandemic, things are definitely a little different. My primary skill sets are performing magic and writing. I’m doing both of those things now, but mostly in the developmental phases instead of putting things out into the world. I had a wonderful project about a year ago that was featured inside the Exploratorium Museum up in San Francisco. It was a project on identity called “Self Made,” and I wrote a non-visual comic book called “unseen” that was on exhibit there for about three months. With regards to magic, I appeared on Pen and Teller’s Fool Us a couple of months ago. I was on season 7, and the episode is entitled “Watermelon Surgery.”
Shane: That’s an excellent title. I feel like that should be the name of a 90’s band.
Chad: Yeah, definitely. It’s not my trick, that was Pen and Teller’s trick, but that’s the name of the episode.
Shane: Nice, so what was your segment about? Don’t spoil too much.
Chad: The concept was about how I wanted to address blindness regarding performing magic. There were basically three different ways to approach it. The first way is that I immediately introduce myself as a blind magician upfront. My concern was that in magic, your biggest job is directing people’s focus and attention so that when the surprise reveal happens, the impact is as strong as possible. I didn’t want them to be focused on the blindness more than the trick, so I decided not to go with that option. The second option is not to discuss blindness at all. Plenty of performers have done this, but my concern is that something tends to tip off the audience. Maybe I’ll fish for a card on the table, or I’m not looking directly at someone, so that redirects their attention in a way I don’t want as well. So, the third option, the way that I took, is that I conceal my blindness for a limited amount of time and then reveal it as part of the experience of the magic. I won’t get into exactly how, but I definitely wanted the blindness to be revealed along with the trick itself.
Shane: Yes. As soon as you started describing the first method, I immediately thought of integrating the blindness into the magic—what an incredible opportunity for a unique performance. I feel like that’s a huge way to get people’s attention and sets you apart from other magicians. Has that worked well for you?
Chad: Yes, the response has been great. I just got an email last week from the producers, saying that the episode was very popular and that they’ll be rebroadcasting it nationally on the CW Network.
Shane: That’s really cool. I’ve been meaning to check out that performance. Thank you for the info.
I want to backtrack a little bit because I’ve never met a blind magician, and this is a really neat concept. I never thought it would be impossible for a blind person to perform magic, but I’m not seeing it as a popular trade. Tell me what caught your attention with magic and how did that work for you?
Chad: Well, before that, let me clarify that there definitely have been other blind magicians. It is rare, but I wasn’t the first, and I won’t be the last. I think the reason that people find it to be so unusual is that magic is typically perceived as visual art. My question for sighted people who ask me about this is, “What isn’t visual?” When they ask themselves that question, in their mindset, everything is visual because that’s how they function in the world. A blind doctor would be a visual profession, in their mind. Teachers, parents, lawyers, all of these things are perceived as visual to a visually-oriented person.
I was born with RP, but I wasn’t diagnosed until I was a teenager. I didn’t become interested in magic until I was 21. I was working at a toy store in Denver, Colorado, and it was a temporary position. The place was really cool. It looked like a big purple castle with a drawbridge, a dragon out front. It had everything. I was out on my own, trying to figure out who I was, and it seemed like a wonderful place to have fun experiences. I was hired through Halloween, and while I was working there, I got really chummy with the manager. The store had a magic counter, but they had a magician who helped them set up, but he decided not to work the counter regularly. He disappeared!
Anyway, she was telling me about it, and I said that if you keep me on through Christmas, and I learn this stuff, would it solve your problem? She said yes, so I started taking tricks home, practicing them one-by-one until I had them down, and selling out of each individual product because that was the only trick I knew how to do at any given time. Eventually, that evolved into professionals seeing my work and offering tips. I would take their advice, and they would give me more. I found a mentor and started performing at parties; it slowly evolved to the point where I eventually moved to Los Angeles and became a member of the Magic Castle, a country club for Magicians. There, I had access to all the greatest magicians on the planet. It changed everything.
Shane: When did you move to LA?
Chad: I moved six weeks after 9/11. I graduated from the Colorado center for the blind, an adult rehabilitation training program. My dad and stepmom drove me out to Los Angeles to be with my fiancé. I became a member of the Magic Castle in January of 2002. We lived in LA until I was seven and went back to Denver for a couple of years, where I started doing my own matinee show for kids on weekends and a night club act during a burlesque show in this place called the Clock tower. It was great getting so much stage time in Denver, and after three years there, I came back to Los Angeles with my son, and have been working with writing and magic ever since.
Shane: So, I’m curious about how a blind person would be able to enjoy a magic show. I assume there are a lot of tricks and parts of a magical performance that wouldn’t be accessible to the blind. Is that right?
Chad: Sure, there are definitely tricks that a blind person would have a difficult time experiencing, such as silent acts. However, I will not shut that door because there is a video of me performing magic for blind people online at ChadAllenMagic.com. If there’s a blind person in the audience, I have magic for them that works very well.
Shane: That’s great because this is really interesting to me. I’d love to see more. Do you have any gigs lined up soon?
Chad: There are a lot of fantastic performers out there developing virtual magic shows, and many are doing it really well. For me, because of the advantage I have of being at home and having other projects to work on, I’m going to wait until the pandemic ends to keep developing the kind of performances I want to have. I’m not really performing at all right now. My focus has been to write the next story I’m working on.
Shane: Interesting. Let’s rewind on the writing. You worked this magic counter at 21, learning and growing as a magician, so how did writing factor into this.
Chad: I think writing started way before magic. I was an obsessive Dungeons and Dragons fan as a child, so the idea of stories always fascinated me. I was born and raised in the state of HP Lovecraft, so I can remember going to the library and having access to his short stories at a very young age. I liked thrillers. I liked superheroes. I liked adventure, all that stuff. When I moved to Colorado, I lost contact with a lot of the people I gamed with, but after Facebook happened, I invited them all to play again. I said, let’s play a game through email. I didn’t know it at the time, but what we were doing is called a literary campaign, where people pass emails back and forth to each other to create the outcomes of the adventure. We started with online dice rollers, but it eventually got to a point to the winner of the battle was whoever told the better story. It was surprising to see how we’d all end up agreeing on the best story. There was never any argument about that.
As the game was winding down in 2016, I wanted to take a crack at writing my own adventure. It ended up feeling more like a book than a game since I was telling the story and describing all of the character dynamics. At this time, a company called Comics Empower was trying to make comics accessible to blind people, which I have been campaigning to do for a very long time. They had a contest where they wanted blind writers to contribute stories. I submitted my newly-finished project, titled “Unseen,” which won the contest. That gave me a chance to have an article written in Vice Magazine. From there, nothing happened for a couple of years until I was contacted by researchers at the San Francisco Exploratorium who were looking for content for an exhibit they were putting together. From that, I got a ton of publicity. I was in the LA Times; I was interviewed by The Guardian, Hollywood Reporter, it was crazy. It gave me an opportunity to pursue this writing idea, so I started pitching the idea at comic cons. I got a few people interested, and now we’re trying to sell it. Unseen has the same characters and the same story I submitted to Comics Empower, but far more involved. It’s going to be more like a TV show than anything else, with 12 to 15 one-hour-long episodes.
Shane: That sounds awesome. What stage are you in right now?
Chad: I just sent a draft out to people who will give me good feedback and break apart the story. That’s one crucial thing I learned in this experience, the people giving hard critiques are the ones who care the most. They are the ones who want you to succeed. It’s hard to hear your babies get broken down and analyzed like that, but it’s the absolute best thing that could happen for their success. From there, I’ll take their feedback and put the story together in a better way and keep sending drafts until there’s nothing left to fix.
Shane: Okay, so this is your chance. Hook the people. What’s the premise of this Comic?
Chad: It’s about a blind assassin from Afghanistan. She’s a heavy-duty warrior from the near future, and the world is in chaos, and what she does changes the course of history.
Shane: What’s your target audience?
Chad: I’m not trying to go for Daredevil or anything like that, but it definitely feels like a hero’s story. I would say it’s for people who like assassin stories, spies, espionage, that kind of stuff. It’s definitely not a children’s story. There’s going to be blood and gore involved. I’d say the demographic is the same as projects like “Assassin’s Creed,” “Dare Devil,” all of that. Anywhere from 19 to 50, maybe older.
Shane: Perfect, I’m writing in the window and looking forward to it! Finally, where can people keep up with your work?
For the other interviews in the series, please click here.
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