Magician Jim Sisti Never Ceases To Astonish And Amaze His Audiences
by Amy J. Barry - Shore Living Editor
Guilford Courier

You have to be really good to make a living as a magician. You have to be really, really good to do close-up (sleight-of-hand) magic because you're literally face-to-face with your audience and if it's not the real thing, they'll see right through it.

Jim Sisti is a master of this form of magic and has been mezmerizing diners with his skillful performances at the U.S.S. Chowder Pot III Restaurant in Branford for a decade.

Sisti explains that restaurant magic is a tradition that began as bar magic in Chicago. It mainly uses cards and borrowed objects such as rings, coins, rubber bands, and other easily manipulated small objects.

"I never liked gadgets, like boxes or tubes," he says. "I always wanted to use my skills, not just gimmicks."

Sisti says he learned magic from books and other magicians who pass down the craft. Every year, he attends a magic convention held in North Haven.

But, as is true of many artists who find their own unique way of expressing themselves early on in life, magic is something Sisti has loved doing since he was a kid.

"My father owned a truck stop diner in the Naugatuck Valley for years. My mom did the cooking," Sisti says. "I'd do card tricks for the truckers - my dad liked to show off my skills."

Sisti says that magic was a way of fitting in as a child.

"It was a real sense of power, being able to do something adults couldn't figure out. You can get hooked on that pretty quick."

But Sisti didn't get into restaurant magic until his first daughter was born and he needed a second source of income in addition to his day job in radio.

He began doing magic in a few area restaurants and a bartender he knew connected him with Jonathan Smith - owner of the Chowder Pot restaurants in Hartford and Branford and his daughter Mary Ellen Swift, who manages the Branford location.

"I performed for them and they said, 'When can you start?' They always want to have something different for their customers."

Sisti performs three nights a week at the Chowder Pot but says it never gets old.

"It's like having a favorite movie. It's different when you see it with a different person. People also experience tricks in different ways."

Today Sisti is a full-time magician. In addition to restaurant magic, he does corporate work. He performs at trade shows, private parties, and dinners. He also does some stand-up comedy/magic for adults.

"It's more sophisticated magic - no rabbits or handkerchiefs," he says.

Sisti is very philosophical about his profession.

"There is something visceral about magic," he says. "When we see something happen that has no apparent reason, it strikes a chord that goes way back. Today, you see guys in ill-fitting tuxedos foisting themselves on unsuspecting children's parties, who at one time, were the shamans, the wisemen of the tribe. They were revered.

"When magic speaks at a higher level, it approaches art," he adds. "As comedic as Penn and Teller's performances are at times, they also do artistic pieces that make you think. A lot of magic is trivial. It's just looking for laughter and applause. Creating stunned silence is fun, too. To me, I don't do magic. I create magic in your mind and how you feel."

Sisti has performed on "The Art of Restaurant Magic," an instructional videotape for magicians, and his books on magic and his own magic effects are marketed all over the world. He is also publisher of a periodical for close-up magicians with subscribers in 10 countries.

He says that what attracts him most about magic is how people see the possibilities in it at almost a subliminal level. For example, doing the cut-and-restored rope trick.

"If it's about rope, it's trivial. But if as magicians we can help people see that maybe things that are severed - whether it's rope or relationships - can be repaired, then we help them see beyond the impossible."

Sisti is getting remarried in April. His fiancé, Sandy, is also a magician, specializing in children's shows, and is a manufacturer of custom cloth props and costuming for magicians. The couple will have the ceremony at, you guessed it, the Chowder Pot. Sisti's friend and fellow magician, Rev. David Reed-Brown, of Westbrook - pastor of the First Baptist Church in Essex - will officiate.

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