The ArtsCenter, Carrboro
Saturday, March 19, 2 & 7 p.m., $12–$18

Long before his acting career landed him in movies and TV shows like Clueless and Cheers, where he played Carla Tortelli’s son, Joshua Lozoff learned his first card trick in a children’s magic class at The ArtsCenter in 1982. Twenty years later, he started doing close-up magic at local restaurants, and his first full-length shows, Beyond Belief and Parlor Magic, sold out runs at Manbites Dog Theater and The Siena Hotel between 2007 and 2010.

Outside of occasional one-offs, Lozoff has been a bit harder to find in recent years. He’s been focused on corporate shows that regularly send him across the countryand on raising a child he and his wife, actor Melissa Lozoff, adopted a year ago. But the magician’s disappearing act ends this Saturday when Lozoff brings his new all-ages, ninety-minute show, Life Is Magic, to The ArtsCenter, kicking off a Southeastern tour. We recently met him on the patio at Carrboro’s Gray Squirrel Coffee to discuss the thin line between theatrical magic, “the only entirely subjective art form,” and everyday intuition.

INDY: Why has it been so long since your last show in the area?

JOSHUA LOZOFF: I didn’t want to do a public show locally until I had new stuff to share with the people here.

Most people don’t realize how brief the shelf life of a magic effect is. The first thing someone says if they really like a trick is, “Do it again.” But after you’ve shown a piece once to an audience, you really can’t show them the same thing twice.

True. If I was a comedian, it would be even harder. Chris Rock has said he can’t even try things out in clubs anymore because someone’s going to put it online with their phone.

You did an interesting mind-reading bit on WNCN’s My Carolina Today a few weeks ago.

Yeah, that trick’s gone. Now, what I did for them is a customized version of something that can still be in my show; I made it different enough so I can use it again. But magicians think a lot before putting something on TV. A lot of magicians will add new things into their show every few months. I respect thatI’m envious of thatbut it’s not the way I work at all. When I develop a new idea, it takes a long time to get it on its feet and ready to show. What I’m doing is a theater piece. I’m not just a guy picking up rings and then picking up a bird; I’ve got to break apart my script and figure out if it fits. I have to figure out what it’s saying, to see if it’s different from other things I’m saying in the show.

Having seen your work, I know your shows deal with intuition, nonverbal communication, and subliminal influences, as your current press release says. What I don’t know is why.

They fascinate me, and I think they fascinate a lot of people. I think they’re the superpower that is the closest to something we all can actually do. We all read people and read body language, and we all should be aware of how you might be subliminally influenced by advertising. It empowers you if you realize that stuff is real.

Mine are just the fun, theatrical versions of it. We do it all the timeand yet when we see Sherlock Holmes know where somebody is from by the way he tips his hat, it’s exciting partly because it looks like a superpower. It’s even more exciting because it also feels like something we all can actually doand I think that is true, to some extent. I can have someone stand onstage and know what word they’re going to circle in a magazine from asking them a couple of questions. Maybe it doesn’t work exactly like that in real life, but it’s close.

Magic is internal, I think. The viewers or participants are ultimately the ones who designate an event as “magic”or not. That takes place inside us, where we give these things value and meaning.

Magic feels to me like one of the only totally subjective art forms. A play can be terrific even if everybody in the audience doesn’t get it. Certainly that’s true of music; there’s music that’s amazing, even if everybody who listens to it doesn’t feel it is amazing. They’re wrong; it still is.

But magic is only magical if the audience has that experience. If they don’t, it’s not magic. It’s not like, “You’re wrong; I did magic anyway.” It’s entirely, one hundred percent dependent on the experience of the audience. I don’t know that there’s anything else like that.

This article appeared in print with the headline “Up to new tricks.”