Unlike many college sophomores, Jake Schwartz has figured out what he wants to do with the rest of his life — magic.
“Magic has this unique ability to strip away everything else,” he said. “It forces people to be in the moment. So often today we’re so distracted by all the different things going on around us, but when someone shows you a magic trick and they say, ‘Was this your card?’ You’re not thinking to yourself, ‘Oh shoot, I have to go home and do my taxes.’ You’re truly amazed; you’re truly for once in the moment. That’s what I love about magic. It has this ability to bring people together.”
The Pennsylvania State University student is a professional magician who does shows all over North America, primarily in the Philadelphia area. He most recently had a show at the Smoke & Mirrors Magic Theater in Huntingdon Valley on Dec. 19.
He called the show “The Cutting Edge of Magic,” and Schwartz said the idea was to perform “next-generation magic that is new, timely and current.”
“All the tricks are centered around things that are going on today, whether that be a trick about college football, whether that be a trick about how Monopoly just came out with a new Millennial version, stuff like that,” said Schwartz, who grew up attending Congregation Kol Emet in Bucks County. “All these different things. All these things that people are experiencing in this day and age, and that’s what I wrote this show at Smoke & Mirrors to be.”
Schwartz had his first foray into magic at only 2 years old. He was at the dinner table with his family — his dad was filming — when he made his food “disappear.” (By disappear, Schwartz meant he ate it.) His dad also encouraged him to say, “I’ll be here all week.”
As corny as it sounds, he said, he was hooked from then on out. He learned the trade from books, magic kits and YouTube videos. He put on magic shows for his family at Chanukahs and Passover seders.
He loved performing in general, he said, whether it was a dance routine with his sister, a puppet show or playing the guitar.
“It didn’t really matter what it was. I always loved being in front of people and performing,” Schwartz said. “Magic was definitely at the center and my most favorite thing among all those types of things.”
Schwartz has a few original tricks, such as his Jersey trick, which centers around college football, and his Envelope of Mysteries trick, where he guesses what number someone is thinking of.
He also performs at B’nai Mitzvahs and weddings, where he likes to do close-up tricks, such as making objects like pens and coins disappear.
“I like to do magic with everyday objects, with things people see all the time,” Schwartz said. “I feel like that’s the most relatable kind of magic, as opposed to some people will put ladies in a big box or [use] giant different props. I tend to stray away from that just because I feel like it’s way more relatable if I can get my whole show at Office Max.”
At Penn State, he studies communication arts and sciences, a new major that he described as the “psychology of how we communicate with each other.” It’s the perfect major for a magician, he explained. Magic is about communication, more than it is about misdirection.
He also minors in Jewish studies. He draws on his Jewish background all the time for his shows, from the casual, thrown-in “oy vey” to even a trick where he brings on a “kosher checker” volunteer who checks his tricks to make sure nothing sneaky is going on.
Last summer, his passion for magic took him to an internship with Smoke & Mirrors, where he helped with lighting and sound, getting people seated and other tasks. His connection to the theater led to his most recent show.
“He cares a lot about magic, which is our business, so we were happy to have someone on board who cares about that,” co-owner Danny Archer said.
During his internship, Schwartz got to watch some of the shows and meet some of the magicians who performed there, including Israeli magician Asi Wind, whom he got to have dinner with.
Schwartz was struck by Wind’s demeanor before his shows. Whereas many magicians might exude a nervous energy, Wind was calm and collected.
“He was just excited to go out there and meet the people and show them what he knows how to do,” Schwartz said. “That attitude is something I try to bring to my shows. You don’t want to necessarily be trying so hard, and it was just more important to go out there and be yourself. That’s something that Asi talked to me about briefly, but more he showed me through his actions.”