For most of us, the wait for a mysterious letter from Hogwarts ended years ago, along with our hopes to become an eminent magician in a world of dementors and goblins. While the search for these magical creatures on campus will indubitably prove pointless, the quest for a great magician is not. Boasting the ability to accomplish magical feats without the use of a wand (an accomplishment Dumbledore himself has not quite yet mastered), Nathaniel Kastan ’12 is quite possibly the most eminent magician on a campus filled with mere Muggles.
After hearing about Kastan’s mastery of the dark arts, I was eager to see his powers for myself. Thus, I asked him to showcase a few of his best illusions while I and a few of his biggest magic fans looked on.
Kastan started out with a series of typical card tricks – making my selected cards magically appear at the top of the deck or seemingly changing cards before my very eyes. His hands moved deftly through the deck, shuffling and cutting the cards swiftly so that no matter how hard I scrutinized his movements, I couldn’t figure out how exactly he accomplished his feats of illusion. His entourage of magic enthusiasts sat back and observed the tricks with me, shouting out their own favorite tricks for Kastan to complete. After much debate, they soon reached a consensus that Kastan must perform a certain “business card trick.”
After rifling through his wallet, an entrymate handed over a used golf tally card, and Kastan asked me to write the name of someone near and dear to my heart in the bottom right corner. I wrote down “Laura Huang,” and folded the card to hand back to Kastan. Twice, he handed the card back to me, asking me to sign my own name inside and outside of the card to ensure he had not switched cards to read the secret name I had inscribed. Then, Kastan instructed me to think of my selected person while grasping his wrist with all my might. After I let go and Kastan gave his wrist a quick brush with his hand, the letters “L” and “H” magically appeared on his arm. Kastan’s posse gushed with “ooohs” and “aaaaahs,” as I sat back and regretted not having written a name with more complex letters to be etched into his wrist.
Kastan’s curiosity in magic drew him to the trade two years ago when he began dabbling with basic card tricks. His repertoire has since expanded to include a number of bewildering illusions. “There are lots of different types of magic, and I do what is called street magic, so I can just carry around a deck of cards and do tricks whenever,” he said. “I’ll be the first to tell people that what I am doing is not real magic. I can just make you see magic.”
He and a good friend did some research and eventually began corresponding with fellow amateurs, eventually discovering a large magician culture. “There are a lot of books and magazines and sites where magicians can share their new concepts with people,” he said. “Sometimes there will be a new concept floating around that I will toy with, or sometimes magicians will release their tricks, so I’ll learn that way as well. I try to do a few of my own tricks, but a lot of what I do have been out there.”
While there is definitely a lot of literature to aid Kastan in his fascination with magic, learning the tricks themselves is hardly easy. “I always carry around my deck of cards, so if I’m waiting in line, I can just take them out and practice,” he said. “It takes a lot of time to get the motions fluid and get everything looking like it needs to be so that it actually looks like a real illusion.”
For Kastan, being a magician is not just about executing the trick perfectly, but also about delivering it to the audience in the most effective way. “A lot of it has to do with relationship to the audience and crowd control,” he said. “Every time you do a trick, it is going to be a little different. I always try to tweak my conversation with the audience a little bit depending on the dynamic of the room or what the situation is.”
Despite the hours of work that Kastan puts into polishing his illusions, he confesses that the tricks don’t always go smoothly as planned. “My tricks are not perfect,” he said. “I always tell people that if they start to see what I am doing, they shouldn’t scream it out for others. Karyn [Moss ’12] over here has actually done that for one of my tricks, so I actually banned her from watching my tricks.”
Kastan’s magical prowess has not only served as a great source of entertainment for his eager viewers, but is also an inspiration for his entrymates to pursue their own illusionist endeavors. “I think having Nathaniel in our entry has definitely made us all a lot more interested in magic tricks and how they work. We’ve all begun to pay much more attention to his tricks now to learn his secrets. Phil here is now an aspiring magician,” Tim Marinelli ’10 said pointing to one of Kastan’s entrymates. Phil Vestergaard ’12 proceeded to showcase an illusion he had been working on, garnering the spectators’ laughter and Kastan’s mockery.
In his few months at the College, Kastan’s deftness has made him a legend among men as word of his great feats has quickly spread across campus. “I’ve had random people come up to me and ask me to do tricks a few times. I try to always keep my deck on me because it happens a lot,” he said. “I love it though. Once I started doing tricks for people, I kept it up because once you get a taste, you just want to do more, you want to learn new illusions, you want to get even better reactions.”
With the conclusion of the epic Harry Potter series, there are no longer novel avenues for enthusiasts to get their daily magic fix. Luckily for those who just can’t get enough of magic, Kastan is always up for showcasing a few of the tricks up his sleeve.