Local attorney takes performance to the next level
May 13-19, 2019
By Becca Bona
A central Arkansas native, Paul Prater has always loved performing for an audience. From a young age he was very creative, dabbling in music and all aspects of art from drawing to photography.
His last minute decision to go to law school would actually combine his passions – performing and storytelling and potentially even lead him on the path to a bigger one.
“I wanted a doctorate,” he explained, “and I thought, well I can go to law school in less than four years and then I can also get a job.”
With a Bachelor’s in English from Hendrix College, Prater had expected to teach at the collegiate level, before following his passion to get a Master’s in Studio Art at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.
“I didn’t realize when I was working on that master’s that I probably needed a degree that would allow me to get a job,” he said, laughing.
He made the move back to Little Rock so that he could attend UA Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law. And while the coursework was rigorous, he wasn’t wholly unprepared. “Law school was tough but Hendrix prepared me for it,” he said.
During his second and third years he worked as a clerk, and began carving out where his interest might lie in the law.
“Business and commercial was really what I was interested in,” he said. “To me it’s one of the few areas in law that you get to be truly creative. Somebody can say this is what I want and you can make that vision happen.”
And, as Prater explained further, while you aren’t necessarily pinned in by statutes, you can help build something from the ground up – which is why he likes a certain client. “I like to do contract work within the context of creating small businesses and creating new businesses.”
Prater was able to land a job out of law school working for a small firm in the area. As Prater worked his way up the ladder, the firm grew. He then worked for the Arkansas Bar Association for three years before he was recruited by a Texas-based firm.
Over time his growing responsibilities took him away from trial work. “At that point, I really thought to be honest that I was done with law. I was just not happy with it,” he recalled.
All the while Prater had been performing as a mind reader, magician, or even ‘mentalist.’ Mentalism is as he describes, “using suggestion, body language, and a little bit of deception, too.” After he thought he was burnt out with the law, though, he plunged further into his side hustle.
The trick is, the audience is never sure which one is happening at which moment.
Prater began carving out a niche for himself as a performer.
Not long after feeling burnt out with law, he quite literally stumbled upon an opportunity.
“I was walking around downtown because that’s what I would do on my lunch breaks to get away from my desk, and I came across a theatre and called there and asked about renting the place to do a show.”
He had found the Public Theatre, and booked a Friday and Saturday night show and each one sold out.
This was all he needed to begin perfecting creating various shows which he performed in and around central Arkansas. And, while his shows are mysterious and edgy, don’t expect him to pull a rabbit out of the hat. “My shows are strongly mentalism-focused,” he said, “They’re a bit more sophisticated.”
The magic/mentalism world has opened its arms to Prater, and he has been able to travel all over the world meeting people in his field and beyond.
In fact, it was due to his large network that he found himself in yet another avenue of performing – local ghost tours. Around 2011 a magician friend called Prater about leading ghost tours in Jonesboro.
At first Prater was hesitant and more than anything – a bit nervous. “The stage is safe, this is my space, and the idea of standing in front of everybody is terrifying but I control it, it’s my space. [...] but now you’re in my space and I’m in your space and there’s no separation, so also it was a little scary to me, the idea that I’m surrounded by people,” he said.
He took the opportunity, however, and loved it. He traveled to Jonesboro every weekend to continue the show for nearly two years, but he eventually had to give it up as the travel and advertising were taking a toll on him.
But then he got to thinking about a more central location for ghost tours.
“I couldn’t really do a haunted location tour in Little Rock, because the area is too disperse,” Prater explained. And he tabled the idea until two years ago, when he sauntered into the History Commission in downtown North Little Rock’s Argenta neighborhood.
“I went into the History Commission down here – I have to give them credit. They said that’s awesome what do you need and I said everything – so they gave me all the history, all the photos – all the things I would need. They set me up to make it happen very quickly so in about two weeks, I had the first tour written and started takings friends.”
The tours take place seasonally from mid-September through mid-November in Argenta, four nights out of the week.
Prater enjoyed the research so much, getting to meet people and hear their stories that he wrote a book on it – “Haunted Argenta” – his seventh book. (The others are specifically focused in the magic/mentalism industry.)
As far as the law goes, Prater opened a solo practice three years ago and hasn’t looked back since. He has found a way to perform and practice, and it couldn’t be a better match. “And now I actually really enjoy practicing law, I really do like it,” he said.
As far as performing and practicing mind reading, Prater continues to create shows for specific audiences. “The key thing for me is starting with the perspective of how can I help this person – and if I can’t help them, they’re not going to be a client or a customer. I’ve got shows on reading. I’ve got a show that’s all STEM based, hammering a nail in my nose and we talk about physics and physiology. Card tricks for mathematical principals,” he said.
He has completely clean shows that don’t utilize tarot cards that he can take to corporate functions.
He’s essentially your jack-of-all-trades mind reader.
While he hopes that Little Rock can grow into more of a tourism town, one that supports multiple events events, he’s definitely found his home. “One of the great things about LR is there’s so much going in Central Arkansas – it divides that group up into such small pieces. It’s very tough from a performer standpoint to make it here,” he said.
When not perfecting a new routine or collecting interesting, spooky stories, Prater likes to continue to make art and lately he’s been playing the drums, although he’s not currently in a band.
And as attorney by day and performer by night, Prater has found his niche.
Prater often invites members of the audience on stage to participate during his mind reading performances. (Photos provided)