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Razzle dazzle ’em! — One man’s magic reached hearts and minds

By on March 1, 2018 in Arts with 0 Comments

Jason Sims’ magic props are so portable he can easily set up at a small table and let the magic happen.

By Susan Lagsdin

Wizard, magician, trickster, prestidigitator, sorcerer, conjuror, illusionist… no matter what we call them, they captivate us.

For fun or fortune they draw us in for the inevitable “gee whiz,” that tiny moment when the world tips a tad and we are caught up in incredulity.

Jason Sims, 35, is married with three sons, and he works as a natural resource specialist for the Cascadia Conservation District (as a desk ranger, he explained, he saves salmon up the Entiat River).

Jason is also a magician, and his reason for learning and loving the art has levels of complexity, some as obvious as the ace of hearts you know you’re holding, some as hidden as a dove up the sleeve.

Jason has studied videography, and he’s been in musicals. He’s also writer, a comic and a sketch artist.

But he said, “Magic is my favorite art form. It’s performing, but it adds a layer of mystery that elicits astonishment in a crowd. I love being astonished… it actually causes a disruption in our thinking pattern where the wires cross and the real and impossible collide.”

As a child, he learned magic tricks (no, the term trick doesn’t offend) and was wowed by the big names. But it was seeing David Blaine’s Street Magic TV special, where the camera focused on people’s reactions, that really inspired him.

He said, “We all became the lady screaming, the kids staring dumfounded, the construction workers laughing. It made me fall in love with magic again.”

Minimalist magic — a portable sport — is Jason’s chosen style.

He’s always got a few coins and a deck of cards with him — they’re not trick cards, but well made, slippery, and designed to look pretty snazzy when they’re fanned out. And because his type of magic has hand-held props, all containable in one simple case, he can set up shop on the tailgate of a car or a tavern table with equal ease.

When he’s invited to perform at local festivals and conferences, all he needs is a small booth or a table. He’ll haul out the cards at the drop of a hat.

His first real paying gig with a partner, Fletcher Ellingson at Andante’s in Chelan, was, he said, “like busking at Pike Place and then playing Benaroya Hall.”

Jason could develop a full stage show — more personal than pyrotechnic — and envisions doing a monthly magic gig at a small local bistro or gallery. He’d also like to hit the VFW or Eagles, retirement homes, a children’s hospital ward.

He said, though, of his occasional house party jobs, “I really like performing for small, intimate groups. Parlor magic used to be done in people’s homes, just for friends or family as after-dinner entertainment. It’s a really comfortable atmosphere.”

Jason shows card magic to Iraqi kids during his tour.

Ironically, Jason’s most dramatic and soul-enriching moments as a performer happened in the most uncomfortable of atmospheres.

Here’s the backstory: after high school graduation, an AA in video, a brief turn in the film industry in Seattle and a few months moping on the home couch in Wenatchee, Jason enlisted in the Army.

His 15-month Army deployment in Iraq has left him, after eight years, still needing and grateful for P.T.S.D. therapies from the V.A. But he knows that when he was stationed there, his magic brought to the people around him joy and serenity. They were both rare commodities in that soulless environment.

Driving the desert roads as driver or gunner took their toll on him. But he found his calling, not as a soldier (never again), but as a person who could bring a moment of wonder that only magic offers.

He said, “Iraq was always hard. It made you wish you could… burn your youth. Soldiers were always stressed. I remember ‘Hey, Sergeant Sims, show us a trick.’ I pulled out my cards, and they gathered around. And in 10 minutes, I had the whole platoon laughing.”

Jason paused. “People died that day. But for a moment it was — like a pillar of light.”

Equally joyful, and equally painful, were Jason’s moments with the Iraqi children living in squalor around an outpost he delivered to. “I became friends with them because I did magic. They would rush up to me, and I loved them for helping me find beauty in that sea of chaos.”

This is what makes him sometimes — rarely — unable to pick up his cards: “They’d be just the right age now… to either be in ISIS or to have been murdered by ISIS. I cannot do anything for them.”

What Jason can do, he does whenever the spirit moves him, or when people seem to need a little pepping up.

He snaps the cards open, picks one off the back of an ear, flicks a few into the air where they change from spades to diamonds, riffs a little, smiles a lot and makes us wonder “How did he do that??”

But we really don’t want to know. It’s magic, and it makes us happy.

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