JIM STEINMEYER is responsible for popular illusions featured by professional magicians around the world, and special effects in theatrical shows from Broadway to Las Vegas. Through his designs and his writing on historical magic, he’s been credited with creating the “defining illusions in contemporary magic:” deceptions featured by Doug Henning, David Copperfield, Siegfried and Roy, Harry Blackstone, Orson Welles, The Pendragons, Lance Burton, Mark Kalin and Jinger and many others.
Richard: When did you start your illusionism career? And when did you start planning your first illusions?
I never worked as an illusionist, but I was always fascinated by illusions.
When I was in school, I performed as a magician, doing several acts.
But I was fortunate to work with a few performers in the Chicago area, Bob Higa and Jim Royal, who were illusionists. I was able to see what worked for an audience, what was practical, and experiment with different ideas.
This sort of experience is very important. Later, when I worked with Doug Henning, I learned a great deal more and I was able to put this experience into practice.
Richard: How does an illusion born and from what does inspire you? Which are the limits in realizing an idea which for the public is always impossible, like the vanishing of the Liberty Statue which you programmed and that made David Copperfield famous?
How much study and time is there behind the project of such a big illusion?
JIM STEINMEYER: I’m slightly embarrassed to say that I usually take a LONG time working out an idea. Often it is done over the course of years, really.
I love the luxury of trying out various ideas, experimenting with variations, changes, et cetera, to test an idea.
Many of my ideas have been sketched, changed and adjusted in my notebooks over the course of three or four years.
Other ideas are done very quickly for a specific project or to meet a deadline.
Often when I’m working with a performer, we’ll need a special illusion for the show, and I’ll need to develop something quickly.
I think that the limit is “believability” for the audience. The Statue of Liberty might have stretched that, but the audience accepted that it was watching a large optical illusion, that David Copperfield had turned his skills as an illusionist to creating an illusion for television.
The audience didn’t expect him to make the theatre disappear the next time he appeared in their town.
They knew that the Statue was a clever deception.
I think that as long as the audience credits it to the performer and believes that, in some way, such a deception is possible, then the effect can be a success.
Richard: How do you feel after seeing your illusion performed on the scene?
JIM STEINMEYER: I always enjoy seeing a good performer present one of my effects, and I’m always curious about how different performers, with clever presentations, can make these effects fit their shows in distinctive ways.