There’s a sense of infectious joy that comes from watching Siegfried Tieber do magic. He’s just so darn happy to be onstage that only the most hardened cynic could leave his show without a smile on her face. He’s also the golden boy in the magic world right now, fresh off successfully fooling Penn & Teller on their CW show Fool Us — and the accompanying prize of performing at one of their Vegas shows. On a recent trip to the Magic Castle, Tieber couldn’t walk more than 5 feet at a time without a fellow magician coming up to congratulate him.
Next up for Tieber is a four-week show with Atlas Obscura called See/Saw. Tieber specializes in close-up magic for small audiences, and See/Saw aims to provide just that. “I have not been able to find any other art form that is so interactive and dependent on the audience as close-up magic,” Tieber says. In magic shows for huge audiences, he explains, communication tends to flow one way, from the magician to the audience. “In close-up magic, as long as it’s a small audience, communication flows both ways.” He adds, “At many points throughout the performance, people are going to be making different decisions that will guide the outcome of events. So I think that’s very peculiar and beautiful about close-up magic, that you don’t really get to see anywhere else.”
Born to an Austrian father (hence the name) and a Colombian mother (hence the mop of curly hair), Tieber grew up in Ecuador, and went to college to study mechanical engineering. There, he started learning about magic, and discovered the rush of performing after showing his first trick to his family. “I practiced, practiced, practiced for several weeks before ever showing it to anybody. After a little while, because I was so familiar with the inner workings of the trick, it wasn’t that magical to me anymore,” he says. “I showed this one thing to [my family], and they freaked out!” He adds, “From that moment on, I was immediately hooked.”
Tieber has been living in Los Angeles for about five years now, and while he had to adjust from using the classroom English he learned in school to the more colloquial English spoken in L.A., he’s now more comfortable performing magic in English than in Spanish. When he first came out here, acting teachers encouraged him to lose his accent, but he says, “I do think indeed that it contributes to my performance.” He adds, “It does take more energy to perform in English, but nowadays I feel very comfortable.
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“I do think that magic, like music, is definitely a universal language,” Tieber says. “Each magic trick, each magic illusion does tell a story by itself.” Tieber’s speciality is card magic, and he seemingly does the impossible with playing cards. Part of the appeal of magic is striking a balance between tricks that seem knowable, as if the way to do them is on the tip of your tongue but still out of reach, and tricks that seem like, well, magic. Tieber balances both masterfully, reeling in the audience by explaining how he could do the trick if he wanted to take a shortcut, and then doing something even more ingenious and unknowable. “In magic, you need to establish that this is not supposed to happen, and then it happens, then comes the surprise,” Tieber explains.
He was extremely enthusiastic about the idea of working with Atlas Obscura, a compendium of interesting places and things, who are producing the show. He says, “I met those people here at the Magic Castle, they told me about Atlas Obscura, and I inquired, ‘How? Where? How do I join? I want to be part of this thing!’” Erin Johnson, the head of the Obscura Society (which produces live Atlas Obscura events in eight cities) and co-producer of See/Saw, says, “He has this extraordinary ability, this infectious enthusiasm and passion for magic that I’ve never seen in anyone else.” She adds, “Not only was he integrating this hidden history of magic into his work but he was also really interested in taking a deeper dive into the secrets of magic and bringing the audience along with him.”
Jon Armstrong, a fellow magician and See/Saw’s director, best sums up Tieber’s seemingly endless energy. “I was always impressed by not only his amazing showmanship and presentational skills but just his work ethic. Genuinely, it’s very rare to see someone love magic so much [that] they’re not like, ‘All right, show’s over, we’re closed, I’m off the clock now.’ I mean, if I wanted to, I could just wind him up, he would be out there doing card tricks for 10 hours.”
Civic Center Studios, 207 S. Broadway, downtown; See/Saw runs Sept. 14-Oct. 8. atlasobscura.com/seesaw