By Marene Gustin
“My chief task has been to conquer fear. The public sees only the thrill of the accomplished trick; they have no conception of the tortuous preliminary self-training that was necessary to conquer fear.” —Harry Houdini
For Daniel Bauer, whom the Woodstock Times calls “the Generation-X Houdini,” conquering his fear has meant a new life and a new purpose.
As a child, Bauer got a Harry Blackstone Jr. magic kit when he was eight years old, and loved doing magic tricks. But then he went on to be a high-school teacher of math and American Sign Language before succumbing to his childhood dream and heading to New York City to practice his magic act in clubs and bars around town.
“I was discovered by someone from the LGBT community who saw me doing magic in a downtown bar. It led to a magazine doing a feature on me, and that was it,” Bauer recalls.
“The next thing I knew, a major corporate sponsor offered me $1.5 million to create an escape act from a tank with 1,000 piranhas,” he says. He was ecstatic. He and his boyfriend celebrated with unprotected sex and champagne. They had just moved into a new apartment in New York City and were over the moon. But the sponsor requested a major physical exam before the contract was signed. Bauer thought nothing of it until he came home one day and his partner was gone. And then the corporate doctors called and told him he was HIV-positive.
That was the beginning of a downward spiral. In 2002, the sponsor withdrew. His family, who had already basically disowned his younger brother for contracting HIV, abandoned him. Gigs dried up. He developed a meth habit, got evicted from his apartment, and attempted suicide—twice. Finally, an intervention by friends pulled him out and back to his magic.
“What if you could believe in magic in your own life once again,” he muses. And that’s how he created Beyond Belief: Escape to Survival, a 90-minute live performance that combines his life story with magic and amazing escapes. Bauer is bringing the show to Houston, his part-time home, this December.
“I tried a comeback in 2009, and it failed,” he says. “It just wasn’t authentic, so I created this new show about the story of my life.” And the reviews have been just as amazing as his recovery. Bring tissues—and a sense of awe—to his December performance.
In addition to performing this very personal show that inspires, thrills, and motivates, Bauer is a motivational speaker for groups, schools, and private events. He also works with youth organizations, both to inspire them and to help connect youth with Alzheimer’s patients).
The former teacher who now works with youth reveals that it was actually an encounter with a child that helped him believe once again in the power of magic. On an airplane, while he was trying to sleep, a mother and child behind him tapped on the back of his seat. “She asked if I was that Houdini guy, and when I said yes, she said her little son was a huge fan and wanted to show me a magic trick,” Bauer laughs. “Well, I thought, Great, some kid wants to show me a magic trick!”
But being a nice guy, Bauer relented and watched as the kid produced two rubber bands and performed something akin to the Chinese linking-rings magic trick.
Bauer was blown away. He asked the kid to tell him how the trick was done, because he had never seen it before. And the kid replied: “Magicians never reveal their secrets.”
“I really wanted to strangle him!” Bauer exclaims. “It took me two years to figure out that trick, but that little kid taught me the best lesson in wisdom: to not get caught up in your own world. You just have to believe in the magic and in yourself.”
And, yes, he is still working on that escape from the piranha-filled tank, as well as releasing his book Beyond Belief: Escape to Survival on December 1, World AIDS Day.
What: Daniel Bauer’s Beyond Belief: Escape to Survival
When: December 9–11 (Part of the December 10 show will be live on Facebook; by purchasing a ticket you are agreeing to be filmed. There will be a surprise magic trick that evening.)
Where: Classical Theater, 4617 Montrose Blvd.
Tickets/Details: $30 danielbauer.us
Marene Gustin is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.