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Holladay Journal

Holladay magician reunites with teacher who inspired him long ago

Mar 29, 2022 09:12PM ● By Heather Lawrence

By Heather Lawrence | [email protected]

Most people have a story about how the March 2020 lockdown affected them. Paul Draper of Holladay, an alumnus of Holladay schools, was in Disneyland performing as a magician.

“The Disney people came to me and said, ‘We’re going to close down, so you need to head out.’ I said, ‘Ok, I’ll just come back tomorrow and get my things.’ They said, ‘No, take your things now—we’re not sure when we’ll reopen,’” Draper said.

The park stayed closed for 412 days, the longest closure in its history.

Disney had thousands of people in their hotels with nothing to do. So they called Draper and asked him to do a show at the locked front gates. “That day the magic was outside of the park,” Draper said.  

Draper loved magic from the time he was 7 years old. He remembers seeing a live magic show for the first time at the 49th Street Galleria.

“I think almost every magician on earth becomes a magician when they’re in second grade. I started talking about magic to my teacher, Lorene Billings. She was so supportive,” Draper said.

Billings, who taught at Holladay Elementary School, which is now the Holladay City Hall, encouraged Draper.

“She said, ‘If you like doing magic tricks, why don’t you do a show for the class?’” Draper recalled.

That was the beginning of 10 years of magic shows in Mrs. Billings’s class. Every year she’d invite him back to her class to perform, and every year he’d get better. His final show was in 1997 when he graduated from Olympus High.

Draper’s ambitions were to be a theater performer or professor. “I have a degree in musical theater. But eventually I started doing magic shows full time and teaching social science classes as an adjunct professor,” Draper said.

He’s worked in Anaheim, Las Vegas and appeared on numerous television spots. He’s a member of an elite magicians’ club in London. 

Draper kept his close ties to Holladay. “I performed for the opening of the Holladay Library and the new theater building at Olympus High. Life came full circle—I learned magic from books in the Holladay Library!”

Virtual shows made it possible for Draper to stay busy during the pandemic. “Since the pandemic started I’ve put on over 600 free shows for Title I schools, homeless shelters and children’s hospitals,” Draper said.

Draper has overcome the skepticism of an online magic show by using “1950’s television technology.”

“I use one [camera] shot, it never cuts away and nothing ever leaves the screen. It feels very much like everyone has a front row seat,” Draper said.

Draper’s shows are family friendly, entertaining and educational. His website lists his impressive resume.

Draper performed for the Holladay City Arts Council on Jan. 21. About 180 people attended virtually. At the end of the show, he asked for questions or comments. One person wanted to add her thoughts.

“I commented about how much he had improved since second grade!” said Lorene Billings. The former teacher heard about the show through Draper’s email list and watched her former student perform.

Draper loved that Billings had watched the show, and explained to everyone what their connection was.

“I had a little moment with her and told everyone what an inspiration she was to me. She was the one person in the world who said, ‘Yes, magic is OK,’” Draper said.

It was even more meaningful that the show was for Holladay City. Holladay City Hall is in the old Holladay Elementary School where Draper attended Billings’s class.

“We’ve talked a few times over the years. It’s a wonderful friendship, and he’s always so congenial and nice. He’s always willing to give and share. My students loved that he would come back and do the show every year—they would just eat it up,” Billings said.

Billings remembers Draper as a bright student. “If he had an interest, he stayed with it. He was focused. And he made the kids so happy—he made us all happy. I feel delighted that I’m in touch with him and could watch the show,” Billings said.

Billings’s opinion of Draper has only grown since second grade. “I’m just amazed by the whole thing,” Billings said. “He was a wonderful person then and now. He was a wonderful student, and it’s just terrific to see one of your students accomplish what he has accomplished.”