Turning the city’s paranormal past into eerie entertainment has worked out nicely for Neil Tobin, whose one-man show “Supernatural Chicago” celebrates its 10th anniversary Feb. 14.
So there’s no need to mourn its passing when the self-styled necromancer closes the show two weeks later at the Castle (formerly Excalibur) nightclub just off the Gold Coast. It will merely have ceased to exist in the material realm, like the ghosts that reputedly haunt the building where it was performed.
“I’m savoring every last one of these shows,” said the Oak Park resident, who’s currently at work on a larger, more ambitious production for a theatrical setting as opposed to his current 50-seat venue at Castle. “Every performance is different because there’s such a strong element of improvisation and interactivity with the audience. So it’s funny and fresh for me every week. That’s how I’ve been able to keep it entertaining for ten years.”
“Supernatural Chicago” is the result of a Tobin’s lifelong fascination with magic, psychic phenomena and the history of the paranormal in Chicago, dating back to his childhood days in Morton Grove. In fact, Tobin, who’s currently president of Chicago’s Society of American Magicians and a board member of the Psychic Entertainer’s Association, said he wrote the show with the Castle building in mind. It’s particularly well-known for its spooked status, dating back to the unfortunate deaths of a group of women who attempted to take refuge there during the Chicago Fire.
“It’s site-specific, immersive theater,” he explained. “We don’t need a set because we’re sitting in it. Being able to see the show in a place that’s shrouded with such haunted history really helps bring all the stories to life.”
The stories are mysterious episodes from Chicago’s bygone days, often given an extra touch of spectral spice by Tobin’s psychic and magical skills.
While listening to the tale of Resurrection Mary, an audience member holding photographs of young ladies of that era is baffled when one of the pictures suddenly disappears. During a discussion of the St. Valentine’s Day massacre, name tags representing each victim mysteriously order and re-order themselves. After hearing how young Lurancy Vennum famously channeled the spirits of the dead at the turn of the last century, a young woman in the audience also channels a spirit after being put into a trance.
And all of this is accomplished without special effects by Tobin, working with nothing more than an easel, a few visual aids and “a few props that come out of my battered old briefcase.”
“And these incredible stories,” he added. “It’s about as close as you can get to having someone in your living room telling you spooky stories late at night. Though by the end you feel you’ve not only heard them but experienced them, participated in them, as well.”