Servers navigate the tight-knit restaurant and dish out burgers and fries. A large group of friends shuffles inside from the cold outdoors of Main Street. It seems like your typical Friday night at B-Side Grill.
Only at around 9:15 p.m., a friendly, unassuming man emerges from the sidelines and approaches tables of people who have just ordered.
He introduces himself as Jace the Magician and begins the intimate magic performance by making small red balls seemingly disappear in a patron’s hands. Some guests are amused, some amazed and others don’t react at all. The soft-spoken but charismatic magician just moves right along to the next table, pulling out a new trick each time.
The man behind the magic is 27-year-old Joshua Strongin. He started out as an illusionist four years ago. At the time, he was studying at Dutchess Community College and used magic as an icebreaker to meet people.
When he realized college wasn’t for him, he left, turning all his energy to his magic skills.
“I’m a hands-on learner, and college doesn’t really cater to that too much,” he said. “This is a lot more hands-on, so it worked for me.”
Becoming a magician meant relearning some old tricks that he knew from attending a week-long summer program at Unison Arts Center as a child. This involved the basics: sleight of hand tricks and coin sleights. He has since added mentalism and hypnosis to his repertoire.
He started out performing at The Gilded Otter for a summer. While he mainly performs at restaurants and private parties, he also had the opportunity to play at Webster Hall in New York City last year. He says of the experience: “It was the first time I was on stage and I was very, very nervous. From a stage, you have to see the audience as one person and not as individuals. It’s easy to get them on your side and to cheer for you because they’re one unit and you see all that energy at once.
“It was a lot of fun and I’d definitely do it again, but right now I’m focusing on non-stage stuff as far as magic goes.”
Strongin started performing Friday and Saturday nights at B-Side about one month ago. When he performs for a table, he asks guests their names, shakes their hands and hands out his business card at the end. He says that connecting with people is half the game of magic.
“The most important part of performing is getting people to like you and trust you,” he said. “If they do, the job is easy, you can have a good time and it’s that much easier to do. I work hard to make sure that the person I’m performing for is the star of the show.”
In the future, he hopes to continue performing his passion for a living and go on a hypnotist tour. SUNY New Paltz students can catch him at a free show on Monday, Nov. 30 from 6-8 p.m. in Van den Berg Hall.
“I love people’s energy and giving them an experience or moment they might not have anywhere else,” he said. “When people have a good time, I have a good time.”