Richard Bloch is more than just a stage magician. Presto, chango! He has transformed a garage and workshop on Atlantic Avenue in Millville into a charming 50-seat theater where magic, music and more will be featured nightly beginning June 17.
“This was nothing. It was just a really crummy garage,” he explained. “There were all sorts of rafters hanging, and there was a room over there. The one thing that caught my eye when I walked in originally was that there was a little workshop built onto the back of the garage. When I saw that it was elevated already, I said, ‘You know what – I can just take that wall out and make the workshop the stage.’”
The transformation now almost completed, the theater has its lighting and sound systems installed, all the seats (which Bloch purchased on Craig’s List) are in, and the walls are painted a deep, rich red, reminiscent of a theater of the Victorian era, accented with light fixtures framed with ornate gold trim.
Bloch wanted the audience to think of the quaint and cozy theater as if it were a parlor.
“It’s called Dickens Parlour Theatre because Charles Dickens was an amateur magician. While he was writing ‘Oliver Twist,’ he would entertain his friends in his parlor. So I made this like a little parlor,” Bloch explained.
Over the years, Bloch has collected a variety of antiques, which he hopes to put inside the theater. He has a couple old fortuneteller machines (which many may remember from the film “Big”) in which a fortuneteller mannequin will move her hands and push a fortune card forward to the user. His prize piece is an 1870 music box, which will be part of the shows.
“It plays music on these 15-inch metal discs, and it’s gorgeous. The sound will just ring through the whole theater,” he said. “There are 12 discs that are stored behind these beautiful crystal glass plates. As one disc finishes, it sinks down and the next one comes up; it is all wind-up. It’s going to supply a lot of the music for the place.”
Bloch is a lawyer working in Washington, D.C., but magic has been his love and avocation for decades. He got his start in magic as a small boy of 7 while living in New Jersey. He had lost his father when he was 3, and his mother was working as a traveling sales woman.
“One day, I wandered down the street, and there was a magic store at the end of the street — this is a true story. I walked in, and there’s a guy behind the counter, and he’s doing miracles… I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, and I decided I wanted to be there; I just had to be there,” he recalled.
He told the man just that, “I want to work here. I have to work here!” The man behind the counter asked the young Bloch what kind of experience he had.
“Experience? I’m 7!” Bloch recalled thinking. “So I lied to him. ‘I don’t have any experience, but my father is a famous magician. His name is Ted Collins.’ The guy was very impressed and said, ‘Well, if your dad is Ted Collins, you can work here.’ I was just thrilled. As I’m leaving the store, I turn to him and say, ‘I don’t know your name.’ He said, ‘It’s Ted Collins.’”
Bloch worked in the magic shop for eight years. During that time, he learned a lot about the craft of magic and met many people in the industry.
“One of the guys who came in had a television show, he was the Magic Clown on television, and he asked me to be his assistant on TV. So it was terrific. I had a real good start,” he said.
Since then, Bloch has designed illusions for and worked with many famous performers, including David Copperfield, Siegfried and Roy, and Pen and Teller. He has performed everywhere, from cruise ships to Las Vegas – but the travel became tiring.
“Even with the luxury cruise ships — as nice as they are — I still have to get there. I carry 300 or 400 pounds of equipment. I don’t need that anymore. So I decided I wanted to build a little place and have people come to us.”
The theater will be open seven nights a week, with two showings, at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. The theater will also have rainy day matinees at 2 p.m. because, Bloch explained, “What do you do with your family on a rainy day at the beach?”
The theater will officially open its doors on June 17, and Bloch himself will be the first person to take the stage.
“I’m going to open it. If it closes after three nights, it’ll be my fault,” he joked.
Shows will typically run 55 minutes long and cost $12 for adults and $8 for children.
Performers from all over the world have already been booked through the fall.
In September, Harry Anderson – most famous as the quirky judge from the television show “Night Court” and a street magician even before his acting career – will be doing a one-man show for three nights as a fundraiser for New Orleans. Actress Piper Laurie will come to the theater to discuss her book.
Bloch will not be running the theater alone. He has hired Cheryl DeBois to manage the theater and said he hopes to bring in a few interns to learn the trade.
“We are looking for interns who would have the opportunity to learn the behind-the-scenes technical aspects of theater production: lights, sound, along with marketing and merchandising,” said DeBois.
In a couple years, Bloch said, he plans to double the size of the theater, as he is sure it will be a success. Describing the project as his “most challenging and favorite endeavor,” he said he hopes the community will embrace the theater.
“Ultimately, we would love this to become a fixture in the community,” said Bloch. “My hope is that people will really see this as a lovely little place to come to at night and see a little entertainment.”
The Dickens Parlour Theatre is located at 35715 Atlantic Avenue in Millville. For more information, visit dptmagic.com online. To make reservations, call (202) 364-3020.