Intrigue Theater is not a magic act. Nothing will magically disappear. No rabbits, doves or animals of any species will be pulled from a hat. There will be no “magic” cliches. It is, for lack of a better term, intriguing.
The show opens with the entrance of what would seem to be the quintessential magician’s assistant, but like many other illusions in the show, this first impression is quickly dispelled. Juliane the Medium invites the audience to open their minds for the evening and to accept that which is unexpected. The Eureka Springs audience is drawn back in time to the golden age of illusion and magic shows, to the era of Harry Houdini, Howard Thurston and Anna Eva Fay.
Once the audience is fully immersed, the handsomely dressed Sean-Paul the Illusionist bursts onstage to a round of applause and stands before the audience beaming. Like Juliane, he is a former dancer, and his stage presence and poise make him compelling. He manipulates a birdcage in his hands while reiterating to the audience the importance of keeping an open mind. He grins widely as he performs a quick trick — the cage disappears! The audience members gasp, laugh and applaud at the stunt.
It is the last magic trick they will see at Intrigue Theater.
“I can’t remember if I used the words ‘Barbie doll,’ but I’m pretty sure that was in the ad.”
St. Paul, Minn., born Sean-Paul began performing magic at the age of 8 after being drawn into what he calls the apparatus and engineering side of performing tricks onstage. This fascination led the young boy to become skilled enough to perform at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival only three short years later.
“That’s really where I learned that you better be engaging as an entertainer,” he says. “There weren’t any theater seats out there. There were bales of hay and benches. If people found something else that was more interesting, they would just get up and leave. It’s not just enough to be amazing, you have to be entertaining.”
Sean-Paul would continue to perform his show all over the state of Minnesota before joining General Motors. With GM the young illusionist traveled the country performing at auto shows.
“It was very similar to the Renaissance festival,” he explains. “You’re standing up next to the Motor Trend car of the year, and the goal is to pull people into the Chevrolet display. But if you cease to be entertaining, they will just walk away and drift on over to Ford. I guess that was fairly good training.”
Juliane’s inspiration for her future onstage began as a small child growing up in Minneapolis.
“I think I was just always playing, always doing neighborhood talent shows or parades,” she says. “We were always in the backyard making up these fantasy games. I had all my trees named, and my bike was a pony. What you desire as a child is what you will end up doing in a sense, if you pay attention to the games you play as a kid.”
Enrolled in dance classes at a young age, Juliane dreamed of performing in New York City, but she earned a journalism degree instead. The former Minnesota Timberwolves dancer was teaching ballroom dance in Minnesota when she answered a peculiar ad in the Minneapolis Star Tribune in April 1995.
“It said dancer slash magician’s assistant,” she explains. “He says it also said ‘Barbie doll.’ I don’t think it did, but it’s all about perception.”
Juliane answered the ad, was interviewed on the phone by Sean-Paul, and a surprising connection instantly caught their attention.
“She said the name of the dance studio, and that was the place I had worked at,” he says. “It turned out that she started work there two weeks after I quit. We almost met each other but didn’t until five years later.”
The couple, who bonded over their similarities and sense of adventure, fell in love and married in 2001.
“We’re so similar in so many ways,” he says. “But we’re also so different. And after being married for 13 years, our opposite traits and personalities and strengths really make up nicely for each other. It always feels like a complementary thing. And an adventure.”
“It’s not dull,” adds Juliane with a laugh.
“You have to give the audience a reason to care, or else it is literally just a parade of puzzles.”
“I think that’s what drew me into Sean when we first met,” says Juliane, reminiscing. “Even more than being a magician or an illusionist is that he is the biggest storyteller. So every illusion he presents has an entire theme or storyline behind it. He’s of the mindset that (the tricks) have to be relevant, that they have to make sense.”
“They come up with mind-blowing illusions and mentalism,” says Oklahoma attorney Deborah Hackler. “But the most interesting part of their performance is how their routines rely so heavily on interaction with the audience. It pushes the experience up a level.”
Hackler, who often takes clients and friends to the Intrigue Theater, has been a fan of the show for several years, and she describes the interaction with the audience, the trademark of Sean-Paul and Juliane’s performance, as “walking on a razor’s edge.”
“It is how Sean-Paul draws in members of the audience that makes the show what it is,” she says. “He is very good at reading the audience. They do not always have excellent participants, and it is fascinating to see how they handle less than desirable participants and situations where things do not go according to plan.”
“It’s one thing to memorize how to perform a trick,” says Steve Arnold, owner of Arnold Meteorites and More in Eureka Springs and host of Science Channel’s “Meteorite Men.” “It’s another to interact live with people.” Arnold, who has worked with the couple since 2013, describes his friends as extremely precise, even when dealing with the unpredictable nature of an audience.
“They have to anticipate the audience members’ responses,” he says. “They have to react so quickly. It looks super easy, but trust me, it’s taken them years to master.”
Possibly their most impressive act engages theatergoers directly by asking them to produce an object, such as a photo or memento, for a blindfolded Juliane to name and describe. Juliane, who says during these performances its feels as if she is channeling the famous mentalist Anna Eva Fay, is uncannily accurate.
Audience reactions to Juliane’s accuracy range from silence to gasps to quiet tears, but her performance always leaves them considering one question: “How does she do it?”
“It’s fun to have different theories and ideas running around,” she says. “It should be that way. If the world was void of mystery, it would be so boring.”
“If it had been a real banana, Frankie wouldn’t have given it to me.”
Sean-Paul and Juliane got the idea to introduce a new member to their act while performing their “World of Magic” show in Branson, Mo., in 2001. The couple were working with two Alaskan Samoyed dogs at the time, and while the dogs were, as Juliane described them, sweet, their theater, previously occupied by competitor Kirby Van Burch, was intended for something more exotic.
“We really were set up for tigers, but no one really wanted to get any,” she says. “So we thought, what kind of animal could we get that would draw people in, something exotic? Someone mentioned a monkey, and that was it.”
“So, we decided to take on training a monkey to do a very, very unique act,” says Sean-Paul.
“I always figured everyone wanted a monkey when they were a kid,” says Juliane. “We were going to get three. This one was enough.”
Frankie, a 13-year-old black and white Capuchin monkey, joined the family at the age of 11 months after being relinquished by his first owners. The general manager of Sean-Paul and Juliane’s show found Frankie through a broker and drove 13 hours to Mississippi to pick up little monkey.
“I remember the night when they brought him into the theater,” Sean-Paul says. “We were all just crowded around this little kennel, and he came out. It was the first time we had ever had contact with a monkey, and we owned him.”
“We really had no idea,” Juliane says. “We probably had the instinct of trainers. We didn’t get any coaching really. It gets complicated when we want to go places. We can’t leave him here because he gets anxiety. So we take him with us. He’s a complicated little number.
“As soon as they get to be a year or two old, people don’t know what to do with them,” she continues. They get bit, and then they drop them off somewhere. It’s just not good for the monkeys. They’re just not a practical pet. But we have a different lifestyle, it’s easier with us, so he’s with us all the time. He’s a big challenge.”
“We don’t call ourselves a magic show. Other people do because they don’t know what else to call it.”
“I feel like I have learned so much from doing Intrigue Theater,” Juliane says. “In our show, we talk about how thoughts manifest, and how small actions manifest into bigger projects. (Intrigue Theater) is one of those cases.”
Between 2001 and 2004, the couple frequently traveled to Eureka Springs as a getaway from their large-scale performances in Branson. After falling in love with the community, in part due to its acceptance of Frankie, Juliane and Sean-Paul became drawn to the ghost-heavy aura of the town.
“We went into the Queen Anne Mansion and pitched the idea,” Sean-Paul says. “We wanted to do something very adult-oriented, very intelligent. We were only at the Queen Anne for a few months, and it couldn’t have been a better place.”
Searching for a larger and more functional venue, the couple moved their show to the downtown auditorium. And while the event center was large enough, it was not permanent. The search continued for the perfect venue, leading them ultimately to the historic Gavioli Chapel in May 2012.
“I was not going to perform in a place where the audience sits in pews and there is a crucifix behind me,” jokes Sean-Paul, remembering. “But when I walked into the room, it was the room I wished had existed at the Queen Anne. I instantly saw chandeliers. I loved it. You feel like you are in a Victorian salon. It transports you there instantly.”
Two years later, the partners remain at the Gavioli, delighting audiences with their truly indefinable act.
“I feel like everything we have been doing leading up to Intrigue Theater has been a form of training,” says Sean-Paul. “Sometimes I have felt, ‘Wow, this is it! I’ve really made it,’ but I look back and it just seems like another rung on the ladder.”
And although friends, colleagues and patrons may describe the show with awe, Sean-Paul’s view is simple.
“Our goal is to be entertainment — and to be intriguing.”