“WE ALL HAVE A MAGIC PHASE,” Sam says. “Some of us just never grew out of it.”
Sam Sagan is definitely one of the few whose love of magic survived the tries of adulthood. Today, he can be seen hammering four inch nails into his nose or spitting fire for shows in locations ranging from Memorial Church to a juvenile prison in Thailand.
Fittingly enough, Sam’s interest in magic began with subterfuge. Sam’s uncle taught him to do a magic trick which he proudly performed over and over for his four aunts. Sam had a hunch he wasn’t getting the trick quite right — but hey, since whatever he was doing managed time and time again to fool his audience, he shrugged his fear away. Little Sam was under the impression that he’d been endowed with special, magical powers — only to find out years later that his aunts were just telling him he was succeeding because he was a cute five-year-old. The magic of youth.
So far, Sam has performed all over campus, from a Vegas-themed Special Dinner at KA (“drunk and obnoxious,” Sam says, “but I did a trick where I stabbed a knife into a table, that shut people up”) to performing in White Plaza, an event for which he learned how to breathe fire. (It all began when a friend texted him saying he’d just made torches out of a t-shirt and coat hanger. The rest is history.)
Magic is something he takes with him everywhere, but he swears he doesn’t use it for evil designs — the only sleight of hand that comes in handy is when he’s trying to take more than one piece of candy from hotels or the like.
Sam is a collection of cool quirks and eccentricities. He’s mounted wings onto his shoes anddyed the tip of his topknot turquoise blue. Last year, he’d wear ties — yes, neckties — two or three times a week.
“If I could grow weird facial hair, I totally would,”
he says. His fashion sense is a reflection of an equally unorthodox past. His father is a professor at Stanford (no, it isn’t Carl) and his mom works for a bank in Thailand, so childhood was spent split between the two sides of the globe: some pre-school in Thailand, some at Stanford’s Bing Institute— a preschool funded by the Psychology Department. “It’s where psych students do their studies on children,” Sam says. “I learned this in middle school when my sister told me, ‘hey, remember how in the playroom, there were these giant mirrors?’ And I say, ‘what about them?’ and she says, ‘well… those weren’t mirrors.’” Sam found this (understandably) terrifying — but also kind of cool. “So I had tests done on me as a child,” Sam says, laughing. “Maybe that’s why I turned out so weird.”
He started getting paid for his craft in sophomore year of high school at his neighbor’s party. “They had two girls: one was at the perfect age for magic, around five or six — they’re at the point where they understand magic tricks, but they don’t want to destroy them.” Past the age of six or so, Sam says, is when the infuriatingly adult characteristic of wanting to rationalize and explain everything kicks in. Before that age, children have no conception of the absurd. “You’ll do a trick and instead of reacting, they just look at you and say, ‘okay’,” Sam says, amused. “And you’re just like, ‘but… that shouldn’t happen! What I just did shouldn’t happen!’ and they’re still like, ‘okay.’”
Sam describes magic as an art form, where all magicians have their own distinct aesthetic.
“I’m not a great magician — I’m a very good performer,”
he explains. He goes into a show knowing he has some ten tricks to pick between, but with enough time to do only four or five. He’ll start off with a rehearsed opening trick, and go from there based on the audience’s response. “If they respond really well to, say, a mind-reading trick, I’ll do more of those types of tricks, which are less visually impressive — there’s nothing changing or physically disappearing,” Sam says.
Even though Sam is often seen with a crystal ball, the future remains murky.
“I want to join a traveling circus and be a carny,”
Sam says. “I’d get to be creepy and strange and do things like hammer a nail up my nose. I really love that whole circus aesthetic, the Huckleberry-Finn-esque type of adventure, but that doesn’t really exist in the world anymore.” It’s especially scary to pursue an artistic career when you come from a family where no one else has even remotely pursued art, but Sam hopes he’ll succeed in bridging this esoteric passion with the design world. As an STS major, he thinks he’ll be able to bring that aesthetic into the design firm he sees himself working at later in life. No matter where he goes, he’ll be making magic, whether it’s a full-time career, or a couple lessons about charisma or charm that he carries over into the business world, or just a pack of cards to pull out at the opportune moment. Magic teaches you a good lesson: the importance of loving the inexplicable -- keeping a good grip on the amazement it sometimes seems so easy to grow out of.
What’s next for Sam in the short term? Keep your eyes peeled for Tree stunts — knowing Sam, it’ll be a feat of mind boggling creativity. And probably something involving fire.
By: Anne-Sophie Bine
Photography by: Anne-Sophie Bine
Videography by: Justin Lai