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NIU alum conjures up spirits, laughs

February 18, 2014
Neil Tobin

Neil Tobin

Copywriter by day, supernatural communicator by night; it’s all just another day in the life of NIU alumnus Neil Tobin.

For more than 10 years, Tobin has entertained audiences with his one-man show “Supernatural Chicago,” a unique blend of comedy, magic and psychic demonstrations performed at Castle nightclub, formerly known as Excalibur.

The show engages audiences with true stories of paranormal events in Chicago, and ends with a finale that Douglas George of the Chicago Tribune called an “eerie séance that communicated with the spirits of the departed.”

But before he wowed crowds with his mysterious talents, he honed his showmanship at NIU.

With ambitions of one day working in show business, Tobin came to NIU to become an entertainment lawyer. As a student, he dabbled in just about everything related to the arts. While he earned a B.A. in English and a minor in music, he also crammed as many classes and activities from the School of Theatre and Dance into his schedule as possible.

Among his many accomplishments, Tobin credits being accepted into the NIU Honors Program as the turning point in his life.

“I felt that being at NIU was a privilege, and when I received an invitation to join the Honors Program, I remember thinking that I must have fooled them into believing I was a good student so I’d better be one,” Tobin said. “There was something about Northern that told me it was time to grow up and take responsibility for my education.”

Tobin graduated from NIU in 1988, and his achievements earned him a scholarship to attend Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles. But as it turned out, lawyering wasn’t for him and he decided to pursue a more creative career in advertising.

7JC_9516-2Working as the associate creative director and senior copywriter at a small advertising firm in the western suburbs of Chicago, Tobin puts his NIU degree to use daily.

“I received a first-class liberal arts education that gets a workout every day,” Tobin said, “whether I’m analyzing strategic documents and writing advertising campaigns, or polishing up a script for an upcoming performance.”

Tobin began performing magic and theater at a young age. He was always interested in psychic-related phenomena, but the stigma of the subject deterred adults from talking with him about the topic. So, Tobin went to the library and began reading as many books on the supernatural as possible. And next to those books were books about magic. And next to those were books about hauntings.

“When I was a kid, I was interested in psychic stuff, partly spurred by my own awareness of a certain sensitivity I had to other people’s emotions and thoughts,” Tobin said. “I went off on my own to the library and read everything I could on the subject. In my youthful exuberance, I devoured them all, unwittingly laying the groundwork for the performances I do today.”

Since its debut in February 2004, “Supernatural Chicago” has been a one-man show in the truest of senses.

“I’ve needed to play all the roles in a one-man theater company,” Tobin said. “I’ve directed, produced, built props, assembled costumes, created the sound design, written press releases and even designed posters. It’s been an education all its own, and one that – so far – isn’t being taught anywhere. Maybe NIU should call me about that.”

Supernatural ChicagoBut for Tobin, the script is about to change, and like all good things, “Supernatural Chicago” must come to an end. Tobin’s final performance is scheduled for Friday, Feb. 28.

“My reason for closing ‘Supernatural Chicago’ is that I have another script I want to develop, and I can’t give it my full attention while I’m still doing the current show,” Tobin said. “I have a director on board and, with a little luck, we’ll have the new show fully worked out and running sometime next year.”

After reflecting on his time at NIU, Tobin has some words of encouragement for current Huskies.

“If your experience is anything like mine, whatever you think you’ll be doing years from now is probably wrong; don’t worry about it,” Tobin said.

“Just get a solid, well-rounded education, focus on what you’re naturally good at, and work your hardest to be even better. Explore the roster of extracurricular activities and get involved in whatever is the most interesting to you; it could end up being more important to your personal growth than your official degree.”

For more information or tickets, call (800) 979-3370 or visit