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The Universal Language of Magic

Success was in the cards for this Mexican-born illusionist-turned-hospitality student-turned Strip headliner.

People  |  Feb 6, 2018  |  By Angela Ramsey
Santiago Michel

Santiago Michel selected UNLV for his studies because of its proximity to Las Vegas entertainment venues. Now he's headlining his own show. (Courtesy of Jeff Cools)

Editor's Note: 

UNLV hospitality major Santiago Michel’s show Illusión Mental at 5:30pm on Sunday, Monday, Thursday, and Saturday at Planet Hollywood’s Sin City Theatre.

Reading the mind of Santiago Michel isn’t hard these days. The UNLV senior opened his new Planet Hollywood show Ilusión Mental to  audiences with a mix of mind reading and mind-bending illusions. But he didn’t rely on his intuition to break ground with the Strip’s first all-in-Spanish show.

“I didn’t know if it was going to work,” said the Mexico City native of the idea for creating a show that caters to the Latino market. “I thought it made sense, but I needed help to do some research.”

Michel parked himself in the front row his Sociology of Gaming class and soon revealed his idea to professor Bo Bernhard.

“At the time, I remember thinking, either you're the lucky genius who has come up with a brilliant idea, or you're the unfortunate genius who came up with it just a few years too early,” said Bernhard, who in addition to teaching for the Harrah College of Hospitality serves as the executive director of UNLV’s International Gaming Institute.

He helped connect Michel to the marketing research and mentored him on how to make his business pitch.

But convincing the entertainment-soaked Strip that there was room for a Spanish-language magic show was a hard sell, despite the fact that around 6 million annual visitors to Las Vegas speak Spanish. Numerous properties passed on the project.

“It didn’t matter how many ‘Nos’ I got because I knew that it would only take one ‘Yes,’” Michel said.

Planet Hollywood did more than give Michel a stage, he says; it challenged him to create an experience that is both dynamic and unique to each audience.

And while Ilusión Mental caters to Spanish-speakers (the show draws audiences from as far away as Argentina), Michel points out that magic transcends the bounds of language.

“It’s an all-ages, all-backgrounds, highly visual show. You do not have to speak Spanish to enjoy the show.”

Growing up in Mexico City, Michel saw magic as more than a pastime. It is an artform to be researched, studied, and practiced. His parents nurtured his passion for magic but were also clear about the importance of a solid education.

“My parents told me the only way they would support me was if I went to college,” Michel said. “I came to UNLV because I wanted to become a professional magician, and I wanted to do this in Vegas. I mean, UNLV is the only place in the world where you can be a university student and have a show on the Strip. It is the most Vegas thing ever.”

His experience at UNLV’s Hospitality College has given him invaluable professional tools.

“The college has expanded my horizon,” Michel said. “It helped me learn how to approach people, how to communicate with people from all over the world .”

And what of the deal he made with his parents?

“I told them I will finish college not matter what happens,” said Michel, who just began his final semester. “I may have to sacrifice some sleep, but I will finish.”