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Victoria magician Jason Verners poised for a career breakout

Magician Jason Verners, a Belmont Secondary grad who has played Vegas and L.A., is set for three shows at Ecologyst in Victoria this weekend.

JASON VERNERS

Where: Ecologyst, 552 Johnson St.
When: Friday (7 p.m.) and Saturday (7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.), Nov. 18 and 19
Tickets: $38 from jasonverners.com

A magician only has one chance to make a first impression. Flub a trick, and they lose the room, possibly forever. But crank the wow factor to 11, and a world of possibilities await.

After 12 years as a professional, Victoria magician Jason Verners has done enough at this point to have options at his disposal. He’s played Las Vegas and Los Angeles, and he’s rubbed elbows with the rock stars of the magic world. Next up is a trio of shows at Ecologyst this weekend, which he says will close the book on his career up to this point. “This is a chance for people to come and see the show before it takes off and stands on its own two legs,” Verners said.

The 24-year-old could not disclose his next moves, but did reveal he’s ready to make the jump to the next level, with both in-person and online components ahead. Arenas, TV shows, cruise ships and Las Vegas are all on the table, Verners said, with new opportunities coming in by the week. No magician is an island unto themselves (he has a team of advisers and co-creators, much like his peers) but the big decisions are ones of his choosing at the moment.

“It’s hard to put into words why I’m still doing this,” he said. “A lot of my friends who were magicians in high school grew up, got real jobs, and do their family thing. I’m one of the only ones who didn’t, and I’m really proud of that. I watch the other shows in North America, and I can stand up with any of these guys.”

When he was 10 years old and still learning his craft, Verners wanted to be the fastest of his kind; shock value was a big motivator for the fresh-faced upstart, who is almost never without a deck of cards in his pocket. A stunt by illusionist David Blaine, during which he was submerged in water for seven days, helped Verners to appreciate the importance of a big, loud bang. But it also helped Verners realize his best path should be smaller in scale.

This was an important period of growth, he said. “I grew up an insecure, single child in a suburban neighbourhood. I always wanted to be the ‘it’ guy, even in that small community. But as I started learning more about the artform, my want to be the ‘it’ guy became a little less. I don’t have a quest to be the biggest star in the world. But I’m on a quest to be the best at what I do.”

Verners is a sleight-of-hand magician who does his best work in close quarters. The Belmont Secondary School grad has no problem plying his trade mere inches away from his audience; while there may be a few tricks up his sleeve, he’s got nothing to hide, and remains confident in his abilities. While there’s always the potential for a mark to catch him slipping, it’s unlikely. When he’s surrounded on all sides by people trying to break his concentration, he’s in his element.

“The best magic happens when there is five people around a bar table, super up close. My favourite moment is when people say, ‘Can you get into my phone with no passcode?’ That’s what I live for.”

Unpredictable environments are a goldmine for a magician like Verners, whose skillset mirrors that of an improvisational comedian. “With a magic trick, no one really knows what the ending is supposed to be. If something doesn’t go the way I think it is going to go initially, I have the skills to be able to keep the show going, and will come up with a new ending on the fly.”

But where actors can study improvisation in school, Verners has had to learn from experience (he cites the 1902 book, The Expert at the Card Table, as a key to his development.) No successful magician gets to the top without knowing how to work the angles, however, which is why Verners is so deceptively good at what he does. That cherubic look, those innocent eyes, these are disguises, pure and simple. By definition, he’s a confidence man — a con. He gains trust in his act, only so that he can eventually abuse it.

“There are some easy marks,” Verners said. “If someone is at a festival and drinking a little too much, I can do something I would normally never get away with. I’m constantly judging people, and not in a good or bad way. Take some dude who is at an event wearing a big watch. He wears it loose, so he can really show it off. So if I steal that watch from him, it is going to garner an emotional reaction, because he values that watch differently.”

In order to do his job, he’s needed to become a master of manipulation who excels at interpersonal communication and statistical analysis. “The worst insult you could get is someone who leaves the show and says, ‘You tricked me. I feel dumb.’ That’s not the point of what I’m trying to do here. I’m not hiding the secret to make you feel dumb. I’m hiding the secret for you, which is why the secret is valuable.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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