Magic is magical. And here in Marin we are lucky to have one of the most prolific and beloved magicians in our midst. When he eleven years old, Jay Alexander and his grandfather went to see a magic show and there was no going back to dreams of being a fireman. With the help of a magic kit purchased at the mall, Alexander was hooked — he’s been practicing close-up magic ever since. The magician has performed his tricks at corporate events, private parties with the likes of Robin Williams, backstage on the Rolling Stones tour and more. He’s also put on virtual shows, done Bay Area pop-ups, and held regular performances at his own Marrakech Magic Theater. The historic jewel box theater has only 45 seats, but has an ample Middle Eastern-style lounge serving drinks and appetizers, and became the number one show in the city on Yelp and TripAdvisor soon after opening five years ago. Witnessing Alexander’s sleight of hand for yourself is a Marinite must.
Marin Magazine: Tell us about the origins of your magic career.
Jay Alexander: As a kid, the last thing I ever thought I would do would be magic. I have really bad dyslexia and the best way to learn magic, especially in those days, was to read magic books. I also had a speech impediment. But the magic kind of brought me out of my shell, gave me confidence, and made me want to perform — for anyone who would watch. My mother had a children’s shoe store where I’d show off tricks.
MM: Do you perform at birthday parties?
JA: All the time. That was my first show. It’s all I’ve ever done.
MM: Has a trick ever gone awry and how did you handle it?
JA: I spend a lot of time practicing to perfection to make every- thing in my show look seamless. That being said, unplanned things always happen. The trick is rolling with it and not letting it look like a problem happened. Audiences don’t know what is supposed to happen so if you don’t miss a beat and keep going, nothing was messed up. That is the real magic behind the magic.
MM: How did your virtual shows start?
JA: Days into the pandemic — when people were freaking out and not knowing what’s going on — I decided to put together a virtual show and offer it for free for anyone who had ever been to the theater. In 1994, I created a CD-ROM that taught magic to kids, so I had a long history of thinking about how to connect to people over a screen. I already had lights and enough experience with cameras and computers that I was able to do a three-camera shoot from my living room.
MM: What’s the most important element of close-up magic?
JA: I spend a lot of time trying to create something that’s actually just a lie. What I’m doing behind the scenes, hiding the quarter or the like, and what they see are two different things. I spend a lot of time creating something that’s so flawless that audiences can’t see that distinction. Magic is all about the experience. It’s taking people to another world and allowing them to laugh and have fun during all of this. The trick is secondary. It’s not about me. I want to bring a group in, and I want them to feel like they had a special experience meant just for them.
MM: What do you love most about magic?
JA: The fact that you can connect with people from all walks of life. It has opened up so many doors for me, but it’s all about the excitement that I see in people’s eyes that they didn’t know that they wanted or needed. It’s more than the magic, it’s how it connects with people so quickly. It gets them to open up and want to talk and laugh.
The Marrakech Magic Theater, 419 O’Farrell St, San Francisco; 415.794.6893