Magic show on Zoom.

Performers at SHAM’s first show are Nikita Nair ’24 (clockwise from top left), Ben Meron ’23, Mark E. Glickman, Taylor Kruse ’23, and Sam Dvorak ’23.

Arts & Culture

With a wave of the wand

5 min read

Two student magicians make the art of prestidigitation reappear on campus

Sam Dvorak ’23 longed to be a wizard after reading “Harry Potter” as a child but he knew he faced a few practical impediments.

“So I became the closest thing that I could,” said the neuroscience concentrator from Albany, N.Y. “A magician.”

Dvorak’s love of magic may have started in the realm of fantasy but it became firmly entrenched in reality as he co-founded the Society of Harvard-Undergraduate Magicians (known by its clever acronym, SHAM), of which he is now co-president. Dvorak formed the club with fellow sophomore Taylor Kruse after meeting as participants in the first-year arts program and bonding over their shared passion for illusion.

“It was a lucky day that we found each other doing magic tricks,” said Dvorak, who learned his first trick — a classic card maneuver called the double lift — in sixth grade. Kruse was a veteran of sleight of hand, having started in first grade. They joined forces to create SHAM and reactivate the on-campus magic scene, the most recent iteration of which was the Harvard Magic society four years ago.

SHAM’s official debut was derailed by the pandemic last spring, but organizers regrouped in the fall, recruiting new members and holding bi-weekly meetings at which they taught each other new tricks and talked about how to adapt tricks for different audiences and what to do when a trick goes wrong. They also held their first show in February for a virtual audience of around 80 students and Harvard affiliates who tuned in from around the world.

“It was kind of a shot in the dark on how many people were going to come to the show,” said Kruse, a computer science concentrator from Norridgewock, Maine. “We were pretty blown away and delighted by how many people attended the show and had a fun night.”

Kruse and Dvorak were excited to see the range of ages and locations represented in the audience, and that some people had brought their families to the Zoom show.

“One of the big challenges that we faced is how to work with volunteers, and how do you interact with an audience, which is such a huge part of magic and so hard to do over Zoom,” said Dvorak. “It’s so cliched, but when you say pick a card, any card, what if you can’t actually pick a card, any card?”

Ben Meron ’23 performs for his Zoom audience.

Magicians never reveal their secrets, but the performers stayed connected to the audience throughout, sharing stories and keeping the energy high over the hourlong show featuring sleight-of-hand tricks using cards, numbers, and words. Most participants kept their cameras on and reacted animatedly onscreen and in the chat.

The event was also the first opportunity for new SHAM members  to put their newfound skills to the test. Nikita Nair ’24 performed alongside Dvorak, Kruse, Ben Meron ’23, and club faculty adviser Mark. E. Glickman, a senior lecturer and director of master’s studies in statistics.

“I love performing, and I’ve been a part of a couple of musicals already,” at Harvard, said Nair, who is from San Diego. “I didn’t really understand the level of performance needed to do magic, because you have to be able to tell a story through doing tricks, which is really challenging, and it’s amazing when it’s pulled off in the correct way.”

The group has been an important campus connection for Nair, a first-year who has not yet been to Cambridge.

“I’ve been told all these amazing things about all these wonderful opportunities on campus, but it’s really hard to believe that when I’m still in the room that I’ve been in for the last 10 years,” she said. “Activities like SHAM, where I can tell Sam and Taylor are 100 percent invested, helps me understand the beginnings of what a College experience is like, through meeting people who are really passionate and want to share that with others.”

For Dvorak and Kruse, inclusivity was one of SHAM’s foundational principles — there’s no audition process and all skill levels are welcome. They pride themselves on creating a supportive atmosphere in which people can learn and engage with the world of magic, and helping new members translate their skills into performances that get audiences excited.

“The Harvard arts community is fabulous and really strong, and I think especially in these pandemic months has pulled through in an impressive way through different virtual performances,” said Dvorak. “I think adding magic to that mix and having our events be well-attended is a testament to the Harvard arts community. It’s nice that people want, even in the middle of a pandemic, to come to a performance and be engaged and be entertained.”

Kruse and Dvorak plan to bring speakers to club meetings and host shows in the spring. They look forward to sharing their love of the craft in person once campus life resumes.

“Most people get so happy when they see magic, and they revert into this little kid state where they’re amazed and shocked,” said Kruse. “Along with the joy of that, practicing these tricks and being able to do the techniques is very satisfying. It’s wonderful to be able to bring joy to people.”