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Sleight of perception

Superior Police Officer Donna Andrews holds a deck of cards for magician Mark Mitton during a private performance for law enforcement personnel on Tuesday in Superior. (Jed Carlson/jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

Mix a world-renown magician and about two dozen law enforcement officers and county employees -- add a pinch of curiosity and dash of magic - and what do you get? Communication.

"Interacting with all kinds of different groups leads to different ways of looking at something," said Magician Mark Mitton, a Superior-native.

He made Douglas County Detective Sgt. Ed Anderson's $20 bill appear in a lime, caused Superior Police Chief Floyd Peters' head to swell and read Superior Assistant Police Chief Charles LaGesse's body language to deduce what hand a card was in. Between tricks, Mitton spoke of perception, misdirection and observation.

"What's my relationship with what I don't know," he said.

Mitton has made Will Smith appear and disappear in Times Square. He directed magic acts for Cirque du Soleil and Britney Spears, and made Sting's watch disappear during a friendly chat. He also took the time to dazzle folks with tricks at the Bayside Baptist Corn Roast on Tuesday night.

Friday and Saturday, he brings magic to the Stagenorth Theater in Washburn. Shows begin at 7:30 p.m. both nights. Tickets are $15 for adults, $13 for seniors and $8 for students. For reservations, call (715) 373-1194 or make online reservations at www.stagenorth.com.

"I do really, really love it," Mitton said.

He began his career with a magic kit ordered from a Chex cereal box. Mitton joined the Duluth Mystics, a local magic club, and performed magic acts through junior and high school. His interest in human nature led him to an economics degree, then life as a freelance magician. Along the way, he apprenticed with one of the greatest magicians of the 20th Century, Slydini.

"When you learn from a master, you learn things you don't expect," Mitton said.

Magic, for instance, can be more than entertainment. Fellow Duluth Mystic John Bushey uses magic tricks to get his students excited about math.

"It's been incredibly effective," Mitton said.

It can also be used to perform apparent miracles, like when Mitton was working as a hospital clown in the 1980s.

"I conned a kid into walking," he said.

Mitton himself is fascinated by the science behind human nature, what he calls "the nerdy side of magic." He has connected with scientists, artists, authors and now law enforcement officers in his quest to learn. Although Tuesday's event was a first, it provided some common ground for future communication.

"I enjoy using magic to better understand perception," Mitton said.

While magic and police work may not seem compatible, the careers share common ground - both rely on perception, observation and the human mind.

Law enforcement officers took helpful nuggets away from the mini-show.

"Don't forget to listen - you might miss something real important; also don't forget to watch," said Superior Master Detective Joe Krieg. "In our line of work, that's important."

Anderson said law enforcement officers must keep in mind that witnesses have their own point of view, citing a car accident as an example.

"I pay more attention to the marks on the roadway, the damage to the car, more than what the driver told me happened, because you can't perceive what happened in an accident fast enough," Anderson said.

"You can have two people side-by-side see the whole thing differently," Krieg agreed.

The magician also reminded them to keep an open mind. Sometimes, Krieg said, law enforcement officers see a certain situations so often they jump ahead and miss something important.

Mitton's connection with law enforcement continues in October when he takes part in a panel discussion about fraud and the mentality it takes to commit fraud.

"For magicians, they romanticize fraud," Mitton said. But when a friend is affected by it, such as in the Bernie Madoff scandal, it can be "devastating."

And he will continue to travel the world, learning more about human nature and making every stop a little more magical.

"It's a great job if you like constantly learning," Mitton said.

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