Dan Sperry's first exposure to a live magician wasn't pretty.
He was 4 or 5 years old, he said, when his parents took him from their hometown of Litchfield, Minn., to Minneapolis to see David Copperfield.
"I didn't know magic could be that big of a deal, theatrical and over the top and all of that stuff," Sperry, now 30 recalled.
In an opening stunt, Copperfield was chained to a table with a spinning buzz saw headed toward him, appearing to cut the illusionist in half.
"I saw that as a kid and freaked out, 'cause I thought he was gonna die," Sperry said. "I ... have this spastic episode in the theater and they have to take me out to the lobby to calm me down.
"I thought he died, because I never saw him put back together," he added.
Now that Sperry is a successful performer in his own right — and on stage with "The Illusionists" Monday night at the Adler Theatre, Davenport — he's met Copperfield several times.
But Sperry has never told Copperfield about the childhood trauma.
"We've only talked briefly and only about non-magic things," he said.
Sperry recovered, and started buying magic tricks from toy stores and began performing at parties.
By age 13, he'd also become enamored with the goth and punk cultures, including a purple Mohawk, but tried to avoid them colliding with his magic sideline.
"I knew I couldn't be 15 and doing birthday party shows and showing up looking like that to entertain little kids," he said. "So I'd take out my piercings and comb my hair back. I had my alter ego when I'd perform so I could keep getting booked."
He moved to Chicago and felt more freedom to combine the two. He started being billed as the "Anti-Conjuror," looking more like Marilyn Manson than Copperfield, playing punk and goth clubs.
"I didn't want the word 'magician' to be put up on the poster, the flyer, because I didn't want people thinking, 'Ewwh, magician?'" he said. "That demographic is there to see the band or DJ."
After an increased amount of exposure thanks to "America's Got Talent" in 2010, he was hired about 3½ years ago for "The Illusionists," as one of seven performers who combined fores for a successful Broadway run.
"I think we knew that it would do well, just not to the degree that it did," said Sperry, the only performer to be in every incarnation of "Illusionists."
"We knew if we did it right, there would absolutely be an element to this to make it work," he said.
Each of the seven takes turns with their performances, Sperry said, with one as the emcee to tie all of it together.
"Each of us have a different style. There's something for everybody," Sperry said.
"The Illusionists" moves quickly on stage, he added.
"If you think your kid's gonna pull out his cellphone and be bored like he's in church," he said, "it's not gonna happen."