Chicago has distinctive and well-manicured parks to be sure, but for a stroll off the beaten path on a nice day, local mentalist and magician Neil Tobin urges folks to explore the city’s cemeteries, the north side’s Rosehill in particular. “Most people completely overlook [them],” says Tobin, “because we’ve become a culture that tries really hard to ignore death. We happen to have a place in the middle of our city that occupies 350 acres right next to Andersonville. You think, ‘Gosh, that’s pretty hard to ignore.'”
Following a run at the IndyFringe Theatre Festival, the psychic performer uproots and moves his newest hour-long piece, Near Death Experience, to a stunning historic chapel in Rosehill, where he aims to despookify macabre facts of life with interactive, “dead-serious fun.” The project follows Tobin’s personal tradition of utilizing nontraditional, folklore-filled spots like the shuttered Excalibur nightclub building, as well as site-specific venues like funeral homes, to bridge the gap between performance and reality.
“Magic is always fun, but I don’t think it needs to be escapist,” says Tobin. Mixing performance and reverent, sacred spaces requires walking a fine line, and in order to do so, the magician says he works carefully with venue hosts to ensure his material honors and respects the location’s greater purpose. “I wanted to create theater that could help lead people out of [their] sense of denial and live more fully.”