Nate Staniforth has been a magician long enough to know that some people come to a magic show for just one reason.
To figure out how he does his tricks.
So, when the Iowa City resident is on stage, he sometimes asks the most skeptical person in the crowd to take part in the show.
What usually happens then?
"The skepticism thaws for a moment," he said. "They forget about being analytical and they’re like a little kid again."
And, hopefully, they forget about figuring it out.
"If that happens, it's this really unique sense of wonder. It's part joy, part fear," Staniforth said. "And that's why I do this."
After Moeller watched video of Staniforth, he decided to book him for four weekly performances in January.
"We thought the best way to have Nate in town was giving people chances to leave the theater and tell their friends that he was amazing," he said. "That word of mouth has been spectacular."
It has paid off. While Moeller typically sticks to booking musical acts, Staniforth's previous shows have sold out at the theater in the Village of East Davenport.
“He's a special performer and that's really all I'm looking for when I'm bringing people to town,” Moeller said. “I want everyone to be surprised not just in the quality of performances but in the style of performance.”
When it comes to a magic show, Staniforth says word of mouth tends to help .
“When people hear there’s a magic show, they assume it’s all laser beams and smoke machines and they think it’s going to be ridiculous,” he said. “This way, word of mouth gets around and you hear from an actual person that it’s not ridiculous.”
Since he was 11, when Staniforth started trying to make a coin disappear to a small crowd at school, he has preferred a “not ridiculous” style.
Back then, he didn’t like being the center of attention, but he liked putting those surprised smiles on his friends’ faces.
“They would be like, ‘How did you do that?’” he said. “I just keep chasing that reaction with bigger tricks.”
And he has continued to chase a career as a magician. While studying at the University of Iowa, Staniforth performed tricks at fraternity parties and later toured his act around the country’s college circuit.
Since then, he has given a TEDx Talk, lectures at top universities, starred in Discovery Channel's TV series “Breaking Magic” and he has a memoir set to be published in 2018.
Later this year, he’ll take his Real Magic Tour to Nashville, Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles and several cities in Colorado.
His success, he guesses, comes from an honest, stripped-down and self-described awkward approach to magic.
“Good magic isn’t about deception. It’s about trying to see things the way you saw them before they became ordinary,” Staniforth says on his website.
That's why, at his show on Thursday, you'll see him work with props such as magazines, pencils and paper, a deck of cards, a phone book and pieces of string.
“One thing magic is really good at is forcing you to live in the moment,” he said. “When you see something impossible, it focuses your attention on one thing.”