John Steiner, magician

by Emily Wells

"I really respect the art of magic."

In spite of the digital daze of our time, John Steiner is keeping magic alive. The young magician frequently performs for L.A. audiences, most recently at the Petit Ermitage's deliciously surreal Night Circus party, where we sat down for an interview amidst cackling clowns and contortionists.

Steiner is a hit at the Magic Castle and won first place in their October strolling competition, in which magicians walk around the castle and perform candidly for attendees. It's easy to see why — he performs with charm and ease, taking the time in his show to connect personally with members of the audience. You probably didn't know you should have a magician on your radar, but Steiner is the one to watch. As one of his spectators put it, "most magicians claim it's magic, and it's really a trick, but with John, he claims it's a trick and I believe it's really magic."

When and how did you decide to pursue magic?

I first saw magic when I was twelve years old, walking in the streets with my parents in Rome. We went inside this little shop, and the guy who was there was showing me tricks for like an hour, and this huge line started, and he was just still showing me tricks, he didn't care. I was so fascinated by it, so there I bought my first three or four tricks, and I did them for years. I didn't know I was going to be a magician; I just knew I liked it as a hobby. Then when I was seventeen, suddenly I woke up and I had this vision, I knew I was going to be a magician, so I called my mom and told her I wasn't going to go to college, I was going to be a magician.

In the time of the internet, why do you think people are still drawn to magic?

I feel we live in this generation where everybody gets so much information immediately, with their iphones and the internet, and suddenly when they see magic, and they don’t comprehend it... I notice that people need you need to do visuals while you talk, you have to entertain them, if there’s too much talking then they disconnect. People want to see things now, like the show I just did was so quick, and there are moments where I slow down a little bit just so they can relax. We say we are more connected with technology, but we are actually less. We’re more daydreamy, in a way. Magic is one of the oldest professions, and I think it’s always going to be intriguing and fascinating no matter how much technology there is, because computers don’t explain everything. Also, it’s on the people. If you believe in magic, you’ll see magic everywhere in your life.

Does the magic of doing a trick rely on the audience not knowing how you did it?

Maybe you have someone who knows something about magic, but they won’t know everything. As a magician, when I watch other magicians myself, I look at the technique. But at the end of the day, I don’t care about that, because I know all the techniques. I look at the performer, the way he presents, the connection with the audience, his originality, what sort of humor he has, those are the important things.. It is a balance between the performer and the audience.

How much of being a magician is practicing?

A lot of practice, but I don’t mind because I love it so much. In magic, you go through phases. There are phases where I’m in front of the mirror seven, eight hours a day to get the trick down, but then I have to go try it with people, a live audience, to see if they like it or not. Also, when you’re in front of the mirror, the timing and the tempo are wrong because there are no reactions… the trick is to do it so well, it becomes magical. That’s the art of illusion.

What’s the best place to see magic in LA?

The Magic Castle, because it’s made for that. There’s only magic in it.

How do you see the future of magic?

Classics will always be the best, but you also need to change. You can still be doing the classics, but presenting them in different ways… people like when you combine magic with technology or something from our time. There’s been a lot of TV magic and Youtube magic, I think that’s done already. If they do it, they should come up with a different concept, because many of these TV magicians use actors and camera tricks and stuff like that… I think my direction will be to keep doing live audiences, to eventually create a one man show on stage, and have people come see that. I enjoy being in front of the crowd and that exchange of energy; you don’t get that on camera... I really respect the art of magic.

Follow John on Instagram