Illusionist talks club history


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Photo by Shirley Yu |

Steve Bagienski, a Rutgers alumnus and magician, burns a coin in a deck of cards to reveal the participant’s chosen card.


Steve Bagienski uses magic as a tool to connect people and create entertainment for his audience.

Bagienski is a co-founder of The Magician and Illusionist Society, a University club dedicated to the honing and performance of sleight of hand, deceptive illusions and psychological trickery. He is a professional magician and Rutgers graduate.

“I feel like [magic] is a really good tool to connect with other people,” Bagienski said. “I focus more on close-up magic rather than pull-a-rabbit-out-of-a-hat stage magic, because with close-up magic, there’s a much bigger opportunity to interact with people and connect with them.”

Bagienski described close-up magic as something done next to the person spectating as opposed to performed for a large crowd.

Photo: Shirley Yu

The burnt hole shows the card.

The effect, he said, is a lot more back-and-forth interaction between the performer and the audience.

“[Magic] is a tool to do what you want with,” he said. “You can use it as a tool to connect with people. You can use it as a tool to inspire other people or a tool to entertain people. It’s a really versatile art form.”

Bagienski said he now performs at a number of venues like weddings, parties or even on the street. Typically, he showcases his tricks at restaurants, moving from table to table while patrons wait for their orders to arrive.

When he was a graduate student, he did not know anyone else with an interest in magic, but it was not long until he met Malachy Quinn through the juggling club, Bagienski said.

Quinn practiced yo-yoing and started juggling to sharpen his skills. When Bagienski first met him, it set the stage for MIS.

Some time later, Quinn said he reconnected with Bagienski and brought along a new magician named Ibrahim Ahmed.

Ahmed said Quinn approached him after a performance on Livingston campus to ask about establishing an organization for magic, which he had thought about as well.

“If we created something for magicians, we could just come up with ideas, practice and work on them,” he said. “[It would help us] be better performers and better entertainers in general.”

After the three students spent time together and showed each other a trick or two, they decided the organization needed a name, he said.

“Me, Steve and Ibrahim — who was our senior in terms of magic — decided to make a magician’s club: The Magician and Illusionist Society,” Quinn said.

The name is a collaboration of all three co-founders initials: Malachy, Ibrahim, and Steve.

Between the times Quinn met Bagienski and when MIS was founded, Quinn had run Rutgers Yo-Yo Dojo. He gained valuable insight into how to organize and administrate a club, he said.

He became president of MIS and Bagienski was his vice president. They became heavily invested in the structure and operations of the club, Quinn said.

“After we all taught each other and all got better, we would all perform at the same time,” Quinn said.

Everybody had his or her own individual type of talents, Ahmed said. Bagienski and Quinn excelled at some aspects of magic, while Ahmed was better at doing others.

“People started coming to learn about hypnosis, mind reading and psychology in general,” he said.

Ahmed said people who had different approaches to magic could bounce ideas off one another and learn new techniques they may not have employed before.

For example, Ahmed said Bagienski and Quinn were more into card tricks and close-up magic, but his specialty was psychological magic.

“Just as a computer can be hacked, there are a lot of things you can do to hack the human brain,” Ahmed said.

While there are many different approaches to magic, all three of MIS’s co-founders think similarly about their art.

Quinn said magic is a universal language in which dreams can be translated into reality. He quoted William Bernbach by saying, “An idea can turn to dust or magic, depending on the talent that rubs against it.”

Ahmed said it is not about the magic or the performer, but the connections it creates among people.

“People become friends just like that,” he said. “Magic is not about yourself, it’s not about me trying to show off what I can do.”

Bagienski agreed and suggested that magic may have far-reaching implications.

“I [want to] inspire people to live better lives and inspire them to enjoy life more and appreciate it more,” Bagienski said. “[Connecting with people] is a great thing in itself, but if we can become a happier society in general and put smiles on peoples’ faces, that would be really meaningful to me.”


By Adam Uzialko

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