For Windsor illusionist, magic is in the cards

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There’s magic on the menu Saturday evenings at Flamez Grill in Petaluma, when 19-year-old Jay Shatnawi performs “table-hopping” card tricks and illusions for customers.

Unlike stage magicians who have more control of their environment, Shatnawi performs his sleights of hand, card and coin tricks up close, for audience members who are seated at their tables waiting for their meals to arrive.

“I prefer more face-to-face performances. I like the challenge of it,” he says. “I get a lot of requests to make the bill disappear.”

The good-natured Windsor High School graduate’s passion for magic began at 11, when he watched legendary magician and illusionist Criss Angel perform on TV.

“He told someone to pick any word on any page in a book in a library. When she came back, he told her what the word was. I was hooked,” Shatnawi said. He now includes David Blaine and Penn and Teller among his favorite magicians.

Magic was only a hobby until he turned 18.

“I was afraid to let anyone know,” he said. “I thought people would see it as nerdy. I was shy about showing my tricks, but after a few months practice, you get over it. I have drawers of tricks I haven’t shown anyone. It takes two months to get a trick right.”

People at school asked him to perform, and starting in December 2013, he obliged at parties, once even earning $100 for his performance.

Shatnawi now has 200 decks of cards, most of which he buys at Misdirections Magic Shop on Ninth Avenue in San Francisco, and he practices with them four to five hours a day.

“I prefer a new deck right out of the case, and I go through two decks of cards a week,” he said. “You have to stay with it every day to keep your chops up.”

Angel, 47, is a New York native known for spectacular physical illusions that include levitation, moving objects and escape. He is booked to perform his BeLIEve show and its 40 illusions through 2018 at the Luxor Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

Shatnawi heads to Las Vegas a couple of times a year to see his idol, he said.

“Well, maybe more than a couple,” he added.

He had seen Angel perform more than 20 times when, on Dec. 2, he held up a cardboard sign from the audience asking to perform a trick on stage. Angel complied, and Shatnawi worked his magic in front of 1,000 people.

“It was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced as a performer,” Shatnawi said. “It’s like a singer singing a song for Michael Jackson. But something came over me to get the courage to just do it.”

The young Windsor man’s card tricks incorporate sleight of hand, muscle reading, misdirection and being attuned to cues and clues his audience is not even aware it is sending.

“You have to study people,” Shatnawi said.

Trick card decks, hypnosis and psychic readings are not part of his repertoire.

“I don’t find any skill in using trick decks,” he said. “I never told anyone I was a psychic. It’s a world I would never want to open a door to. When I got better at magic, I could see what was going on.”

It was his father’s idea for him to perform his magic at the family’s restaurant. On a recent Saturday evening, Shatnawi’s grandparents Kathy and Gene Strain enjoyed a performance before dinner with Marie and Darrell Hammack.

“He’s a sweetheart. He comes over to my house and practices his tricks on me,” Kathy Strain said.

“I hope he has lots of years ahead of him,” Gene Strain added.

“This kid is amazing, I swear,” said Marie Hammock after a card she selected and placed inside the deck of cards appeared on the top of the deck.

Customers Bob and Adline Blasi also enjoyed the show.

“That is absolutely crazy. You need to be in show business,” Bob Blasi said after one trick.

“It’s scary, Bob. This guy is something else,” Adline Blasi said.

Shatnawi says math and science are part of magic and illusion. “Magic on the whole is very simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. It takes years to master ,” he said.

He plans to study psychology at Santa Rosa Junior College, but also has his sights set on performing at parties and fundraisers throughout Sonoma and Marin counties. He can be reached at 921-8419 or jshatnawi@gmail.com.

See Jay Shatnawi’s magic from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Saturdays at Flamez Grill, 701 Mountain Parkway, Suite D1, Petaluma, 981-8267, flamezgrill.com.

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