Tricks and Treats: Jen Kramer ’14 talks magic

Pick a card.
Pick a card. // William Freedberg

Q. When did you get your first taste of magic, and what about it was appealing to you?

A. For my tenth birthday, I received a magic book from my uncle Steve, called “The Royal Road to Card Magic.” And I remember sitting cross-legged on the floor of my room, reading this book cover to cover. I just could not get enough of it. From that point since, I started going to magic camp, magic conventions. I joined young magicians’ groups. It’s been a wonderful community to be a part of.

 

Q. What was it like for you as a child entering this magical world?

A. It’s a crazy world. You have different magic communities — in New York, in Las Vegas, for example. I’ve been really fortunate to meet other magicians who are just so supportive of each other and we all meet up and brainstorm.

 

Q. What are the basic first tricks you learned, and how did you go about developing your own illusions later on?

A. The first thing for me was card magic. I think a lot of people start off with close-up magic. It makes sense logistically — all you need is a deck of cards or a couple of coins. But everyone has his or her own path. And that’s one of the exciting things about magic — you meet so many different people, all of whom have done different types of magic, met different people, been different places. One of the exciting and challenging aspects of magic is figuring out how to put your own twist on the effects you perform.

 

Q. You talk about different types of magic that people perform. To you, what is magic?

A. Magic is so many things to me. One thing that makes magic unique as a craft is that it has this amazing ability to inspire wonder. I think that’s really powerful. It brings out the five-year-old in everyone.

 

Q. What is your favorite trick to perform?

A. I can’t decide, I love so many.

 

Q. Well, can you describe some of your tricks?

A. I’d love to show you some!

 

She proceeds to pull out a deck of cards and her wallet and asks us to pick which one we’d like to see a trick with first.

 

Q. Do you have a deck of cards on you at all times?

A. Pretty much. My suitemates make fun of me sometimes. I’ll be going out for a run — iPod, deck of cards, good to go. They’re like, do you really need that?

We pick the wallet and she hands us two one-dollar bills for us to verify as real. She’s in performance mode. Her demeanor commands respect, and it is clear that she is serious about her craft. Kramer wore short sleeves, she jokes, so that she wouldn’t be one of those magicians who always have something up their sleeves. She plays with the two bills, saying that she will melt the molecules of the two together. Soon enough, a $20 bill is all that remains. Kramer quips that she can’t do that one all of the time — or it would cause inflation. She ends with a card trick, asking us to get close because the “hand is quicker than the eye.”

 

Q. What kind of positive impact can magic have on people’s lives?

A.  Absolutely, I think it plays a really positive role in both magicians’ and spectators’ lives. Magic is this great metaphor for life because magicians are taking these seemingly impossible things and making them possible. Some of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had in magic have been performing at soup kitchens, homeless shelters … And there are these two magicians, Tom and Janet Verner who have this organization called Magicians without Borders, and they spend most of the year traveling to war-torn areas of the world to spread their message of hope. Their message is: look, if we can make that card impossibly jump over there, then you too can overcome any obstacle you may be facing. They are incredibly inspiring.

 

Q. You founded the Yale Magic Society in your freshman year. Can you tell us about the process of establishing the group and its membership today?

A. It’s a great group of guys, and a few girls. Most members came to Yale with little or no magic experience but lots of enthusiasm, and I’m really proud of how far they’ve all come. They’re awesome. We meet Wednesday nights; if people are interested, they can always feel free to shoot me an email, or send me an owl … Whether you’re a magician already or a Muggle who’d like to learn magic, you’re more than welcome!

When I came to Yale as a freshman, I was really excited to join some magic group. Yale is basically Hogwarts — there has to be a magic club, I thought. But there wasn’t one, so I reached out to some of the other magicians floating around campus at the time. We decided we all wanted to get together and jam and perform on campus and in the community. It’s been great to have this group to support each other and brainstorm. We bring in guests from Las Vegas to do Master’s Teas, workshops and lectures. We perform at Fellows Dinners in the colleges and at alumni reunions. And we have a lot of fun. I’m really excited for the future of the group.

 

Q. What advice would you have for someone interested in getting involved in the world of magic-making?

A. Work hard, do what you love and have respect for the magic community. A great thing about magic is that when you go to a convention, you have the opportunity to meet and hang out with your role models. It’s really special how tight-knit the community can be and how welcoming many of the most accomplished, advanced magicians are to the younger, up-and-coming magicians.

 

Q. Who are some of your role models?

A. There are so many! There’s David Copperfield, David Blaine, Criss Angel, Nathan Burton, Mac King … I worked for Nathan Burton’s show at the Flamingo for two summers. He really knows the business of show business — especially in a place like Las Vegas, where everyone is competing to fill 750 seat theaters. Nathan was always thinking of new, outside-the-box ways of doing that. There is so much to learn and experience in magic, so if someone is starting, I’d say just absorb as much of it as you can.

 

Q. Maritess Zurbano recently pointed out in the Seattle Times this August that there are fewer than 50 professional female magicians in the world. What is it like being a woman in such a male-dominated field?

A. At magic camp, I remember, I was one of eight or nine girls and there were, I think, 101 guys. Some people say the magic community can be an old boys’ club, but in my experience, the other magicians have been really supportive. I also think that magic is moving in a direction where more women will get involved. In high school, I was a part of a committee back with one of my greatest mentors, Albert Lasher, that discussed this question. We were throwing out all sorts of hypotheses. Is it because all of the major household names of magicians are male? Also, you think of the classic image of a magician [as someone] in a top hat and tails. I even remember reading some of the classic magic books when I was a kid, and these books aren’t written for a 10-year-old girl. They say, ‘reach into your trouser pocket and lift up your top hat.’ It’s a tradition that’s been male-dominated, but it’s also something that is changing.

 

Q. What have been some of the highlights of your career thus far?

A. Having the opportunity to experience the magic scene in Las Vegas was exciting for me, seeing how things work out there. I grew up in New York and also had amazing experiences with the New York magic community, starting from the Society of Young Magicians group back when we used to meet in the basement of Maui Tacos. But getting to perform in Vegas was really cool. It’s like the Magic Mecca. I also love the idea of magic being something universal, something that transcends barriers. I’ve loved the chance to perform in different languages — French, Spanish and Swahili for example.

 

Q. What role do you see magic playing in your life after graduation?

A. Magic is a field where you’re really charting your own course. It’s exciting and challenging. There are so many possible paths that a magician could take. I want to stay true to what I love about magic. I want to do new things with magic, hopefully take it in new directions. I would love to inspire young magicians to reach people in new ways. These are some of the ideas that I’m exploring for my senior project through the Theater Studies department. It’s a floating magic show that will take place in April –— a show that takes spectators outside of traditional theater space and into everyday settings with site-specific illusions.  I know I will be in magic for the rest of my life.

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