Q&A with Magician Steve Goldstein

Have you met magician Steve Goldstein?
Get to know one of our club's favorite close-up magicians in this week's question and answer session!

Q. Please tell us about yourself as a magician:

A: I have been involved with magic for nearly 35 years, virtually all of them as a hobbyist, not a performer. It has only been within the past few years that I have begun performing for the paying public — at California Magic. Prior to that, as real life interrupted my inner magic calling, I remained always on the fringes of the magic scene, keeping abreast of magic’s late 20th century creative revolution via the major magic journals, notebooks of my own work on magic effects, attendance at local and national conventions, and, not least, visits to a certain magic shop in Pleasant Hill. As a professional writer, I wrote also on magic subjects during this period (my first article appeared in Genii in 1979,  covering a convention that highlighted the two greatest close-up icons of the last century, Dai Vernon and Slydini), and built up a modest but satisfying personal magic library, with a specialization in old and rare conjuring books, including very early works in French. These days, I have intensified my writing activities, and have become a regular editor of Aaron Fisher’s work, including, among other material, The Graduate, his recent treatise on an advanced handling of the pass, a sleight for which he is counted as one of the world’s foremost masters. Concurrent with these literary endeavors, I am also relishing my newfound identity as a performer of close-up card magic. I have always believed that my training as an advertising writer — understanding and addressing audience perceptions — has also informed my thinking about magic, and that my delayed entry into performing, postponed until my “mature” years, has ironically given me an acute eye for what audiences want and like, as well as a sharp filter for the kinds of effects that suit my style and my personality.

Q. What started your interest in magic?

A: Although I remember seeing some magic as a child, the bug never really hit me then, as it did for so many who later grew up with magic in their lives. It was when I was 27, an adult, and I saw a close-up performance of Matrix, done expressly for me. To see coins disappear and re-appear under different cards, right before my eyes, was astounding to me. The friend who showed it to me was an amateur magician (later to become a dealer), and he sparked my interest, and pointed me the right general directions after that. Interestingly, his name was Griffin — although not my dear friend Gerry.

Q. Tell us about your first performance as a magician:

A: I was 28, and had just joined a new company at work. One of my co-workers was hosting a small party at his house, and asked if I would perform. Since I was new to magic, I had no idea what I didn’t know — but I did have five or six card tricks! — and so I agreed to perform for the group. I remember that the invitation to the party read: “Featured Performance: Steve Goldstein, in preparation for his Las Vegas engagement!” Although I never made it to Vegas as a performer, I do remember that my little show that evening generally went fine. I look back now at the scripts for my routines that night (which I still have) and see how corny and contrived they were. Maybe my audience was just being polite … and maybe it was a good thing I never made it to Vegas back then.

Q. Name a magician that has inspired you the most, and why?

A: When I first became interested in magic, I was influenced quite a bit by the card work of Martin Nash. He performed what to me was the ideal type of card magic: sitting at a table, surrounded by spectators, doing intelligent, mind-blowing routines. And now, although it may sound odd coming from someone who does card magic exclusively, I would have to say that my biggest influence is mentalist Derren Brown. Interestingly, in his younger days Brown used to do card magic — and he had quite the chops — but it is his current, modern thinking on how the mind is fooled, and how real people react to mental manipulation, that has come to inform much of my own thinking, especially how it applies to magic with cards. I believe Brown is the most lucid voice on what mentalism in the 21st century should look like, and beyond that, on what it takes to accommodate modern audience perceptions of what “magic” should, and can, be.

Q. What is your favorite style of magic to perform?

A: Darwin Ortiz has said that “magical style is the product of a strong philosophy of magic, a strong aesthetic theory, and a strong individual vision of what good magic should be.” Said more simply, a performer’s style should reflect his or her personality, which incorporates the entire range of that individual’s attitudes and beliefs about the subject. For me, my magic indeed comes from who I am: generally easy-going, not overly funny but yet quick to laugh, determined to ensure that while my audiences are delighted — often with pleasant and amusing narrative effects — they are nonetheless always aware of the seriousness of the magic that underlies the experience. The area of card magic, specifically, invites much thought and introspection for the development of a magician’s style: just the image of a solitary deck of cards on a green felt table conjures up (pun intended) strong visual associations; the skillful card magician exploits these to create astonishing experiences for spectators. Further, there is always the persistent dilemma that card magicians must continually grapple with: is card “magic” possible at all? That is, if the skillful control of the cards is necessarily always the modus operandi of card effects — whether in gambling demonstrations, where such control is admitted, or in card “tricks,” where it is hidden — then where is the “magic”? How magicians reconcile this issue in their own minds informs the approach they take to their own performances.

Q. What is your favorite magic memory to date?

A: It’s hard to pinpoint just one, so here are three that stand out for me. 1. Richiardi, The Village Gate Theater, New York, 1979: he sawed a woman in half; blood, guts, and everything — including the scent of hospital ether permeating the entire theater. Grotesque, yes, but unforgettable. 2. René Lavande, the Magic Mansion, San Francisco, circa 1985. A one-armed sleight-of-hand artist, who creates the most beautiful, poetic experience with cards imaginable — yes, with one hand. You can’t make this up. 3. Jonathan Pendragon, California Magic, Martinez, 2007. The most amazingly magical presentation of the Himber rings that I have ever seen. There were tears in the audience’s eyes after the effect. And in mine. In virtually no other effect that I have seen before or since, could I more truthfully utter the words: “that was magic.”

Q. What is the most important thing about magic that you’d like the public to know?

A: In an era of iPhones — of instant “everything” in the palm of your hand — what is “magic” today? Isn’t it enough that we point our remotes at the TV or computer and control them? How does that work? When, as Arthur C. Clarke, author of 2001: A Space Odyssey said, “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” how can our profession continue to be relevant? Indeed, in the context of our hyper-technical world, can the Ambitious Card really be magic? That, quite simply, is our challenge as magicians. The key is that the human mind is as susceptible as always to being deceived — advanced whiz-bang gizmos or not. Ours is a performance art that uses deception in the name of entertainment — just as it has for a thousand years. It is up to us to continue to develop that art, for as long as there are two human beings left, and a pack of cards between them.

Gerry Griffin