If Nathan Coe Marsh looks familiar, you’ve either dined recently at the Melting Pot or sat front and center at a Black Diamond Burlesque show.
Fondue. Strip teases. Coe Marsh’s act knows no bounds.
A Tampa native, he’s been performing magic in Sarasota for six years. His most recent gig — performing sleight-of-hand tricks on Sunday nights at The Melting Pot in downtown Sarasota — is a return to his roots.
The 29-year-old magician honed his close-up act in 2006 doing a similar bit at the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre.
It was his first steady gig out of college. For six months, he worked six nights a week at the dinner theater, moving from table to table with a deck of cards.
It wasn’t easy. Even in a dinner-theater atmosphere, people were apprehensive to give up their personal space to a roving magician.
So, Coe Marsh focused on sharpening his magic and customizing his approach.
“It’s a completely different experience for the guest,” he says of close-up magic. “You have to establish credibility very quickly. So often when you see magic it’s on a TV screen, or you’re in Vegas a mile away from a dimly lit stage. When you see it right here and right now, it has an immediacy like nothing else in our culture.”
A smooth talker with a head for business, Coe Marsh graduated from St. John’s College, a private liberal-arts college in Annapolis, Md.
His friends and family seemed to think he’d pursue a law degree or follow in the footsteps of his professor parents and become an academic.
Even Coe Marsh wasn’t sure where his life was headed, until one summer during college he got a job teaching magic at a youth camp in the Pocono Mountains.
“The first night I did a show for the campers, I experienced the high that comes from a live performance,” he says. “It was unlike any other feeling. When there’s a connection with a room full of strangers it’s like you’re dancing together. It’s like an unspoken thread flows between you and the audience.”
However, his fascination with magic began well before that.
When he was 10 years old, a friend of his parents pulled out a dollar bill, crumpled it up and opened his fist.
The bill seemed to float in midair. Coe Marsh had never seen anything so unbelievable. He grabbed the dollar bill and folded it over and over trying to make sense of the trick.
“I went nuts,” he says. “It was a really defining experience for me.”
On a quest to float his own dollar bill, he went to the library and signed out all the magic books on which he could get his hands.
It was a hobby he couldn’t shake.
In college, he sought the mentorship of a magician in Baltimore, who ran a magic shop and performed nights at after-dinner shows around the city.
Says Coe Marsh, “The guy was a treasure trove of information.”
He taught the young magician how to build his stage show, which is now Coe Marsh’s main attraction; he spends most of his time traveling the country playing to corporate crowds at five-star resorts and business conferences.
Fooling buttoned-up CEOs might seem like a stodgy undertaking, but, for Coe Marsh, it’s the perfect challenge. He loves an audience that appeals to both his Type A and Type B sensibilities.
“Great magic has this contrast where, rationally, you know it’s not real, but, emotionally, it’s so compelling it forces you to go to the place where there’s no pat script,” Coe Marsh says. “It’s a social lubricant. People’s masks fall away in the face of it.”
IF YOU GO
Nathan Coe Marsh will perform magic from 6 to 9 p.m. Sunday, March 18, at The Melting Pot in down-town Sarasota.
“He takes complex issues and finds the absurdity in a really direct and elegant way.”
“He was so outside of the mold. He created something that was completely unlike anything that was being done by any other performer from Bob Hope on.”
“He was a comedy magician who flourished in the early 1950s and 1960s. He was decades ahead of his time. A lot of magic scholars feel he was the first stand-up comedian.”
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