WVU grad Brielle Kawalek conjures a magical life in Chicago

The coolest thing was when Penn Jillette – the taller, more talkative member of the Penn and Teller magic duo – leaned down and said, “Give ‘em hell,” before she went on.

“Pretty surrealistic,” Brielle Kawalek said. “I mean, they were right there. My idols.”

The occasion was a taping of the show, “Penn & Teller: Fool Us,” which airs nationally on the CW network. Her segment was March 15.

It’s a show by magicians, for magicians.

You go on, and you try to do what the title says.

The goal is to “fool” the team of rock ‘n’ roll illusionists, or at least make them say, “Whoa, how’d you do that?”

People also sometimes say the same, when they learn of her magical resume.

That is, she’s likely the only Mountain State native, Fulbright scholar and fluent German-speaker with a graduate degree in clinical psychology on top of doing magic full-time … that you’re ever going to know.

“I guess I do have a different background,” the 33-year-old mused last week, while driving across Indiana.

“But Chicago is full of people with different backgrounds.”

So, that’s the trick …

Chicago is where the magician and mentalist landed after WVU and five years in Germany.

Brielle is an honors graduate with dual major in psychology and German who chose the country to live and work after being awarded a Fulbright scholarship.

She’s fluent in the language, and picked up another master’s degree in clinical psychology while there, besides teaching English classes and working at a clinic that treats people with phobias and obsessive compulsive disorder – which figure into a bit of what she’s doing now.

And magic?

It was always there.

As a kid growing up in Bunker Hill near Martinsburg, she never missed a Penn & Teller special on cable.

After Europe, she had earned another master’s in the teaching of English as a second language in Morgantown, before heading back to the Eastern Panhandle.

Brielle joined AmeriCorps, worked as a substitute teacher in Berkeley County Schools and fell under the spell of Michael T. Myers, whom everyone knew as “Michael T.”

Michael T. was an ordained minister, businessman, kid’s show TV host and teacher, but mainly he was a magician.

County fairs, charitable events, private parties and the like.

She always hoped her classroom would be across from his on the days she taught, as his students were as well-behaved as they could be.

Early on, she asked him his secret to classroom management.

When he grinned and said, “It’s magic,” he wasn’t being flip.

Provided his kids behaved that day, they got a reward at the end of class: A magic trick.

The one where he snapped a rubber band on his wrist to “turn” it into two rubber bands, was always an applause-getter.

“Never fails,” Mchael T. said.

“Whoa,” Brielle said. “How’d you do that?”

After school, they would frequent the local McDonalds, where, in between coffee and fries, a teacher instructed an apt pupil in the art of magic.

Sadly, Michael T. died in 2021, before he could see her success.

Magic City, USA

Meanwhile, a publishing house in Chicago that handled the textbooks she taught from in Germany needed someone in tech support who knew the language. The company called and offered a job.  

If Chicago is full of people with different backgrounds, it’s also a city full of magicians with different backgrounds.

Physician-magicians.

Bartender-magicians.

And “close-up” magicians, who saunter up to your table to wow you.

Quicker than a rabbit out of a hat, Brielle’s love of magic was back. Thanks, Michael T.

As “Magic by Brielle,” she booked bars to birthday parties on weekends – “Just to see what might happen,” she said.

At the start of 2024, a lot of things did.

In January, she went from being a weekend magician to a full-time one.

And a few weeks later, in Las Vegas, she was a contestant on Penn and Teller’s show.

She didn’t fool them, but she earned a glowing review.

Visit her website at https://www.magicbybrielle.com/ to view her appearance on YouTube.

Making the nerves disappear

There are also links to her Facebook page, Instagram link and other social media, including her performance schedule, which includes a June 22 jaunt to the Mountain State, for her first gig outside Chicago.

Brielle is performing and emceeing at the Pepperoni Roll Festival on a family farm in Ona, near Huntington that day.

“My mom’s coming down and I’ll have some WVU friends there. I’m looking forward to it.”

Call the Pepperoni Roll Festival the opening act to “Afraid to be Here,” the full-length show she’s debuting June 26 in Chicago.

That’s what she was doing in Indiana that day.

She was meeting with a consultant at a little theater to see how it might look in the big town.

It’s a lot about magic, comedy and audience participation, she said of her debut show.

And, something else: She’ll also talk about herself and the anxiety she still grapples with whenever she’s in front of people – despite what she does for a living.

“It’s nothing now like it was,” she said, “but when I first started doing close-up magic, my hands would be shaking.”

She won’t be afraid to celebrate the craft she shares with Michael T., and Penn and Teller.

“I hope people say, ‘Whoa – how’d she do that?’”