Making Magic Happen

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Joe Garsetti ’82 believes in magic, and he hopes you do as well.

“If I can teach you one thing, I’d teach you to believe—believe in your friends, believe in your family and believe in those you love … if you do that, you can do anything,” Garsetti said before turning wet paper butterflies into a cloud of flying butterflies in front of a live audience.

Garsetti has made a life making the impossible possible—in both his day-time job in sales for the DNA sequencing company, Illumina, as well as in his side passion as the owner of and illusionist at Sparta Avenue Stage in Sparta, N.J.

A chemist by trade, Garsetti brings the biotechnologies of sequencing and array-based solutions to scientists and researchers that help them identify the molecular footprint of a cancerous tumor, for example. This DNA sequencing enables the researchers to advance life science research, diagnose illnesses at a molecular level and create treatments to more accurately target the cancer cells.

“This really is magic, taking a tiny spot of blood and identifying the DNA,” he said. “Good science captivates the imagination. But good science, as well as magic, relies on good content.”

He said his showmanship and storytelling capabilities developed as a stage illusionist—skills he has practiced since his first magic trick at age 14—translate well into his sales presentation for scientists. He said his three years as a resident advisor at SUNY Oswego also taught him some valuable lessons that inform his work today.

“My experience as an RA in Hart Hall taught me a lot about walking a fine line as a student in a position of authority,” said Garsetti, who majored in chemistry. “I learned a lot about how I am being perceived versus what my perceptions are.”

He recalls performing his magic show at the Tavern on campus, and he even did a presentation for one of his classes on the chemistry behind a magic trick that would turn a bowl of clear water black and then clear again when touched by a “magic” wand.

Garsetti’s magic has grown more sophisticated and elaborate since college. He and his wife, Diane, a former research scientist with a Ph.D. in biomolecular sciences/human genetics who has since developed her own interest in magic and theatrical productions, initially purchased a vacant firehouse to give themselves a place to store the boxes and contraptions used in their magic acts.

Then they slowly started to convert the space into a “magical man cave” for Joe. Since opening the Sparta Avenue Stage four years ago, the couple has hosted magic performances, lectures and classes. They are committed to elevating the art of magic and promoting the sense of wonder that magicians can bring to their audiences.

“I want audiences to feel a whole range of emotions,” he said. “I want them to follow me on a journey. They may not remember the tricks but they will remember how the routine made them feel. I want to create wonder. I want them to believe.”

—Margaret Spillett

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